Indonesia’s official scuba centre is Bunaken Marine Reserve, a 75-square-kilometre patch of sea northwest of Manado. Coral reefs around the reserve’s four major islands drop to a forty-metre shelf before plunging to depths of 200m and more, creating stupendous reef walls abounding with Napoleon (maori) wrasse, barracuda, trevally, tuna, turtles, manta rays, whales and dolphin. Set aside concerns about snakes and sharks and avoid instead the metre-long Titan triggerfish, sharp beaked and notoriously pugnacious when guarding its nest; and small, fluorescent-red anemone fish, which are apt to give divers a painful nip.
Diving is well established in Bunaken, with high-quality operators both in Manado and within the reserve on Pulau Bunaken. The island makes for an infinitely more pleasant base, with a wide range of accommodation. Experienced divers will also find plenty of budget operators on the island, though you must check the reliability of rental gear and air quality, the two biggest causes for concern here.
Off the island’s west beach between Bunaken village and Liang beach, are Lekuan 1, 2 and 3, exceptionally steep deep walls, where you’ll find everything from gobies and moray eels to black-tip reef sharks. There are giant clams and stingrays at Fukui, on the far western end of the island, while Mandolin is good for turtles and occasional mantas, and Mike’s Point attracts sharks and sea snakes. Non-divers can snorkel straight from the beach, or ask to join a diving boat. The best weather conditions are between June and November, with light breezes, calm seas and visibility underwater averaging 25m and peaking beyond 50m. Try to avoid the westerly storms between December and February and less severe, easterly winds from March until June.