Indonesia is a country formed by over 17, 000 islands, and the Lesser Sunda Island chain comprises of Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, Sumba, Timor, the Alor archipelago, the Barat Daya and Tanimbar Islands.
On Flores, many stick to the eastern port town of the island in Labuan Bajo, which is pretty easy to get to from other parts of Indonesia like Jakarta and Bali by air. And the biggest draw to this area of Indonesia is the islands that comprise of the Komodo National Park, including Komodo Island (Pulau Komodo), Padar Island (Pulau Padar), and Rinca Island (Pulau Rinca), as well as more than 20 other smaller ones.
In my week of sailing around the islands, I can confirm that these islands may have been some of the most stunning islands I've ever been to, and I've compiled this guide to break down where exactly I went to.
I should make a note here that I don't think it's necessary to go to every single one, but given the sheer amount of time we had, I really wanted to see as much as I could, covering as many places as possible, and I'll list them all here and whether they're worth seeking out.
1. Komodo Island
The Komodo Dragon, also the world's largest lizard, can be found in a number of these islands, including Komodo Island, which is almost a 3 hour sail away from the harbour of Labuan Bajo. Waters get a little choppy out here as the currents here are a lot stronger, so if you're on a local wooden boat that isn't big or a speed boat effortlessly cutting through the waves, expect to be rocking side to side for a while.
Entering Komodo Island, you'll be greeted by park rangers directing you to the ticketing office, where you'll have to pay a fee to enter. I broke down the exact fees in another, bigger post covering both Labuan Bajo and the Islands which you can read below, featuring practical information for the first-time traveller to the islands, but expect to pay around IDR 250, 000 for your hour long trek through the trail in the woods.
We saw a total of 4 dragons on this trip, and the moment we reached a wide sheltered area in the forest with a watering hole and saw a dragon lying there, every tour group pretty much stopped for a good 15 minutes to get their phones and cameras out. Here, rangers entertained many questions about these beasts, from their diet to mating season to their ages etc.
The dragons were pretty dormant here, and past the watering hole, we didn't encounter any other dragons except one resting in the shade near the beach, nor were there many other species of wildlife. However, the island itself is beautiful, featuring stunning bays with beautiful sandy beaches and jaw dropping waters of the deepest shade of turquoise and blue.
At the end of the trail, some of the villagers have set up stands selling drinks and coconuts, as well as a shed with many vendors selling souvenirs related to the dragons. They weren't pushy, but the moment it seemed a tourist was interested in one, they all got up and started to push their products.
I thought the actual experience here was just okay, but we did get some sick photos with the beasts themselves.
2. Pink Beach (Komodo Island)
Komodo Island also features the famous Pink Beach, a beach with sand that is pink because of the crushed red corals. Here, our boat had to sail away from the National Park where the gates entering the Komodo Dragon area are located, and our boat had to dock a couple of hundred metres away from Pink Beach. From here, we were given two options, to swim to the Pink Beach, or to take a water taxi.
Remember how I said the currents here are a lot stronger?
Yeah, no one on our boat fancied swimming to the beach, especially given the fact we were only given 30 minutes at Pink Beach.
The water taxi shuttle was IDR 20, 000 there and back, and the captain of your ship pretty much gets them to call you to head back once time is up.
Pink Beach was beautiful, don't get me wrong, but there were quite a number of other travellers here so it wasn't quiet. Waves were pretty strong so lying in the waters wasn't the most calming thing to do, and it also wasn't the only place I found with red coral in the sands, giving the beach a pink hue. Just scroll down to #6 on this list— Bidadari Island.
3. Manta Point
This was done as part of our itinerary for a full day trip to Komodo Island, Pink Beach and Padar (read below), which was pretty much a spot in the sea almost 2 and a half hours away from Labuan Bajo.
It's where you're supposed to be able to see manta rays, and many boats anchor here seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and a whole bunch of travellers jump off their boats with snorkels, underwater cameras and GoPros in search of these rays, but for our group that day, there was only a sole manta ray, and numerous other small fish.
4. Padar Island
I can't even hide how much I loved Padar Island.
Padar Island is one that has been photographed over and over again, and often features on many Instagram shots, and is one that I really wanted to see, just for the fact Padar's one of those places that is so surreal that it doesn't even really feel like Earth anymore.
We were given a measly hour to make it up and back down, but that very much depends on your travel arrangements, as we were strapped for time on day trips as sailing in and out of Labuan Bajo took up quite a fair amount of time. One thing's for sure though, I would've massively appreciated having more time here, one because the climb up and down is actually decently challenging, and just to be able to take in the view a bit more.
Your hike up starts with stairs made out of wooden planks, which are fine enough, but halfway up, the stairs slowly give way to nothing more than well-trodden dirt paths that are bare of grass but are steep and have little indentations for you to place your foot and make your way up. It does get quite steep and slippery here depending on the footwear you have on, and though I'd recommend having shoes on, some other travellers did it with flip flops, though I'd rather go barefoot if it came down to it.
The hike up features some resting points and look out points, if you need a little time to conserve your energy and / or take in the view at the same time.
Of course, the higher you go, the better the view of the island seemingly spreading out in front of you featuring beautiful bays. It's a little impossible to head down to the beaches here, both because you are so high up, and because most if not all are here for the trekking path.
I'll never forget the views from up here.
