Off the back of a friend’s recommendation, we booked a 3 night / 4 day cruise with Le Pirate Explorer Cruise, to sail the Flores Sea and the surrounding islands of Komodo National Park. What we didn’t know is that this trip would show us the BEST beaches we’ve seen in Asia, have us in awe of the natural beauty of the islands, and give us a really great mix of activities across the days.
First thing in the morning we checked into our Explorer 1 boat – which as a group of 8 friends meant we had the whole boat to ourselves. After loading our bags into our cabins it was time to hit the seas!
Departing Labuan Bajo on Flores Island we settled into relax mode. The scenery was incredible! As we cruised past Rinca Island it immediately reminded us of scenes straight out of a Jurassic Park movie (minus the dinosaurs).
Our first stop for the day was Komodo National Park for some light trekking and to see the mighty Komodo Dragons. These giant lizards are a sight to see in their own right, though they seemed content baking in the morning sun (much like the inhabitants on the Le Pirate sail boat).
Having worked up a fair sweat in the hot sun; we departed Komodo Island and dropped anchor just off shore a secluded island with a lovely little beach. This was the perfect place to cool down and relax in the shallows, whilst enjoying a couple ice cold Bintangs (kindly delivered to us in the dingy from our awesome crew!).
Rounding off the activities of day 1, was a sunset hike on Padar Island. It’s a steep, hot and sweaty walk, but trust me the views are well worth the effort.
Woken by the sounds of the sea, we rolled out of bed and jumped straight in to the water for a pre-breakfast swim. This became our morning ritual each day, followed up with a huge breakfast spread (scrambled eggs, toast, fruit, yoghurt, juice and tea / coffee). Such a great routine to start the day! Before we knew it, it was time to set off cruising ready for another full day of activities.
First up; we anchored just off the coastline of another island and snorkelled our way onto the incredible Pink Beach. Its an amazing sight to see (especially considering there are only 7 pink beaches known in the world!!) and sadly the photos of this phenomenon fail to fully capture its beauty.
Next on the itinerary was the most amazing snorkelling location. It is a tiny little nook in the middle of the sea, a section of calm behind a small rocky formation, which is flanked by dangerously strong currents to each side. Our guide called it The Aquarium (but its actually called Batu Bolong) and it truly lived up to its nickname. Surrounded by hundreds of species of fish, we swam on the edge of a coral shelf which dropped away to the deep where we saw reef sharks circling deep below. The crew did an incredible job positioning both the Explorer and our dingy to drop us safely into the snorkel zone, and safely away from the challenging currents. Such a thrilling experience!
Our next stop seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, but there were at least 5 other boats in the vicinity, so we were very excited to hear that a school of Manta Rays had been spotted in the area. The boats were scattered quite far from each other, so we had our own space to snorkel about searching for these majestic creatures. Little time passed before a group of 10 Manta Rays were on the move towards us along the sea bed. It was a magical experience: floating above these peaceful and elegant creatures you could really get a sense of their size. Even with outstretched limbs they were longer and wider than us! Just incredible.
After the high from snorkelling with the Manta Rays, it was time to anchor up for lunch with a view. Destination: the most perfect white sandbar surrounded by brilliant aquamarine water. The island is called Taka Makassar, and whilst there were other tour groups also mooring nearby, the beauty of the beach was the perfect backdrop.
Our guide (have I mentioned how great he was?!) could sense we preferred to be away from the crowds, so recommended an alternative afternoon location; a beautiful beach off the beaten track. This meant we spent the entire afternoon on our own deserted island, equipped with tunes, pool floaties, cold beers, and the most beautiful crystal clear water. Heaven!!
For sunset we headed to another island, Gili Lawa Darat, where we could hike up to various heights to view the sun setting. It was far less steep than the previous night, so the hike up was gentler on our tired muscles. The island was stunning and totally different terrain from yesterday; rolling hills more like what you’d expect to find in Scotland and not Asia. A really beautiful vista for sitting and watching the sunset.
We started the day with some morning Manta Ray spotting. In the early morning, whilst the sea is glass-like, Manta’s can be found skimming the surface of the water feeding. If you’re lucky (which we were!) you might even get to see them leaping out of the water as they chase down their morning feed. Such an incredible sight!
In the afternoon we were taken to another private beach location so we could enjoy a lovely slow afternoon; swimming, tunes, chats and beers. A very relaxing way to spend a few hours of the day. It was then a long cruising session before anchoring for the night. For our final sunset we anchored in prime position to see the mass movement of flying fox bats leaving their day time shelter and taking flight for night time feeding. Another amazing sight to witness.
Sadly, this was our final day on the boat. But we still had enough time for one more snorkel and lunch with a view … and boy did it live up to expectations. We were lucky enough to share this spot with only one other Le Pirate boat, and it was the most glowing white sandbar you have ever seen. It was perfection and located literally in the middle of the sea, visible only as the tide went out.
What we thought of Le Pirate
We LOVED Le Pirate!! The facilities and layout of the boat were exactly as shown on the website and beautifully maintained by the crew. The service was faultless from booking online, to checking in, through to the crew on Explorer 1; all of whom were friendly, helpful and super-knowledgeable. Really, it was the little things that made this such an incredible experience. The food on board was tasty and varied and catered to dietary requirements of our group. The crew always took great care of us, even managing to moor us away from other boats in the evening so we could sleep peacefully under the stars each night.
It honestly has been the most amazing trip of our time in Asia; and a huge part of that magic was because it still felt relatively untouched by mass tourism. The cruise sets off from Labuan Bajo (the only airport servicing the Flores region) and when we visited in April 2018 the town catered mainly to simple backpacker lodgings. However that will soon change; at our time of visiting a huge resort construction was well underway, with the 192 room property expected to open by October 2018. I suspect this is only the beginning of the destination opening up to a larger volume of tourism, so all i can say is, get here quick before it all begins to change.
Where we stayed before and after the cruise
Depending on the time of your flight in and out of Labuan Bajo, you may need to stay in town the night before and after the cruise. This is because the boat will depart 11am the first day and dock back around 3-4pm on the last day.
Before the cruise, we opted to spend one night on the Le Pirate Boatel. This was a pretty exciting way to kick off the boating experience. On return back into Labuan Bajo, we spent one night at the Le Pirate Hotel which was perfect actually, as we were craving a proper shower and a solid nights sleep without being woken at sunrise.
…ahh take me back to paradise ….