Alor Snorkeling, Indonesia
A Worldwide Favorite
Alor snorkeling is one of our all time favorites. Admittedly Alor was the first place we had snorkeled in Indonesia or the Coral Triangle. And so the diversity and quantity of life underwater was far greater than any other place we had yet explored. It was simply incredible, and so uplifting to see that such healthy reefs still exist in 2109.
Above the water, Alor is remarkably undiscovered in terms of tourism, and very undeveloped. When we hear that about a destination we normally assume it is just marketing hype. But in the case of Alor it is true. We were always the only people on the water, besides a few local fishermen in canoes or curious kids from a local village. Apart from one liveaboard boat, we saw no other tourists on the water.
Alor is not a destination with many accommodation options or the ability to rent a vehicle and drive around to shore snorkeling spots. In addition to the resort house reef, we snorkeled the reefs in the area from a boat with guides who knew the ever-changing water conditions very well. We share details below with you about the best way to experience Alor snorkeling.
Where Is Alor?
The Alor Regency consists of 15 islands north of the large island of Timor, in the country of Indonesia. Alor with other neighboring islands are part of what is called the Lesser Sunda Islands.
Alor Snorkeling – What Are the Reefs Like?
First, the reefs are incredibly healthy and dense with life. We saw almost no unhealthy coral. Second, every Alor snorkeling spot we visited felt like a completely different ecosystem. The reef life in terms of coral, sponge, and anemone life were of different species, colors, and structures nearly everywhere, and the spots were not so far apart. That is very different than what we experience in other parts of the world.
Sometimes the reef looked like it was not even an underwater ecosystem, but was instead some grassy fields next to a forest. For example the picture below could be a snake in the woods, instead of a sea snake underwater. We saw many Banded Sea Kraits in Alor.
Not far away the reef would be completely different, with amazing colors.
In some Alor snorkeling areas soft corals were plentiful, and in others hard corals dominated.
In terms of fish life, there was a lot. There were so many small reef fish that at times they obscured the reef. It was actually a comical problem when trying to take pictures of the corals. Those huge schools of many different species of anthias and damselfish were a real treat to see.
Overall, compared to Komodo that we visited next, Alor was home to many large schools of smaller fish, like damselfish and anthias. Although we did see big schools of larger fish, like the Long-jawed Mackerel below, so it was a nice mix. And we saw unique schooling fish at many spots, like the Razorfish pictured at right. But you are not as likely to see sea turtles and big rays in Alor. On the other hand, we were fortunate enough to see a Mola Mola on our Alor snorkeling trip, which is no small fish! And dolphins are common, and whales visit the area in season.
We were lucky enough to see several frogfish and there were schools of spadefish near the docks. There are numerous species of the beautiful lionfish, that is so hated in the Caribbean but is native to these waters, to see on several reefs. Schools of catfish were common and very fun to watch as they swarmed around reefs.
While Alor snorkeling we saw a large variety of butterflyfish on the reefs, many of which we had never seen before, along with Moorish Idol, sweetlips, angelfish, and of course a few parrotfish. Scorpionfish were also fairly common, if you could spot them.
The Alami Alor Resort (more about that below) house reef has immature Black-tip Reef Sharks in the shallows, wonderful corals, tons of fish, and colorful nudibranchs. And at sunset, just a few feet off the dock, a family of the gorgeous and rare Mandarinfish come out.
Alor Snorkeling – Currents Are Strong
A big surprise to us, that really defines Alor snorkeling, is that the islands have big tidal ranges, and with that comes strong currents, the type you could not swim against if you timed things incorrectly. All of that water flushing through the reefs, combined with cooler ocean upwellings, has created the perfect environment for healthy coral life, that is hopefully very resistant to coral bleaching in the future.
Because of the currents, we think Alor snorkeling should only be attempted with an experienced guide. They know when the tides change, and can have you either safely snorkeling when the water is calm, or as often happened with us, you will do a drift snorkel, where you ride the current along a reef, and get picked up by your boat on the other end.
