I have already been diving to the Komodo national park in Flores island 11 times and was keen to explore diving in Flores beyond Komodo. But is there anything worthwhile in the North of Flores island?
I started a journey on the Ilike liveaboard to find out. Read on for a review of my trip from Komodo to Maumere.
Getting there – What is the best airline in Indonesia?
The north coast of Flores is a wild and remote region, but it is surprisingly easily accessible by liveaboard. The trip starts from Labuan Bajo and ends up in Maumere, and both are easily accessible by domestic flights.
Getting to Komodo has become easier with each passing year. There are plenty of flights to Labuan Bajo every day, from Denpasar, Jakarta, Kupang, and even Manado. There are currently no international flights to Labuan Bajo, so you'll still need to connect in either Bali or Jakarta. Air Asia started operating a new flight. It is a big plane, so it is fast and takes less than an hour from Bali to Labuan Bajo.
TIP: At the time of writing, Garuda allows 23 kg of diving equipment as free extra luggage, making it the best choice of airline for divers in Indonesia. If the schedule doesn't work, then Air Asia is my second favorite choice
The Lionair flight might look cheaper, but if you have diving gears and a lot of luggage, it will end up being very expensive. If you are thinking of booking Lionair because it looks cheaper, do read my review on why I will not fly Lion air Here.
For the return, there are direct flights from Maumere to Denpasar. The most reliable option is the Nam/ Sri Wijaya flight. The Wing/ Lionair flights are often delayed or canceled so make sure you don’t book an international flight with a short connection.
Liveaboards usually do 2 dives on the morning of the last day, so any flights after 1 pm should work for you and allow you to have your safety 24 hours interval between diving and flights.
I have also written articles about day trip diving in Komodo and you can find it here
Arriving on the Ilike Liveaboard in Labuan Bajo
The Ilike liveaboard was parked in the Labuan Bajo Bay. A crew from the ship was waiting for me at the airport with a car. We drove to the pier where the Ilike tender was waiting for us. Within 30 minutes of landing, I was on the boat with a welcome cocktail in my hand.
The first day was a lazy day, as no diving was planned for that day. We had dinner on board in the Labuan Bajo boat, and the captain moved the boat to a nearby area that is very calm so that we had a peaceful night sleep.
The Ilike Liveaboard
The Ilike liveaboard is a very comfortable ship with ample common space.
As one of the guests onboard mentioned: “what makes the Ilike liveaboard a superior boat is that the common space is very open on the water, so you feel closer to the sea than on most Indonesian liveaboard I have been on”
Ilike liveaboard is a dream for underwater photographers as the camera tables and charging stations are top-notch. The service offered for cameras is also remarkable. The crew would bring my camera on the boat for every dive. At the end of the dive, they would rinse it in freshwater and place it back on the camera table and dry it for me.
Beside the boat layout, the strength of Ilike liveaboard is its crew. Between the cruise director and the other 14 members of equipage, you feel there is a great atmosphere. People are so friendly and helpful. Imagine getting a warm towel every time you come back from diving or a cold towel and a cocktail on the way back from excursions. we felt totally pampered
The crew would also assist us in carrying all the dive gears or getting ready meaning that diving was totally effortless.
But besides all the proactive little help gesture through the day, their smile was contagious. We sometimes got treated to impromptu live music with a guitar and percussion. A great way to explore the Indonesian archipelagos with Indonesian music.
I have written a full description of the Ilike liveaboard in my review of Kaimana and you can find it here.
The budget cabin on the Ilike liveaboard
On this trip, I stayed in a budget cabin as all the standard cabins were already fully booked. The budget cabin has about the same size as the standards cabins. The bathroom is a bit smaller than the standard cabin, but not much.
The main difference with the standard cabins is that the window portholes don't open, so you don't see daylight and the cabin is located close to the motor. So it is a bit louder when the boat is navigating at night. I was offered earplugs by Patricia, the cruise director. The engine noise was, however very confined, and I didn't need to use the earplugs.
So the budget cabins are a good option, but I would still recommend the standard cabins as they are not much more expensive than the budget cabins. If you want to know more about the standard cabin, read my review here. If you want to know more about the suite, read my review here.
