With every trip that I plan and book, there’s usually one part in particular that I look forward to the most. On our voyage to Singapore and Indonesia this summer, our three-night boat tour around the Komodo Islands was it.
Not only was the tour a real highlight of our entire trip, but our short time at sea would end up being probably four of the best days of my life – we spotted wildlife, we swam in turquoise waters, and we left footprints on what is without a doubt one of the most beautiful (and underrated) corners of the world.
After spending a few nights in Bali, we took a short flight from Denpasar to Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores to join the Le Pirate Explorer boat. As a serial planner and organiser, I booked our spot on their four-day-three-night trip over six months in advance, making sure that we had our place on the small catamaran-style boat that only accommodated five couples.
Day one – Rinca and Padar Island
We set sail early in the morning after a quick briefing at the Le Pirate restaurant in Labuan Bajo.
Onboard the boat, we were first allocated our rooms – basic tent-style cabins with a double bed, and fabric walls that zipped open and closed to the ocean view outside. After dropping off our bags, we settled into the communal living area underneath the cabins, and met the four other pairs on our tour (three couples and two friends), and relaxed on the deck while we made our way to our first stop – Rinca.
Getting the chance to see Komodo dragons in their natural habitat was one of the main reasons I wanted to come, and our trek around Rinca did not disappoint. We spotted several dragons before we’d even set off on our walk around the island, and just like the rest of the stops we would come to make, the place was beautiful and full of greenery.
Read more here:
Trekking with Komodo Dragons on Rinca
After learning all about the world’s largest lizards, we headed back to the boat and sat around the table for lunch, which consisted of tempeh burgers for me, and meat alternatives for the carnivores. The meal was plentiful, and not for the first time during the trip, I felt bad for what we didn’t manage to finish.
With an hour to go until our next stop, our group disbanded, and some of us opted to relax on the beanbags spread out on the deck while others lounged on the hammocks on either side of the catamaran. I sank into my seat and squinted against the Indonesian sunshine at the passing landscape, fully embracing the hot sun and warm breeze against my skin. The boat rocked gently against the waves, and as we sailed into deeper ocean, big splashes of water were brought up onto the deck, followed by laughter as those of us near the edge became drenched.
We arrived at Padar Island in the early evening, and started our ascent towards the top of the hill as the sun began its descent into the horizon. Somehow we had made it here before any other tour groups, and in our pairs we sat together overlooking the island, watching the sunset with only each other and the sound of the gentle breeze for company.
Before the darkness came, a few small crowds from other tour boats had arrived at the viewpoint just as we began to make our way back down. But it wasn’t time for us to say goodbye to Padar yet, as our first stop the next morning would be to the beach on the other side of the island which we could just make out.
The ocean was rough that evening, and I was grateful to take a sea-sickness tablet from a fellow traveller in our group before dinner, having forgotten to bring my own. With full stomachs and weary legs, we retired to our respective rooms soon after, but were unable to catch much sleep during the night as the boat rocked in the strong ocean waves, and as the crew moved us to find safer spots to anchor.
I got up early the next morning feeling no less tired than the night before, but the view from our room more than made up for the feeling. After all, I didn’t come here to sleep…
Day two – snorkelling, and more wildlife spotting
We began our second day in the best way possible – by breathing in warm ocean air and feeling the sand between our toes. But not just any sand, pink sand, a seemingly impossible colour caused by the breakdown of a red coral.
I went for a swim in the already-warm turquoise waters and strolled up and down the length of the shore of Pink Beach, but my morning in paradise was broken slightly when I noticed the remnants of plastic debris that had been washed up onto the sand – a very real and sobering reminder of our impact on the world which even beautiful beaches like this aren’t safe from. I collected as much rubbish as I could into my wet bag to take back to the boat, and it quickly became filled with plastic bottles, bottle caps, utensils, toothbrushes, containers, and even a small lightbulb.
We gathered for breakfast back on the boat before making our journey to our second stop of the day – Banana Island.
Named after the curve of its shape, we stepped foot on a small sand strip seemingly in the middle of the ocean. The water here was even more clear than before, the white-pink sand even softer, and the rolling hills in the distance even more verdant. I walked the length of this small bank smiling to myself and gazing around, wondering just how I’d managed to find myself here – it’s safe to say I found my happy place in Indonesia.
With another small bag of plastic collected, I climbed back on the boat with the others and we headed to our next stop.
I’m not proud to admit that I’m a poor swimmer, and being unable to tread water means I rely heavily on a life jacket to keep me afloat. Although the ocean was a lot calmer that day compared to the first, being in open water still makes me anxious no matter what.
Our next stop was Manta Point, a spot where you might get the chance to see manta rays, which was something I was definitely looking forward to doing. The rest of our group had happily jumped into the ocean to try and follow a manta that had been seen below, meaning I soon found myself sat alone, afraid to jump off the boat. Arnold, our main supervisor from the crew, kindly offered to take me in our little motorboat – a small vessel used to ferry us from the main catamaran to the shore at each stop – towards the manta ray instead so I didn’t have to jump off or try to swim and catch up with everyone else.
