Tucked away on remote Bunaken Island, off the northern tip of Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island, lies the small, intimate Bunaken Cha Cha Nature Resort. The warm, clear waters around the resort are part of Bunaken National Marine Park, one of the world’s richest aquatic ecosystems and finest diving destinations. Many resorts on Bunaken and nearby Manado cater to the hard-core diver. Bunaken Cha Cha offers a top-notch diving program for all levels, and welcomes families and non-divers.
Diving in Bunaken
Underwater, Bunaken is jaw-droppingly beautiful. It has dazzling walls covered with healthy soft and hard coral, and the variety of marine life is staggering. It is estimated that Bunaken Marine Park supports 70% of all fish species that exist in the Indo-Western Pacific. Bunaken is particularly famous for its macro diving — observing little critters like nudibranchs, anemone shrimp and sea horses.
Before arriving at Cha Cha, my teenage son was filled with anticipation about seeing the big stuff. He was not disappointed. We saw black tip sharks, huge bumphead parrotfish, napoleans, morays and massive sea turtles. I never expected he’d be so wowed by the small stuff. Kudos to the Cha Cha dive team who model patient and unhurried diving, and have amazing talent for finding the ocean’s tiniest creatures.
My favourite dive at Bunaken, and perhaps best of all time, was a night dive to watch the mating ritual of the mandarinfish. Their iridescent blue and orange colour is exquisite and their mating dance is like the most perfectly choreographed ballet.
There are over 20 dive sites easily accessed from Bunaken Island and many are suited to novice divers and even snorkelers. Travel time via boat is often less than 30 minutes. The water averages a pleasant 27-30 degrees C and visibility ranges from 20-40 m.
Bunaken Cha Cha Dive Operation
The resort runs a PADI affiliated centre and employs highly experienced diving guides and instructors. Sam and Yuko were super safety conscious with my son, but also kept it fun and exciting. Sometimes, the lodge’s affable owners, Raf and Reiko join the morning dives. They know the sites like the back of their hands, and their love and respect for Bunaken Marine Park is obvious.
The resort holds only 20 guests so personalized service and small dive groups are guaranteed. Cha Cha staff does a great job accommodating both experienced and novice divers, and dive sites are carefully selected to match guests’ abilities and desires.
Cha Cha prides itself on being “non-diver friendly” and their dive schedule is built so that divers and their non-diving companions can spend time together. Two-tank morning dives depart at 8 am and return to the resort in time for lunch. Afternoon dives are optional; if there is demand, the boat leaves at 3 p.m.
Bunaken Cha Cha Lodge
The resort overlooks a small stretch of beach with wonderful views toward Siladen Island and the Sulawesi volcanoes. It is far from other resorts, and very quiet. The wooden bungalows are tastefully decorated and have breezy verandahs. Don’t expect luxury, just relaxed bare-foot comfort and great service.
The main lodge houses the reception, restaurant and small bar. There’s a friendly, “feel at home” vibe, and you’ll soon know everyone’s name including the charming staff. Guests are an eclectic mix of couples, families and singles from all over the world.
Meals are fantastic. Influenced by Reiko’s Japanese heritage and local Indonesian flavours, the food is consistently delicious, innovative, and beautifully presented. Meals are served family style and Reiko, Raf, and dive masters join guests for lively conversation.
How to Get to Bunaken Cha Cha
Silkair flies directly from Singapore to Manado. From Bali, Jakarta, and other Indonesian cities, connections are through Makassar. Guests are met at Manado airport by Cha Cha staff and driven to the harbour. The boat transfer, directly to the resort, is about 50 minutes.