Sombori Island: Raja Ampat’s Twin Paradise In Sulawesi, Indonesia
Sombori Island (and its exotic neighbor Labengki) has to be one of the most wonderful places we’ve seen in Indonesia. The hundreds of paradise islands and lagoons have earned it the nickname of ‘the Raja Ampat of Sulawesi’ because it looks just like the famous islands in West Papua.
Sombori and Labengki haven’t been spoiled by tourism yet, and English documentation for these places is still virtually non-existent on the web. We discovered several hidden lagoons and beaches that hadn’t even been named yet, and saw wildlife ranging from giant sea clams to hornbill birds!
This Sombori travel guide will explain how to get there, where to stay, all the best things to do, and everything else about how to experience this gem of Indonesia yourself!
Where Is It?
Sombori island is located in the far southeast corner of Central Sulawesi province, in Indonesia.
It’s a mountainous peninsula surrounded by limestone karst islands and turquoise lagoons, so it’s the perfect place to take a boat and go exploring!
Tours to Sombori are combined with Labengki, a nearby island with some of the same spectacular scenery and most of the accommodation in the area.
How To Get There
Sombori and Labengki are remote islands, so the process of getting there takes a bit of effort.
The first step is to fly to the city of Kendari (KDI), which requires a transit stop in Makassar (UPG). Makassar is easy to reach from Bali or Jakarta, and it has non-stop daily flights to Kendari for 300k Rupiah ($20).
From Kendari city, the next step is driving to the harbor, and then a boat journey to Labengki that will take about 1 hour by speedboat, or 3 hours by wooden boat.
Sombori island is another 2 hours further north of Labengki, so it’s not hard to visit on a day trip from there. We did two day trips to Sombori during our stay.
What To Expect
The most popular way to visit Sombori and Labengki is with a package tour that includes your food, lodging, and boat. You can try to arrange these separately, but the price won’t really change.
The standard format is a 3D2N or 4D3N tour, and that’s a little rushed IMO, but it’s enough time to see some of the top highlights of Sombori/Labengki. As a solo traveler, you can do the 4D3N private tour for as low as 4.5 million Rupiah ($300 USD) if you stay in a very basic homestay.
We paid 15 million Rupiah ($1,000 USD) to upgrade to a 7 day package that included Kendari airport transfers, the boat journey from Kendari to Labengki, unlimited private boat touring around the islands, 6 nights in the Labengki Beach Huts, and all our meals.
These prices are pretty high for Indonesia, but most of the cost is for the private boat charter. There’s very little wiggle room because it’s such a remote area and hard to bring supplies of any kind. My wife is Indonesian and she tried negotiating.
With that said, the final price depends on how long you stay, what type of boat you use (speedboat vs wooden motor boat), and where you stay (homestay, beach huts, or resort). If you join an open trip (shared trip) those are also cheaper.
Best Sombori & Labengki Tour
We arranged our entire trip with Oji, a Kendari native with a lot of experience in Sombori and Labengki. He was very helpful and handled our lodging, meals, and boat tours.
You can contact him via WhatsApp at ☎ +62 812-4173-9239. If you don’t hear back right away, he may be on a trip.
Side note: The locals in Sombori and Labengki speak very little English, and that goes for most people in Kendari too. This was a non-issue for me since my wife is Indonesian, but for others it’s something to keep in mind.
Best to iron out any important details before you start your trip, and if there’s anything specific you really want to see then maybe save a picture of it in your phone.
Best Things To Do In Sombori
• Paradise Island (Pulau Kayangan) – Viewpoint #1
Your first tour stop in Sombori island will usually be Pulau Kayangan, also known as the ‘Raja Ampat viewpoint’ because it looks just like the famous islands in West Papua.
After a short 5 minute climb, you reach the top and get a stunning view of the rocky limestone islands and blue lagoons.
• Paradise Island (Pulau Kayangan) – Viewpoint #2
This is a second ‘Raja Ampat viewpoint’ at Kayangan just 100 meters from the first one.
The view is a bit different here because you’re standing right on the edge of one of the blue lagoons.
• Grandma’s House (Rumah Nenek)
One of the most scenic and exotic spots in Sombori island got its name (‘Grandma’s House’) from a fisherwoman who lived there for many years in a flimsy old wooden shack.
The grandma has passed away now, but if she was around I’m sure she could tell lots of great stories. They said one time a whale shark swam into the lagoon here and they kept it as a pet for almost two months! They finally let it go because it was hard to feed.
