Indonesia, and more particularly Sulawesi, is famous for its diving spots. Bunaken and the Togian Islands are well known to be excellent paradise places to snorkel or dive.
However, if you don’t have much time, you have to choose between them. During my trip to Sulawesi, I sacrificed myself (Hahaha) to visit and compare both.
Bunaken is located in the North of Sulawesi. To access it, it’s very easy. You just have to go to Manado (accessible by flight from Jakarta or Makassar). From there, you have to take a boat either ‘public” with 1 departure per day or a private boat which leaves all day long. Like you can guess, the private boat (smaller) is more expensive (~200 000Rp) than a public boat (~30 000 Rp). The journey is fast, between 30min and 1h.
The divings are mainly the morning, because of the tides. The afternoon you can enjoy the island and walk around the island or in the little village of Bunaken. The island is small, but there are beautiful landscapes and beaches. Moreover, while you wander on the island, far from the touristic establishment, we may meet local people. What shocked me is the huge difference between the touristic part of the island and the local part. If the waterfronts for the snorkeling are not really clean, the places out of the touristic paths are worst… The island is a paradise only if you stay in the touristic places… Too bad.
Everybody will find what he’s looking for: from the beginner to confirmed! There are all levels and you can dive at different depths. There are many spots where you can see the underwater life. So, you can stay days and dive twice a day, without going back to the same place! If you prefer to snorkel, it’s the same. In my case, I tried for the first time diving in Bunaken and it went well. I was alone with the instructor and he explained me all the security rules. We dived at 10m depth and we saw magnificent corals and fishes. After, I did snorkeling. I took the same for that those who dive. Once we dropped the divers, the boat took us to the snorkeling place. Awesome!
The divings are the morning (around 8.30-9 am). The tide is hight during the morning. This means the access to the boat and to the corals is easier. The afternoon, you can rest and have a nap ;).
Internet connexion and phone network
Bunaken is well connected. The accommodations for the tourists have all an internet connexion. The phone network is available on all island. However, be careful because there is no ATM on the island and you can’t pay with the credit card. You have to withdraw all the money you need before going to Bunaken!
Bunaken is famous for diving. In consequence, the prices are relatively high even if you can find accommodation for every budget. The accommodation generally includes the 3 meals per days, but it costs around 20-30€/pers/day. The diving price is almost the same (if you have the PADI) and it’s without the rent of the equipment… The snorkeling (boat transfer + equipment rent) cost ~10€. In total, for 5 days with 2 diving and 3 snorkeling, it costs around 200€…
The second consequence of fame is the mass influx of tourists. Hence, the diving spots are full of tourists. Unfortunately, I saw divers groups about a fortnight person, or boats full of tourists ready to dive. By the way, to find a good diving spot, you just have to go where the tourist boats are… I can only regret that, especially when you know that there is absolutely no tourists in some places of the island.
I know that comfort is a subjective and personal opinion. That’s why I’ll just describe what is available or not. The running water is available all day even if it’s not drinkable water. The accommodations have a bathroom with everything you need (shower, toilet, etc.). The electricity is available from 5 pm to 7 am. It didn’t bother me since I was outside during the day.
The activities and the island
Togian Islands: Malenge
To go to the Togian islands, you need much motivation and patience. You have to deserve these islands! You have 2 solutions: get through the north (Gorontalo) or by the South (Ampana).
If you come from Bunaken, Gorontalo is the logical itinerary. Nevertheless, there are only 2 ferries by week. When I’m writing this article, the ferry leaves on Tuesday and Friday. (You should check on the internet or ask the locals, the schedule changes all the time). The ferry leaves around 7 pm and arrives at the Island, at Wakaï, around 10 am. So, you arrive next in the morning at Wakaï.
If you decided to visit the land of Torajas before, you will arrive from Amapana, in the South. From this side, it’s easier. Boats leave every day for Wakaï. The journey lasts around 2h.
Unfortunately, once you’re in Wakaï, the journey is not over. You have to take another boat which will bring you to your final destination. The boat might be expensive if you are alone (600 000Rp). I advise you to look for someone who is going to the same place and to share the price. Personally, to go to Malenge, it took me 2h more by boat from Wakaï.
The diving spots
On the Togian Islands, you can, of course, do some snorkeling and dive. Even if for the diving, you have to check that your resort has all the needed equipment. For the snorkeling, it’s easily possible directly from the beaches or you can take a boat and see further reefs.
At Malenge, the coral’s reefs are beautiful. There are several coral reefs and the resort owner can bring you by boat to them (~20mins). You can snorkel there and observe gorgeous corals and marine animals.
It’s also possible to admire corals directly from the resort. You just have to swim a hundred meters from the beach and you will see corals and fishes. If you feel like an adventurer and swim until the creeks around, we might even see turtles and small harmless sharks.
During my stay in Malenge, I had the opportunity to do many different activities. The Bajo village (or Bajau) can be visited. This typical village is on stilts. The local people are used to see occidentals but so you can easily talk with them and discover how they live. If you decided to go there, try to bring notebooks and pencils for the young school children.
Moreover, the resort organizes snorkeling in several coral reefs and you can even swim in a lake full of harmless jellyfishes.
For those who just want to rest, Malenge has paradise beaches. I assume the other islands too. They are perfect to relax, swim, read a book, sunbathe or just enjoy the landscape.
Internet connexion and phone network
On the Togian islands, there is no internet connexion and no phone network. Is it an advantage or a drawback? I let you judge ;). Be careful, there is no ATM either on the islands and you can’t pay with your credit card. You have to withdraw all the cash you need before.
To access the islands, the prices are expensive. However, the prices for the accommodation are cheaper than in Bunaken. Of course, it depends on what type of accommodation you’re looking for. If you want the same comfort, the prices are very different.
My accommodation costed 300 000Rp (3 meals included/pers/day). The village visit and the diving cost 75 000RP. In total, I paid 1 57500Rp (~105€) for five days.
To be honest, the fact that there is no internet connexion and phone network add authenticity. Locals people come more easily to you to talk or to practice activities: play cards, play guitar, learn French (or you Indonesian), play football or volleyball, etc.
The comfort will depend on the type of accommodation you chose. However, the basics are almost the same as in Bunaken: running water and electricity from 5 pm to 6 am. The tap water is not drinkable but there is water in a bottle available all day in the resort.
It’s my opinion, but I prefer the Togian Islands. I love diving and snorkeling but I also like to do other things. To visit the Bajo village, play volleyball and the other activities are more interesting for me than the usual and always “snorkeling- sunbath- nap”. Even if, I like to do it from time to time.
If you prefer to discover the culture and history of Sulawesi, don’t hesitate to visit the Land of the Torajas!