Despite being a small group of only nine people, we had almost all the continents represented. It was a very welcoming group with guests from Europe, South America, Canada, and China. Age ranged from 35 to 60 years old with most divers on board beeing advanced and sharing a passion for underwater photography.
The Itinerary from Labuan Bajo to Maumere
Our cruise on the Ilike liveaboard was an 8-day cruise. It was as much about diving as witnessing the beauty of the Indonesian archipelagos above water. Form great diving to an encounter with Komodo dragons to sunset hikes on beautiful islands, this itinerary from Labuan Bajo to Maumere has a lot going for it.
Day 1: First dives in the Komodo National Park
After our first night onboard the Ilike liveaboard, we sailed towards Sebolan Kecil for our dives. What a feeling it is to navigate between those Jurassic park looking islands in the Komodo national park.
Sebolan Kecil is located by the Sebolan Kecil island. Many dive boats use Sebayur as a check dive as it is located near Labuan Bajo. I personally prefer nearby Sebolan. It might not be the best dive site in Komodo, but it is brilliant for a check dive. It felt good to be back underwater in Komodo
Sebolan Kecil is a sloping reef starting from the beach and dropping to a sandy bottom at about 25 meters. There is a secret pinnacle going around 20 meters to 32 meters.
The corrals are gorgeous. The amount of fishes is medium. We saw a few nudibranchs and a school of small barracuda's. The other dive group saw 2 sharks.
It was a pretty check dive with superior visibility and a little bit of current.
Four our second dive of the day, we dived the same reef, but this time we spent more time on the secret pinnacle.
In the afternoon, we moved to Tatawa Besar dive site. It means big smile in Indonesian and is usually a drift dive. The drift is very colorful with amazing soft corals and hard corals.
The first 5 to 10 meters with the shallow plateau are somewhat damaged in some parts. There are massive bommies on the way with many turtles. The current usually stops midway through the dive as you reach a small bay with mangroves. Due to the mangroves, the water becomes greener and visibility can worsen. Blacktip shark resides at 20 or 25 meters, and we saw one cruising by during the dive
Day 2: Hitting the most stunning dive sites in Komodo
Crystal Rock and Castle Rock are arguably the top dives sites in Komodo, and we were in for a threat
Our first dive of the day was Crystal rock.
Crytal rock is composed of 2 submerged pinnacles. Only the top of one of the pinnacle emerges from the water.
As we dived close to the new moon, we could expect strong currents and lots of fishes action. There is more current close to the surface so it is good to down quickly and a negative entry is often required
There are about 50 meters between the 2 rocks. We started the dive where the current splits to find the fusiliers and the sharks action. We saw a few white tips and grey reef sharks. They were big! There were also massive schools of sweetlips and jacks in the valley.
This site not only has wonderful corals and soft corals but the amount of fishes is genuinely stunning. It is a great way to wake up and feel alive. The negative entry straight on to meet 6 or 7 grey reef sharks will help you awaken swiftly 😊
Our second dive was at Castle Rock; another of the most popular dive sites in Komodo.
It is located behind Crystal castle, but this pinnacle is totally submerged. It also requires a negative entry as it can experience strong current
The pinnacle starts at 5 meters and is much bigger than crystal rock. There is a crack in the rock at 7 to 10 meters that you can go through.
There is a balcony at 30 meters, where we hooked to see the fish actions. We saw more sharks at Castle Rock than at Crystal rock. The amount of large fishes is spectacular with a lot of surgeonfishes, big eyes jacks… But if you look beyond the fishes, you will also find stunning soft corals and small creatures like crocodile fishes, nudibranchs, pygmy seahorses,…
I wish I could dive here everyday!
The afternoon dive was in Shotgun dive site ( also called the Cauldron). This dive site is probably the most adrenaline-filled dive in the whole of Komodo as the current can be extremely strong. It is not uncommon to see unprepared divers tumbling around. There are often Manta’s hanging around in the channel between the two islands
TIP: Bring a reef hook. You can also buy some on the Ilike liveaboard
We then went to Waenilu island for sunset drinks
Day 3: Komodo dragons and sunset drinks
We started early by a visit to Rinca island to meet the world-famous Komodo dragons. Our early start allowed us to beat the heat and the crowd. We were not disappointed as we saw 7 dragons during our hike. The park is enchanting and the walk to the viewpoint well worth it.
