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Lombok to Flores by boat & Komodo Dragons

We love to travel overland (or sea) as often as possible, as we believe that the journey can be just as adventurous, if not more, than the destination itself, and the four day Kencana adventure tour from Lombok to Flores is certainly a great way to travel east in Indonesia. And what better reward after those four long days, than to land on a modern day ‘Jurassic Park’ where man-eating dragons roam.

The trip is an epic adventure that, although not luxurious in any way, is a great way to experience the beauty and vastness of the country and is also an authentic way to experience Indonesian travel – after all, the country is made up of thousands of islands. The trip covers a vast distance, passing stunning islands, and tropical clear blue waters and feels wonderfully remote, but there’s plenty to see and do throughout the journey too, with great snorkelling, swimming, hiking, the opportunity to see dolphins and whales (which were there but we didn’t see) and of course encounters with the infamous komodo dragon on Komodo and Rinca island.

Rugged, isolated and beautiful scenery along the way.
Rugged, isolated and beautiful scenery along the way.

For a long time we pondered whether or not to take this trip, as we’ve heard horror stories of sinking ships, stolen luggage and bad weather and so we considered our options carefully, those options being either the more expensive (and luxurious) Perama Tours or the more affordable (and less luxurious) Kencana Adventures. Once we’d discovered though that a good friend had recently made the same trip with Kencana, and loved it, our minds were made up.

We booked the tour with an agent on Gili Air, and after asking at a few of the many tour offices on the island, we just went with the agent who gave us the best price. We paid 3,000,000 Rupiah (US$300) for two people (which included all transport and other fees except for a small 20,000 Rupiah fee (per person) for visiting two of the islands and a 50,000 Rupiah fee for our camera on Komodo) our fee also included a free horse carriage pick up from our hotel in the north of the island.

Day one 

The transport from Gili Air leaves early in the morning on a local ferry which takes you over to Lombok, and from there, the air-conditioned bus collected us soon after, and drove us for a couple of hours to the main Kencana office, where we could stock up on goods, were given a briefing about the trip and could get to know our 18 new friends a little better.

Included in our ticket price were five, one and a half litre bottles of water per person, but we also had the opportunity to request more water, beer and soft drinks which would be waiting for us on the boat. We ordered four extra waters for both of us, which was more than adequate.

With the tour now officially started, we drove east across Lombok for a few hours, arriving at the port at around 3.30pm. Our small, but very cool boat was waiting for us at the harbor and we jumped on-board our new home excitedly – a good idea would have been to immediately gone upstairs to claim the best beds at the back of the boat – the 20 passengers plus crew fitted easily onto the boat and it never felt crowded, although the upper deck only sleeps 18 people comfortably. Life vests were also onboard.

Our pretty boat was perfect for the journey.
Our pretty boat was perfect for the journey.

Soon afterwards we were heading out to sea, the atmosphere on-board buzzed with gossip and chat as new acquaintances were made and as the sun bagan to dip below the huge horizon we cracked open a beer and settled in. It was just a few hours to our first destination and in a sheltered bay, we dropped anchor and sat to enjoy a wonderful dinner – in fact all of the food throughout the four days was delicious, plentiful and very typical Indonesian food.

The food was always plentiful and delicious too.
The food was always plentiful and delicious too.

By 9pm the lights were off and everyone had retired to bed, but as we hadn’t picked a decent spot in the sleeping area, we decided to take our mats down onto the deck to sleep there. With the deck almost all to ourselves, we spread ourselves out and gazed at the billions of stars overhead as we gently bobbed to sleep on the water – we fell in love with life at sea and immediately began pondering a life on the ocean. How much would it cost to buy this boat………? (Just US$20,000 by the way).

The kitchen, at the back of the boat.
The kitchen, at the back of the boat.

At 2am, the engine unexpectedly kicked in and we set sail east, (we say sail, but it wasn’t quite that romantic), this boat wasn’t powered by the wind, but a large, loud engine that chugged us into the night. As we left the safety of the bay, the boat began to rock a little more and splashes of water rained over us on deck – we felt like stow-aways and huddled together to try for a little more sleep.

