Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) resting on the reef in Bunaken National Park.

Siladen Resort & Spa, The Sublime Side of Bunaken 

Of all the species of cardinalfish in the world’s oceans, I think the Banggai (Pterapogon kauderni) is the most stunning. This small disc-shaped fish sports a color pattern that seems like something dreamed up by a graphic artist.

Seeing a Banggai cardinalfish for the first time in the wild was a treat. Adding a few choice images of a pair was, well… icing on the cake.

When I first arrived at Siladen Resort & Spa, I noticed some images of Banggai cardinalfish on the wall at the resort’s dive center. I asked where these were taken and was surprised to learn they were taken near the resort. Originally, this species was exclusively endemic to the Banggai Islands, a region of Sulawesi, Indonesia, some 240 miles from Siladen. Were these pictures a fluke?

I asked Melania, one of the assistant dive managers, if there was a chance of seeing these fish during my visit. No problem. She said that my dive guide Erin could find these fish at one of the resort’s muck diving sites near mainland Sulawesi. 

I learned that it wasn’t nature that transplanted these colorful little fish to new locations on the Northern side of Sulawesi’s coast. Their attractive coloration made Banggai a sought-after prize in the aquarium trade. Aggressive harvesting cause it Banggai be listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 2016, and named an endangered species by the IUCN, based on the fishes’ small range. 

To halt the decline of the species, some local divers took matters into their who hands and introduced the fish to new habitations in various other areas along the eastern coast of Sulawesi Island. One of the most notable places where a population was to establish itself was inside Lembeh Strait. In the span of a couple of years, it was discovered that the Banggai’s were not only flourishing there, but they had also expanded their range all the way around the northern tip of Sulawesi to Manado – a mere 25-minute boat ride from the Bunaken National Park.

The park is a renowned marine preserve that encompasses nearly 900,000 sq-km / 350,000 square miles of habitat and includes the islands of Bunaken, Manado Tua, Mantehage, Nain and Siladen. Established as a national park in 1991, Bunaken is home to approximately 390 species of coral, and well over 3,000 species and fish and invertebrates, plus several species of marine mammals and reptiles – particularly green turtles (Chelonia mydas). 

The park is known for vibrant and healthy state corals. Underwater topographies that range from gentle slopes to vertical walls combined with excellent water clarity make the islands of Bunaken, Manado Tua and Siladen a go-to place for wide-angle photography. On the south side of Bunaken Island at sites like Lekuan 2 and Lekuan Pygmy, I encountered so many green turtles I felt like I was just about tripping over them. 

The macro life in this region of the marine park is exceptional, but, when you feel that hankering for cryptic critters, it’s time to go muck diving. The place for that is on the coastline of the mainland at sites like Bolung, Wori, White Cross, Darunu Point and Kalumpang, where you will find things like ghost pipefish, frogfish, nudibranchs, bobtail squids, flamboyant cuttlefish and of course Banggai cardinalfish.

Siladen Resort & Spa

Siladen Resort & Spa is located on its namesake island, Pulau Siladen, in the heart of the Bunaken National Park. Location alone would put Siladen at the top of many divers’ wish list. But there’s more to this resort than just great diving, and it’s the combination of what lies below the water and what waits ashore that makes this a truly world-class dive resort.  

Since day one of opening its doors in 2003, Siladen has garnered a steadfast reputation as a luxurious boutique resort.  The focal point of the property is the outdoor pool and adjacent open-air restaurant, which overlooks a 300 m / 985 ft wide stretch of white sand beach. The restaurant features a scenic view of the beach and Manado Tua Island’s volcanic profile across the water. Wrapping its way around the opposite side of the pool is the resort’s reception area, boutique & gift shop as well as an open-air lounge with a bar. 

Guest accommodations include 10 Beach View Villas and 13 Garden View Villas, some of which come in a two-bedroom format. During my stay, I had one of the single-bedroom Garden Villas, which like all their villas is elegantly decorated with a tropical flare, from hardwood flooring to four-poster beds.

In addition to spacious floor plans, all accommodations offer a range of amenities that include air conditioning, minibars, flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi, safety deposit boxes and hairdryers. The villas also include a private open-air bathroom with Balinese showers.

Exploring the rest of the grounds I found that Siladen’s three Beachside Luxury Villas take luxury up another notch, with each having its own private seawater plunge pool.

The foodie in me was sated by the resort’s Beringin Tree Restaurant, which served delectable dining choices varying from European/Mediterranean one day to Asian fusion next. Guests can also enjoy a private romantic dinner out on the beach under the stars or dine in the comfort of their rooms.

For those who want to do more than explore the underwater world, the resort offers a range of activities and facilities from kayaking and cooking classes to yoga sessions and a whole list of spa treatments. The staff can also arrange off-island sightseeing trips. A nice point to consider, but I was here for the diving.

Let’s Go Diving

Siladen’s dedicated, fully equipped PADI 5-Star facility is the first thing you’ll see on arrival, as it occupies a corner of the property overlooking the beach. The facility is split between two buildings, the first is dedicated to equipment storage. The second features a communal area in a long house, with a big open-air lounge flanked by an office at one end and a climate-controlled camera room at the other.

