Photo: Late light at Lewoleba harbour.

Introduction

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Lembata is the largest of the islands that form the Solor Archipelago, a scattering of islands between far larger Flores to the west and the Alor Archipelago to the east. Dominated by the evocative Ile Api volcanic peak on the north coast, this fascinating and very little visited island formerly known as Lomblen is well worth considering for a visit by those with time on their hands for exploring.


The island’s capital is Lewoleba, an inoffensive small town that’s also home to the island’s only real harbour and domestic airport. Here you’ll find a selection of places to stay and plenty of options for eating and drinking (including cold beer!). It also serves as the transport hub for the entire island.

Approaching Lembata on the ferry from Pantar. Photo taken in or around Lembata, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

Approaching Lembata on the ferry from Pantar. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Around 85 kilometres from east to west and at its widest point about 40 kilometres from north to south, the curiously dragon-shaped shaped island is home to a little over 100,000 people, mostly scattered across villages and especially around the second and third highest volcanoes on the island: Ile Ujolewung in the east and Ile Api in the west. There are a number of local languages—Lamaholot is the most widely spoken after Indonesian—but don’t expect too much English outside of “Hello, mistahhh!” outside of Lewoleba.

Since being granted its own district status, rather than operating as part of Larantuka on Flores, an inflow of direct funds from Jakarta has contributed to significant road improvements across the island. Even between our first and second visits across three months in early to mid 2017 things had improved. The roads are cheap though (the painted-on variety) and will probably begin to degrade in a few years, so go now!

Inside the crater of Ile Api. Photo taken in or around Lembata, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

Inside the crater of Ile Api. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Impressive Ile Api sits north of the capital on its own peninsula, creating two well protected and beautiful bays: Lewoleba Bay to the west and Waienga to the east, each dotted with islands and well-regarded for their snorkelling and diving. In 2014, a pod of blue whales trapped themselves in one of the bays and, despite repeated attempts to herd them back out to sea, eventually died.

While not the tallest peak, Ile Api is the most popular volcano to climb on Lembata. A half-day ascent and descent is the most popular approach, leaving from the village of Jontona. Still very active, it is not considered safe to ascend the true peak, but you can reach the crater rim and walk across the moonscape to the far rim—the views are tremendous.

Traditional weaver in Desa Bungamuda. Photo taken in or around Lembata, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

Traditional weaver in Desa Bungamuda. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The climb is moderately strenuous but anyone of a reasonable fitness level can do it. You will need to hire a guide. The peak is also ringed by a number of weaving villages famous for their lovely (and expensive!) ikat, along with fascinating Kampung Lama (Old Village), which is loaded with heirlooms including ancient elephant tusks.

Sitting beside a primary whale migratory route, the village of Lamalera on Lembata’s south coast has a long history of whale hunting, with the “season” running from May to August (though they’ll go for a whale any time of the year if they see one). Regarded as a subsistence traditional whaling culture, the village is exempt from international whaling bans and has resisted government and conservationist pressure to change or restrain their practices.

The slaughrhouse at Lamalera.  Photo taken in or around Lembata, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

The slaughrhouse at Lamalera. Photo: Stuart McDonald

More than just whales are hunted, including endangered species such as whale sharks and, despite Indonesia claiming to be a manta sanctuary, manta rays are caught too. Dolphins and other large sea creatures are also hunted—essentially if you can harpoon it, they will. Blue whales however, get a pass. There are significant challenges in shifting the village’s practices but until that happens we suggest considering carefully why you want to visit before doing so.

The west coast of Lembata is lined by excellent beaches, which are easily visited on a day-long excursion from Lewoleba, either by scooter or hired pick-up. There are at least a half dozen to while away your time at, along with three spectacular viewpoints looking out to the west. Interesting fishing village scenes flesh out the journey.

Laze away some time on the southwestern beaches. Photo taken in or around Lembata, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

Laze away some time on the southwestern beaches. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Those with time on their hands could easily spend a week on Lembata, a day (or two) exploring the beaches to the west, a day to climb the volcano, another to visit the weaving villages and/or go snorkelling and another two to explore the whaling village at Lamalera and that is without even heading to the east (where we are yet to visit). Accommodation is available in Lewoleba and Lamalera in the west and Balauring and Wairiang in the east, but most choose to stay in Lewoleba for its wider choice of hotels and other services. Public transport is slow and uncomfortable at times.



Best places to stay in Lembata

A selection of some of our favourite places to stay in Lembata.


Orientation
You’ll find all the major tourist services you need in Lewoleba including international access ATMs (BNI and BRI), a telephone office (there is a solid phone and 3G signal across much of the island), police and medical care. For any serious medical issues we’d get on a flight to Bali.

There is a viewpoint or two... Photo taken in or around Lembata, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

There is a viewpoint or two... Photo: Stuart McDonald

Somewhat confusingly, like the island itself, some villages have multiple names. For example the weaving village of Bungamuda is also known as Nobalekan, and the trekking base of Jontona also as Baopukang. It can be handy to double check on a map to make sure you are heading to the right place!

Lewoleba has Lembata’s sole airport. Daily flights make the 40-minute hop to Kupang.

... and a hidden beach or two worth discovering. Photo taken in or around Lembata, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

... and a hidden beach or two worth discovering. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The town has two municipal wharves. One is close to town and serves Pelni and the daily boats to Larantuka, while the other is a 15-minute ojek ride to the west of town and serves the MV Ileapi, which runs from Alor. Don’t mix up the two piers or you’ll have a long walk into town!

For local guides, Richard at the Rejeki Hotel can assist on T: (0813) 5388 9016 or, for climbing Ile Api, Elias Lusu on T: (0812) 3793 5386 is a good guide. Richard can also organise scooter, car and snorkelling gear hire.

What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Lembata.
 Read up on where to eat on Lembata.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Lembata.
 Read up on how to get to Lembata.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Lembata? Please read this.





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