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The “Alila Purnama”: Sailing, Diving and Oh My, Komodo Dragons!

Scales glinting, this Komodo dragon looks, well… stoned.

We’re cruising Indonesia on the Alila Purnama.

Today we’re taking a break from diving Komodo National Park – we’re ashore on a Komodo island tour looking for the island’s fearsome dragons.

The Alila Purnama in Indonesia
The Alila Purnama in Indonesia

Spoiler alert! Contents of this Alila Purnama review

Indonesia cruise: Checking out Komodo dragons

The stylish Alila Purnama: Staterooms, goodies, daybeds on deck, service, etc.

Flying to Komodo Island

Diving Komodo

Other activities: Beaching, hiking, etc.

Alila cruise farewell: A special surprise

Sailing Indonesia details

Komodo Island tour on our Indonesia cruise

And we’ve found a dragon!


We’ve flown half-way around the world to see Komodo dragons!

Never mind that the Komodo dragon is the world’s largest and most lethal lizard – in 2009, two dragons attacked and killed a fisherman picking wild apples when he fell from a tree.

Or that the deadly creatures (which lunch on goats, deer, wild boar and yes, occasionally humans) have inch-long serrated teeth that drip hemorrhagic venom.

This dragon looks harmless, dozing in the sun. Like a college student on a Sunday, lazing about with earbuds plugged in.

This is the dangerous beast we’d so wanted to see?

This Komodo dragon may look harmless - but watch out when it moves!
This Komodo dragon may look harmless – but watch out when it moves!

But whoah, when it starts to move, spitting out its menacing tongue and throwing its body from side to side, with its powerful muscular tail snaking behind, it’s another story.

Dragons run fast, up to 12 mph,” warns Tasrif, our ranger-guide as he hustles us out of its way.

Curiously, Tasrif has no gun, just a large forked stick which he holds at the ready.

The fiercest lizards on earth, Komodo dragons are only found on Komodo and neighboring islands in Indonesia

But no one fancies being the animal’s next meal. 

So we cautiously walk around this specimen and continue our hunt for more sightings – the infamous dragons are found only on Komodo and neighboring Indonesian islands.

Meet the stylish Alila Purnama

Alila Purnama
Sailing on the Alila Purnama is a lovely way to visit a scenic slice of Indonesia

Sailing Indonesia on the Alila Purnama to Komodo National Park offers a host of surprises and thrills, of which the dragons are just one.

Indeed, one of the biggest surprises is how luxurious a bespoke sailing ship experience can be (and very different from the other cruises we’ve enjoyed).

Built as a phinisi

The Alila Purnama is like a traditional phinisi (but much more luxurious!)

Other sailing-style ships like the Star Clipper offer Indonesia cruise itineraries that include Komodo Island.

But the Alila Purnama (translated, the “Full Moon”) is much smaller. 

Launched in 2012, she was hand-built in the style of a traditional phinisi.

These two-masted ships were originally used by the Bugis seafarers plying Indonesian waters in days gone by, trading in bird-of-paradise feathers and other exotic goods.

The Alila Purnama under sail - 150 feet of nautical beauty!
The Alila Purnama under sail – 150 feet of nautical beauty

All polished teak and rattan, with billowing camel-colored sails, the Alila Purnama is a 150-foot beauty.


Though nautical in feel, her five staterooms could be mistaken for stylish hotel rooms.

(Singapore-based Alila Hotels and Resorts manages the yacht; we stayed at the luxurious Alila Villas Uluwatu just before our Indonesia cruise.)

The feature queen-size beds, 400-thread count linens, mother-of-pearl mosaic tiled showers and individually-controlled air-conditioning.

Staterooms on the Alila Purnama have queen-size beds and spacious private bathrooms with separate showers

And oh the goodies we discover!

Pillow-soft bathrobes and slippers, a wicker beach bag, sunhats and sarongs, a yoga mat and a huge wooden box filled with lemongrass body lotions, after-sun cooling gels and face mist.

