Photo: The crystal waters of Riung.

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The Seventeen Islands

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You’re in Riung to visit the Seventeen Islands or Pulau Tujuhbelas, a pleasingly languid chain of white-sand beaches and tropical scenery an easy boat-ride away from the town proper.

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Set inside an Indonesian national park, there’s actually more than 20 islands here: it’s a matter of debate whether the name refers to Indonesia’s August 17th Independence Day, or a story concerning a local 17-year-old girl.

The waters between the islands are shallow and tend to be pancake-flat when the weather is good; vistas of turquoise water, white sand and swaying coconut palms are the stuff of cheesy tourist brochures, and a few snapshots are guaranteed to make your friends quietly jealous.

Boat guides hang around the local hotels waiting for custom, and setting up a trip is easy. Prices are dependent on how many people you have with you, but the going rate ranges from a total of 600,000 to 800,000 rupiah, including a guide, a boat captain, snorkelling gear rental, a fish lunch and water. You’ll also have to pay a 15,000 rupiah park entrance fee.

Most tours begin with a visit to a massive colony of fruit bats roughly 20 minutes away from Riung on the island of Ontoloe. The bats cling to waterside mangrove trees in great umbrella-like clumps; your guide will likely clap and make all manner of strange sounds to rouse the bats, who will take to the air in truly staggering numbers. It’s quite the primordial sight.

From then onwards and dependent on the weather, you’ll likely be taken to a snorkelling site or two. Snorkelling here tends to be over hard coral that doesn’t quite possess the mystical colours of Komodo or Tulamben, although the diversity of fish species here is truly impressive, including petulant anemone fish, parrotfish, a profusion of small and vibrant reef fish and even the occasional pipefish, a straightened out cousin of the seahorse.

After a few snorkelling go-rounds, you’ll likely be taken to an island with a white-sand beach for lunch. Our guide secured a truly spectacular yellow-and-black-spotted snapper for lunch, the sort of fish one might pay an obscene sum of money for in a Western restaurant.

Roasted over an open fire, the fish was served with chopped tomato and cucumber, fried noodles, fried vegetables, crackers and rice: simple and good. If you’re not a fish eater, you may want to bring this up with your guide the night before you leave.

The fish suitably devoured, you’ll be free to hang out on the beach, snorkel some more or choose another island to visit: the choice is definitely yours and guides will be able to fulfil most specific requests. It’s possible to hike around the scrubby centres of some islands, although watch out for mbou.

We can suggest Mansur Sahria, a dreadlocked Riung native who speaks excellent English and is very familiar with the area. And he does a very fine lunch-time fish spread. T: (0812) 3755 0811.

If you’re eager to see a mbou, you can theoretically ask a guide to acquire a dead pig or a dog and take you to one of the islands where they are known to lurk. You must then perform a stakeout for at most three days to allow the unfortunate creature to develop a truly impressive reek, on the off chance one of the elusive reptiles will show itself. We didn’t try this and it remains unclear if this is actually kosher in the present day — our hunch is that given enough money, it’s eminently possible, although spending three days camping beside a rotting animal is stretching it for even the most herpetologically devoted. Our island guide did say one of his clients was lucky enough to spot one on a (distant) beach a few weeks back.


Location map for The Seventeen Islands

What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Riung.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Riung.
 Read up on how to get to Riung.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Riung? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Indonesia.

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