This Lesser-Known Asian Island Is A Paradise Almost Entirely Made Of White-Sand Beaches

If you're looking for a paradise almost entirely made of white-sand beaches for your next vacation, look no further. In the heart of Southeast Asia, amid the sprawling Indonesian archipelago, lies a hidden gem that even the most seasoned travelers often overlook. Kanawa Island, a speck in the Flores Sea, is an idyllic escape that promises untouched natural beauty, serene landscapes, and an underwater world that rivals the most celebrated dive sites globally.

Kanawa Island is nestled at the border of the much larger Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for the legendary (and dangerous!) Komodo dragons. However, the island itself is a compact yet bountiful treasure trove of wonders, spanning just under 80 acres. It is encircled by crystal-clear turquoise waters and boasts some of the most breathtaking white-sand beaches in Asia. The island offers a seclusion that is hard to find in some of Indonesia's more touristy destinations.

There are two main beaches in Kanawa. In the north part of the island is Sunset Beach, which is ideal for seeing the sunset over the Sangeang volcano (which is on a nearby island) and taking golden-hour photos. In the south is Sunrise Beach, the perfect place to take a cool dip at the first break of dawn. The two beaches offer amenities such as loungers, umbrellas, and beach bars for visitors to enjoy. Bring a book, relax on the beach, have a picnic, snap some photos, and feel the ocean breeze. 

Kanawa Island: natural sanctuary above and underwater

We are not kidding when we say that Kanawa Island is considered one of the best snorkeling destinations in the world. The surrounding coral gardens are home to a diverse range of marine life, including turtles, reef sharks, and various tropical fish, offering an underwater world that captivates even the most experienced divers. Several dive sites are available for exploration, including the Coral Garden, Wreck Point, and the Pinnacle. The most popular of all is the Kanawa Wall — a nearly 100-foot vertical drop-off. 

Above water, the island is equally enchanting. The beaches are fringed by jungle, providing a tranquil backdrop for relaxation. The absence of significant infrastructure and the low impact of tourism have preserved the island's ecosystems. For those who prefer to stay on land, Kanawa offers leisurely hikes to its peaks, providing panoramic views of the surrounding islands and the vast ocean. You may even spot some local goats and bird species, such as kingfishers, eagles, and hornbills.

The island's location also makes it an excellent base or stopping point on trips to Komodo National Park. Here, visitors can undertake more strenuous jungle hikes, visit Pink Beach, explore other islands that are part of the park (three large ones and some 26 smaller ones!), and, of course, see the famed dragons. Moreover, 50 dive sites are scattered throughout the park, where you can admire the biodiversity of the Coral Triangle and spot some rare marine animals, such as the dugong. 

Planning your visit

One of the most unique features of Kanawa Island is that you can stay overnight. On-site, rustic, island-style bungalows are available for rent — great for a one- or two-night stay. Prices are around 250,000 rupiahs ($16) per night. For further information, contact the property at +62 385 41252. Bring beach items, cameras, food for the fish that gather at the pier, and overnight essentials for your stay. The best time to visit Kanawa Island is during Indonesia's dry season, from April to December.

Visiting the island requires some planning. First, you must fly into Labuan Bajo's Komodo Airport (LBJ) on Flores Island from a major Indonesian airport, such as Jakarta or Denpasar. Kanawa's remote location can only be accessed by 35-minute speedboat transfers from Labuan Bajo. These must be booked at the harbor as they don't run on a regular schedule (costing $20 to $30). For guests of the island's accommodations, the management provides complimentary shuttles to the island at noon, and back at 8 p.m. To alleviate some of that planning complication, you can book a tour that includes a stopover on Kanawa Island with Get Your Guide

Entrance fees vary based on the activities and locations you select. For example, if you only want to enter Kanawa Island (without venturing elsewhere), that will cost 100,000 rupiahs ($6) per person. Snorkeling fees anywhere in the park are 50,000 rupiahs ($3), diving fees 100,000 rupiahs ($6), and entrance to the greater Komodo National Park is 150,000 rupiahs ($10) on weekdays and 250,000 ($16) on weekends.