This is a beautiful location, especially if you have a drone. There are four turquoise lagoons, or five if you count the one by the shack.
• Diamond Cave (Gua Berlian)
Limestone caves are common in Sombori, and this is one of the biggest and best we saw.
Diamond Cave gets its name from the sparkling limestone rocks, which are especially noticeable when light shines on them from the hole in the ceiling of the cave.
We didn’t find out until afterwards, but this cave also has some prehistoric handprints if you look closely on the walls.
• Left Water Beach (Pantai Air Kiri)
This lagoon is shallow enough to have its own beach with soft white sand.
As the story goes, a fisherman was searching for freshwater here and he discovered a natural well by reaching into it with his left hand, giving the beach its name.
• Allo Cave (Gua Allo)
This is a cool sea cave hiding in plain sight on the coast. There are two entrances, and you can swim into the cave (or canoe in) if the tide is high, or walk in when it’s low.
Inside, there are hundreds of bats hanging on the ceiling, and a secret passage that leads to a small natural swimming pool.
• Prehistoric Cave (Gua Prasejarah)
Before we left Gua Allo, an old fisherman pulled up in a canoe and waved for us to follow him to an ‘even better’ cave that the tours don’t see.
‘Bring your camera! Very good pictures!’ he told us in Indonesian. I was pumped. We waded ashore again, and after a short trek and machete-hacking our way through some jungle, we reached a big cave on the side of the mountain.
Inside, we could tell right away that the place was important because it had government signs, roped off areas, and excavation tools. There were prehistoric hand prints on the cave wall!
• Princess Lake (Danau Putri)
While flying the drone at Gua Allo, we accidentally discovered this donut shaped hidden lake.
The locals knew about it, and it’s possible to reach it on foot (but very difficult access).
• Hermit Crab Beach (Pantai Umang-Umang)
This beach got its name from the crowds of tiny hermit crabs running around on the sand. We saw hundreds of them!
Behind the beach, there’s a blue lagoon with an unusual shape. While I flew the drone, our boat guys went spearfishing and brought back a good catch for dinner that evening.
We even spotted a giant sea clam in the water here! Sombori and Labengki are known for having some of the biggest sea clams in the world, but sadly a lot of them have disappeared because of dynamite fishing.
• Five Kings Lagoon (Laguna Raja Lima)
This is a group of five lagoons on the northeast edge of Sombori.
Inside, there’s not three, not four, but FIVE turquoise lagoons surrounded by mountains! If you thought Rumah Nenek was good for droning, wait until you see this spot!
It even has a multi-colored lake hidden in the jungle behind the lagoon.
• Ambokita Island (Pulau Mbokita)
This is a snorkeling spot we visited near the small fishing village of Pulau Mbokita.
Sombori and Labengki are not really known for good snorkeling, partly because the local fishermen have destroyed a lot of the coral with dynamite fishing, but this spot was fantastic.
We saw lots of healthy coral and fish, including some rare ones.
• Koko Island (Pulau Koko)
This island has a white sand beach separated by shallow lagoons on both sides, and a treehouse viewpoint where you can get top notch views of Harapan Island and the surrounding area.
It’s a nice viewpoint, but I wish they’d use neutral colors for the boards instead of the tacky rainbow colors. It looks unnatural.
• Labengki Island
A typical 3-day or 4-day Sombori/Labengki tour spends the bulk of the time in nearby Labengki, a pair of islands about 2 hours south of Sombori that has most of the accommodation in the area.
The scenery in Labengki is at least as amazing as Sombori. It’s an exotic paradise with heart shaped lakes and lagoons, white sand beaches, and giant limestone mountains.
More info: Labengki Island
Sample Sombori Itinerary
This is what a typical 4D3N Sombori itinerary will look like:
- Day 1: Travel from Kendari to Labengki. Check in at hotel and go swimming at the beach (Pantai Pasir Panjang).
- Day 2: Sombori day trip. Visit sights like the Kayangan Viewpoints, Diamond Cave, Grandma’s House, Koko Island, and more.
- Day 3: Island hopping near Labengki. Visit sights like the Labengki Kecil Lighthouse, Blue Lagoon, Swimming Pool Cave, and more.
- Day 4: More Labengki islands. Visit sights like Kimaboe Hill, Love Bay, and other mini islands. Head back to Kendari.
Where To Stay
• Labengki Beach Hut
We stayed at the Labengki Beach Huts on the big island (Labengki Besar), and I really think it’s the best place to stay if you can fit it in your budget.
