Three mystical colored lakes of Kelimutu in Flores

Mark Levitin | Live the World

November 23, 2022

As the gap between explorers and tourists is getting obscured by public fashion (while not actually growing narrower), it's becoming progressively difficult to define a place as "off-the-beaten-track". For example, the colored lakes of Kelimutu in Flores: are they a popular sight, or a remote spot to be discovered? Backpackers have frequented this location for decades; but mass tourism has not yet spread its tentacles here, and the Bali crowds are as blissfully ignorant about this place now as they were 20 years ago. Either way, Kelimutu is doubtlessly worth a visit. It's pretty safe to call it unique: one volcanic cone with three crater lakes on top, each of a different color. Predictably, local tribes believe it houses powerful spirits, and have an annual offering ceremony to appease them. This should keep culture researchers and ethnographers happy, and for the rest of us the landscape itself will be more than enough to justify the long road.

© Mark Levitin

Shifting rainbow

Not only the three crater lakes of Kelimutu have different colors; each of them tends to change color like a chameleon. For a geological phenomenon, the rate of such changes is incredibly fast – the water may turn from dark olive to aquamarine in mere months.  This is caused by shifts in the oxidation-reduction reactions in the mineral-rich lakes. Volcanic gases, rainfall and groundwater levels all affect it, producing unpredictable results. This is truly a place that can not be considered covered and done with after you have seen it once – next year it may look totally different. Unique, isn’t it?

© Mark Levitin

Where the dead go

The names of the three lakes are quite mystical: Tiwu Ata Bupu - Lake of Old People, Tiwu Ko'o Fai Nuwa Muri – Lake of Boys and Maidens, and Tiwu Ata Polo – Magic Lake. It is said that the local tribes used to believe the spirits of the dead would retreat into those lakes, choosing one according to their age. The third lake would be the abode of supernatural beings. By now most people of Flores are Christian, at least superficially, but the ritual of offerings to the spirits in the lakes is still conducted annually, usually around August. If you are interested specifically in tribal culture, make sure to verify the exact ceremony date with the tourism department of Flores Island and time your visit accordingly.

© Mark Levitin


The nearest village to Kelimutu is Moni on the Trans-Flores road. Over the years, it has grown into a backpackers’ hub, complete with guesthouses, cafes and annoying guides. Buses traveling between Maumere and Ende pass through Moni and will drop you off there. It is 13 km from the village to the summit of the volcano and its three colored crater lakes, steeply up most of the time. Obviously, the only way to get to the top in time for the sunrise is to get a motorbike, either with a driver or without. Even if you aim for the sunset, taking a motorbike taxi up is not a bad idea – otherwise, it’s a long hike. Returning on foot is much more pleasant, descending at your own pace and enjoying the green equatorial landscape. Unfortunately, the racist two-tier pricing policy has reached this relatively off-the-beaten-track spot, and the entrance fee for foreign tourists has been increased to 150000 IDR – over 10$. One way to avoid it is to enter from the side opposite the entrance gate, but then you will have to walk all the way.

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