The camera room is nicely done with a workbench that wraps around three sides of the room, with individual workstations configured with ample electrical outlets for charging. Three large rinse tanks are located just outside. A large conference table in the center of the room doubles as a photography lecture/dive instruction classroom. FYI, the resort is equipped with European two-pin sockets and the voltage is 220, so North American visitors will need to bring adaptors. 

The dive center lounge is the rallying point for departures. Morning two-tank trips begin at 8:00 am, with the one-tank afternoon dive departing at 3:00 pm. Since nightfall happens rather quickly, night dives begin at 5:00 pm with blackwater night dives departing slightly later around 5:30 pm.

A dive operation’s agency credentials and ratings seldom hold any meaning to me. What does matter is how well that facility is operated. I was impressed by Siladen’s level of personalized service, including their dive guides, the quality of the boats and the equipment. 

Siladen has roughly 40 named dives split between the mainland coast and the cluster of nearby islands. All are reached by their fleet of four dedicated dive boats, which range from 42 to 47 feet in length. All four boats follow a particular elongated hull style favored in the region and are powered with twin outboards. 

Boats are relatively roomy, as they typically carry just 6 to 8 guests plus guides. Run times from the resort to Bunaken, and Manado Tua average between 10 and 25 minutes, while travel to more distant sites on the mainland side runs in the 35 to 60-minute range. 

There are dive sites around Mantehage and Nain islands but are less often visited due to the unpredictable nature and intensity of the currents, which are beyond most divers’ liking. When there is interest from six or more divers and favorable weather, Siladen will run a 3-tank excursion to Banka Island, which sits on the far northeastern tip of Sulawesi. This trip takes an hour and a half each way, and lunch is provided since it is an all-day affair. 

I should mention that Siladen does not have a house reef for diving. The reason is geographic in that the reef area out from the beach is not only extensively broad (imagine an area twice the size of a football field) but also extremely shallow when the tide is out. The tidal range here in North Sulawesi is 6 ft / 1.5 m between high and low tide. During high tide, you can easily snorkel across the entire reef and grass flat, but at low tide, the depth becomes so shallow you would need to trade in your snorkeling gear for a pair of thick-soled footwear. 

This varying depth range does create a bit of a workaround for the dive center. When the tide is up, dive boats can back right up to the beach allowing guests to easily board right in front of the resort. However, at low tide dive boats are moved around to the village jetty a hundred yards away to make boarding/disembarking possible. 

Dive profiles at Siladen’s sites are seldom deeper than 100 feet with most dive durations (with 15 ft safety stop include) running up to 70 – 75 minutes in length. During your initial check-in, you can confirm what you require for tank volume. Options include aluminum 62s for those who don’t require the standard 80s, and a small cache of aluminum 90s for those who need slightly larger. Tanks are configured with both standard DIN and yoke K-valves. Siladen also provides standard 32 percent fills. Nitrox is a highly recommended option if your intent is to dive several days consecutively, even if it’s only twice a day. 

Siladen’s keen-eyed dive guides are a great help in finding whatever you are interested in seeing. They also provide valet-level service that includes the dismantling and removal of gear from the boat each day, followed by a full fresh water washing before being put away for the night, then reassembling everything the next morning for your next outing. I should add that this also includes carrying your camera gear from the longhouse to the boat and back again each day.

Ah, it’s rough watching everyone else do the work while you’re on vacation, but somebody’s got to do it. 

Getting to Siladen

The most direct flight option is from Singapore to Manado’s (MDC) Sam Ratulangi International Airport by way of Silk Air, the regional carrier of Singapore Airlines. This flight is available two times a week. From within Indonesia, flights via Lion Air and Wings depart from Bali-Denpasar (DPS) and Jakarta (CGK), and both generally involve a stop and a plane change at Makassar’s (UPG) Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport, located on the Southwest coast of Sulawesi.

Once in Manado, representatives from Siladen are there to greet you and handle the transfer all the way to the resort. The process begins with a 40-minute van ride through the city to a marina where you step on one of Siladen’s dive boats for a 30-minute crossing to the island. 

On a Added Note: Siladen’s New Partnership Equals New Possibilities

During my stay at Siladen Resort & Spa, the resort’s owner Daniele Marianelli, mentioned he was working with another resort on Bangka Island. 

Not to be confused with Bangka Island off Sumatra, Indonesia, this Bangka Island is part of the Bangka Archipelago located off the northern tip of North Sulawesi between Bunaken Marine Park and the Lembeh Strait. Situated between the Celebes Sea and the Molucca Sea, this region is steeped with great possibilities for both macro and wide-angle photography. The Coral Eye Resort on Bangka Island is to become Siladen’s preferred dive resort partner.

Coral Eye Resort on Bangka Island. Yes, they have a House Reef.
Coral Eye Resort on Bangka Island. Yes, they have a House Reef.

Through this new partnership between Siladen Resort & Spa and the Coral Eye Resort, divers can now delve into two of the best of diving locales in North Sulawesi. Bangka, with its beautiful soft coral slopes and Bunaken Marine Park’s world-famous walls.

And not only can you set your reservations for both through either operation, transfers between the two can be done by boat with diving on the way, so you don’t waste any diving days.

For bookings or inquiries, please contact, or or through your preferred travel agent.