Exploring the 17 Islands Marine Park in Riung, Flores
The 17 Islands Marine Park in Riung would be really popular if it wasn’t so hard to get to, which means if you brave the terrible roads and overcrowded buses you’ll have an array of island paradises that are begging to be explored.
I learnt, after a quick search online, that Riung is 72 km from Bajawa, in central Flores, Indonesia. I said to myself “That’ll be an easy hour and a half – 2 hours, I’ll arrive in the early afternoon, have some lunch, check out the town and then relax”. I was horribly wrong…
That 72 km journey took just over 5 hours to complete. As if the lack of speed wasn’t bad enough, I sat next to an extremely sick Indonesian woman who made those horrible throat noises/threw up into a bag for at least half of the journey. I had almost no leg room because the bus was so full that there were people sitting all over the floor – I guess I should be thankful I actually got a seat.
A boat trip to the 17 Islands Marine Park
I joined forces with a French couple and a German couple, and after finding possibly the cheapest boat in town we set out onto the water with a driver who spoke almost no English. The first stop was to see some huge bats being harassed by the other boat drivers. We pulled in closer to the island and saw a few bats, but the other boats saw far more – I guess their boat captains were better at annoying them.
We then continued on to the first snorkelling spot. I had only snorkelled once before, In Palawan, and was still a little apprehensive. We had to make our way from the boat to the beach nearby, which looked a lot further than it actually was. I got over my fears and entered the water, and I’m glad I did, as I saw so many fish and colourful corals. It was in those moments that I became completely hooked on snorkelling, and have since done quite a lot of it in the amazing Komodo National Park (post coming soon!).
After snorkelling for about an hour we reached the beach and were treated to the perfect island hopping lunch – freshly caught fish barbequed whole with some noodles, rice and vegetables.
The beaches were great and almost completely deserted. These aren’t your carefully swept and manicured beaches; there are no resorts or infrastructure at all on these islands and no one is around to clean away the mess. The sand is still great for lying around on though and the water is that perfect, almost Maldives-like colour. The last beach we stopped at was particularly special, as it was completely deserted and had the best water for swimming I’ve seen in Southeast Asia. It was the perfect depth, not too warm and the colour was amazing. Our captain also cut us open a few coconuts for us to drink from while floating about in the water.
An island with a view
The last island we visited also had a hill with a track (I’m using that term very loosely) which was home to some mind-blowing views over the area.
Everything you need to know about the 17 Islands Marine Park boat tour
There’s a lot of misinformation about prices for the 17 Islands boat tour. The touts who hang around the guesthouses are quite arrogant and will try and overcharge you, but most people deal with them because they usually get into town late and it’s easier than walking to the pier, which is about 10 minutes away. We walked to the pier and talked to a friendly guy named Saleem who quoted us 500,000 rp, which included lunch for all 5 people. The next best offer we got was 650,000 rp, and the guys around the guesthouses were trying to charge people a million rp! It’s also really refreshing when someone comes straight out with a good price, forgoing the whole “I’ll try and rip you off then we’ll bargain and arrive at a price that is still too expensive” routine. We had to pay 25,000 rp each for a mask and 20,000 rp in park fees, which means we paid 145,000 rp each, or around $12 USD. In terms of value for money, it’s hard to imagine a better island hopping deal in Indonesia.
Riung: A small fishing village
Riung is a small and incredibly quiet town which has hardly been affected by tourism. There are a few guesthouses and restaurants, but you’ll mainly see wide open roads, palm trees and houses on stilts. I ate at Pato Resto a few times and the owner there, Chris, is a really friendly guy who can sort out boat trips, transport or some amazing sweet and sour fish. He helped me top up the internet on my phone, and in turn I helped him list his business on Tripadvisor and also gave him some music to play in the restaurant. If you hear Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys, The Doors, Radiohead or anything else that seems out of place in Indonesia you’ll have me to thank (I talked to him the next day and he said someone told him it was the best music he’d ever heard in an Indonesian restaurant!).
The 17 Islands Marine Park makes for a great day out, and spending a few days in sleepy Riung is about as relaxing as travel can get – just beware of the horrible bus ride!
Further reading: Backpacking through Flores? Check out this guide!
Have you been island hopping in the 17 Islands National Park? Would you like to? Let me know!