With ancient Komodo Dragons and jaw-dropping volcanic islands surrounded by dazzling white sandy beaches, sparkling turquoise waters and coral cays teeming with marine life – the islands off Flores in Indonesia are something straight out of my childhood fantasy.
Less well known than neighbouring Bali, but equally amazing, these strikingly beautiful islands are fast becoming known as one of Indonesia’s “bucket list” destinations.
Hands down our family holiday cruising around these stunning islands was one of the most relaxing and amazing getaways we have ever had with the kids.
By Libby Larsen
Tropical Isles, Dragons and a Pirate’s Laire
The best way to experience these tropical islands is to jump aboard on one of the boat cruises that leave from Lubuan Bajo, a somewhat ramshackle port town in Flores which is growing at a rapid pace as news spreads about the beauty of this awe inspiring part of Indonesia. You can head out to the islands for day trips but the best way to soak up this magical place is to take it slow and head out for a few days for some island hopping like we did with our family.
Komodo National Park in made up of three main Islands – Komodo Island, Rinca and Padar plus numerous smaller surrounding islands. Most boat trips that go out for a few days will take you to the main islands, some drop dead gorgeous beaches as well as world class snorkelling and diving spots.
An Island hopping family adventure
Safety and quality of boat trips varies, so make sure you do your homework. After endless hours of research searching for a boat company with top notch safety standards that catered for families I decided on the 3 day 2 night Dragon Tour with FloresXP. They have pretty impressive environmental credentials as well. It didn’t take too much to coax our neighbours into joining us on our adventure. Yay! I totally recommend doing a cruise with friends.
The staff on the boat were absolutely wonderful with the kids. If you ask my 5 year old what was the best thing about trip he’d say hanging out with the boat captain and Max our tour leader.
Get up close to Komodo Dragons
There were so many highlights, I don't know where to begin! Visiting the UNESCO and World Heritage listed Komodo National Park and seeing the iconic Komodo Dragons, the world’s largest living lizard was amazing. They are a threatened species that are only found on a few islands in the world around Flores, so seeing them is something truly special. We were all mesmerised watching their lethargic movements which belied their fierce predatory nature.
World class snorkelling and diving
The snorkeling and diving is world class. We saw black tipped reef sharks, moray eels, sea snakes, loads and loads of tropical fish, green turtles, lion fish, manta rays and more. . And we can't forget the beaches. They are divine, yep, they are the picture postcard ones with blinding white sand and aqua blue water.
Swimming with Manta Rays
Snorkelling hand in hand with my 8 year hand and witnessing these magnificent creatures gliding gracefully past us at close range will be a cherished memory for both of us. It was simply amazing!
Camping out on pirate island
One of the stand outs for the kids was the unique opportunity to stay each night of the cruise at the Flores XP Pirate Camp on Sebayur Island. The camp is totally cool, funky and shabby chic beach style with a whimsical pirate theme twist. The kids loved all the pirate paraphernalia. We stayed in the top family cabins which involves some hefty "heave ho" up lots of stairs. But the drop dead gorgeous views from the cabins make the walk up the hill more than worth the effort.
Staying at the Pirate Camp gave the kids an opportunity to have space and run around on the beach in the afternoon and explore. Having a beer and watching the sunset at the end of the day at the Pirate Camp while the kids played in the sand pretending to be Komodo Dragons and park rangers was cool.
The verdict – awesome family holiday! We are already planning our next family trip away together and are sold on the boat cruise idea – a Borneo river cruise to see Orangutan, snorkelling in Timor Leste or exploring islands in the Philippines, who knows!
Other useful info
How to get there
There are short flights from Bali and Jakarta to Labuan bajo to Flores. There are a few airlines that fly there. We opted for Garuda because I thought it was probably the safest option. A number of companies organise 4 day sailing trips between Lombok or Bali and Flores. I've heard mixed reports on these trips with people saying the crossing can be fairly rough.
Staying in Labuan Bajo
These days you'll find hotels, hostels, restaurants, ATMS and pretty much everything you will need these days in Lubuan Bajo. You will probably need a night at either side of your boat trip in Lubauan Bajo as the boats tend to leave early in the morning and arrive back later at night. If you stay up on the hill like we did, you get amazing views, or you can stay right amongst it all. We stayed at Bayview Gardens Hotel which has awesome views, an amazing infinity pool and nice rooms.
Tips of what to bring I wish I had bought a Go Pro to take underwater pics. We bought our own mask and snorkels and fins for the kids. Flores XP have some for kids but I wanted my boys to get used to using them at home in the pool before the trip. I also wanted to make sure the mask fitted really well and didn't let water in. We brought fitted neoprene life jackets that weren't too bulky so the kids could snorkel in them. We made them wear them on the boat as well (peace of mind for parents).
Oh, and little torches are a good thing to bring as well.
Advice for families
For families, I'd think about the swimming ability of your kids. To make the most of the trip I think kids need to be comfortable in deep water and snorkelling off the boat. But there are opportunities to swim from the beach as well. The islands are known for strong currents in certain areas so some of the diving is best for more experienced divers.
I was a bit wary of my boys climbing up and down the ladder/steps to the top of the boat but they got the hang of it. Personally I would be a little wary of taking kids that were younger than ours (5 and 8).
A bit more about Pirate X Camp
The accommodation at the Pirate Camp is fairly basic and rudimentary but we liked that. The newer cabins at the top have their own simple bathroom underneath them. There are a handful of rustic cabins lower down near the beach that have a shared bathroom. They were mainly occupied by people who come to do diving with Flores XP. All the bathrooms have simple fresh water showers which is nice to wash off the salty water. All the cabins have mosquito nets. Meals are buffet style and were decent and you can get beers and a few snacks as well.
Some more holiday pics