Southeast Asia is opening to the superyacht world. While remote, Indonesia boasts unspoiled, hidden cruising grounds. In this Destination Guide article, Rodolphe Holler, co-owner of Superyacht Private Expeditions, and Andy Shorten, general manager of the Lighthouse Consultancy in Bali and the local office manager of Superyacht Private Expeditions Indonesia, share their experiences and recommendations for where to go in eastern Indonesia, particularly for snorkeling and diving adventures.
Made of 17,500 islands, with only 6,000 inhabited, Indonesia is often referred to as the world’s largest archipelago. Far from well-known Jakarta or Bali, you can explore areas where you’ll feel privileged to be at the tip of the world. Among our favorites are the islands of Flores, Alor, and Komodo, east of Bali. They feature beautiful, dry mountains and active volcanoes, plus equally beautiful untouched underwater wonders. You will encounter friendly and helpful people, too.
The best time of year to visit is from April through October, during the drier season. Fly to Bali and then catch either a commercial or private flight to Maumere on Flores Island, about two hours away. That’s where your yacht should anchor. Depending on the time available, this itinerary offers the possibility of either a single trip or two, involving Flores plus Alor and then Komodo.
The water being warm, a 3- or 5-mm wetsuit will be sufficient for diving. Most dives are about 60 feet and are fairly easy, so they suit all experience levels.
Quick notes: While foreign-flagged vessels are not allowed to charter, they are welcome as private vessels. Only Indonesian-flagged yachts are granted charter licenses. This has led to the build of a few stunning traditional wooden yachts with amazingly friendly crew. As for this itinerary, no navigation permits are required except in Komodo. Depending on the port of entry, your nationality, and length of planned stay, you and your crew can acquire a Visa on Arrival (VOA) in Indonesia or prepare a Social Visa in advance.
Maumere to Pomana Kecil (17 NM)
When you arrive in Maumere, head straight to the yacht. The town doesn’t present interest to visitors. Cruising from Maumere to nearby Pomana Kecil means you travel east along Flores island. The boat will anchor in the crystal-clear lagoon, the perfect opportunity for a refresher dive in warm tropical waters. The Indo-Pacific region counts about 350 different species of coral. You won’t find such diversity anywhere else in the world!
Pomana Kecil to Witihama (70 NM)
When you wake up, you’ll see Ili Boleng in the distance. This active volcano last erupted in 1993. The area is well-known for its number of large bats and related nests, which you can discover while taking a walk. Although bats are nocturnal, you’ll see many flying during the day, making this place special. Diving nearby lets you encounter soft corals plus myriad colorful fish and macro life. The place is great to spot little critters, including nudibranchs, but also a few black-tip sharks.
Witihama to Lewotelo, Lembata Island (15 NM)
On the way to Lewotelo, you may decide to catch dinner by fishing for wahoo or yellow tuna. Telok Lewaling reef features a beautiful drop-off, worth diving twice, where you’ll encounter lots of beautiful cardinal fish. Walk along the beautiful beach with Ile Ape volcano facing you. Blue whales are sometimes spotted there.
Lewotelo to Pulau Pura (55 NM)
You’re now around the main island of Alor, where the boat will anchor close to sheltered Pulau Pura. In the scenic bay, explore famous “Anemone City,” south of the island. The dive spot is covered in anemones of various colors. There’s also an incredible number of different kinds of clown fish. You are likely to see shy tiny ribbon eels (below) and rare colorful manta shrimp, too. This is usually a drift dive, given the current. Then go on a kayak ride along the desert shores, where you are likely to encounter pods of dolphins.
Pulau Pura to Pulau Komba (55 NM)
The yacht will cruise back west to nearby Pulau Komba, a.k.a. Komba Island, in the middle of the night. You’ll be anchored on the east side of the island, facing the active side of the volcano. Be sure to wake up at 4:00 a.m., a little before sunrise, to witness the impressive eruptions, with lava slowly flowing into the ocean. It is definitely one of the must-sees of the trip. Just before breakfast, go for a dive along the volcanic slopes. There are some great massive coral formations, swarms of small fish, and dogtooth tuna.
