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Don Silcock

Sulawesi Recommendations

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I am planning a 12 day trip just before Xmas and having dived most of the "must-do" locations in Indonesia (Irian Jaya, Halmahera, Lembeh, Banda Sea, Ambon, Komodo & Bali) at least once, I was considering exploring the Bunaken area.

 

The positives are that it's relatively easy to get to from Bali, where will be spending Xmas, and there appear to be a lot of dive operators - both land based & several liveaboards.

 

The negatives appear to be that there a lot of dive operators....plus you don't hear that much about the diving there these days.

 

I am looking for recommendations on the diving around Bunaken and which resort or liveaboard to use. Alternatively, is there somewhere else in North Sulawesi (beside Lembeh - spent a week there in June) that I should consider?

 

Don

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G'day Don, fancy meeting you here ;-)

 

I can definitely recommend Cocotinos and I reckon DaveH would also back me up on that, http://www.cocotinos.com

 

I did my first North Sulawesi trip a few months ago, report and some pics here, http://blog.aengusm.com/?p=31 (main gallery link at the end)

 

Granted my experience of this area is limited but I am confident to say that Cocotinos is a great resort, very personal and friendly, good food, excellent accommodation, very experienced dive crew more than willing to tailor dives for you.

 

BTW, I still have your Printfix!! Must drop it over soon.

 

Cheers,

 

Aengus

Edited by AengusM

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We just got back from a Bunaken/Lembeh triip it was great. Still working on trip report. For Bunaken we stayed at the Minahasa Lagoon resort. It is a great resort, very camera friendly, and we typically only dove with one other couple so it was like having a private guide. The only issue is it is about a 1 hr ride out to the sites since the resort is not on the island itself. You do a three tank trip out there, lunch on the boat then you can do a muck or mandarin dive back at the resort.

 

For Lembeh we went with Lembeh Resort and again can highly recommend them, nice cabanas, good food and a well organized dive op. We had cabin #1, what a view! I shoot stills and my wife shoots video and the resort really seemed to work to spread photographers out between boats. Most dives once again my wife and I often had our own guide. When we go back I think it is worth the extra to have your own guide. Gallery is up at our site but as mentioned still working on slide show and trip report.

Edited by NWDiver

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Hey Don,

 

I have dived the Bunaken twice in the last year and can recommend staying at the hotel Santika and dive with Thalassa dive centre within the grounds of the hotel, Thalassa the hotel is excellent with great food, service and staff and the accomodation is superb. The big plus is the dive centre staff and guides who will do absolutely anything to please. four divers to a guide or less makes it ideal for UW photogs. The Centre is right in the Bunaken park so only a 5-10 minute trip puts you on all the best sites. Back to the centre between dives and for lunch. They also do daytrips and Banka is a must do as it is truly world class diving.

 

:blink: Don would you check out this thread Tokina 10-17 and let me know your thoughts (post #13)

 

Hope you have a brilliant time in Sulawesi

 

Nige Wade

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I've only been there once, but here's another vote for Santika/Thalassa.

 

Phil

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Don,

 

I'm on my way this weekend to Manado. Will stay at Kima Bajo for a week followed by KBR for another 10 days. I've been at KBR two years ago and it was wonderful, good accommodations, good food and really great diving. The guides at KBR are first class and find you really good stuff to take pics of. Have not been to Bunaken or stayed at Kima Bajo, but have been told that this is a really nice resort that is also staffed by Eco divers. Will fill you in when I get back in November. Have not had a bad dive trip to Indonesia or Malaysia and expect this excursion be a great.

 

Elmer

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Your options range from back-packer motels to luxury resorts. Its been a couple of years since I've been there, but you'll need to figure out how much money you want to spend. I stayed at Murex and Hotel Santika but also tried a couple of places on Bunaken Island. I'm not a 5-star snob, but I could not get off that island fast enough. I just wasn't prepared to rough it quite that much, especially when there were nice resorts on the mainland. I have a friend who just got back from there. He stayed on Bunaken Island and loved it. I guess its all about expectations and budget.

 

The best diving was in the islands north, called Bangka (sp?). I couldn't get enough of that area. Lots of gorgeous soft coral plus great muck diving too. The diving around Bunaken was pretty spectacular too, but I was there for two weeks and that was a little bit too long. When I was there, there was a lot of trash in the water also. It was pretty sad to see such amazing healthy coral reefs but then have to pick plastic trash off the sea fans before I took the picture.

