The Three Colored Lakes of Mount Kelimutu, Flores

immediate surrounds, one of the highlights of Flores is the peak of Kelimutu which lies to the northeast of Ende and offers fabulous views of the surrounds. Best of all? You don’t need to be an avid climber to enjoy them. Views aside, Gunung Kelimutu is best known for its three lakes, whose colours slowly change over time, but to the people of Flores the peak is a sacred and magical place. Local people believe that when they die their soul will reside in one of the three lakes.

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Historically, the lakes have been the source of minor phreatic eruptions from the 1639 meter high Kelimutu volcano. In addition to being three different colors, the lakes’ color varies on a periodic basis, likely due to chemical reactions from the minerals in the lake triggered by volcanic gas activity, but no thorough studies have as yet been performed. That the three lakes are of the same volcano and are at the same crest, yet have different colors, is incredibly rare and of extreme interest to geologists.

The Kelimutu Volcano is one of nature’s most stunning displays of color and chemistry and has attracted a number of photographers and tourists over the years. So long as it never erupts, this candy-colored mountain is just a gentle giant.

The peculiar colors and thick mist surrounding the volcano have earned Kelimutu a supernatural reputation. Local villages believe that the spirits of the dead go to rest in one of the lakes based upon the deeds performed on Earth. Consequently, the lakes are named Tiwi Ata Mbupu (Lake of Old People), Tiwu Nua Muri Kooh Tai (Lake of Young Men and Maidens) and Tiwu Ata Polo (Lake of Evil Sprits, or Enchanted Lake).

It is believed that the lakes change colors as a result of chemical reactions resulting from the minerals contained in the lake perhaps triggered by volcano gas activity.

The scenic lakes are a popular tourist destination and have been the source of minor phreatic eruptions in historical time. They were once featured on the rupiah – the national currency of Indonesia. Kelimutu is of interest to geologists because the three lakes are different colours yet are at the crest of the same volcano. The colour of the water changes thanks to chemical reactions from the minerals in the lake being triggered by volcanic gas activity, according to the local officer at Kelimutu National Park.

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Currently, one of the lakes is black-brown, another is green, and the last one is in the process of changing from green to red. When Dutch geologists discovered the craters in 1914, the colors were reported to be red, blue and white. A few years ago, the lakes were white, turquoise and red. In November 2009, they were black, turquoise, and a coca-cola brown. And again in July 2010, the lakes were resplendent in various shades of green. A popular myth suggests that the changing colors is caused by the neglected ancestral souls. The scientific community chalks it up to discoloration by sunlight and the varying mineral contents of the water from Kelimutu volcanic activity

Best time to travel

The best time to visit the Kelimutu Lakes is during the dry season of Indonesia tropical weather, which is May to September. The best of best time is July or August, making it also the most peak time where you should do advance booking of place to stay and such.

The best time to see the colored lakes is at sunrise. You might have to wake up as early as 3:30 AM to make it in time, but the dramatic atmosphere on top is worth the lost sleep.

How to go there
Mount Kelimutu is located in the center of Flores, Indonesia and is roughly 81 miles from the town of Maumere. Both Ende and Maumere have small airports with flights to and from major hubs in Indonesia.

Whether you arrive at Ende or Maumere, your destination will be to the town of Moni, a town located about 8 miles from the lakes and the usual base for visiting Kelimutu. From Maumere, the trip to Moni will take around 3 to 4 hours.  For Ende, the trip to Moni takes around 1 to 2 hours.

Getting to the lakes is a little adventure in itself.  You’ll first take the drive up Mount Kelimutu and then walk on foot for 1.5 km until you get to the foot of the 127 steps leading to the edge of the crater. It’s worth the walk and the climb – once you’re at the summit (1690 meters high), you’ll have an incredible, panoramic view of the three colored lakes.

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