A short boat ride from Pai village on the north coast of east Sumbawa, Pulau Ular or Snake Island is a unique and fascinating attraction. With beautiful beaches nearby, the often smouldering volcano, Sangeang Api to the north and friendly locals the effort to get there is well worth it.
While the tiny rocky island itself doesn’t generate a lot of interest its only residents certainly do. The island is home to a healthy population of striking black and silver ringed sea snakes which shelter among the rocks when not foraging in the surrounding waters.
It is a rather strange sight to arrive at the island and see the locals reaching into the cracks and holes in the rocks, pulling out a snake or two and draping them around their necks. The snakes are quite docile and can be handled although care must be taken not to step on them. The villagers advised the snakes are venomous but their small mouths can only bite on the fleshy, soft skin between the fingers and toes therefore, bites are nonexistent. Once visitors convince themselves they are not in any harm most will happily join in. For those who are a little squeamish about snakes, staying on the boat is the best option as the island is small enough to see the snakes and those handling them without having to go ashore. Of course the beautiful clear waters surrounding the island are also inhabited with snakes which can be easily seen from the boat.
Myths surround the snakes and island including one which says a snake must not be removed. Should a snake be taken from the island and then be unable to find its way back, disaster will strike the surrounding rural communities. Another suggests the two trees on the island are the masts of a Dutch ship banished to the island centuries ago.
The village has a number of small boats which ferry visitors to and from the island as well as to some lovely nearby beaches for those who want to have a bit more of a look around or a swim. The trip to the island takes about 15 minutes with a typical stay being about half an hour. The boats don’t operate every day, however asking around in the village will usually result in somebody willing to provide a ride. Neither the island nor boats have shade so take plenty of water and sun protection. It is also advisable to take some sturdy footwear as the island is all rock.
Pai village is about a 3 hour drive from Bima along good roads for all but the last few kilometers. The trip from Bima passes through some lovely villages with nice views over farming valleys. Ask at your accommodation in Bima if they can arrange a driver for you.