All About Alor Island, Indonesia
The Alor Archipelago is composed of multiple islands, with the main one, Alor Island having the same namesake as the archipelago. Alor Island is home to the capital and main provincial city, Kalabahi, the only town in the region offering some facilities to the independent traveler, which in any case are very basic and limited.
Still, few travelers come here for the tourist facilities. Alor Island is home to some of the best scuba diving experiences in all of Indonesia, as well as some gorgeous unspoilt beaches and fascinating raw scenery. Indeed, the rural parts of Alor island feel as though they have been forgotten by the rest of the world.
All About Alor Island, Indonesia
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Alor Island is not as popular as other diving sites in Indonesia due to it being completely off the tourist trail, unlike other dive sites of greater popularity, such as those on Komodo National Park and Bali, which are far more well-known. Yet, divers in Indonesia are familiar with Alor island and its underwater beauty which makes it one of the recommended dive spots in the country.
Getting to Alor Island
Alor is serviced by flights from Kupang on West Timor, which itself is not one of the most popular destinations in Indonesia either, hence making the journey from the more popular spots long and sometimes expensive. Car ferries also run from Kupang to Alor, with a journey time of about 20 hours on Tuesdays and Saturdays at the time of writing.
Booking flights in Indonesia is not always straightforward as the local airlines servicing the internal routes do not accept foreign credit cards. You can manage to circumvent this going to an actual agent, or alternatively by using a very reliable online website called Nusatrip.
Where to stay on Alor Island
Kalabahi is home to very few hotels which are pretty basic, yet which still command higher costs when compared to similar accommodation on other islands with better tourism infrastructure.
We stayed at Cantik Homestay (+6281332299336) and paid 250,000 IDR (about €15.50) for a basic room with a private bathroom (mandi shower) and breakfast (usually coffee and doughnuts or pancakes), which was just fine. We ate dinner at the homestay a couple of times for 20,000 IDR (about €1.25) / person – the meals were fish based, simple but delicious and plentiful.
Alor island is also home to some dive resorts, the most popular one being La P’tite Kepa on Kepa Island, just a short boat ride away from Alor Kecil which is itself about 30 minutes’ drive from Kalabahi town centre. La P’tite Kepa is a less basic but more expensive place to stay when compared to Cantik Homestay, however if your primary objective is diving, dive packages at the resort may prove to be of rather good value.
What to do on Alor Island
Diving and Snorkelling
Besides the dive resorts on Alor Island, there are a few other dive centres that will cater to independent divers, the oldest and more famous one being Alor Dive run by an expat, who, however was not on the island during the time we were there.
After doing some research, we discovered that there was another outfit on the island called Air Alor Dive, a newcomer to the Alor diving scene. We knew nothing about the agency, and Nikki usually likes to investigate the history of any company he dives with beforehand, but we didn’t have other options to go with at this point.
We turned up at the shop in Alor Kecil at 8am as discussed via SMS (tel no: +628122038788) and were greeted by four eager smiling young men. After a safety briefing we set off for the day. Nikki would be doing two dives and I would be snorkelling around the dive sites.
The price for 2 dives and snorkelling were of 1,200,000 IDR (about €75) and 200,000 IDR (about €12.50) respectively including lunch and all equipment which is pretty much a standard price for such activities in Indonesia.
It is difficult to describe the underwater wonderland that welcomed us when diving and snorkelling. Both Nikki and I were amazed by the sheer quantity of fish, healthy coral and exceptional visibility (in August). After also diving in both Komodo National Park and Raja Ampat, Nikki feels that Alor tops his list of favourite diving spots in Indonesia.
The guys at Air Alor Dive were incredibly friendly, knowledgeable and professional. The equipment was new and well-maintained and although this company is relatively new, the guys really seem to have a firm foothold on their business and we cannot recommend them enough.
Beach hopping and exploring local villages
Few people explore any spots on Alor besides diving sites – a great pity since the island is home to some stunning raw unspoilt beaches and a coast which we think is way more beautiful than that around more “touristy” Indonesian islands.
Perhaps, the fact that we saw no other foreigners on Alor, and that the beaches were completely deserted except for a few local kids, contributed to our fascination with the island.
Beach hopping and exploring local villages is best done by renting a scooter. We rented ours from the guesthouse we were staying at (Cantik Homestay) for 100,000 IDR (about €6.25) a day.
If you ride in a clockwise direction from Kalabahi you will first arrive at Alor Kecil, the jump-off point for Kepa island and then Alor Besar, home to a mosque guarding an antique Koran made of bark. The mosque is easy to miss but not very remarkable either.