Sometimes drift snorkeling can be slightly frustrating, because you are not able to hang out and look at things in detail, or get a good picture. But if you are prepared for it, and get in the mindset of enjoying the bigger picture of what you are seeing, drift snorkeling can be a joy, and downright fun at times if you are really flying along.
Alor Water Temperatures Attract Unique Fish
Alor is unique in that it has big upwellings of colder water from deep in the ocean that come to the surface in some areas. That is the rare condition that brings Mola Mola and other unique creatures to the surface. It also means that at times Alor snorkeling water temperatures can be drastically lower.
So having a thin 2-3mm wetsuit for some snorkel spots is important if you will be in the water for very long. We needed our wetsuits a couple of times, and the rest of the time the water was very warm.
Alor Snorkeling – How to Do It and Where to Stay
We joined an Alor snorkeling group trip organized by our trips partner Ben out of the U.K., and stayed at the Alami Alor Resort. This resort is small, with only six well-appointed, and air-conditioned waterfront cottages with open air bathrooms. It is intimate and quite remote. There is a building that is the common area with wifi, sofas, and a communal dining table where lunch and dinner are served family style. Breakfast is served to order. The service and food are excellent.
The owners Max (from the U.K.), and Lauren (from Oregon in the U.S.) are essentially pioneers in this area, building their small resort by hand.
Maybe most important, the guides at Alami Alor have extensive experience with all the reefs for snorkeling in the area and the timing of the currents during different lunar cycles. That is very important for safe Alor snorkeling. We did hear stories of liveaboards visiting the area that don’t really have enough experience and have dropped divers into the water just ten minutes before a big tidal current was going to hit. A very dangerous situation.
Note that Alami Alor is primarily a dive resort. They are very open to snorkelers, but it’s best to join an all snorkeling group, or have at least six snorkelers in your group, so that a boat can be dedicated to snorkeling. The owners do say that if there are just a couple of snorkelers then the focus will be on the diving schedule, which means much less time in the water, and less focus on shallow areas suitable for snorkeling.
Ben is the exclusive agent for snorkel groups who book at Alami Alor Resort. If you have a group of at least six snorkelers use the contact form here to ask Ben to book your group a tailor made trip.
Foggy Masks, Fin Blisters and Angry Snorkels!
Poorly fitting, cheap gear, can ruin your trip. See our snorkeling equipment reviews and fitting suggestions to make sure your next trip is great.
Traveling and Culture in Alor
Alor’s small villages along the shores gave the impression that they are essentially the same as they have been for hundreds of years, with a few modern amenities (young folks glued to their cell phones). The islands in Alor have a mix of religions. 75 percent of the population are Protestants, with the majority of the remainder being Muslim, and a few villages of Roman Catholics.
But according to a local guide who gave a talk to our group the island is very peaceful, with no strife between groups. We were there during the Muslim month of Ramadan, and the sounds of morning prayers coming across the water, and other festivities were interesting to experience.
Most of the populous lives simply, in dirt floor huts and metal roofs. Clear lines of gender roles still seem dominant. Fishing in small outrigger canoes is common for men, as is subsistence agriculture, and the women of the area are known for high quality weaving. The local populous are very kind people. There are few cars on the island, and if a family has motor transportation the majority use little motor bikes or scooters, with sometimes the entire family on it. The roads are narrow, and traffic lanes seem only a vague suggestion.
The vast majority of motor boats on the water are still made of wood, and are very long and skinny, with exceptionally loud, banging motors. Many fishermen still use outrigger canoes, paddled by hand, or occasionally a small motor.
One reason Alor sees so little tourism is because flights to the island are relatively new. You can fly to Alor, from Bali, with a stop in Kupang, on Timor Island. You can also fly directly to Alor from Jakarta. Flight times and routes seem to change often. And don’t count on on-time flights in these areas, it’s island time for sure.
Our trips partner Ben uses a local agent to book these inter-island flights because the airlines will change schedules without notifying ticket holders, but the local agents will notify him of any changes.