A beautiful island about one and a half hours by boat more or less due west of Labuan Bajo, Kanawa Island is a bit of a go-to location for backpackers and flashpackers looking for some downtime.
The island is surrounded by a reef, some of which is in extremely good condition with an impressive range of sealife, from soft coral through to sting rays, sharks and turtles -- and it's easy swimming distance from the beach. The beach itself is also very attractive, with ample shade, and you're never too far from the sole restaurant on the island (unless you walk around the island of course).
It is possible to walk all the way around the island or you can walk over the top of the island and down onto the back beach to continue on your way. The rustic but photogenic pier was destroyed (along with some of the reef) by a storm in early 2013, but a new pier has since been built and we've been told the reef is showing encouraging signs of regeneration.
A series of viewpoints can be reached by a relatively easy climb and the views, especially at sunset, will take your breath away. Be sure to follow the trail all the way to the simple hut on the peak -- absolutely lovely -- and watch out for the goats!
There is just a single place to stay on the island, and while it has picked up its act from a few years ago, it still badly misses its potential. While the staff you'll be dealing with on a daily basis are friendly and try hard, one hopes management will either improve or change.
While Kanawa isn't a particularly cheap island (the cost of food in particular adds up), should time and your budget allow, we strongly recommend a visit. Reservations are a very good idea year round and should be considered essential in high season.
When we last visited in April 2014 we heard the resort (it is owned by a consortium of nine Europeans and an Indonesian) was up for sale and the dive shop, Kanawa Island Diving, had an uncertain future. While we don't expect to see a quick sale, matters could change quickly and those planning to dive should check beforehand that the diveshop is still in business.
There are no ATMs on the island -- bring enough cash with you.
There is no WiFi, though a very, very patchy Telkomsel 3G signal can occasionally be picked up.
Water is limited on the island and services such as laundry are done back in Labuan Bajo (and take several days).
Kanawa is a little over an hour from Labuan Bajo by boat. Boat transfers both ways (once per day only though) are included in the cost of accommodation. Turn up at their office (just down the road from Gardena Bungalows) beforehand and they'll walk you to the boat that left at midday at time of writing.
By Stuart McDonald.