Next up is Sebanjar, a gorgeous white sand beach accessible via tracks from the main road. The beach is lined with fishing boats from which little shy kids who will stare at you curiously. The snorkelling here is great as are the vistas – in fact we settled on spending the afternoon here after visiting other spots around the island.
Pantai Bota next to a little fishing village was up next – no sand, the bay is full of dead coral with some thrash strewn about (as unfortunately happens in many parts of Indonesia). During our visit, the water was very choppy, so we just walked around for a little while and went back to Sebanjar.
I was unsure about swimming in a bikini here since the few locals (a muslim majority) around were covered up and swimming in their clothes, but nobody seemed to mind that I did! Since I felt a little bit sensitive about the issue and was wary about offending locals, I made sure that I covered up with a sarong whilst lying on the beach.
Pantai Batu Putih is on the anti-clockwise route of Alor Island, starting from Kalabahi, and it is unlikely that you can fit it in on the same day as Sebanjar since the route is not circular (whatever your GPS says!). You need to return to Kalabahi to go to Batu Putih (unless you are very adventurous on a bike and can ride through difficult unmarked tracks – we weren’t!)
Pantai Batu Putih is definitely worth the effort to get to – the white-sand beach is gorgeous and was deserted when we were there, with cliffs soaring on one side and light blue waters on the other. It is said to be the most spectacular beach in Alor, and although it is surely beautiful, we preferred Sebanjar albeit the latter was less “majestic”.
The route to Pantai Batu Putih is well-marked and was very empty when we visited. It seems that few foreigners come this way! Kids ran behind our scooter every time they saw us in obvious excitement, and even adults stared at us with very curious expressions. Highly recommended if you really want to get off the beaten path and experience the local enthusiasm!
Takpala Traditional Village
We feel that this traditional village is a bit of a tourist trap (even though there’s a definite lack of tourists on the island), having been to more authentic ones on Sumba and West Timor, but it could be interesting to those who have not yet visited an Indonesian traditional village.
As soon as a bule (foreigner) is spotted, locals will scramble in a mad rush to dress up in traditional clothes, and even perform traditional dances for large groups. Visitors also have the opportunity to dress up, join in the dancing and take pictures around the village (at a fee of course). There are stalls with souvenirs set up on one side next to a row of thatched houses. Yes, it’s that kind of “traditional” village.
We feel that the village caters to the package groups of dive tours who come to explore the diving spots around the island and are then taken on an excursion to the village to break away from the potential monotony of repeated dives.
Possibly interesting to some, but we felt that it lacked authenticity when compared to the traditional villages on other Indonesian islands. We only stayed for a few minutes before we decided to leave.
The road up to the village is rather interesting with Stations of the Cross set up along it and a gorgeous view from the top. We are not sure whether it is used during Holy Week for pilgrimages but we feel that it would make a good setting for such an activity. The view alone was worth the trip.
Explore Kepa Island
Little Kepa is one of Alor Island’s well-known gems, mostly due to the diving resort La P’tite Kepa set up on the island. Although we didn’t go to the resort, we visited the island one afternoon to explore its little coves and beaches.
A one-way transfer from Alor Kecil costs 20,000 IDR (about €1.25) per person and takes about 5 minutes. You can tell the boatman what time you want to be picked up for the transfer back and pay everything on your return leg. Boatmen are waiting under the shade of the trees in Alor Kecil.
You can walk all around the island and the snorkelling off the coast is great, but you need to be aware of the strong tidal currents in the area. Early evening, the tide rises and some parts of the previously walkable coast become inaccessible. In this case you would need to go further inland and use some paths hacked into the thick vegetation, to walk around the island.
Where to eat on Alor island
Come here to sample the fantastic Ikan Kuah Asam, a local speciality of Alor island. The fish soup usually includes a whole fish in a slightly bitter tamarind based broth – a must for any fish lover. The restaurant offers an extensive menu. We also enjoyed a dish made of spinach with shrimp and chicken in sweet lemon sauce.
This was the guesthouse we were staying at and we loved the simple, affordable dinners here. We noticed that the owners catered to outside guests particularly groups of divers looking for a local food experience. It would be best to call in advance however, if you would like to sample the food here! Tel no: +6281332299336
Several warungs are located on the main Kalabahi road offering local fare such as bakso, nasi goreng, mie goreng and nasi padang. Cheapest food option around! We tried several and they were all of similar standard and price!