 

Thalassa (at Hotel Santika) is a very well-run dive operation. One of the best I've seen anywhere and a pleasure to dive with. The house reef there is amazing and still stick in my memory as being one of the best night dives I've ever done. If I went there again, I would probably try a nice live-aboard and try to get back to Bangka and those northern islands.

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As an alternative to Bunaken, there are also resorts in the Bangka area; one is run by Murex, and is on a very nice sandy beach. Others were under development when I visited a couple of years ago, so may have started operations by now.

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Have just come back from a three week trip to North Sulawesi and Bali, stayed at Cocotinos in Manado and loved it, ask for James (jimmy) as your guide he can spot things a mile away and is very friendly. We did day trips to Bangka and Lembeh from the resort, Bangka has beautiful corals and lots of criters, frog fish, ghost pipefish, leaf fish, rasor fish and many others and was the best of the sites there IMHO. Lembeh is muck diving and is full of criters.

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For diving Bunaken, we like Tasik Ria.

 

The diving is run by ECO Divers, who have been running KBR for the past several years.

ECO's policy is a max of 4 divers per guide and they try to match up skill levels.

 

Tasik runs up to 3 dive boats, about 45-55 ft long. with a max load of 16 divers.

You leave in the morning about 9:00 for about a 1/2 hour ride to the park.

Then 2 dives in morning, a hot lunch is served, a third afternood dive and back to resort by 4:00 or so.

 

The diving at Kimo Bao is also run by ECO Divers.

It is slightly more up scale than Tasik and tends more towards the "resort style"

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Another vote for Cocotinos in Manado, Wori Bay!

 

Hi Gary, glad to hear you had a good trip!

And hello Aengus, got your email, will reply shortly re: my PFO.

 

The dive center at Cocotinos is run by Odyssea divers, who, until Cocotinos opened last October, had been running the dive operations at Kima Bajo. If you enjoyed the dive op there in the past, you'll find the same great service now at Cocotinos. The guides are very accustomed to working with UW photographers and they are well trained in handling all of our expensive gear. Plus the resort is brand new, so everthing is in great condition, with spacious rooms and bathrooms with A/C, and amazingly comfortable beds. The food is fantastic, and the staff goes out of its way to make sure you're comfortable and enjoying your stay. By the end of your visit, they'll all seem like family. You really can't go wrong!

 

And if you find yourself "landlocked" while recovering from the bends and 3 rides in the chamber, the staff will keep you company, take you out on excursions, and generally keep an eye on you to make sure you're doing ok!

 

Plus, you just can't beat the view!

2534946897_9c83d2b06f.jpg

 

2596821062_83f6d4dbfd.jpg

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All: thanks very much for the advice - greatly appreciated!

 

Nigel: I relied about the Tokina 10-17 - I use a 15mm extension with my Subal housing, but make sure you are at least @ f8 for sharp results. Anything wider gives soft results in my experience...

 

Don

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Another vote for Cocotinos - great rooms, wireless internet, good food and service, and reasonably priced. I've stayed at Kima Bajo and Hotel Santika, I like Cocotinos better than both. Kima Bajo is a nice resort, but you have long walks uphill to get to your room (from the restaurant or the dive shop), and it takes forever to get your meals at the restaurant. Hotel Santika has a great pool, but the rooms are older and not as nice as either Kima or Cocotinos. Odyssea Divers has great guides, and nice boats to dive from (at Cocotinos). On the Bunaken side - there are lots of nice dives - Siladen has a nice wall and boxer crabs, Bunaken has Lekuan 1 & 2, Manado Tao, Fukai (wall drift dives, trichnadea clams, pontihoi pygmy seahorses, and some pelagics. Popoo is a great muck dive (Manado bay), seahorses and blue ring octopus. And Bangka is definitely worth the trip - great soft coral, muck critters without the black sand. Paradise pier (on the North end of the mainland, across from Bangka) is a great critter dive also - ambon scorpionfish, wonderpus, ghost pipefish, always a great dive.

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All: thanks very much for the advice - greatly appreciated!

 

Nigel: I relied about the Tokina 10-17 - I use a 15mm extension with my Subal housing, but make sure you are at least @ f8 for sharp results. Anything wider gives soft results in my experience...

 

Don

:blink:

Thanks Don I caught your reply on the Tokina 10-17 thread.

The EXR arrived today and I'll get it wet on Wednesday .

