The unforgettable Rote Island

Perfect moment: Sunset at Nemberala Beach on Rote Island, East Nusa Tenggara. (JP/Ayu Saptarika)

Rote Island in East Nusa Tenggara offers outstanding beaches with perfect waves, making it well known among surfers across the globe. But this is not its only charm.

The island also boasts many incredible panoramas, traditional crafts and food.

Surrounded by the Timor Sea and the Indian Ocean, Rote’s tropical climate makes staying there feel exotic. The island is accessible from the East Nusa Tenggara capital, Kupang, via sea or air transportation.

Not many people crowd the streets of the 1,200-square meter island because most of them are on the beaches to surf the surrounding ocean’s waves.

In just three days, tourists can easily visit up to six beaches because there are no traffic jams on the island. The access roads are winding and sometimes travelers have to go through village pathways to reach the island’s beaches or other amazing places.

Beaches are everywhere on Rote and each of them has its own unique features. Each beach has different coastline rocks, sea water color and wave characteristics. Some of them are in very remote areas and with limited telecommunications service, hiring a local guide who knows the way is very advisable.

In the center of the island is the city of Ba’a, where you can find most of the offices, markets, schools and other public places.

Ba’a has a harbor and lighthouse that welcomes a lot of vessels and ships every day. The harbor is also a great place to see the sunset.

Near Ba’a is the stunning Tiang Bendera beach. This beach is around 5 kilometers from the port and is one of the most historical places on the island.

The name Tiang Bendera means “flag pole” in English, and refers to the stone monument on its coral reefs that once supported a flag during the Dutch colonial era. The monument is still visible today, although there is no flag anymore. The beach also has many unique rock shapes because of sea abrasion, which makes it even more special.

In the morning, tourists can drive 10 to 15 minutes from Ba’a to reach the scenic Leli Beach. This beach has a range of tall flat rocks on its shore and also features cream-colored sand, which is quite calming. It might have a flat appearance from afar because there are not a lot of waves, but its beautiful scenery makes it worthwhile to visit.

Around a 90-minute drive from Ba’a is Sai Beach, located near Mbueain village.

To get to Sai Beach, tourists must go through the village pathway that has no signs or street names. In other words, the driver must memorize the way to get in and out from this secluded beach.

Reaching Sai Beach requires a lot more effort but it is definitely worth it in the end. This beach offers excellent scenery and its moderate waves makes it perfect for swimming. It has white, green and blue sea water shades and at noon, its water reflects sun like shining diamonds.

Not many tourists come to Sai Beach because of its secluded location, so it feels like having a private beach for those who decide to visit it.

After visiting Sai Beach, Lifulada Beach is a good place to relax and enjoy the ocean breeze. The Lifulada coastline offers a few beach huts where visitors can sit comfortably.

There are a lot of big rocks around the coast of Lifulada Beach. When the sea water recedes, it marks the sand with artistic water flow patterns.

Around 15 minutes of driving from Lifulada Beach is Nemberala Beach, world famous as a surfing spot due to its fantastic waves.

A lot of local people and fisherfolk cultivate seaweed around the Nemberela coastline. Therefore, many boats and foreign yachts also park around this beach. Tourists who want to surf need to hire a boat to take them near the high waves because they break a bit far from the shore.

Nemberala Beach is also suitable for tourists who only want to have a relaxing walk around the beach. A plethora of big starfish can be found along the coastline. Motorcycle rental is also available for those who want to travel around this beach.

The Remarkable Climb  

Let’s take a break from beaches and explore the higher ground of Rote island.

Early in the morning is the best time to visit Tangga 300 at Mando’o Hill. Good stamina is required to climb to the top. In the past, the top could be reached by 300 steps, but now there are 488 steps while retaining the name Tangga 300.

Bring a water bottle, a camera and comfortable shoes and hat. The journey will be quite exhausting. It takes around 20 minutes of steep climbing. You will feel the heat of the sun during the climb. But don’t worry, because there is a small hut where you can take a rest after a couple of hundred steps.

The tough climb is worth it because the view from the top is simply magnificent. The turquoise blue sea and green islands lie beautifully beneath the stunning group of clouds. There is a hut on the top so you can stay in the shade.

Descending from Tangga 300 is much easier than going up. Before going down, however, do not forget to collect and take with you any trash left behind to keep the hilltop clean.

Wildlife balance: Animals enjoy themselves at Oeseli Beach on Rote Island, East Nusa Tenggara. (JP/Ayu Saptarika)

Cool down after the climb by taking a dip in the waters of Oeseli Beach, not far from Mando’o. This beach has calm waves with mangrove trees and big coral reefs by the sea. Animals such as goats and pigs roam freely there, because there is a small meadow near the shore. They are tame and do not disturb tourists unless they are provoked.

Rote’s arts and crafts are also worth seeing, such as the authentic sasando musical instrument made by the island’s indigenous people.

The locals for generations have been making two variants of the sasando based on the tone produced. There is the sasando gong with nine tones and the sasando biola with 32 tones. Usually, the left hand of the sasando player plays the chords and the right hand plays the melody.

Local crafts: A woman weaves the traditional ‘tenun Rote’ in the Ndao village on Rote, East Nusa Tenggara. (JP/Ayu Saptarika)

Last but not least, tourists can make a brief visit to Ndao village. The women in this village are known as the producers of tenun Rote (Rote weaving cloth). The classic tenun Rote is black, white and red with a flower pattern. Other colors are also available for fashion hunters.

The price of tenun Rote depends on the cloth size but overall it is affordable for everyone. (hdt)


Rote Travel Tips:

  • Summer clothes and camera are a must. Bring colorful clothes so you can take nice photos of Rote’s fantastic beaches.
  • Always bring your flip-flops, comfortable shoes, sunblock, hat and sunglasses to deal with the heat and tropical climate.
  • Hiring a local guide is recommended due to the limited telecommunications service.
  • Most shops and restaurants are closed on Sundays. Ask your hotel for recommendations if you want to eat out.
  • Don’t forget to visit Alun-Alun near Ba’a Harbor to try fresh grilled seafood.


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