Cruising and the Lesser Sunda Islands go hand in hand. There are some very affordable budget cruises as well as some top-end luxury cruises to choose from, so most people will be able to find something to suit their budget.
One excellent option is to take a 2-4 day cruise between Labuan Bajo and Lombok, taking in various islands and attractions in Lesser Sunda Island chain, including the Komodo National Park. Low cost, all-inclusive tours are currently offered by Permana and Kencana Cruises. Meals, including morning and afternoon tea, tea and coffee are included but it’s advisable to take a few extra snacks – swimming and snorkelling can make you extra hungry.
For divers and those looking for something a little more upmarket, there are a host of liveaboard boats offering a range of short or longer duration trips. Most trips originate out of Benoa Harbour, Bali or Labuan Bajo, Flores. Many have websites so a Google search will turn up multiple results. There are also plenty of travel agents in Bali, Lombok and Labuan Bajo that can organise a cruise for you. Just make sure you do your research and look for reviews before you commit to anything.
For short hops from the main centres such as Labuan Bajo or Sumbawa Besar, you can generally arrange local boat or speed boat transfers to the nearby islands by asking around at the waterfront or a travel agency. Speed boat transfers are obviously the quicker option but they’re also significantly more expensive. If time is short, ask around fellow travellers to see if you can share the costs.
Common transfers from Labuan Bajo include to the nearby islands of Sebayur Besar and Kanawa Island, both of which have accommodation. If you’re staying on the islands, boat transfers are usually arranged by the host and included in your accommodation rate.
Common transfers from Sumbawa Besar include to Moyo and Satonda Islands. For Moyo Island, you can charter a speedboat or take the much cheaper public passenger boat from the small boat harbour. There’s no public boat to Satonda Island so chartering a local fishing boat or a speedboat from Sumbawa Besar or neighbouring Moyo Island is the only option. To visit Sangeang Api volcano island, you can charter a local boat from Sangeang (Wera) Village on the north-eastern tip of Sumbawa.
If you want to travel independently, it is possible to charter a private boat from Labuan Bajo, Flores or less commonly from Lombok or Bali. If you’ve got very deep pockets or a large group to split the costs with, many of the liveaboard dive boats will accept private charters.
For those with less money to spare, local boats can be readily chartered for a day or longer from Labuan Bajo, Flores. This is a popular option for a 2-3 day Komodo National Park jaunt, although longer charters between Labuan Bajo and Lombok or Sumbawa can also be arranged.
Boats such as these are quite small with the capacity to carry two crew and up to four passengers. Facilities and level of comfort is rudimentary. Generally, you’ll be living, sleeping and eating on deck. Most of these local boats don’t have a tender so getting ashore in places where there is no jetty, can mean wading or swimming. Not a problem if you’re stopping off to swim or snorkel anyway. However, if you’re the sort of person who prefers their creature comforts, local boat charter may not be for you.
You will be required to have your own provisions (don’t forget plenty of drinking water) although, for a price, the captain can arrange these for you. Usually, meals are prepared by the crew but confirm this is the case. Also, the crew should also be able to arrange snorkelling gear hire but make sure you request it before leaving Labuan Bajo.
Keep in mind, the standard of boats can vary greatly so regardless of whether you are arranging the charter through a travel agent or doing it yourself, take the time to inspect the boat and talk to the captain before entering into any arrangement. Check what safety gear is aboard (don’t be surprised if there isn’t any) and make sure there is some sort of shade covering. It’s your call whether or not you’re happy with whatever is provided.
Note, there have been reports of travellers agreeing to charter a certain boat and crew then turning up on the day to find a different boat and crew waiting for them. The message here is don’t make any payment in advance other than a small deposit or a reasonable advance for supplies being purchased on your behalf.