Saturday, May 30, 2009

Seraya and Kanawa Islands and Labuanbajo town, west Flores.

Want your own budget beachfront bungalow on a near deserted island with nice beaches and reasonable snorkelling? Seraya fits the bill real well. I paid $us12 for a single less expensive Category A bungalow plus $2 each way for transport - prices are slightly higher in peak. Doubles pay an extra few dollars. The Category Bs are slightly more expensive - these are the ones right hand side of the pix. People told me they were slightly bigger than Cat As with tiled floors - but otherwise identical. Note they are set back from the beach about 3m and slightly raised with tree interrupted views. One couple switched across to the As after the first night. The website says there is a minimum stay of 2 nights, but a sign in the restaurant indicated a small surcharge for one night visits.
The hill behind has good views of the surrounding area plus sensational sunsets - the slightly lower one immediately right of shot is at the western end of the island with easier access and better photo-ops of the resort. The higher isolated building at right is an expat's holiday house.
The on-the-sand airy restaurant is just out of shot to the left (CLICK TO EXPAND IMAGES).

There are dozens of islands and islets within an hour’s slow boat ride of Labuanbajo, the major enty point for West Flores. Two of them have laid back budget bungalow outfits.
Seraya, 12km north of Labuanbajo just around the north west-corner of big Flores is owned by popular Gardenia Resort in town, and if you don’t book online, Gardenia can easily arrange this. The boat goes out around 11am and returns roughly at 8am or even earlier. The latter may seem a bit early but seems geared to people wanting an early flight. It works out real well if time is limited and you want to also visit Kanawa - their boat also leaves around 11am and normally returns early morning.



The cheaper bungalows - it’s not too many places you can actually get the oft asked for bungalow right on the sand. Note the buckets at the foot of the stairs for feet washing - a must that few bungalow places on or near the beach have. There was also a broom. The rooms were spotless and in good condition with enough room for 2+gear. Comfy beds were double, not queen or king. Mosquito net in good repair. No fan because electricity is limited. One night was a bit hot, the other had sea breezes. Nice sea and adjacent islands views from the big veranda. Attached indoor/outdoor bathroom has western toilet, no basin, no showerhead. These islands are almost semi arid and water has to be carted from the mainland - it is available only when the generator runs - about 1800 to 2300. You wash by the trad Asian small hand-bucket into the big bucket routine. There is another bucket to cart seawater to flush the toilet. No mirror in bathroom.

The on-sand restaurant was a pretty nice place to spend time. Food was a slightly limited variety of Gardenia's menu at only 10% or so extra price. This place was actually cheaper than quite a few budget places I stayed despite its monopoly and freight costs. Food was tasty. Service was okay, but this is one of those places you go to the kitchen door and fire in your order if no-one is around. The staff were cheerful.

These dudes tended to come sniffing around in the afternoon. There was no sign of Seraya’s infamous aggressive male buck - I think he may have pushed his luck and got venisonised. These guys were very shy, as were the many goats who also came wandering. However it may be not a good idea to go away from your bungalow with the door open. That tree provides nice shade and was very popular with daytrippers. Most days saw at least 2 boats bring these from Labuanbajo.





Sunset and island view from the hill at west end of the island. This is easier to descend than the slightly higher hill near right - use better footwear than flip-flops. The cleared headland at rear right is part of the mainland - the far eastern tip of the island is the lower headland in front of this. I walked one end to the other in under 40 minutes. The rear of the fishing village can be seen just left of the far headland - from the resort walk along the beach and take the track aound the left lower side of the hill farside of the buildings. The best coral is along the drop-off into the deep water, particularly adjacent the restaurant (where those boats are). This is about 120m from the beach. The coral is okay but nowhere near as good as Kanawa Island. The dark area closer the beach is an area of sea grass with some interesting marine life.

This back beach can be reached in 10 minutes by taking a track over the saddle behind the bungalows.

The fishing village was neater than average - most places had a satellite dish out back big enough to bring in the Hubble, which indicates that the Indonesian fishing industry may be travelling well.


KANAWA ISLAND
Kanawa is about the same distance from Labuanbajo, but due west. It is also a budget resort - at first glance it looks a bit more expensive than Seraya at $us15 for a single, but prices include transport - so things work out much of a muchness. There is no one-day supplement.
The booking office is in Labuanbajo main street across the road from the steps up to Gardenia Hotel, and very close to Perama's office.

Kanawa’s bungalows are not absolute beachfront and you could land a second rower. The restaurant is the building closest the water mid shot. The sand in front is a bit dust affected and not as attractive as Seraya. The reef drop-off at the end of the pier is an okay place to snorkel, but some of the best Asian coral I’ve seen starts at the nearest curve of the beach on left and runs towards the camera. It deteriorates past the near-end of the beach. This section can be seen below.

The reef drop-off is about 150m from the beach in the good coral area. The coral and fish for 30m on the beach side of the drop-off is very good too. That’s mainland Flores in the far background.