 

Nige

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"Resort diving" = a resort that has diving available; but it is not their major focus.

KBR is not ''resort diving" the major emphasis there is diving!

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I have stayed at both Kima Bajo and Cocotinos over the past 12 months and Cocotinos wins hands down. Kima Bajo is a beautiful resort however the hill to the room requires sherpa's to carry stuff for you and the price of food in the restraunt is a turn off.

 

Cocotinos on the other hand was built by divers for divers and this is easily the best dive resort that I have stayed at. Food is excellent, resort is stunning and the dive guides are the best critter hunters I have dived with. I wrote a short article on diving with Cocotinos here: http://www.daveharasti.com/articles/Cocotinos.html

 

cheers,

Dave

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we are at Kima Bajo now, have meal plan and a vila. Very nice facility and food. Service in the restaurant is a bit slow but you have plenty of time to dive.

Diving was great first 2 dives today, lots of fish, large and small stuff, dolphins and turtles. I had a macro lens this morning and was limnited in the size of the critter that I could shoot.

Visibility was 100+ feet. water temp 85 degrees! Dive guides friendly and helpful.

Dive service was great.

Will post some pictures when I can

dive safe

Peter

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Appreciate this thread, since I was also thinking to spend some time in Cocotinos/Banka early Jan. Can anyone tell me what weather conditions to expect? I know it's the wet season, but what is the storm pattern like ? Do we just lose 1-2 dives on some days, or does it rain every day for couple of hours ? Thanks!

 

Ajay.

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Appreciate this thread, since I was also thinking to spend some time in Cocotinos/Banka early Jan. Can anyone tell me what weather conditions to expect? I know it's the wet season, but what is the storm pattern like ? Do we just lose 1-2 dives on some days, or does it rain every day for couple of hours ? Thanks!

 

Ajay.

Just got back from Sulawesi (with The Octopus and EYu) - give Kimo Bajo an A+ and KBR an A - Kimo Bajo was great - reasonably priced (with all-inclusive package) - excellent staff and service - good food - good attitude - only complaint was dining service could be a little faster but that is being addressed (and I really wanted a good US style steak and OJ in the AM) - banana and pineapple pancakes are to die for - don't have to carry dive or camera gear at all - if you cannot make it up the stairs maybe you aren't fit to dive anyway - boats are nice and fast and never crowded - dive guides great and always trying to help. KBR was a good operation - good staff - I had one of the newer rooms with TV and Internet (slow but usable) that was very nice - food good with good variety - would have liked real juice with breakfast - super dive guides although felt like I was on a scavenger hunt with every muck dive - pick your critter and then they go looking for it and usually find it (did miss hairy frogfish and blue-ringed octopus out of my whole list of "to sees") - again small fast boats with short trips to dive sites - not crowded (do you hear that Florida Keys?) - again never have to carry gear - by day two they got me a 15 liter tank so I could keep up with my dive buddies with gills - EcoDivers staffs both dive operations (and are about to pull out of Tasik Ria) and does a good job. Just wish there was a quicker way to get there and to process my zillion photos in RAW (and now get over jet lag).

By the way`- everybody had all these concerns over carryon baggage allowances with Singapore Air - the key is to fly business class and then they don't really look too closely.

Enjoy.

Andy

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I agree with Drfiscus's review. I had some issues with my room at KBR, AC worked poorly, no T you wanted.V, internet was the slowest I ever experienced when it worked, frequent power outages (but they have a back-up generator), lots of critters. at both places, the KBR guides really helped you get the shot.

Singapore air was great, no hassels at all about the two carryons we all had that weighed a bit more than the 15 pounds they allow.

I would recommend spending a couple of days in Singapore, a great city to visit.

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I also agree with Dr Fiscus, we all had great dives at Bunaken and Lembeh Straits. Kimo Bajo's accommodations were excellent and KBR's were also great considering they are located in the Indonesian jungle were the locals live in huts with thatched roofs and dirt floors. Our dive guides were great, but we hired an extra guide so we had one guide per two divers (the usual ratio is one guide per four divers). This ratio helped us find more critters to take pictures of and allowed us to specify what animals we were seeking. Regarding the critter count, from my experiences two years ago it is significantly down in Lembeh Straits. Maybe it is just a thing this year or maybe there are to many dives in the straits. Never the less, both Bunaken and Lembeh are great dive locations. If you are flying economy on Singapore Air, check in at San Francisco they weighed each carryon.

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