I looked over the edge of the small boat and saw a giant black shadow gliding through the water below, and gulped. ‘Am I not too close?’ I asked. ‘No, it’s OK, they are friendly’, replied Arnold, somewhat reassuringly. I hesitantly dropped myself into the water and saw it there directly beneath me. A huge dark creature, its mouth open and its fins spread out wide, moving effortlessly through the ocean as if it was flying.
The rest of our group caught up with me in the water, and together we watched in awe as the manta ray swam away, totally unphased by our presence.
Later that afternoon, we stopped to snorkel at another spot where we were lucky enough to catch sight of our first turtle! And later, our boat set sail again before anchoring in between two islands, and we all relaxed as the sun began to set.
Almost to the minute at 6 pm, we started to see some small shadows fluttering in the sky in the distance. Fruit bats in this area fly from one island to the other every morning to feed, and then return at the same time every evening. I had expected to see only a few dozen, but before long the orange and pink sky overhead was filled with thousands of small fruit bats, flapping their wings toward their home across the sea.
Dinner that night was not wasted – we ate bowlfuls of pasta and reminisced about our jam-packed day and all the wildlife we’d been able to see.
The ocean was beautifully calm, and without strong winds like the previous evening, we were also able to take advantage of the boat’s projector screen. With drinks and blankets, we settled in for a movie night on the deck as the darkness fell. From the available selection, I pushed for a screening of Disney’s Moana, which I still stand was the perfect film to watch in our tropical surroundings.
When the film drew to its inevitable happy ending we all headed off to bed, the songs still playing in my head as I drifted off to sleep.
Day 3 – Le Pirate Island
After a restful night’s rest, I woke up to another beautiful sea view.
We had breakfast on the boat, and then made our way to a small island where we took a morning swim, hiked the nearby hill, and sunbathed on the beach.
Back on the boat, we made our last journey to Le Pirate Island where we’d be spending our final night of the tour. I thanked the crew for all their hard work, and then packed up our bags, ready to transfer onto the island after lunch.
On the island, we checked into our new bedrooms and settled into our beautiful wooden cabins located right on the beach – little huts with a double bed accessed via a ladder, and two sun loungers underneath. What more do you need?
Having had all of our activities arranged for us the past two days, the pace dropped a little now that we were left to decide for ourselves how to fill our time. Dave and I spent the afternoon kayaking, snorkelling (where we spotted another turtle as well as a baby shark!), and sipping a few cocktails from the beach bar to mark our 10 year anniversary together – I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it than on a private island.
For dinner, Vietnamese rolls were served. We shared a grill in the middle of our tables and cooked our own food to our liking before wrapping everything up with rice and dips. This was fun, but unfortunately it wasn’t the best set up for vegetarians – my selection of veggie skewers didn’t cook very well, and using the same pan for both meat and vegetarians would have been an issue for those stricter than me. I enjoyed my tempeh though and was happy to at least be accommodated for.
Dave and I spent the rest of the night playing board games and spotting little hermit crabs scuttling across the sand, which we made sure not to step on while making our way to bed. I fell asleep to the sound of the ocean just on the other side of our thin curtains, and tried not to think about leaving tomorrow.
Day 4 – relaxing, and final goodbyes
Does anything beat waking up on a beach?
We ‘checked out’ of our beach hut rooms after breakfast, and later watched in envy as new guests arrived at midday to spend their night on this private island.
We tried to make the most of our remaining time on Le Pirate Island, and spent our last day reading and relaxing on the beach, playing table tennis, and of course, swimming and snorkelling in the clear waters.
But before we knew it, the afternoon came and it was time to say our last goodbyes. I took a shower in the open-air bathrooms and packed up our belongings, then made our way to the pier with our luggage to set sail for the final time back to Labuan Bajo.
Arriving at our hotel not long after, I turned on my phone for the first time in four days. I didn’t even think about looking at it once during our time with Le Pirate, and in our modern-day world, that’s how you know you were somewhere really special.
Book your own trip:
- Our three-night/four-day trip cost IDR 9,300,000 / £510 / $670 for a double cabin. Longer and shorter trips are also available.
- All meals, snacks, and basic drinks (water, tea, coffee) are included. Alcohol and soft drinks are charged extra.
- I highly recommend booking early!
- We stayed at the Le Pirate hotel the night before and after our boat trip for IDR 600,000 / £33 per night which included breakfast. They also have a unique boatel (boat hotel) off the coast of Labuan Bajo!
- Water is precious on Le Pirate Island and in Labuan Bajo, so don’t waste it
- The itinerary is dependant on weather and tide conditions, so your trip may not be exactly the same as mine
- Komodo Island is currently closed to the public, but Rinca remains open to tours like this
- There is an additional ranger and Komodo National Park fee which is payable on the day of departure that’s not included in the cost of the tour. Allow an additional IDR 1,000,000 each for this and other drinks on board.
- This was one of the most magical trips I’ve ever taken and I couldn’t recommend it enough.
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