Day two

At first light, everyone was up early, and raring to go. At that point we’d already arrived at our first destination of the day, and after a decent breakfast, we dived into the sea from the bow of the boat, to swim ashore for a hike into the jungle on Moyo island, there we could find a waterfall where we could take a freshwater shower, and although the waterfall wasn’t particularly big or impressive, the cool powerful water was the perfect remedy to a salty night at sea.

The perfect way to refresh after a night at sea.
The perfect way to refresh after a night at sea.

Back onboard, we made a second stop to visit the large but somewhat warm and weird salt water lake on Satonda island, before enjoying some impressive snorkelling action – the quantity of colourful fish amongst the coral was mesmerising, had we been dropped into a tropical aquarium?

Life on-board was relaxed yet rather hard on the back-side.
Life on-board was relaxed yet rather hard on the back-side.

After a large lunch (did we say the food was impressive?) we embarked on the main ‘sailing’ part of the journey, a 17 hour haul to Komodo island. Onboard there was plenty of time to read, chat, re-charge camera batteries or just enjoy the sublime, green rugged landscape of Sumbawa to the south, or the endless ocean that stretched out to the north.

Mike driving the boat, so it was surprising that we went the right way.
Mike driving the boat, so it was surprising that we went the right way.
Sunset out at sea.
Sunset out at sea.

That night, as the boat made its way into open water we were woken by extreme rocking, as if a female Polish shot-putter on steroids was trying to rock us to sleep. This was the only time we began to feel anxious, and so we started planning our route to the life-vests. Dropping down through the hatch onto deck to gauge the mood of the crew, we found them casually smoking (as usual) and smiling (as usual) – everything was fine, this was a mere one meter swell caused by two currents meeting and a little wind. God help anyone caught in a storm!

Day three

The best day by far. It began with a steep hike up the side of a mountain for spectacular views of the surrounding area – we were reminded of the beauty of the rolling hills of Wales – yet in a much more dramatic location, here we were explorers and the islands around us, there to be conquered. That’s how it felt anyhow.

Impressive views from the top of the mountain.
Impressive views from the top of the mountain.
In every direction, the scenery was stunning.
In every direction, the scenery was stunning.

Later, our pretty white boat sailed alongside the huge Komodo island, following its impressive curves and spiky terrain, much like the dragons themselves. The island felt mysterious, dangerous and unchartered territory.

Stopping at the impressive ‘Pink Beach’ which although didn’t look at all pink from the boat was, on closer inspection, in fact pink. Covered with a sprinkling of super fine red coral, from up-close the it was indeed pink, much to our guide’s satisfaction, as we returned on board humbled to have not believed him in the first place.

Arriving at Pink Beach. Honestly it’s pink. Go and see for yourself.
Arriving at Pink Beach. Honestly it’s pink. Go and see for yourself.

In this bay, the snorkelling was unreal, we don’t know all of the names of the fish we saw – but there were manta rays, small sharks and others that just appeared to be not of this world.

What followed, was a our very own Jurassic park adventure.

Arriving on Komodo Island.
Arriving on Komodo Island.

Stepping ashore on Komodo island was something very special indeed. Our guides were tooled up with long Y shaped sticks to fend off any potential man-eaters, but on our short hike, most of the dragons we found were quite content to lie around in the shade and have their pictures taken – although we’re sure they were eyeing up their favourite tourist for a post buffalo snack.

The sticks used to fend off any hungry dragons.
The sticks used to fend off any hungry dragons.
A dragon runs for cover at the sight of us. Hence the blurry action shot.
A dragon runs for cover at the sight of us. Hence the blurry action shot.
The beautiful island of Komodo.
The beautiful island of Komodo.

It turned out that most of the dragons we got to see, had made themselves comfortable outside the restaurant close to the port – all they were missing were some serviettes, knives and forks.

Lazy, fat drangons hanging around the cafe.
Lazy, fat drangons hanging around the cafe.
You can see the fear!
You can see the fear!

The highlight of the entire trip though came unexpectedly that night. As darkness fell, a young, energetic Austrian couple dived overboard into the black seas to cool off – what they discovered was that the plankton (under a moonless sky) was reacting to their movement by shining in fluorescent green lights, millions of them.

Before long, the entire group had joined them for a spot of night snorkelling, a truly magical feeling gripped us all, this was like nothing we’ve ever experienced before, the whole group laughed, screamed and joked splashing around in this wonder of nature – there was no way to capture this moment, no way to describe it – we could only be there, at that special moment, savour it, and remember it in our hearts forever.

