The multicoloured lakes of Kelimutu

Taxis don’t really exist in this part of Indonesia, which is how I found myself tearing up the side of a mountain on the back of a motorbike at 4am in pitch blackness, without a helmet, pointlessly racing three other motorbikes carrying similarly terrified foreigners round tight bends, and regularly having to slam on the brakes because a cow has wandered into the road. You may be wondering why on earth I was putting myself in such a situation in the first place.

The answer is that we were heading up to see the sun rise over the top of Kelimutu, one of Indonesia’s most awesome sights. The country has many active volcanoes, but this one’s claim to fame is that the craters hold three beautiful multi-coloured lakes. Not only that, but they actually change colour regularly depending on which minerals the volcano underneath chooses to spew up that week. Over the past twenty years they’ve managed to take on pretty much every colour in the rainbow, as well as black, white and chocolate-brown. Information on what colours to expect was pretty limited before we headed up, so we had no idea what to expect.

This being a relatively untouristed part of the country, and so it was no surprise that when we dropped off, slightly shaken but glad to be alive, there was a complete lack of signposting to tell us how to get to the lakes. It was of course still dark, but thanks to a bit of guesswork and a lot of luck, we made it up the last part of the hill to the viewing point above the three lakes. One turned out to be nearly jet-black, the second was turquoise, and the third a milky blue colour.

After eight months of travelling I’ve noticed it gets easier and easier to be dismissive of things – and in this case I have to say I was slightly disappointed by the colours the volcano had decided to choose this month (after all, you can barely swing a cat in the Andes without it plopping into a turquoise lake) – I was at least hoping for a red one. Is that really too much to ask.

Kelimutu sunrise

But still, colours aside, the setting was absolutely fantastic, as the sky began to light up as the sun began to creep over the lip of the volcano opposite, while in the distance all around sat jagged, misty mountains, framing the scene perfectly.

Even better was the fact we only had to share the view with ten others – eight of whom promptly left as soon as the sun was up (I have no idea why – unless you have your own transport, if you watch the sun rise over Kelimutu, it’s too late to catch a bus out, and there’s not a lot else to do but relax in the nearby town of Moni, where everyone stays). This meant that by the time the real show began, there wer just four of us to see it.

Turquoise lake, blue lake

For while the sunrise is impressive, the lakes don’t really show off their magic properly until the sun has risen higher in the sky. Being in no hurry, we sat around for a while chatting, before strolling over to a viewpoint between the two main lakes, where we were treated to quite a spectacular sight. Any disappointment I’d felt about the colours earlier instantly vanished as we saw that the main lake wasn’t just turquoise, it was a rich, vibrant turquoise, so thick and opaque it looked like someone had tipped a huge vat of paint into the crater. Not only that, bubbles of sulphur were continually rising up from underneath, leaving a bright yellow scum floating across the surface. Almost as good was the milky blue lake next door, which had a similarly paintlike appearance.


unsurprisingly enough, we spurned the offer of a moped ride back down, and after a traditional Indonesian breakfast of Pop Mie instant noodles and a can of Pocari Sweat (a Japanese energy drink, for those unfamiliar with its delights) we set off down the hill for the 13.5km walk back to Moni.

It turned out to be beautiful. Leaving the road behind, we headed onto a narrow track that cut down steeply through the forest, before opening out into the fields that cover the fertile slopes of the volcano, growing bananas and corn. Every now and then we’d pass a house (normally to be greeted with cries of “Hello Mister!” from any kids in the household) and get directions, which mostly consisted of me saying ‘Moni?’ hopefully and the locals pointing the way. On the way, we got to see women weaving ikat (traditional patterns from this part of Indonesia), and the path all the way down was spattered with the red splotches where betel-nut chewing locals had spat. It was a great way to see traditional village life, and made us very glad we’d chosen to walk.

Making ikat

Everything was fine until the houses ran out, we reached a turning, and had to guess which way to go. Inevitably, we took the wrong one, and as the daytime heat began to reach furnace-like levels and the humidity that of a sauna, we found ourselves heading further away from Moni (which had been in sight before), gradually slowing as our sweat levels rose, our water began to run out, and our feet to tire. By the time we eventually made it back, we reckon we must have managed at least another 7km, and we were soaked, dehydrated, and knackered. But, our guesthouse owner had tea, water and banana pancakes ready for us almost as soon as we’d plonked ourselves back onto our terrace, and all was good again. Not a bad travelling day in all – three stunning lakes, a hard but rewarding walk, and all done by 11am leaving us plenty of time to adjust back to village time and do nothing for the rest of the day.

And with that, thanks to a marathon posting session here in Maumere, Flores, I’m finally up to date with my posting (I climbed Kelimutu yesterday – although there’s a slight delay in these posts appearing while I catch up) for the first time since about Mexico. I’m going to try my best to keep it that way, as I think fresher posting means fresher writing.

Unfortunately the way I’ve been able to achieve this is by uploading far fewer photos to Flickr, and at a far lower resolution, meaning I no longer have a proper backup (internet speeds are generally way slower than south america, which wasn’t eaxctly rocket speed). Let’s hope I can survive another four months without breaking or losing my laptop then.


10 responses to “The multicoloured lakes of Kelimutu

  1. Hi Geoff!
    I’m Indonesian but never been in Kalimutu.. yet.
    40 contries visited and counting? Wow. How I envy you.. :D

  2. stunning lakes! and loving the energy drink…

    we’ve had 6 in of snow here so been out sledging & making snowmen with the kids. might even get a white xmas if this weather continues.

    loads of love xxx

  3. Wow, those lakes are incredible. We were told that the Blue Lake in Australia is similar during January but we weren’t able to see the vivid blue that it looks like you found in Indonesia. Indonesia looks incredible.

    I also saw on One Giant Step that you are planning to head to Thailand in January. We are also going to be there in January though we don’t exactly know when. Probably from some time in mid-January to mid-February and then we head over to Cambodia (or maybe Laos). If you’ll be in the area around that time, we would love to meet up.

  4. Great post, I love Kelimutu and the surrounding area, one of the highlights of my travels so far!

  5. Great opening sentence! Makes me wish I was there.

  6. the pictures are really amazing!!!

  7. I went there back in 2006. Three of us rent a car from Maumere, so we don’t need to traverse the mountain like you….

    But…. I envy you for the sunrise. Start very early from Maumere didn’t give us enough time for it, plus the mist covering the mountain during Indonesia’s monsoon season.

    Anyway, could be a sign that I should go back there :D

  8. It’s on my list… but how do you get there? Got some tips?

    • The quickest way would be to fly to Ende or Maumere, and then get a bus or taxi to Moni. You then stay the night in Moni and then get up ridiculously early in the morning to go up the mountain for sunrise. Moni itself is a pretty little village, and the surrounding mountains are stunning – for me, Flores was the most beautiful island I went to in Indonesia.

      I took a slower route – I arrived in Labuan Bajo on a boat from Lombok via Komodo, and then travelled overland via Ende to Moni, and then finally onto Maumere. This way takes longer, but lets you see more of Flores, which is definitely worth it.

  9. Many people say bali is the best place of indonesia…but i believe they haven’t come to west and east nusatenggara yet.
    kelimutu is just one part of alot beautiful view of nusatenggara…
    seeing wild komodo at rinca island,at riung there’s an island full of bats with other 16 small island nearby(a beautiful place for snorkling too),hot waterspring at soa,traditional village at sade-lombok(they made their house from cow’s faeces mix with clay),three beautiful gili islands near lombok and many more place to visit…
    You should come again and again to Indonesia and find out it’s great places…^^

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