Visiting 17 Islands Marine Park in Riung, Flores was a last-minute decision spurred on by a group of equally adventurous travelers. Riung is well off the tourist track and is must do if you have the time (and patience) to explore this hidden gem on Flores Island in Indonesia.
Where is Riung, Flores
Riung, or Pulau Tujuhbelas, is a small fishing village on the northeast of Flores Island in Indonesia. It’s quiet and peaceful and has not yet to feel the effects of over tourism.
Palm trees line the fields and one small road leads to the Riung pier – the gateway to 17 Islands Marine Park.
Despite the name, 17 Islands Marine Park is made up of over 20 small islands. It is said that 17 Islands was named by the local people to commemorate Indonesian Independence Day which falls on 17 August. However, some believe otherwise. Rumor has it that the name refers to the personification of a beautiful 17-year-old girl who once lived in Riung.
Island hopping in 17 Islands Marine Park, Riung
The village of Riung does not have a beach and you’ll need to hop on a small boat to reach the turquoise waters. These islands are all located near each other, so you don’t spend hours boating between them.
Most itineraries take you on a full day island hopping tour. You’ll explore 4 or 5 spots including Bat Island, Rutong Island (with the viewpoint), Tembang Island and Tiga Island. Along the way, you’ll stop off at a few shallow reefs which offer great snorkeling opportunities. Lunch is a delicious fish BBQ prepared right on the water’s edge and at 4pm the boat will make its way back to Riung pier.
Unlike islands hopping tours in the Philippines, the boats in Riung aren’t overcrowded and the beaches are empty. This was the main attraction for me and the reason I decided to go island hopping in Riung.
The first stop will be an island that’s home to a massive colony of fruit bats. Here, thousands of bats come to rest, and when one wakes up, they all do! The sight of thousands of bats rushing into the sky is quite remarkable.
Snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters of Riung, Flores
From Bat Island, you’ll move to a shallow reef where you will spend the next hour snorkeling. There are many species of fish including clown fish, parrot fish, starfish, and even poisonous lionfish. The coral here is vibrant in some areas and damaged in others.
Beaches in 17 Islands Marine Park, Riung
After an hour of snorkeling, you’ll head to a nearby beach which will be your lunch stop for the day. Here you can snorkel off the coast, explore the beach or spend a good hour lazing in the sun. The beaches are deserted with no resorts or infrastructure which is quite refreshing if you’ve become accustomed to crowds.
Deer, hedgehogs, and monkeys roam these islands and you may even come across the illusive Biuwak Mbou. This animal is the smaller cousin of the Komodo Dragon but is rarely seen.
How much does it cost to go island hopping in 17 Islands Marine Park, Riung?
The costs for an island hopping boat trip around 17 Islands Marine Park vary and are dependant on the number of people on your boat.
Many tourists arrive late at night and book through their accommodation. However, it’s cheaper to walk 10 minutes to the Riung pier where you’ll find many captains who are open to negotiating prices.
We paid 350 000 IDR ($25) per person with 4 people on the boat. This included fins and snorkeling gear as well as a delicious fish barbeque on the beach. 100 000 IDR ($7) park fees were supposedly included as well.
Snorkeling at 17 Islands Marine Park in Riung – is it better than Komodo Islands?
If you have limited time on Flores Island, you may be weighing up the pros and cons of each attraction on the island. I had already planned a scuba diving liveaboard trip to Komodo Islands and so I was on the fence about going to 17 Islands Marine Park.
The water in Riung is crystal clear but the coral is slightly damaged. A few years back, the marine life surrounding 17 Islands may have been very much alive and flourishing. But sadly it’s deteriorating every year.
Scuba diving is not availible in Riung and whilst I absolutely loved my time at 17 Islands Marine Park, nothing quite compares to what I saw around Komodo National Park.
One point to make is that our captain was reckless in how he treated the coral. He proceeded to moor our boat onto a reef, and anchor on the coral. This is unacceptable, and when he noticed our anger, he quickly moved the boat – but the damaged had already been done.
Perhaps because Riung is so detatched from everything, the locals don’t realize the impact they have on the environment, and how their small acts can have a ripple effect in the years to come. Park fees are generally included in your costs to explore 17 Islands, but sadly I am not sure if this ends up in the right hands.
