Labuan Bajo is the launching pad for exploring the many islands off the coast of the larger Indonesian island Flores. The most internationally well known of these smaller islands is Komodo Island, home to the largest living lizard species. These small islands break up harsh waves from the ocean outside, resulting in peaceful, shallow seas in between them. So it should come as no surprise that one of the most popular ways to stay in the region is on liveboards, a.k.a. boats that also function as a residence. One such concept is Le Pirate Boatel, anchored in a peaceful bay about fifteen minutes away from Labuan Bajo’s main harbor.
This actually wasn’t the first time I’ve stayed on a “boatel”. A few years ago I stayed at "CPH Living”, anchored in one of Copenhagen’s canals. While that particular spot in Copenhagen was more of a hotel pretending to be a boat, Le Pirate is more like a boat pretending to be a hotel, if that makes sense. It’s a more rustic experience that also serves as a cozy home base for exploring the neighboring islands. Let’s begin…
Le Pirate’s boatel is anchored in a bay off the shore of Labuan Bajo. This means the boatel doesn’t come to you, you need to get to it. But how? Well, there’s a smaller shuttle boat that runs back and forth between Labuan Bajo harbor and the boatel every two hours.
Labuan Bajo Harbor
Upon landing at Komodo International Airport, a five minute cab ride will get you to the harbor in Labuan Bajo. Le Pirate actually has an on-land hotel around here and I highly recommend you get dropped off at the hotel instead of at the harbor. For the record, we did not do this and it resulted in us just hanging around in confusion at the harbor for awhile, in the heat, while I was feeling sick because of the strenuous hike we did the day before in Nusa Penida. If you get dropped off at Le Pirate Labuan Bajo, you can chill there for awhile and when the shuttle actually arrives someone from the hotel will escort you directly to the proper shuttle boat.
Fifteen minutes later you’ll be pulling up to this view…
Le Pirate’s rooms are generally small and minimal, and it’s not just because they're on a boat. We also stayed at Le Pirate’s beach club in Nusa Ceningan (review forthcoming) and I actually preferred our room on the boat, which felt brighter and more spacious. The crowning glory of the room is that instead of a wall, or even a window, one side of the room is completely open and facing the sea. It’s like looking out at a perfectly framed landscape picture every time you enter your room. Of course, there is an opaque screen you can pull down and zip up for maximum shade or privacy, as well as transparent curtains which can be used as a mosquito net. The room also has no air conditioning but there is a small fan mounted in the corner.
Every room comes with it’s own little private deck which includes a netted hammock, as well as a hanging hammock and some cushions to chill on. There’s also a step ladder leading directly into the water so when you wake up (and it will be hot when you do) you’re literally steps away from a refreshing plunge. I actually really appreciated having the personal hammocks and deck because often times at hotels and resorts there may be one or two of these features in a common area and you’ll have to wait for an opening to enjoy it (or wait for that one person who’s taking 50,000 photos for their Instagram). At Le Pirate Boatel, everyone gets a hammock!
We also got lucky with our room facing the sea most of the time we were there. They do rotate the boat daily, both for balance and I imagine also to make it more fair for guests staying on both sides of the boat. The other side of the boat faces the shore.
The boatel has a shared bathroom situation, and if you stay there it’s best to keep your expectations quite low. Let me just say this: it’s functional and reasonably clean— and there’s enough of them. There are two bathrooms designated for men and women each, but since they're single occupancy I can't imagine it really matters which bathroom you use. I never had any issues finding a free bathroom when I needed one. As for cleanliness, I say reasonable because, well, it’s on a boat. It’s in nature. I spotted some tiny, harmless little ants around the sink and sometimes on the walls in the bathrooms but it didn’t impact my ability to use the facilities. I’ll admit, I’ve also grown quite used to the presence of tiny ants in bathrooms from traveling throughout Southeast Asia. The more rustic your accomodations, the more likely they are to be there. Another thing I’ve gotten used to is the concept of the bathroom basically being a shower stall with a toilet in it. I’ve stayed at Airbnbs in Korea and Hong Kong with a similar set-up and while it takes some getting used to, it does make sense when you have limited space. Luckily, as I mentioned before, the space was as clean as it could be and even while sharing it with strangers, I never once walked in on anything gross in the bathrooms or had to clean up after anyone. Everyone onboard seemed to respect the common space.
