Since Indonesia is an archipelago comprising over 13.000 islands, traveling throughout this country automatically becomes an island-hopping adventure on itself. Yet, this post isn’t about the main islands but about some of the smaller but well-known ones around (West) Nusa Tenggara. Which makes for an interesting trip consisting of white sand beaches, a bit of nightlife, excellent snorkeling (and/or diving), yoga sessions, manta rays and Komodo dragons. All of this set in beautiful surroundings.
Coming from Bali our first stop is on Gili Trawangan, the largest and busiest of the three Gili islands. Once discovered by backpackers it’s nowadays well on the tourist map. We were curious to see how much it had changed since our first visit about 3 years ago. While it already was quite upmarket back then, it had gone up even more now. Lots of boutiques have emerged and even the most basic bungalows seemed to have got an upgrade. Still it’s a pleasant place to hang around, party a little, do some snorkeling or drop in on a yoga class. For us it was specially nice to be reunited with our friend Cefas and some other friends that we met along the way on Java.
Boat trip to Komodo
After 9 days on Gili T it was time to move on. So we booked a 4-day/3-night boat trip to Komodo. Based on the horror stories about this trip on TripAdvisor we had our doubts. But after a first hand report from a friend who had just done the trip, we decided to go. Glad we did. It was one of the best experiences over the past few months.
Day 1: Lombok
We left Gili T early in the morning by public boat and gathered with another 70 people at the office of Wanua Adventures in Bangsal on Lombok. At first I was a bit worried about the number of people and how to fit them all on one boat. But then I found out they had 3 boats. We were with 22 people on our boat, which gave everyone enough space. The boats are basic but clean. We first secured our sleeping spot on the upper deck where we got a mattress, pillow and blanket.
As we set off sailing on the north side of Lombok the swell gets a bit bigger and by the time we sit down for dinner I’m a little seasick. Not good for the appetite. Luckily this feeling disappears as soon as I lay down and close my eyes. After a short nap I feel better and get down to the front deck. Together with some of the other people on the boat I see the moon rise from the sea. What a pleasant way of traveling.
Day 2: Moyo & Satonda (Sumbawa)
The boat has moved on all night and the next morning we arrive at Moyo island where we go ashore to visit a waterfall. The other two boats are also here and with a big group of about 70 people we make the short walk to the waterfall. It’s nice to have a fresh water shower but after that you still have to swim back to the boat so the pleasure is momentarily.
After breakfast we continue to Satonda island, a small volcano with a salt water lake in its crater. But the real draw here is the coral reef in front of the beach. Beautiful coral in all shapes and colors and plenty of fish. Snorkeling here is incredible, easily the best I had seen so far. While many people keep hanging around in the salt water lake we decide to maximize the snorkeling experience and head back to the coral reef.
The rest of the day we cruise along the empty coastline of Sumbawa. The sea is almost flat now. I find myself a nice spot in the canoe that’s on the front deck and put on some music. Seeing the beautiful green hills of Sumbawa roll by while listening to some chill-out tunes is a simple but rewarding experience.
Day 3: Manta Rays & Komodo Dragons
During the second night the boat has sailed the rest of Sumbawa and in the morning we can already see Komodo island. But first we make a stop at Gili Laba, a small deserted coral island just to the north of Komodo. While the snorkeling at Satonda was already impressive, it’s even better at Gili Laba! Floating really close above the coral makes it even more colorful. An abundance of tropical fish completes the experience.
When we approach Manta Point our guide Honey tells us to prepare for snorkeling with the manta rays. There’s a strong current here and we therefore have to jump in and stay together as a group. As soon as we see some manta’s appearing at the surface Honey gives us the sign. Everybody jumps in and starts to swim like crazy.
At first I don’t see any of them but just as I start to think that I’m at the wrong spot I see one of these giant creatures coming straight at me. Damn! They’re huge! I guess at least 2m wide. And they’re all around me now. I see at least four of them gently swaying around in circles. It’s an impressive sight. When we get back on the boat everybody is excited and elated. Definitely a highlight of the trip!
We’ve barely just recovered from the manta ray encounter when we set foot on Komodo island, home to the famous Komodo dragons, the world’s largest lizard. After a brief instruction from one of the guides we go on a tour. There are 4 guides accompanying our group of 22. All of them just holding a forked wooden stick, apparently enough to scare off the dragons in case of an attack.