The location is magic. 10 little beach huts sit at the bottom of the steep cliffs, and you have a private beach right in front of your room. Another white sand beach (Pantai Pasir Panjang) can be reached in 10 minutes of hiking.
The food is fantastic and there’s lots of variety in every meal. We had fresh fish, squid, chicken, rice, veggies, shrimp, fruit, eggs, pancakes, and too many other things to list.
Their price is 625k Rupiah ($42 USD) per night per person, and that includes daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with free flow tea and coffee.
The rooms are comfy, but very basic. There’s no electricity except via generator from 6 PM to 6 AM, so that’s when you have to charge all your electronics. There are plenty of outlets and a fan. We had decent cell service with Telkomsel.
For bathrooms, there are 6 outhouses with drop toilets. You do your showers by washing yourself with a pale and bucket. Remember, this is a Robinson Crusoe experience. Don’t expect luxury, but it’s comfy enough.
Some maintenance was overdue when we visited. The hammocks were broken and so were some of the other facilities. This accommodation is pricey by Indonesian standards, so there’s not much excuse for the lack of upkeep (except the remoteness, I guess).
Still, what you’re here for is not luxury but an exotic tropical escape, and the Labengki Beach Huts deliver that in spades!
You can contact them on their Facebook page or via WhatsApp at ☎ +62 853-9750-5163.
• Labengki Nirwana Resort
The highest budget lodging in Labengki is the Nirwana Resort.
They have overwater villas with great views and swimming right in front of the balcony. The rooms look pretty comfy for something so remote. They have air conditioning, 24/7 electricity, and proper bathrooms.
I haven’t checked their rates lately, but the last I heard is that they vary from 1.1 to 2.5 million Rupiah ($75 to $175 USD) per night, depending on room.
You can contact them on their official website where they have an email address and several WhatsApp numbers listed.
• Labengki Kecil Homestay
The cheapest place to stay in Labengki is in the fishing village on the small island (Labengki Kecil). There are lots of local homestays popping up there.
Accommodation is very, very basic. Like the beach huts, you’ll have a drop toilet and wash bucket, with a fan and electricity in the evenings. All meals are included and there’s Telkomsel cell service now.
The main drawback is the location, since the fishing village is kind of shabby — nothing like the private beach at LBH. You also can’t expect the food to be amazing (just fish, rice and veggies), but it should still be yum.
Prices range around 250k Rupiah ($17) per night per person, so this is definitely the most economical lodging in Labengki.
• Other Accommodation
More accommodation is planned in Sombori and Labengki. One of these projects is the new Priyanka Resort on Pulau Tarape, an island halfway between Sombori and Labengki.
There’s also the option of staying at a cheap homestay in Sombori island. The price and standards should be pretty similar to staying on Labengki Kecil, but you won’t have cell service.
Last, but not least, the owners of the Labengki Beach Huts allow tent camping but you’d have to bring your own gear. This would be one way to save on costs while still having an epic natural setting.
What To Bring
These are very remote islands, so keep that in mind when you’re packing. Here are some of our top recommendations.
- Snacks: If you’re like us, sometimes you just crave a Snickers bar. You won’t find any Circle K or Indomarets out here.
- Snorkel: There are some good snorkeling spots in Sombori island, so you’ll want to bring gear for it.
- Power Bank: Labengki and Sombori have no electricity except via generator from 6 PM to 6 AM, so it’s nice to have a fat power bank to supplement this for charging your stuff.
- Dry Bag: A waterproof bag is essential for your camera and other electronics, because you’ll want to spend a lot of time island hopping by boat.
- Drone: As beautiful as these islands are, they look even better from above!
Best Time To Visit
Indonesia’s dry season (and best weather) is from April to November.
With that said, Sombori and Labengki seem like they follow different weather patterns and I know of several people who went in the rainy season and still had great weather.
Our trip was in September and we had mostly fantastic weather, except for one big storm at night that felt like it was going to carry our beach hut away!
How Long To Stay
Most Sombori/Labengki tours are 3 or 4 days, and that’s plenty of time to see the top highlights, but if you enjoy the Robinson Crusoe lifestyle you could easily stay longer.
We stayed 7 days (6 nights) and still didn’t manage to cover the whole area! There are lots of hidden lakes and lagoons here just waiting to be found.
Our Sombori/Labengki Video
Last but not least, here’s my 4K Sombori Island drone video from our trip to show you just how incredible this place is.
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