We then moved the boat to Padar Island where we did our first two dives of the day at the three sisters dive and Padar sites
The Three sisters dive site is composed of 3 underwater pinnacles that are 5 to 7 meters deep. The bottom of the pinnacles ranges from 15 to 35 meters. The pinnacles are surrounded by a sandy bottom.
There are a lot of sea cucumbers and sponges. We found the apple sea cucumber and some giant frogfishes. There are a lot of soft corals and nudibranchs. It looks very different from the northern part of the Komodo national park and is well worth a visit. I have also found a scorpionfish with a very unusual color.
TIP: The water is colder here, so wear a warmer wetsuit if you have one. It was 23 degrees when we dived it
We then had the choice between doing a night dive at Padar or climbing to the top of Padar.
Climbing to the top of Padar is well worth it. It is a challenging walk. There are over 500 steps, and it gets steeper as you get closer to the top. But it is so worth it. The views from up there are breath-taking. It might be one of the most scenic views in the whole of Indonesia. We could once more appreciate the quality of service on Ilike liveaboard as they were the only boat that brought a cooler with drinks to the summit. So we could have a sunset drink up there. What an unforgettable moment!
day 4: Last day in Komodo with the best dive sites
Ilike kept the best for the end, and on our last day in Komodo, we got treated to the best dive sites in the park.
We started with the Batu Bolong dive site. Batu Bolong is the best-known dive site in Komodo. It is so popular that you now need a permit to dive it.
It can get very busy underwater so our crew suggested that we dive it early so that we would be the first group underwater and hopefully be the only people on the site. We had a 5:30 am wake up call, but it was well worth it.
Batu Bolong is a peninsula that goes down to 90 meters. The amount of fishes is impressive with hundreds of red anthias fishes.
The wall is full of amazingly colorful corals and small critters. The blue is full of sharks and other predators. It can be stressful because there is so much going on that you don’t know where to look anymore… A dive at Batu Bolong is always too short.
TIP: Be prudent when you dive Batu Balong and stay close to the reef as there can be strong downwards currents
For our last dive in Komodo, we went back to Castle Rock dive site. What a grand finale to a magnificent 4 days of diving in Komodo.
We were sad to leave Komodo but also excited to discover some of the more uncharted water of the north of Flores. Our first crossing of the trip that would last over 16 hours.
We witnessed a dazzling sunset and landscapes. The sea was very calm, thus we had a good night sleep while navigating
Day 5: Discovering the remote water of Pulau Raja and the paradisiac atoll of Gosong Boni
Pulau Raja island dive site is located about 30 kilometers before Maumere. It is a steep island that has a small village. It looks greener than the Komodo islands. Not many people come here. We are the only diving boat in the area
The Palau raja dive site is a deep wall that goes down to 30 meters. There is a shallow plateau at 5 meters, then a deep wall that goes down to 30 meters.
We drifted with a very light current along the wall.
Corals are not as colorful as Komodo, but some parts of the reef were startling.
There is a lot of black corals bushes and corals and schools of banners fishes and surgeonfishes.
What makes this site unique are the huge sponges and soft corals formations. There is also an incredible amount of small fishes in the shallow.
Overall a great site that very few people get to dive
This is a paradisiac looking atoll about 20 kilometers from Maumere. Imagine kilometers of beaches with gentle waves in the middle of the ocean.
We did 2 dives on the Gosong Boni dive site by a lighthouse.
There is a sandy slope that goes until about 20 meters. The wall starts at about 10 meters. We saw one shark and one turtle as well as pygmy seahorses.
The soft corals were lovely in most parts of the wall. It is very subjective, but I had a small preference for the dive site of Pula Raja. I think it is because I really love sponges.
day 6: Arriving in Maumere
We have arrived in Maumere, our final destination. We cruised to Babi island that offers some excellent dive sites
Our first dive of the day was the Babi Crack dive site.
This is a wall dive that is interesting because a huge crack appeared in the rock after the earthquake of 1992. The crack goes to 18 meters and is 70 cm wide. It is full of life.
