Just one hour north by boat from Labuanbajo lies beautiful Seraya, a steep, narrow island blanketed in velvety golden grasses dotted with emerald trees. White-sand beaches, mangrove forest and rocky outcrops line the shore. And right offshore, a shallow, well-preserved coral reef surrounds the island.
Yes, Seraya is a rare discovery. Although there are over 17,000 islands in Indonesia, it’s not always easy to find the perfect setup. There are no high-end hotels and no resorts. There are, however, 12 simple bungalows and a small outdoor restaurant on an idyllic bay backed by a perfect white-sand beach. No beach bars, no banana boats, no hordes of tourists.
When we first arrived on Seraya, there were only four visitors staying on the island. Four! Tony was ecstatic. He kept going on about how this reminded him of his early backpacking days in Indonesia in the early 1990s. Pure simplicity and nature. Now, after several days on the island, more and more people have shown up. All very cool, interesting people who sit around the restaurant at night and actually talk to each other. Again, it feels like the good old days.
Besides having found a community of like-minded travelers on a lovely little beach, Seraya has provided us with hours of underwater exploration. The snorkeling here is outstanding. Colorful hard and soft corals around the island as well as fields of sea grass just off the beach have kept us quite busy.
It’s amazing what you can find in the shallow water. From tiny cleaner shrimp and juvenile scorpionfish to crocodilefish and colorful nudibranchs. We even found an amazingly well adapted fish that was pretending to be a piece of dead grass. For those who venture out along the drop off, turtles munch on coral, squid dart out into the blue, and west past the headlands, where the water is deeper, we even came across several sizable blacktip reef sharks and schools of bumphead parrotfish. (This area is for strong swimmers only as currents can sweep you out into the ocean.)
We absolutely love Seraya. It offers a great combination of beautiful nature, easy access and privacy – at least for now. Unfortunately, plans are already in development to add more bungalows, a pier over the reef, and a new dive center. These additions will certainly alter the relaxed mood of the island. (What a shame.)
Another slight draw-back is cost. Although the setup is pretty much geared towards backpackers, prices are not. Twenty years ago, a beach bungalow in Indonesia was $5 a night; today, it’s about $25. For that kind of money, many people don’t want to schlepp their own bucket of sea water to flush their toilet or be without electricity for most of the day.
For us, however, the basic living and lack of electricity or running water were good things. Seraya might be a little too rustic for most, but this is what keeps the party crowd out and allows the island to preserve that romantic castaway vibe we love so much.