This was one of those moments that travel was made for. A moment not in any guide book, brochure or tour plan, a complete moment of personal discovery. It was ours, ours alone and will remain with us forever.

Our guide wasn’t too keen on his entire group disappearing into the darkness of the water, but he couldn’t stop us either, he simply allowed us to enjoy the moment, keeping a keen eye on us all, only later did he explain his concern. Put simply, sharks!

Filled with adrenalin, our final night onboard was wonderful, as the group bonded closer together under a blanket of stars, beers clinked and we laughed and joked into the night.

Enjoying the ride.
Enjoying the ride.
Sunrise on day four.
Sunrise on day four.

 Day four

After a peaceful night’s sleep in the calm harbor waters, we awoke early again. Rinca island, is the only other island in the world where the dragons exist, and there, we were able to enjoy a much longer, rugged hike searching for the mouth foaming beasts. Unfortunately though (as is our luck with wildlife) we spotted only one dragon, but plenty of its prey in the shape of water buffalo, deer and boar, yet again, the most photogenic dragons had positioned themselves next to the cafe.

Rinca island. Beauty with a beast.
Rinca island. Beauty with a beast.
Our guide takes the lead on Rinca.
Our guide takes the lead on Rinca.
Water buffalo wallowed in the muddy pools – watch out for dragons!
Water buffalo wallowed in the muddy pools – watch out for dragons!
Other buffalo weren’t so lucky.
Other buffalo weren’t so lucky.
Cheeky monkey on Rinca island.
Cheeky monkey on Rinca island.

With Flores and the harbor town of Labuanbajo in sight, there was a final chance to swim and enjoy a game of football on the beach with a group of local kids before we sailed slowly into harbor. It had been epic, magical, salty, sweaty and tiring, everything a good adventure should have, and it’s certainly a trip we’d recommend for anyone looking for adventure travel whilst not afraid of roughing it for a few days.

The ramshackle port town of Labuanbajo.
The ramshackle port town of Labuanbajo.

In Labuanbajo, we found all of the necessary amenities a weary traveller needs, and although the level of accommodation was quite poor, after 4 days on a boat, it was very adequate. Most surprising was the number of quality restaurants with fast wi-fi connections which allowed us to re-assure friends and family of our safe passage. Flores was now spread out before us, sprawling further eastwards waiting for us to explore more.

Comments

Miguel
Reply

Hi Mike.

What an amazing travel! My girlfriend and I are planning to do the same tour this summer. I would like to ask you for some tips on what you did in Flores and how many days you were there.There seems to be loads of amazing things to do but distances between each of the places seem challenging..

Thanks in advance,

Miguel

Martin
Reply

Hi.
Wonderful pics and trip.
The pic under day 3 on the hill. Which island was it? Looks stunning.
Thx. 🙂

Mike
Reply

Hi Martin,
Not sure of the name of that island now, it was just one of the highlights of that particular boat trip. I think getting there would only be via that trip or with private transportation.

Mike

Valerie
Reply

Hi! Thanks for the nice revieuw. My boyfriend and i are planning to do the tour in august.. Question: you can also go back by the same boat to lombok? Is the jerney also 4 night? Like hearing from you! Thanks!

Mike
Reply

Yes it’s possible to go back with the boat also. You could ask when you buy the tickets out but I know for sure you can buy the trip in Labuan Bajo on Flores as there are tour agencies there. Flores is certainly worth a few days extra to explore!!

Kristin W.
Reply

Thanks for this informative and helpful review! We are in Gili Air and about to book this trip but we were skeptical because we didn’t know much about it and we usually stay away from organized tours. But it sounds amazing and I can tell you are like-minded travelers. We are traveling around the world for 2.5 years – only 3.5 months left though! Thanks again for the info! Safe and happy travels!
http://www.happytobehomeless.com

Mike
Reply

Enjoy the trip and have fun on Flores too. It’s a great place.

