Updated: Jun 27
All good things come in three’s right?
Well, with the Passport to Paradise itinerary, and the extremely well-thought-out and excellently executed travel programme, we have to agree!
Moving on from Murex Bangka to Murex Manado was the same format as from Lembeh to Bangka… bags outside the room before breakfast, a yummy breakfast, board the dive boat, and off we go – 2 dives on the way with surface interval snacks and drinks in between, and then, as if by magic (gratuitous Mr Ben segue) we arrived at Murex Manado.
We arrived by dive boat at the new marina and jumped into the vans for a quick 15-minute transfer to the resort. When we arrived, our bags had already been delivered to our rooms and our selected welcome drink was delivered. A much-needed shower was followed by welcome cocktails and snacks in the restaurant, an open-sided building right in the centre of the resort. More cocktails followed, and then more, and then dinner, and then sleep.
Murex Manado is the most developed of the three resorts on the itinerary – perhaps because it is on the mainland, but it is still a very intimate and relaxed place to stay. Set in beautiful tropical water gardens right on the seafront, with stunning views across the bay to Bunaken and the marine park, there are only 11 rooms, each sleeping two adults comfortably in big double or twin beds. Each room is air-conditioned, with an open-air bathroom and a patio with day bed seating. Nine of the rooms overlook the beautiful gardens, and two are set right by the pool.
In the centre of the resort is the main reception building and restaurant, with the dive centre to the side. The catering here is very similar to Murex Bangka – a buffet or a la carte form a menu, with meals chosen at the meal before! The menu here is a bit bigger than Bangka, and the food is incredibly good! As are the welcome cocktails………!
On our first morning, after a pre-ordered cooked breakfast which some people didn’t remember ordering the night before, off we set for our morning of diving in the Bunaken Marine Park. We had amazing muck diving in Lembeh, followed by reefs and muck in Bangka so we were craving some ‘big stuff’, and Boy Oh Boy – did Bunaken deliver!
Bunaken Marine Park is known for deep drop-offs and walls, with a maximum depth exceeding 1840 metres. Situated between and around the islands of Manado Tua, Siladen and Bunaken itself, this incredible Marine Park is also famous for amazingly healthy soft corals and giant sponges. It’s no wonder that the amount of green sea turtles here is staggering! One dive, we stopped counting at 40 – on the reef, in the nooks and crannies sleeping, swimming along beside you, above you, below you and behind you – they are literally everywhere and take little or no notice of divers. In all my years underwater, this is perhaps the most prolific turtle destination I have experienced.
Established in 1991 by the Indonesian Government, the marine park is an incredible success, and it is not only turtles that gather – dolphins are seen almost every day from the dive boats, dugongs frequent the shallow and sheltered areas for the sea grasses that grow so well here, and whales pass through the straits on a regular basis.
Giant clams are found here, and not just your average giant clam but 7 of the 8 species in the world are found in these waters, together with over 30 species of butterfly fish, and amazingly, 70% of all the fish species that are in the Indo-Western Pacific can be found here in Bunaken.
It really is a phenomenal place to dive – big drifts or a gentle bimble are easy to find, and there is so much to see – huge sponges, walls just smothered with corals and colours, green turtles EVERYWHERE – and for the fan of all things small and crittery (made up word but I really like it), the sponges and corals are full of crabs, shrimps and little beasties, making these walls dives great for macro photographers too.
Lunch back at the resort after a morning of diving, was time for a well-earned meal. Salads, fruits, Indonesian curries and other specialities, together with burgers, pizza, fish of the day and the like are all on offer, and always a desert too!
So, that is the first half of the day taken care of………what to do in the afternoons?
Well – a snooze is always a favourite for me, but there is the option to go back and dive Bunaken even more, or stroll into the waters of Manado Bay from the beach – you will find a dark sandy sea bed and plenty of tiny things – this is critter diving right on your doorstep! Or the dive boats will take you to local reefs or even go out looking for dolphins or dugong.
The pool is also lovely – right on the water's edge, with sunbeds and bar service – if you need to off-gas a little then this is the perfect place – and the wifi works well here too, so catching up on the real world can be done if you possess masochistic tendencies.
Then dinner. Then sleep. Then repeat – it really is that simple.
So, in a nutshell, this is a top-notch dive destination with insanely good diving! A super relaxed and small resort, with great food (and cocktails) and seriously impressive dive guides too. What more could anyone want?
We will be back – and probably far more than once. This ‘Passport to Paradise’ itinerary is genius and gives a brilliant blend of diving across the three unique destinations. Lembeh is undoubtedly the very best for critters and all things that live in the muck. Bangka gives a lovely blend of pretty reefs and critters on the sandy sea bed. And Manado gives us Bunaken – phenomenal reef and wall diving – some of the very best we have done – and then the chance to see whales, dolphins and much more.
