Many visitors to Flores don’t make it any further inland than the harbour town of Labuan Bajo, the base for exploring Komodo National Park, home of the fearsome dragons. However, those travellers prepared to venture into the island’s jungle-covered, mountainous interior are rewarded with one of the most beautiful natural phenomena in Indonesia, Kelimutu Lake.

In central Flores, around two hours inland from the town of Ende, lies the island’s most famous volcano, Kelimutu. It is not the tallest volcano on Flores, that title goes to Mount Inerie. Kelimutu is certainly the strangest and most beautiful, thanks to the multicoloured lakes which sit in its (now-extinct) crater, which have vivid, ever-changing hues of blue, green and red.

The crater lakes

Kelimutu is famous for the three lakes which sit in its crater, separated by thin ridges of rock. Shifting chemical and mineral balances in the water mean that the colours of the lakes change regularly – throughout 2016 they changed six times – but they are always vivid and deep, with an appearance so thick that it resembles paint. Generally, the lakes are turquoise, khaki, and dark red; the turquoise lake tends to stay the same colour, while the other two fluctuate wildly.

The lakes are particularly beautiful at sunrise, which is when the majority of tourists visit. They look beautiful (and different) throughout the day. Those of an intrepid nature can hike up to the summit, although the chilly nights and early start required to get there for sunrise mean that the walk back down is more popular.

Lots of visitors choose to take an ojek or car to the summit, and then walk back down. A cup of delicious Flores coffee from one of the vendors who trudge to the summit each morning is the perfect way to wake up as the sun crests the horizon and illuminates the lakes.

Unsurprisingly, Kelimutu and its lakes occupy a prominent place in local mythology, and are said to harbour the souls of the dead. The young are said to travel to the turquoise lake, the old to the khaki, and the wicked to the red.

Getting to Kelimutu

Kelimutu is an absolute must if you’re already travelling overland across Flores, although this method can be gruelling given the mountain roads and long distances involved. A popular route is from Labuan Bajo to Bajawa – a ten-hour bus journey – followed by another bus or car trip to Ende, which takes two hours.

From Ende, the village of Moni, at the foot of Kelimutu, is around an hour and a half. Happily, Ende has an airport which flies to destinations including Denpasar, Labuan Bajo and Kupang, meaning you can get to Kelimutu from across Flores and beyond in no time.

From Moni, the drive up to the car park takes around 30 minutes, as does the walk from the car park up to the summit. You can arrange transport through your hotel; to get to the summit for sunrise you will normally depart at around 4am. Wrap up warm – the nights and early mornings are chilly at this altitude.

Moni

Moni is a tiny village at the foot of Kelimutu, a relaxing place with lovely views over rice fields and a pleasantly cool climate after the muggy heat of Ende. Moni is where the majority of visitors to Kelimutu stay, and is surprisingly well equipped for tourists for somewhere of its size. Hotels and guesthouses line the single road which runs through the village, and there is a range of cafés and restaurants to choose from.

Where to stay in Moni

Most of Moni’s hotels are friendly, family-run guesthouses on the main road through the village, though the range and quality are increasing all the time.

Bintang Lodge, run by the helpful Tobias, is an erstwhile backpacker option which has recently upgraded, with beautiful rooms dotted up the hillside. Bintang Lodge also has hot water showers, which may not seem like a priority if you’re coming from Ende but are a real treat on a cold morning.

Those on a budget should head to Antoneri Lodge, which offers no-frills but spotless rooms at great value, while Estevania Lodge is a great mid-range choice. If money is less of an object, head to Kelimutu Ecolodge, a beautiful collection of luxurious bungalows in the east of town and easily the most upmarket option in Moni.

Despite the wide choice, many of Moni’s hotels only have a handful of rooms, meaning that booking ahead is a good idea in the peak tourist months of July and August.

Where to eat in Moni

Moni has a few restaurants, most of which serve standard traveller’s fare. By far the best is Mopi’s Place, a coffee shop and restaurant perched on some high steps above the main road. Mopi’s offers fantastic coffee and delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner – the turmeric chicken is particularly recommended – and with a book exchange, rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack and reclaimed wooden furniture, it’s easily the trendiest spot in Moni.

Other dining options include a decent restaurant at Bintang Lodge, and Rainbow Café, which sits at the top of the hill. Be sure to try a Moni cake while you’re here, a local speciality which consists of potato and vegetables pressed into a patty.

Final thoughts

Kelimutu is a must on the itinerary of anyone travelling through Flores, an extraordinary beautiful place even by the high standards of Indonesia’s national parks and natural landscapes. The bus journeys across Flores are long but worth it in themselves for the stunning mountain scenery, but if you don’t feel up to it then you can simply fly to Ende, a two-hour drive away. The village of Moni is a peaceful place with good tourist amenities, and the perfect base for excursions to the summit of Kelimutu.