Daybeds on deck

When we tire of diving Komodo and other activities, there's always a cushioned double daybed waiting for us on the Alila Purnama.
When we tire of diving Komodo and other activities, there’s always a cushioned double daybed waiting for us

Up top, on the sweeping bow deck, there are cushioned double daybeds under parasols for each couple to lounge on (iced cappuccinos anyone?).


There’s lots of space for privacy too, even a small library with books on the colorful local sea life.


Most important, the service onboard is first-class.

Iced cappuccino on the Alila Purnama phinisi in Indonesia
Iced cappuccino quickly becomes our favorite drink on deck

In no time at all, the Indonesian waiters know each guest’s individual preferences for drinks, coffees (double shot? extra foam?) and teas, which magically appear at each meal before anyone can ask.

If this is sailing, sign us up!

Flying to Komodo Island

Alila Purnama - Komodo itinerary
Our six-night itinerary takes in Komodo, Flores, Rinca and other Indonesian islands

Our voyage starts with a 95-minute prop flight from the island of Bali over a sprinkling of velvety green islands, ringed by different shades of turquoise ocean.

Indonesia is a vast archipelago of over 17,000 islands (1,000 inhabited), so we’ll only be sailing Komodo and a few other select islands.

Alila Purnama - Komodo National Park
The Alila Purnama sailing Indonesia off Komodo Island

In Labuan Bajo on Flores island – a tiny speck of a town with tin roof houses and feisty chickens scurrying across red dirt roads – we transfer to the Alila Purnama, anchored in the bay.

Barefoot luxury on our Komodo liveaboard

Sailing on the deluxe Alila Purnama phinisi in Indonesia
How lucky are we to be sailing Indonesia on this deluxe Komodo liveaboard!

Up first? Surrendering our shoes and sandals.

Going barefoot is the rule sailing Indonesia on this ultra-luxury Komodo liveaboard.

Over lunch around the massive dining table, we meet our six fellow guests – a Singapore-based couple celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary, two French women friends and a honeymoon couple from Mexico City.

Life is casual onboard the Alila Purnama - kayaking, snorkeling, diving, beaching and enjoying the remote sea views.
Life is casual onboard our Indonesian sailing cruise – kayaking, snorkeling, diving, beaching and enjoying the remote sea views

Diving Komodo

Later, the certified scuba divers among us suit up for an easy reef dive, surfacing at sunset beneath an apricot sky.

The Alila Purnama has its own fully licensed PADI dive center onboard catering to beginner and expert divers.

All the diving in Komodo we could possibly want is included.

Why are we so happy? We’re about to do some more Komodo diving! (Credit: Alejandro Wiechers)

Over the course of our cruise, divemaster Johnny and our cruise director Mario (also a master dive guide) take us out on up to three dives a day, even a night dive.

Johnny, the divemaster, on the Alila Purnama
Our divemaster, Johnny, shows us eye-popping sights underwater

Our eyes pop with the underwater sights we see diving Komodo National Park.

We explore garden upon garden of candy-colored corals in wonderful and weird shapes – lilac fingers, monster brain coral and yellow heart valves.

Alila Purnama - scuba diving
Yes, these two scuba divers are us; thankfully, there are no Komodo dragons underwater! (Credit: Alejandro Wiechers)

Bug-eyed garden eels peek out from their sand holes.

Blue-spotted stingrays coast by, and enormous sea cucumbers shaped like Styrofoam boxes rest on the sandy bottom.

Yellow-and-black striped Moorish Idols, their graceful dorsal fins fluttering behind them, nibble away.

Alila Purnama - colorful corals
Colorful corals and tropical fish? To be expected when diving in Komodo

One site we dive – Castle Rock – is a colossal coral-encrusted pinnacle rising to 13 feet underwater, rated one of the world’s 10 best dive sites.

Here, Mario expertly guides us during a lull between normally strong currents into a fish superhighway.

We’re engulfed by more sea life than we’ve ever gaped at in our lives – enormous schools of silvery jackfish, white-tipped reef sharks, slow-cruising turtles, lionfish, fat puffer fish, even a pair of lacy, superbly camouflaged, leaf scorpion fish.