Accommodation near 17 Islands Marine Park in Riung, Flores
Riung is a small fishing village with a handful of humble cottages and homestay options available. Don’t expect much as facilities are limited.
Zon Pelo: You cannot miss Zon Pelo as it’s right on the pier – I’m talking front row seats! A nights stay will cost 150 000 IDR ($11) for a double room and cold showers. The wooden homestay offers a far more rustic feel when compared to Bintang Wisata (below). The rooms are not soundproof, but you are right on the water’s edge which makes it the best place to stay in Riung. Unfortunately, Zon Pelo is not registered with Booking.com. My advice is to arrive in Riung with no accommodation booked and head straight to Zon Pelo next to Riung pier. If they are full, you can move to one of the other 2 options which have plenty of rooms.
Bintang Wisata: I stayed at Bintang Wisata on my first night at a cost of 250 000 IDR ($17) per night for a double room. The rooms are simple and clean, with warm showers and an average breakfast. It’s about a 15-minute walk to the pier and there is a large generator which operates continuously, so expect some noise during your stay.
Pondok SVD: Pondok SVD is right next to Bintang Wisata and comes at the same cost of 250 000 IDR ($17) for a double room, providing the same sort of accommodation.
Where to eat in Riung?
- Cafe Del Mar: The fresh fish here is absolutely delicious
- Cafe Rico Rico: Located right on the pier, Cafe Rico Rico is the perfect place for an ice cold Bintang after your snorkeling tour around 17 Islands Marine Park.
Important things about Riung, Flores
- There is one ATM machine in Riung, but it’s recommended that you draw cash before you arrive
- Take loads of water and sun cream along with you on your boat trip
- Allow 2 nights in Riung. There isn’t much else to do in the area, besides visit 17 Islands Marine Park
- Hang around the pier and you’re sure to meet other travelers who you can book your boat trip with
How to get to 17 Islands Marine Park, Riung, Flores
Note: Patience is required! The road is bad, horrendous in fact! The bus ride, terrible. The time to get to Riung, long! But the experience is once in a lifetime.
The route takes you through long, windy roads, where you must cross rivers and make unexpected detours into local villages. All of this with chickens clacking away in the background, children crying, and an entire bus filled with smokers puffing away every few minutes.
The doors are generally open throughout the ride with locals hopping on and off as and when they please. After arriving in Riung 5 hours later, I was pleasantly surprised that my backpack made it intact.
Yes, it was that bad and the drive is not for the faint-hearted! Perhaps this is why many people leave Riung off their Flores itinerary.
How to get to Riung, Flores, from Bajawa and Moni
If you’re venturing to 17 Islands Marine Park in Riung, you’ll either depart from Bajawa or Moni on Flores Island.
Bus from Bajawa to Riung
There is a bus leaving from Bajawa to Riung at 13:00 daily. This costs 40 000 per person ($3) and will take about 4 hours and 45 min. Ask your homestay owner to contact the bus and they will fetch you directly from your hostel.
Bus from Moni to Riung
To get from Kelimutu Lakes in Moni to Riung, you will first need to take a bus from Moni to Ende. This will cost 60 000 IDR ($4). The trip from Moni to Ende took 3 hours as our bus broke down twice and there were roadworks along the route.
Once you arrive at Ende West Bus Station, you will hop on a different bus to Riung. This bus leaves at 14:00 so make sure you arrive before that. This trip costs 75 000 IDR ($5) per person.
Whilst the road isn’t as bad as the one from Bajawa to Riung, the amount of long, drawn-out stops made it equally as painful! The bus ride from Ende to Riung takes 4.5 hours.
Final thoughts on 17 Islands Marine Park and Riung
I was on the fence as to whether I should go to Riung or not. I had the time and I’m so glad I went for it.
The highlight for me wasn’t the island hopping around 17 Islands Marine Park, but the other travelers we met along the route. Because Riung is off the tourist path, there are few backpackers and you will most likely run into everyone in town.
Riung is a remote community so if you’re looking for undiscovered island life make sure you don’t give it a skip.