5. Rinca Island
Rinca is also another big island for komodo dragon watching, but this is a fair bit closer to Labuan Bajo compared to the former 2 stated above, so this might be of the most interest if you're really interested in seeing the komodo dragons. According to park rangers on Komodo, more than 1, 000 dragons are on Komodo Island, and there are slightly more on Rinca.
And certainly, despite not paying for anything and staying at the ticketing office while another family in our tour group went to see them, we saw a couple of dragons roaming about, as well as deer, cows, water buffaloes and monkeys. Of course, I should note that the wildlife you see is very much dependent on your luck, so we might have not seen anything on Rinca too if we didn't go in.
But if you're choosing between Komodo Island and Rinca Island (and you certainly don't have to do both given they both offer pretty much the same type of experience), I'd go with Rinca just because it's nearer to Labuan Bajo.
6. Bidadari Island
With this, we're entering the territory of small islands in the waters, some so small you can walk around the island in half an hour.
Bidadari offers snorkelling, as well as some of the most stunningly clear and calm waters. As mentioned in the first part of the article with the Pink Beach, it was here that I found some crushed red coral in the sands here.
Beach wise, you couldn't do much better than Bidadari Island. The strip of sand wasn't the widest, but because there weren't many other people here, we got to have the beach and bay pretty much to ourselves, which was pretty good going. The beach also doesn't offer a steep drop off into the sea, so you could get out into the waters pretty nicely and the lack of big waves here means you barely have to fight currents, and is good for beginners at snorkelling and / or swimming.
7. Kelor Island
Located pretty near to Labuan Bajo is Kelor Island, another small island with a very steep hill you can hike up for some breathtaking views.
I should add that when I mean steep, this is steep.
It's a complete dirt path up, and I did this barefoot, all the while knowing if I fell back or off to the side, I may or may not be typing this post right now, ha.
Saying that though, some guides do follow their travellers up, and they help out other travellers up and down or to guide the way, even if they're not part of their group.
There's also a pretty stunning beach here, though closer to the waters, there are many bigger seashells on the bed, making it slightly painful to walk on barefoot, just look where you're going! If you're sticking to the beach, it might not be the worst idea to protect your soles with your flip flops.
8. Sabolo Island
Sabolo right now isn't even identified on Google Maps, that's how many uninhabited islands in the middle of the sea there are in this island chain.
I did this as part of the Island Explorer tour with Le Pirate Labuan Bajo, where we were staying, and we headed to this beautiful island where we could hike up too. It wasn't steep but I'd kinda had enough hiking by that point, so I opted to stop midway through to get a nice picture and headed back down. Oh, and our local guide said there might be venomous snakes lying about in the long grass. Think I'll pass on the opportunity to come face to face with one, thanks.
While Sabolo might be uninhabited and unnamed on Google Maps now, there's a massive development project happening now, as Le Pirate is extending here and looking to build a resort type of affair, so it might become a private island off-limits to other day trippers in the future.
9. Bird Island
Another island we headed to was Bird Island, so called because there have been eagles spotted here, though our local guide said he'd only heard of the birds but never seen one in the flesh, and we didn't see one when we were there too.
It was here that i got my "on a cliff at the edge of the world" photo op, and it took a 5 minute steep hike up through the foliage to get to it and the view from up here as you can imagine, was pretty stunning too.
The sand here is also powdery and the waters clear, if you'd prefer to stay at the beach instead.
10. Hantamin Island
Also unnamed and untagged on Google Maps is Hantamin Island, which wasn't completely deserted so it's definitely a stop on other tour operators' itineraries.
According to our local guide, he mentioned here's where you get to see baby sharks, and we swam to the beach (the boat had to anchor further away from the island due to the low tide), and from there we circled back to the other end of the island where we stayed for a couple minutes trying to spot the brown sharks swimming in and amongst the rocks. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see any, and he mentioned it was odd because they're usually always there. I spoke with other travellers who went to the island and they said they got to see them so it's all down to luck.
Here, you can swim away to another part of the island out in the waters for snorkelling, and I saw a whole group of travellers with their snorkels poking out in the air.
11. Monkey Island
Located closest to Labuan Bajo, Monkey Island is famous for the monkeys that dwell on the island. It's important to note that I did this trip as part of what was included in my rate when I stayed at the Boatel at Le Pirate, and I wouldn't have done it otherwise.
From where we were staying in the sea facing the island, we spotted at least 4 monkeys going to the beach on one of the afternoons, but when we went later that evening, we saw a grand total of... zero monkeys.
The hike up was nice and had steps all the way up, so it was probably the easiest hike I've ever done, but we decided to head inland where we landed on the other side of the island, and instead of seeing monkeys, we saw a whole load of trash and it was sickening.
Plastic bottles, glass beer bottles, motor engines, food wrappers, you name it, it all washed up there. It was honestly really sad to see and people really need to stop dumping their waste into the sea like that.
Monkey Island then, was a bit of a disappointment, but perhaps at another time, we might've spotted some locals of the island.
From my trip to Flores and Indonesia, I've turned some of my photography into my brand of everyday products which you can check out below. Worldwide shipping is available so if you're looking for a tote bag to take home to remember your travels if you too have been to this part of Indonesia, and if you'd like to support this passion project of mine, look no further!
View the full product catalogue at the shop here.