As tropical paradises go, Bunaken Island is a relatively undiscovered gem. This tranquil island hideaway nestled in a marine nature preserve just off the coast of North Sulawesi makes an idyllic backdrop for some chilled out family time, with a little SCUBA on the side. Perfect for a beach family holiday that’s stress free, this is the ideal way to visit Indonesia with kids (without any hassle).
The island is best known as a SCUBA diving destination and boasts pristine coral reefs, excellent visibility and a virtually unrivaled abundance of sea life making it a memorable place to travel with kids. Divers might spot vibrant parrot fish, schools of barracudas, clownfish hanging out in their sea anemone homes, majestic green sea turtles and, if you’re lucky, reef sharks.
Bunaken makes an ideal SCUBA destination for experienced divers and beginners alike. Of all the beaches in Indonesia, this has more than 22 dive sites, including some excellent drift dives – there’s no shortage of amazing undersea vistas. Bunaken Island is home to several dive-centric resorts that can arrange PADI certification courses, equipment rentals and dive guides. Even non-divers will marvel at all there is to see through the glass of a snorkeling mask. [For information on teaching kids to dive see the suitcases&strollers story SCUBA Diving With Kids]
If diving is not your thing, Bunaken is still a lovely spot to chill out and enjoy the laid back vibe. The pace of life on the island is slow and locals are easy with smiles. There are no cars on the island and only two small villages connected by a small dirt track. An evening walk will yield sightings of water buffalo and pigmy pigs, as well as many friendly hellos.
Little ones can spend their time chasing hermit crabs, building sand castles and exploring mangroves. Mum and dad can also relax at one of several spas on the island offering traditional Indonesian massages.
Bunaken Island is many things, but a shopper’s paradise it is not. You’ll find the usual trinkets and curios for sale along the beach.
Most resorts on Bunaken Island offer a full-board package with all meals included. Resorts tend to cater to Western tastes and, as such, they quell the spicy fire local Minahasan cuisine is usually known for. You will find excellent and unbelievably fresh fish served up at most resorts and the usual Indonesian street fare (think fried noodles, fried rice and soup with basko or meatballs) can be found in several warungs.
Child-friendly fare isn’t too hard to come by and, if all else fails, there’s always steamed rice to fall back upon. For children with particularly discerning palates, it may be wise to pack some familiar snack foods as shopping on the island is pretty limited.
Stay at The Village Bunaken, a mid-range boutique resort and spa with a charming plunge pool and several quaint bungalows just a few meters from the beach. The resort offers free wifi and all meals are included in the room rate. Diving excursions, PADI certification, snorkeling and childcare can all be arranged through the resort. The staff will also arrange transfer via speedboat to and from Manado where you’ll find the region’s biggest airport with flights to Singapore and Jakarta.
Bunaken Island is a remarkably safe destination for travellers with children. The island economy is built upon tourism and the locals are friendly and welcoming. Petty theft and pickpocketing are rarely an issue here.
When venturing out into the water, educate yourself about ocean safety. Strong currents are common around the island and it is important both you and your children are aware of how to handle ocean currents. Small children will need flotation devices and even big kids should be closely supervised around the water. Sturdy swim shoes are a must to protect feet from sharp coral. [For more family beach safety tips, see the suitcases&strollers interview with the team from Bondi Rescue here.]
From time to time, rubbish and other manmade refuse washes up on the public beach. Most resorts on the island do an excellent job of keeping their beaches clean.
Leave the stroller at home if you’re traveling to Bunaken; you’ll find that most of your time is spent seaside and the island is not particularly stroller-friendly.
The risk of malaria is low on the Island, but don’t skimp on the bug spray. Dengue can occasionally be an issue in Indonesia.
Bring your own stock of diapers, wipes and baby food. You won’t find much in the way of baby supplies on the island.
It is not safe to drink the water from the tap in Indonesia. Only use bottled water for drinking and brushing teeth and be wary of children drinking water in the shower or the bath.
By Erica Knecht of Expatria, Baby