Back-beach on Kanawa. Beaches go virtually around the island but there are some headland areas which make walking around difficult. 2 Aussies, VERY good snorkelers kicked around in about 2 hours, but novices may find this a bit tough. I spent about 2 hours clambering around this hilly area behind the resort - it had about 5 summits and some real nice views. That’s Labuanbajo background centre. The best access track is near the small hut under the low cliff west of the resort - follow the electricity line to just short of the hut. The summit areas are criss-crossed with tracks, many made by the shy goats. (Kanawa also had a deer). If you can, wear long trousers and a long sleeved shirt - there are some innocuous looking shrubs with razor sharp thorns. Flip-flops won't cut it.
The sunsets would be great up here because of the height, but it takes maybe 20 minutes more difficult climb compared to 10 minutes at Seraya
.

The nicest section of coral starts adjacent this corner of the beach and runs to opposite the end of the beach. It is particularly good directly out from the swimmer in background. The beach is more grainy coral based which some people don’t like as much as fine sand - note the high-water mark shows the beach is pretty skinny most places at high tide.

My front row bungalow was about 25m behind the beach but with nice views of neighbouring islands and mainland Flores. It was in pretty good condition, had a comfy double bed, good mozzie net, plenty of room for 2+gear - although couples on my boat were allocated specific bungalows which may be a bit bigger. No foot-wash bucket, no broom. No fan - electricity is at similar times to Seraya. Bathroom could not be accessed from inside - you had to go out onto the big side veranda which could be a hassle for frequent nocturnal bathroom runners. Squat toilet which worries some. Same water supply set up as Seraya although the built in storage area was much bigger than Seraya’s buckets. No mirror in bathroom.

The restaurant was about 30m behind the beach and the area immediately in front was not as attractive as Seraya. Service was real good, food nice although prices were 30 to 50% more than Seraya (35k v 24k for a large Bintang - fried rice+ 30 v 18) - actually around what I expected for such an isolated place. Note some Canadians who had visited the previous week had told me in Labuanbajo that there was a very limited variety of food on their visit. Not too bad on mine - although the menu had less choice than Seraya’s.






UPDATE MAY 2010 - UPPMARKET DEVELOPMENT COMING TO KANAWA?MACMAGHNUSA gave this info: All those wishing to visit Kanawa in its present 'rustic' state should do so pretty quickly as plans are underway for a major luxury 'ecofriendly' resort there, Maldives style with bungalows out on the water. The company in charge of it is Mercury Solutions, based in Bali. They're a three men operation that 'source locations for investors' and Kanawa has been chosen. One of the team is a new age hippie type from Lleida in Spain and he spoke excitedly of a major resort 'in harmony' with the environment. Not sure if the economy of West Flores will benefit from this carbuncle attached to its western end, but there will be consequences for the currently pristine marine environment, due to the daily discharge of 'treated' sewage. Water supply will come from a 'desalination facility' which will no doubt add to the beauty of the place. Isn't this so sad?

UPDATE NOVEMBER 2011
So far the big development mentioned above has not eventuated. However the resort has changed ownership and some limited upgrades have been done - plus there is the option of TENTS.
But there have been some disturbing user reports on travel forums about the island recently mentioning overpriced bungalows (303k after taxes) and tents (17ok) and food which is not exactly cheap. Plus overbooking by the Labuanbajo office which has led to hassles on arrival at the island.
Now I'd like to get back and do a review but I can't see that happening any time soon - if any of you guys want to send a TRIP REPORT in, check that section on how.

SO WHICH ISLAND IS THE BETTER?

Depends on your priorities:

BEACH - nicer, much wider on Seraya. Both beaches seemed to be cleaned each day, but the between-beach area in front of Kanawa’s restaurant had a bit of litter first day.

CORAL - outstanding by my experience of Asia on Kanawa, considerably better than Seraya.
BUNGALOWS - much better position and slightly more attractive on Seraya.
RESTAURANT - better position, wider choice and considerably cheaper on Seraya. Service a bit better on Kanawa.
EXCLUSIVITY - want your own desert island? Kanawa has no fishing village and seemed to get no daytrippers. It seems to attract fewer guests.
TREKKING - Kanawa by a long shot. The hill area is great. It’s a pretty ordinary walk across Seraya to the fishing village.

ASPECT - Kanawa faces south and picks up the south-east trades. It also has more extensive views of neighbouring islands and the mainland. Seraya faces north - it still seemed to pick up a nice breeze most times but not as cooling as Kanawa.
Thing is, I doubt you’d be disappointed whichever you picked. But why not do as I did and visit both? - as said earlier, boat times are such that you can come in from one island and go out to the other a few hours later. Note too 5 of us wanted to get a late boat back into Labuanbajo from Kanawa - after a bit of bargaining we managed to charter one for $us15.

Location (image - modified Google Earth)

LABUANBAJO
This is surprisingly small for the main entry point, port, fishing town and tourist destination in West Flores. It stretches a few km along a bay and up the hillside.