Pulau Komba to Serebete Island (38 NM), Serebete Island to Pulau Babi (45 NM)
Serebete Island is small, a nice pit stop on the way to Pulau Babi for a swim and some nice snorkeling. You can anchor in Fishermen’s Bay.
Babi Island is located in a marine reserve (no permit required). This small, scenic desert island was hit by a tsunami in 1992 following an earthquake. Paddleboard just before breakfast in the crystal-clear blue lagoon. Don’t hesitate to go snorkeling after lunch. The earthquake left an underwater crack at a depth of about 60 feet (20 meters), allowing the frequent encounter of eagle rays and spider crabs, and sometimes hammerhead sharks. The island also features a beautiful white-sand beach, perfect for a private picnic or cocktails at sunset.
Pulau Babi to Maumere (20 NM), Maumere to Labuan Bajo (155 NM)
The second part of this trip takes you west of Flores to the Komodo archipelago. You can fly from Maumere to Labuan Bajo to avoid the long crossing.
You are now entering Komodo National Park.
Labuan Bajo to Pulau Rinca (20 NM)
Komodo National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Center, so a permit is required. It’s home to the famous Komodo dragons (above), the world’s largest living lizards, measuring on average eight to nine feet (2.4 to 2.7 meters) long. They are endemic to Indonesia and only found around the archipelago. They’re not very friendly, so you cannot pay them a visit without a local experienced guide, and you’ll never get too close. Fairly good swimmers, they are also likely to come and greet you if you’re in a tender, but it remains a safe experience! These dragons will give you a Jurassic Park-like experience! Rinca Island also hosts wild water buffalos, many species of birds, macaque monkeys, deer, and wild boar. It is a great place to hike!
Pulau Rinca to Nusa Kode (15 NM)
You will awake to the magnificent scenery of sheer escarpments surrounding the island, south of larger Rinca Island. The yacht will be anchored in the sheltered strait in between the islands.
Dive world-famous but unspoiled Cannibal Rock, looking for colorful feather stars and the yellow walls. The number of fish is overwhelming! In the afternoon, stop at the beach in Langkoi and check if manta rays are around to snorkel with you. Nusa Kode is a great place to see Komodo dragons, too.
Nusa Kode to Pantai Merah (12 NM)
Have a private barbecue on the pink-sand beach, and don’t miss a dive spectacular we call Manta Alley. You might also encounter frogfish. Make sure you go kayaking or paddleboarding during the day, as the area is scenic and the water crystal clear!
Pantai Merah to Gili Lawa (15 NM)
The yacht will cruise north of the archipelago and anchor close to the small island of Tatawa Besar. The night dive at Lok Gebah reef is simply beautiful, one of our favorites in this itinerary. During the day, you have a wide variety of possible dives. The reef is pristine, featuring wildlife in profusion, a slight drift, and walls. This could be the place to spot the shy pink pygmy seahorses, as big as the tip of your finger, living and hiding in corals of a similar color.
Gili Lawa to Banta Island (25 NM)
The island lies just outside the boundaries of the national park, featuring many finger-like bays and crescent-shaped beaches. The island is famous for its large population of giant sea turtles and manta rays. With stronger currents, you will encounter pelagic fish, barracudas, and white-tip and grey reef sharks. If you’re really adventurous, try the “highway to Hell” and get an adrenalin rush! The strong current will take you on a roller coaster ride among lots of beautiful fish. At night, you will see hunting lionfish and wandering octopuses. For your last night, have a beach dinner beneath the stars of a perfect sky!
Banta Island to Labuan Bajo (30 NM)
Should time allow, why not have a local tribal experience? Melo village close to Labuan Bajo is a good option. While sipping sopi, Florinese palm liquor, witness a caci performance (above). It’s a traditional dance representing a ritual whip fight. Two male rivals dance to the rhythm of acoustic local instruments.
It is time to end this exploration of some of the most unspoiled and safe Indonesian islands! Fly back to Bali to spend a few days at a resort, or fly back home.