A puffer fish, just one of the many fish species we see diving Komodo.
A puffer fish, just one of the many fish species we see diving Komodo

Each time we clamber back into the zodiac, we’re handed fluffy towels.

Minutes later on our luxurious Komodo liveaboard, we’re welcomed back with glacier-cold facecloths and fresh papaya-and-mango or orange-and-carrot juice.

One of the 16 staff always starts helping us off with our wetsuits.

Sit, please sit!” we’re cajoled, and the neoprene is peeled off us while we snack on smoked salmon appies.

Diving has never been so pampered!

After a dive, we usually have some time to relax on deck before the next dive

Non-dive activities on the Alila Purnama

The Alila Purnama is a true sailing ship, and the crew work the sails one afternoon to catch the wind.
The Alila Purnama is a true sailing ship, and the crew work the sails one afternoon to catch the wind

Sometimes we join in the non-diving guests’ activities – like kayaking (the Alila Purnama carries its own sea kayaks), snorkeling and going for a spin on the “doughnut” inflatable, pulled behind a high-speed boat.

Indonesia beaches

Beaching - photo Alila Purnama
Sometimes we laze about on a deserted island beach like this

On a couple of occasions, discreet hands set up cushions under umbrellas on deserted islands.

They haul over coolers of sodas (and face mist too) – so we can lie back and revel in the awesomeness of being the only ones on a strip of talc-white sand, with no other souls in sight.


One afternoon, we all scramble up an islet’s rocky cliffs for a sunset view of the islands below and Mount Sangeang (“mountain of spirits” in Balinese) in the distance.

The volcanic mountain sits in Indonesia’s notorious Ring of Fire.

Thankfully, its spirits are feeling kindly toward us and the mountain slumbers in peace for us. (We hear later it blew its top shortly after our visit.)

It’s worth the scramble up these mountains (hills?) for some awesome ocean views

Komodo Island trip

And then, in the sweltering heat, we arrive at Komodo for our walk through the nature park.

After the initial excitement of our first dragon, we spy a couple more resting in the bush.

About 50 to 60 intrepid visitors set foot on the island each day to look for the dragons (over 1,800 call the island home).

Tasrif tells us one dragon is occasionally fed so it stays close to the ranger hut, guaranteeing expectant visitors at least one sighting.

From Komodo Island, where we see Komodo dragons, we have this view
From Komodo Island, where we see Komodo dragons, we have this view

Back at the landing site, the biggest danger we face is parting with our souvenir money.

Michael, the shrewd trader from Singapore, shows interest in the “real” black pearl necklaces going for $10 or less, and we’re all mobbed by a crowd of skinny young men hawking carved dragons and other local artefacts.

Of course, a two-foot wooden dragon finds its way into our suitcase.

"Real" pearl necklaces for sale on Komodo Island - for less than $10!
“Real” pearl necklaces for sale on Komodo Island – for less than $10!

Alila Purnama cruise farewell

Our last evening brings a special surprise.

Instead of dinner onboard, a motorboat takes everyone to a beach, where the staff have created a restaurant in the sand for us.

Alila Purnama - dining on deck
We usually dine under the stars on deck, but our last night, we eat with our toes in the sand on an uninhabited islet

We’re escorted to our table along a sandy path lined by hand-placed seashells, past a freshly-built Komodo dragon sand sculpture.

Lanterns hang on sticks and candles glimmer in holes in driftwood and rocks.

Our meal is served, course after course – Greek salad, shrimp and barbecued beef, grilled calamari in a spicy tomatoey sauce, fresh fish, and finally chocolate mousse cake.

At the urging of his staff, Mario picks up a guitar and sings.

We join in too as best we can – we’ve all become family over this week and can’t believe this sailing adventure must soon come to an end.