So, which was our favourite?
We are always asked ‘Where is the best place to go?’ or derivatives of such, and the answer is always incredibly hard. A single dive can make a whole trip in some instances, but pound for pound, Indonesia is now my personal favourite place to go.
I loved Lembeh – it is more upmarket, offers gourmet food, and has mind-blowing macro diving. As a newbie to a macro lens, I had a blast here. Bangka was awesome – a wonderfully chilled and relaxing destination – powder-soft sand, beachfront rooms, lovely people and really nice diving.
But for me, all things considered, Murex Manado took the title of ‘Best of the Three’ for this trip. The diving offered everything – from macro to mega-fauna, and all in a super-bright colourful and healthy marine environment – it is very much a destination in itself, and I would go back here time and time again, and maybe add on a little extension to Lembeh at the same time! Indonesia itself is stunning – beautiful scenery, and beautiful people, and we personally love the food too.
The Government have got some things very right – the marine park for example, but we have to tip our hats to and shout out about Murex – they are totally committed to the environment, both above and below the waves. They clean their beaches, clean their reefs, educate the locals through structured programmes, recycle everything they can and waste as little as possible, use solar power, and you won’t find a plastic straw or bottle in any of their resorts.
If you are thinking of where to go next, then the ‘Passport to Paradise’ itinerary gives you a brilliant insight into diving in Indonesia and what it has to offer – but take heed of our warning – you will want to go back as soon as you get home.
Our sincere thanks go out to all the staff at Murex Manado, Murex Bankga and Lembeh Resort for making this trip happen – you really did make a huge impact on us and our group, and we promise we will be coming back!
Key Facts :
Getting there : Flights with Emirates Airlines to Manado depart from any major UK airport via Dubai and Jakarta or Singapore Airlines via Singapore and Jakarta. On Emirates from London Heathrow it was a 7-hour flight with a quick two-hour layover in Dubai followed by an 8-hour flight to Jakarta. We had a longer layover in Jakarta so we booked a room at FM7 Hotel, a quick 20 minutes from the airport for a much-needed shower and a kip. The comfortable double room was £36 and offers a free shuttle to and from the airport. Our final flight on domestic carrier Garuda to Manado was 3 ½ hours. 30 to 35kg baggage allowance is typical.
Air temperature : Tropical – average daily temperature throughout the year is 28-30°C, with the humidity at 85-90%. The rainy season is considered to be November to May with peak rainfall in January.
Water temperature : 26-29°C. A 1-3mm full suit or shorty will suit most.
Visa requirement : Tourist visa is purchased on arrival for £30 or IDR 500,000.
Health protocols : When we travelled, visitors were mandated to download an app “Pedulilindungi”. This required us to upload our proof of COVID vaccination and booster and approval was received within 24 hours. Upon arrival, we provided a QR code generated by the app, had our temperature taken and then we were off.
Currency : Indonesian rupiah, US dollars or Euros on resort. We often find the exchange rate is better at the destination country. ATMs and exchange desks are available at the airport. The resort also accepted credit cards to settle our bill quoted in rupiah.
Electricity : 230V with European style (round pin) two-prong plugs. Our adaptor worked without issue, and the camera room had extension leads with UK plugs.
Internet and Wi-Fi : Wi-fi is available at no charge at the resort. The best signal around the resort was at the restaurant.
Price Guide: Expect from £1999 per person based on two sharing a beachfront room for a 7-night itinerary with full board and 10 dives. Return flights and transfers are included.
Our Advice: With a long travel time consider the Passport to Paradise itinerary to take in Lembeh, Bangka and Bunaken. We travelled to Lembeh Resort, Murex Bangka and Murex Manado Resort. Check out our trip report on Lembeh and Murex Bangka!! With numerous routes from the UK to choose from, any duration can easily be arranged.
Tourist Visa : £30 purchased on arrival.
Food & Drink : Speciality drinks, adult beverages, sodas and snacks at Bangka Resort. Fancy coffees, milkshakes, sodas, beers, wine, and cocktails were always available and affordable.
Diving Extras : Three boat dives are offered daily along with the option to sign up for additional dives. We purchased a 2 dives/day package for our trip. NITROX was an extra charge and was paid for at the end of the trip.
Tips : We would suggest a minimum of £15 per day to cover the dive centre and resort staff. Individual tips for special service are up to you!
Things to Pack :
Dry bag : A small dry bag for daily boat dives is always handy to keep your personal items together and protected.
Bug spray : When the sun went down, the mozzies came out!
Medicated or drying ear drops : On a long trip with lots of diving, our ears tend to get a little sensitive so we try to be prepared.
Rechargeable personal fan : Found on Amazon these have become a traveller favourite! Handy on the plane.