If you do end up staying here, some more bathroom details to keep in mind: there is no hot water, but I would be very surprised if anyone felt like they needed it. It was transitioning to dry season while we were there and it was hot. Also, since they have to get fresh water delivered to the boat for showering and brushing teeth, the faucet is designed to curb water waste. That means it’s not a knob you turn but a button you press that will let out a stream of water for somewhere between thirty seconds to a minute and then you’ll need to press it again for more water.
The common areas of the boat are located on the upper deck, where you’ll find lounge chairs as well as long dining tables, the bar, food counter, and staff office. To be honest with such compelling private areas we mostly only came up here to eat or get something to drink. If you were traveling as a group with multiple rooms this would definitely be a good place to come hang out though, and you get a wider view from the upper deck than you would from your room— especially if it’s not facing the sea on any given day.
I’ll be honest, the food on the boat was… okay. It wasn’t bad but it was pretty clearly catered towards western tastes and thus sometimes a bit blander than what I'm used to. Our best meals in Labuan Bajo were all taken off the boat, like the one day we took the shuttle back to the harbor for lunch, and the day we went on a multi-island tour. Breakfast is included with your stay and that consists of a fruit, granola, and yogurt bar (which was actually quite good) as well as the option to order eggs cooked anyway you like. The eggs are served with bread and a slice of tomato. While it doesn’t offer much in the way of variety for those staying onboard for more than a couple of nights, it certainly wasn’t bad.
For lunch you can order a la carte from a consistent menu of snacks that includes burgers and wings. We were actually never on the boat during lunchtime so I can’t comment on those. For dinner there’s a fixed rotating menu with a few options each night, and you’ll want to get your dinner order in before 5pm each day so they can prep it in time to be served at 7pm. Dinner is not included with your stay and it is a bit more expensive than what you would find on land because of the extra costs of getting the ingredients to the boat. In addition to your entree there’s also some sides set out (like a super good root vegetable hash). To reiterate, the food isn't bad but it’s ultimately a choice between convenience (staying on the boat) for food that’s fine but a bit more expensive versus going on land for something more mind-blowing that may be cheaper.
Due to the nature of the boatel we had quite a bit of interaction with the staff on board, between meal services and coordinating excursions off the boat. Everyone was incredibly friendly and awesome. One of the crew members even knew some basic Thai greetings! I was also not feeling well when we first arrived on the boat and slept most of the day, but the following day some of the staff on the boat as well as the hotel back on shore asked if I was feeling better, which I really appreciated.
The bay that the Boatel is anchored in is incredible peaceful, with a view that perfectly centers a sunset between two islands. It’s about a twenty minute boat-ride away from the crowded harbor, with only a few boats other boats in the vicinity. Not too far from the boatel on land is AYANA Komodo Resort, a sprawling complex that on Saturday nights sets of fireworks from a small boat that is often docked not too far away from the boatel. During the day the Boatel can also arrange for short activities in the nearby area like snorkeling and kayaking. There’s also an island right next to the boatel where sometimes you can spot monkeys hanging out around the beach.
One other nice thing about the Boatel’s location is that if you decide to do a day trip to the surrounding islands like Padar, Komodo, and Rinca, it’s very likely that the tour boat will pick you up directly from the Boatel on the way to the other islands, as opposed to staying on land where you would have to travel to the harbor to get on the boat. At least, that’s what happened with us! I’ll be posting a review of the day-trip we took in a few weeks.
I would not recommend Le Pirate Boatel for guests with mobility impairments. The boat transfers to get to and from the harbor to the boatel involve ascending and descending steps with no ramps and the upper deck of the Boatel is only accessible via stairs.
Tons of these little fish hang around the boat.
I would definitely recommend Le Pirate Boatel to adventurous travelers that enjoy nature (including all the unglamorous parts). Like I said in the beginning, the Boatel is more of a boat acting like a hotel than the other way around so I would ask yourself: would you enthusiastically choose to stay on an actual boat over a hotel for a few days? If the answer is yes, then I think you will enjoy the boatel. If your expectations are properly set and you’re not expecting a cruise ship or luxury hotel experience, you’ll have an amazing time onboard.
Le Pirate also offers a cruise-like experience in Labuan Bajo on a smaller boat which actually moves around between several of the main islands. I think I would be more likely to do the cruise experience if traveling with a group large enough to occupy the entire boat. However, I’m glad that we did the anchored boatel instead. It was nice to feel like you had a place to “come home” to at the end of a long day, and the rooms on the Boatel seem a little bit bigger and more private than those on the cruisers.
If you found this review helpful, please let Le Pirate know when you book!Book your stay @ Le Pirate Boatel