Details: Sailing Indonesia on the Alila Purnama


The deluxe Alila Purnama phinisi ship sails several itineraries, including:

  • A Komodo Island cruise from July to September
  • The remote Raja Ampat (in Indonesia’s West Papua province) from November to February/March
  • Cendrawasih Bay from March to June
  • The Banda Spice Islands in October

The Komodo Island trip and most Raja Ampat trips are six nights long. Cendrawasih Bay trips are five nights each.

Some 9- and 10-night voyages are also offered.

A new Alila Purnama itinerary highlights diving with whale sharks in West Papua.
A new itinerary highlights diving with whale sharks in West Papua


Unlimited scuba diving, activities and meals are included in the rates (but not alcohol).


You have to make your own way to Flores island, a 95-minute flight from Bali.

We’ve flown EVA Airlines a couple of times now to Asia. They fly to Bali via Taipei, and we’ve found their ticket prices and service to be good. See our Eva Air review.

Where to stay before or after your cruise

Alila Hotels and Resorts, which operates the Alila Purnama, also manages several luxury boutique resorts in Indonesia, India and Oman, including the oh-so-deluxe Alila Villas Uluwatu.

We stayed here right before our cruise. (See our review of this deluxe hotel.)

For more information on the Alila Purnama

See the Alila Purnama website.

Get more cruising inspiration!

Windstar: What’s small ship cruising like on Windstar Cruises?

Adventure cruising: If you like getting adventurous, you’ll love this unique UnCruise Costa Rica adventure trip.

Viking Ocean Cruises: Why was the Viking Star hailed as the “world’s best new cruise ship”? And what do you experience on a Baltic cruise?

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Photo credits: 4, 6 to 12, 14 to 17, 21 to 26 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | Remaining photos Alila Purnama (except where noted)

We were hosted as media guests aboard the Alila Purnama. But all views and words are entirely our own.

About the authors

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!


Sunday 20th of December 2015

That looks stunning and you'd never know that your cabin was on board a boat. Not sure that I'd ever want to leave if I stepped aboard :)

Janice and George

Tuesday 22nd of December 2015

We didn't want to leave - very sad when our week came to an end...

alison abbott

Monday 7th of December 2015

Wow, after the top photo, I had no idea such luxury could be hidden inside! I had to laugh when I scrolled down to see the first pic of the Komodo dragon-he looked like a big sloth. Glad you kept your distance. For some reason I have a terrible fear of scuba diving. You guys appear to be pros. Was it hard to learn? I feel like i'm missing a whole environment under the sea. (and i'm all aboard for a boomer Alila Purnama cruise!)

Janice and George

Monday 7th of December 2015

We learned to dive many, many years ago. It's not hard, and with the certification lessons you understand what to do and what not to do. (The only thing is if you have ear problems and can't equalize, then you may not be able to dive.) But we're dive wusses - we only like diving in warm water where the visibility is super clear.


Saturday 5th of December 2015

This trip is incredible! We had looked into doing one of the cheaper trips to Komodo Island when we were in Bali last year, but nothing ended up working out with our schedule.

This post hast me looking for airfare deals as I'd love to do this trip aboard Alila Purnama. I think the dinner on your last night is such a special way to end the trip!

Janice and George

Saturday 5th of December 2015

We feel a little guilty sharing details about that last night's dinner, as it's really a bit of a secret. Staff don't tell you about it as they want to keep it a surprise. Hopefully we haven't ruined it for anyone by spilling the beans!


Thursday 3rd of December 2015

This is an absolute luxury with a perfect mix of adventures while sailing! Cant wait to board this boat...

Janice and George

Thursday 3rd of December 2015

Crossing fingers for you then. We just learned that the "Alila Purnama" has now introduced a couple of new itineraries (still all in the Komodo, Raja Ampat area of Indonesia), so they might be fun to look at too.


Wednesday 2nd of December 2015

Now this is a cruise I could drool over! Reminds me a lot of the Galapagos cruise I did last year.

Janice and George

Thursday 3rd of December 2015

It's probably a little similar to the Galapagos (a very small ship Galapagos cruise), though instead of the wide variety of animals topside, the emphasis is on the sealife underwater - except for the Komodo dragons, of course!