The wall is excellent for macro lovers with plenty of shrimps and nudibranchs but unfortunately, there are sections with numerous broken corrals.
There are plenty of soft corals and sponges. Because the water around is so deep, there can be big pelagic passing by the Maumere waters so keep an eye out to the blue.
In between the 2 dives, we got the chance to visit Babi island. It has to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Don’t miss the visit if you are in Maumere.
We then continued with Dimbilah slope dive site.
This is a sloppy reef with plenty of bommies amongst a coral bottom. It was a relaxing dive with no current. The corals and soft corals are beautiful. We saw over 10 stingrays and a cuttlefish. A colossal barracuda was patrolling the area.
There was first class macro with a family of sexy shrimps. And yes they were dancing!
Finally, we dove the Hui Channel. This dive site is the channel between 2 islands. Given the depth around, there is a chance to see big pelagics. Unfortunately, there was not much current when we dove it. Hence we didn’t see many pelagics beside a few sharks.
day 7: Last diving day in Wai Wodong
On our last day, we did 2 dives on the Waiterang wreck dive site.
The wreck was very nice but make sure you also explore the sandy bottom in the area. We found so many cool creatures that the macro photographers amongst us were delighted.
From octopuses to common seahorses, ghost pipefishes, leaf fishes, frogfishes and plenty of shrimps. It was a great way to end this marvelous trip.
We then cruised to Maumere where we arrived on time for relaxing sunset drinks on the deck.
Fabulous adventures always go by too quickly, and it was undoubtedly the case for this diving trip from Komodo to Maumere.
Diving organization aboard Ilike Liveaboard
Diving is seamlessly organized on Ilike liveaboard. Because the Ilike liveaboard accepts a maximum of 14 divers per trip, it never felt to crowded underwater. On one of our dive, we met a boat with 30 divers. It suddenly felt very crowded and hectic underwater!
TIP: when choosing a diving boat, the smaller is usually better as it means it will be less crowded underwater
We were divided into two groups, each with our tender boat to shuttle us to and from the dive sites. The crew would always bring all of our equipment to the tender boat. The service on Ilike is truly five stars. The dive deck is one of the largest that I have seen on a liveaboard, so it never felt packed.
Diving could not be more relaxed. 30 minutes before the dive time, Patricia, our cruise director, would brief us about the dive site. Her briefing was very informative. They included elements like the dive site’s landscape, currents, and practical tips. Patricia’s briefings encompassed amusing anecdotes about fish and their native habits. I learned quite a lot.
Internet and phone connection in Komodo National Park and the way to Maumere
There is no Internet aboard the Ilike liveaboard. If you want a connection during the trip, buy a Telekomsel card for your mobile phone. It cost about 150,000 Indonesian rupees ( ~10 USD) with a data plan for a month.
Telkomsel has the best coverage in the remote regions of Indonesia.
The Internet connection was good in most of Komodo National Park. We often had 3G or 4G a few hours a day, and the boat would usually anchor at places with an Internet signal for the night.
Even on the way to Maumere, we had coverage at least a few hours every day. The internet was excellent around Babi island and Maumere with reliable 4G coverage.
TIP: The Internet signal improves the higher you are on the boat. It would often not work in the cabin, but it would on the sun deck. Don’t expect the connection to be good enough to download movies, but it was often strong enough for emails, and even WhatsApp calls so you can plan to stay in touch with your friends and family
When to visit Komodo?
The high season in Komodo is mid-June to the end of September. This is the dry season with blue skies and high visibility. It is also an excellent time to cruise the north of Flores as the sea is usually very quiet.
If you like current and drift dive, time your trips to coincide with the new moon or the full moon.
Komodo is one of the best diving destinations in the world and there is more to explore in Flores. The north coast of Flores offers panoramic vistas and really good diving without the crowd. The liveaboard trip from Komodo to Maumere offers you some of the world-class diving in Komodo with a pinch of adventure in secluded north Flores. Go out and discover those delightful remote areas!
Make sure you book early as this trip is done only twice a year usually in May and in September.
For more info and booking, check out the Ilike website
You can also find more diving destination on my diving homepage