After a short walk we see a dragon a couple of meters from the path. He’s at least 2m long. Everybody quickly withdraws when he suddenly starts to move. They may look like lazy animals but they can run faster than a human being. And can kill one too although that rarely happens. They normally feed on pigs, chicken, deer, goats or even a water buffalo. It takes a grown-up dragon only 15 to 20 minutes to swallow a goat. But their metabolism is very slow which means they only eat once a month. Hopefully they just had their meal…
After the dust and the heat on Komodo island we for a refreshing dive in the waters at Pink Beach, also on Komodo island and only a short boat ride from the park entrance. Again the snorkeling is superb. We’re higher above the coral now but there’s bigger fish here which makes it an equally interesting spot. At sunset we anchor in a quiet bay near the Komodo village where we stay for the third and last night of the trip.
Day 4: Rinca & Labuan Bajo
The next morning we visited Rinca island to see some more dragons. It’s basically the same as Komodo island although it’s said that the dragons can be more aggressive here. During our visit they were as lazy as on Komodo though. Nevertheless the views from Rinca over the Komodo archipelago make up for the lack of activity.
From Rinca we set direction to Labuan Bajo, the main entry point in the west of Flores and endpoint of the trip. On the way we make a short stop at Kelor island for some final snorkeling but compared to the other places this spot is a bit disappointing. The beach here is nice though.
At the end of the day we moor at the jetty in Labuan Bajo. It’s possible to spent an extra night on the boat (for free) but after three days on the boat everybody is in such a need for a refreshing shower that we all decide to leave the boat and find a hotel. Later that night we finish the trip in style at the Paradise bar where lots of beer and a failed performance of a Justin Bieber lookalike contributed to the revelry. It has been an amazing trip!
We had spent a day in Labuan Bajo searching for possibilities to travel a bit more inland on Flores but came to the conclusion that we would need at least 10 to 12 days to explore Flores properly. Unfortunately we had only one week left on our visa. So we decided to go to Kanawa island, a small island with just one resort about 90 minutes by boat from Labuan Bajo.
Not a bad choice. A beautiful serene spot with excellent snorkeling on the reef just off the white sand beach. We stayed for 2 nights in one of the beachfront Bale’s which are simple bamboo huts with a double mattress and a mosquito net. The walls are just a couple of bamboo roll down curtains. But since there are no fans the open sides provide the absolutely necessary breeze at night. On top of that, it’s perfect for spotting stars in the inky-black sky.
Everything including fresh water to wash and shower has to be brought in from Flores so accommodation and food is a bit more expensive than in most other places but the location is certainly worth it. There’s a diving centre on the island too which makes it an excellent base for diving trips in the Komodo archipelago.
It was strange to read on the news that Sangeang Api, the volcano that we looked at during the sunset from Kanawa, erupted a couple of days after. Causing a huge volcanic ash plume that kept planes grounded for days throughout Indonesia and Australia.
Our flight out of Indonesia is from the new international airport on Lombok. Most people opt to fly from Labuan Bajo to Denpasar but, die-hard overlanders as we are, we decided to take the non-stop ferry-bemo-bus-ferry-bus-bemo-horse cart-boat to Gili Air. It took us about 27 hours. Which is probably pretty fast because our slightly insane bus driver managed to take most of the road bends at full speed. Unnecessary to say that we didn’t get much sleep on the way.
We had been on Gili Air before on day or snorkel trips but never stayed there for the night. It’s absolutely less bustling than Gili T but there’s a relaxed vibe and some real tasteful accommodation. And we found the food not only cheaper but better too. This is typically an island where you need a couple of days to find the right pace. Three days were not enough. So we have to come back and stay for at least a week. Or two. Preferably in one of these nice bungalows on the northern stretch.
We booked the boat trip with Wanua Adventures at Andy Tour & Travel on Gili Trawangan. They start the trips from Bangsal on Wednesday and Saturday. It’s also possible to do the trip from Flores (Labuan Bajo) but there are normally fewer people doing the trip from there so departure can depend on the number of registrations.
Andy offered the trip for 1.75M IDR but we bargained it down to 1.55M (about €100) per person for a sleeping-place on the deck. The price includes all meals, entrance fees for Komodo NP, snorkel masks (no fins) and 6 large bottles of water. You can pre-order beer and soft drinks in the Wanua office at Bangsal. Drinks will be kept cool during the trip in a cooler filled with ice.
You can also book a cabin but I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone. The cabins have no windows and are right above the engine and next to the kitchen. Which means it’s noisy and hot. And since you’re next to the kitchen you might have to share your room with a couple of cockroaches too. After the first night we found the people who had booked the more expensive cabins sleeping outside on the deck.
More photos in the Facebook Photo Album!