Kristin W.
Reply

We just got back from the same trip and it was AMAZING! So glad we decided to go with it! The dragons were super active in Komodo and Rinca which we were really surprised and pleased with. Thanks again for the info! 🙂

Mike
Reply

Glad you enjoyed it. Are you heading further east on Flores? If so, we can definitely recommend Bajawa – a really stunning place with unreal villages!! Further east, Ende is a shit-hole but a good jumping off point to visit the volcano at Moni – watch the bus drivers don’t try to rip you off – or to take a ferry over to Timor, which is equally good! And if you make it that far, try East Timor too. We loved it there. Haven’t had chance to write about it yet though!

lis
Reply

Hi Mike,
We are heading to lombok and the gilis in April and I was curious about Komodo but put off due to the bad reviews ive seen. But your review was interesting and we would be making the trip around the same time you did. Whilst I’m not the biggest fan of tours, would you say it is possible to travel to the komodos and rinca without doing the tour? Thanks

Mike
Reply

Hi Allicia,
As far a we know, it’s not possible to visit Komodo or Rinca without doing a tour as they are both National Parks with strict access policies – although you could probably do it from Labuanbajo (the port town on the west coast of Flores) as part of a small group, or just with your own group. Our boat trip included visiting both islands – so we didn’t need to look into it, but it was just our group from the boat along with the guides – you have to have a guide! Another way to do it could be crossing Sumbawa overland from Lombok (apparently that’s a really cool island with very few tourists, although we never got there) then take a boat to Flores and in Labuanbajo there are loads of tour guides and shops selling trips to Komodo and Rinca. Let us know how you get on, good luck.
Mike and Silke

Henri
Reply

Hi Mike,
is there any public shower in Labuanbajo?
I plan to take this trip next month, and in the evening at the same day of the end of the trip I will continue journey by ship to Sulawesi island.
So it would be great to have shower prior embarking to the next ship. Thanks

Mike
Reply

Hi, sorry for the very late reply, we’ve been in Nepal. I’m sure you’ve been and gone from Labuanbajo by now. Hope you had a great trip.

John Muldoon
Reply

I just return from the same trip but going from east to west. I would NOT recommend this company though, we had a great bunch of people to travel with and we made the best of it . but the boat was overcrowded 28 people. the company site states max 18-20. .the crew were tired and really not into the trip at all. We were to have a 3 night four day trip but they cut it to 3 days 3 nights with some sorry excuse that didn’t hold water. we were told by our travel booking agent there would be snorkeling gear but in the end they only had masks and snorkels, no fins , and the places we were taken to certainly needed fins because the currents were quite strong. so lovely scenery the other guests were a great bunch but the tour operator in my opinion rates a 1 on a scale to 10. Next time I would definitely pay extra to go with a better operator. and would not recommend this trip to anybody. I would suggest a company like http://www.bluewatercruises.com/

John Muldoon

Mike
Reply

Hi John, That sounds like a bit of a nightmare with 28 people – that’s way too many. What time of year did you travel? As we were there in April, during the off season, it was quite quiet and a lot more relaxed so maybe if you were there in the high season they were just packing people on which doesn’t sound good. How was the food?

Regards
Mike

sandra
Reply

Hi!
This trip looks amazing! I was just doing some research for a good way to get from flores to lombok, you just sold me the trip! Unfortunatly the Kencana website is not working. Do you know if they do the trip the other way around (flores-lombok)? And how often do they go? And it was just 150 a person? Lonley Planet says something about 300…
thank you and have a good time!

Mike
Reply

Hi Sandra,
The trip was fantastic and certainly a great way to travel. When we were in Labuanbajo there were many tour agencies selling tours and we’re pretty sure (almost certain) that you can book the boat back from there, as all the boats will turn around and sail back to Lombok – usually cheaper than the price we paid which was 1.500.000 rupiah per person. I’d imagine that there would be around 2 trips back per week with Kencana. We stayed at a guesthouse in Labuanbajo called ‘Gardena’ (very close to the port) which has basic huts for around 130,000 – 200,000, and the Kencana tour office (if memory serves correctly) is opposite (or very close). The Lonely Planet price refers to Permama which is a little more upmarket. If you have a few days to kill waiting, there are some good cafes with great wi-fi to hang around in.

Let us know how you get on and have a great time.

Mike

Mindy and Ligeia
Reply

Great post with gorgeous pics! Loved the scenery from the top of the mountain especially. I have always wanted to see a komodo dragon and can not wait to get over there and see some! 🙂

Mike
Reply

Hey, thanks guys, long time no see / hear. Hope you’re both doing well. This trip, was just incredible, very much recommended. x

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