The main street is a disgrace - hot, dusty, rubbish and broken bits of pavement and road everywhere - often crammed with traffic - which is noisy - the locals like the open muffler set up on their vehicles (and boats). There seems to be more transport guys hassling for a ride than Kuta Bali.
Services are pretty good - lots of dive shops, places where you can organise daytrips and overnighters to surrounding islands for beaches and snorkelling plus Komodo and Rinca for some dragon spotting, trips further east on Flores, plenty of restaurants and other stores.

Away from the street, you can find some quiet and breezy oases with nice views like this area shot from Gardenia Hotel which has okay quality good value bungalows from budget to flahspacker set in a leafy area up a hill, good inexpensive food but abysmal service (tip, go to the kitchen door or to the manager’s little bar area behind the cabana tables to the left of the main restaurant). Golo Hill is even higher on the hill, is slightly upmarket and gets very good reviews on travel sites. Nearby Paradise Bar rocks with locals and travellers Friday and Saturday nights. There are lots of other budget places in town and a couple of midrangers down the coast (you can see one on the beach left background) and a fair way north on the mainland coast towards Seraya.




GETTTING THERE
Several outfits fly from Bali and Lombok: http://www.alliance-indonesia.com/indonesia_airline.htm http://www.merpati.co.id/en/default.aspx
http://www.transnusa.co.id/index.php?switchto=eng

Flights have some history of being overbooked (or cancelled if there are too few passengers), but no-one I talked to in my May 09 shoulder season trip had trouble.


You can get a ferries/buses ticket from Bali or Lombok - but note my Gilis-Labuanbajo trip started 8am Wednesday morning and didn’t reach Labuanbajo until 5am Friday morning, mainly because I had to hang around Sarpe port in eastern Sumbawa from 6am until 7pm for the once-a day-ferry (the morning boat had not run for months).
I think the ferry connections on the reverse trip are better.Sarpe-port is a God-forsaken hole, but 5 of us chartered a local boat for the day at two nice beaches on an island about 10km away. The second had pretty nice coral. We bargained the boat down to 150k - hell, 3 dollars each for nice locations was a sweet deal and turned a drag into a pretty nice day.

You can come across or return on Perama’s Lombok-Flores cruise. Other operators do this trip at peak season.

There is an occasional Pelni boat which will take you (maybe with connections) all the way to Jakarta and beyond.

There are also ferries to big Sumba Island.
And lots of buses and shuttles from further east on Flores.

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If you are interested in visiting Kanawa/Seraya or Labuanbajo, perhaps you might consider travelling to/from Lombok to East Flores on the Perama's budget Dragon Watching Cruise via Komodo/Rinca I did.

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If you see any mistakes or have extra information please mention them below. If you have a trip report on these places or any others please send text/pix to lajolla22@hotmail.com
If you have a question, please post it in THE FORUM which can be accessed about 70% down the INDEX page - I check it most days but don't check individual island pages very often.


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7 comments:

oes tsetnoc said...

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Alan said...

This is a very interesting blog and so i like to visit your blog again and again. Keep it up.

Alan

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javi said...

Concerning Kanawa, I saw recently a report on Spanish TV about the new age hippy trying to 'sell' the future luxury development resort on little Kanawa island as the most 'ecofriendly luxury resort in Indonesia, Maldivas style'. As you said, it is quite sad seeing this happened, even more on a supposedly protected area such as the Komodo National Park. Obviously this kind of development would be instantly banned in Europe or Australia, but some unscrupulous people manage to get along with it in places with more 'relaxed' environmental laws like Indonesia.

lloyd said...

hi! i find this blog very helpful. i'm planning to got there next week and i'm thinking..is it possible to arrive on oct 1 in labuan bajo, stay in seraya overnight then leave the next day for rinca for komodo sightseeing and snorkelling then go back to seraya to spend the night? The next day fly back to bali?

Otto said...

Hi,

just returned home from Indonesia. I spent a couple of wonderful nights in Seraya. Highly recommend!

The sea was quite rough, as is typical at this time of the year. The waves were literally higher than the small seraya boat. Definately not for those who get seasick easily!

Also a few diving and snorkelling trips got cancelled because of the rough seas.

Other than that I enjoyed myself a lot.

Eeyore said...

I was at Kanawa 2 weeks ago, still no sign of said development - thank god.
bungalows are indeed 300k, boat free, runs 11am from Labuanbajo and 8 am from island, charter possible for 250k. daytrips to Rinca and Komodo are occasionally arranged if enough people requesting it. Kanawa divers has its base here, snorkellers can join them for trips to Batu Bolong, Manta point, and other sites.
driking water and sewage are handled by a daily boat so it is surprisingly pristine, with some of the best snorkelling anywhere ever according to most people.
overbooking was a MAJOR nuisance for several people, but I was ok sleeping in a hammock on the beach in the end :-)

Bradut Florescu said...

Thank you, Tezza. Been documenting my trip for a week and your report was the only ray of light in an ocean of crap. Respect!