An Introduction to Flores
It can be hard to remember that Indonesia is comprised of more than just Bali, but this island nation, made up of more than 17,800 islands, is home to an incredibly diverse range of cultures, religions and ecosystems. About 400kms east of Bali, lies the island of Flores, which is different from its neighbours, both ecologically and religiously, 95 per cent of locals here are Catholic.
Named ‘Flowers’ by Portuguese colonialists, who were awestruck by its lush jungles, and white sand beaches, the island is considered the jewel of Indonesia and is fast-becoming a tourism hotspot on the South East Asia backpacking trail.
While Flores may not be famous for its flowers, it does have colourful volcanic lakes, world-class diving and dragons, all with laidback vibes and backpacker-friendly budgets.
Tourism on the island is focused on three main areas: The western port of Labuan Bajo, Ende and the northeastern coastal town of Maumere, with a few choice stops in-between.
Where to stay in Flores
Once a quiet fishing town, Labuan Bajo is now the heart of the tourism scene and the perfect place to start or base yourself for your Flores trip.
Locals refer to it as ‘the Bali of twenty years ago.’ But Bajo, as it’s called by familiars, is about to boom, including the construction of mega-hotels, a harbour shopping complex and a Starbucks. For now, the main strip is still dusty and lined with a multitude of dive shops, tour operators, budget accommodation and bars – ranging from dives (excuse the pun) to fancy rooftop pools.
From here, visitors can organise trips into Komodo National Park to either explore the vibrant underwater world or to visit Komodo and Rinca Island to seek dragons. These trips can be done in a day, but due to the large size of the park, it’s common to opt for liveaboards and multi-day tours, which offer accommodation on smaller island hotels.
While this may be a pricier option, most of these getaways offer the opportunity to sleep on quiet and unspoilt beaches away from the bustle of town.
Best Hostels in Labuan Bajo
Whilst not the cheapest place in the whole of South East Asia, there are some pretty amazing offers available in Labuan Bajo. For instance…
Eco Tree O’tel – Eco Tree O’tel occassionaly has its suite that overlooks the sea on at $8 USD per night, including breakfast! If that particular choice is available to you, it’s a must. There are reports that some of their other rooms do not offer such spectacular sights, offering only small windows, some of which only look onto the neighbours’ wall. Check it out, see if the suite’s available for cheap, if not move on.
RedDoorz near Komodo Airport – Not the most inspiring name (though it does leave you in no doubt as to its location), perhaps not the most inspiring place to stay. However, RedDoorz is extremely clean and comfortable and offers very affordable doubles for $14/night. If you need to stay somewhere close to the airport, RedDoorz is a great choice.
Bajo Nature Backpackers – Bajo Nature has dorm beds available from $8 and doubles with shared bathroom from $17. It’s in a great location, the staff are friendly and they have lockers with keycodes for the guests. On the downsides, the dorm is one huge room. It has AC and fans dotted about. Some guests have complained that they’re either too hot or too cold, depending on their position relative to the AC.
One Tree Hill Hostel – One Tree offers two things with quite spectacular success, bunk beds and views. There are no private rooms as yet (it’s a new hostel, so some might start appearing with time). A bed in a dorm will cost $7 USD, irrespective of the size of the room (there are 4-bed options at this price). It’s on top of a hill, as its name suggests and the hostel is designed entirely around celebrating that fact and, specifically, the views it provides. The downsides? It’s a long way down to the main strip of Labuan Bajo. Many taxi drivers do not know how to get there (this will, presumably, change with time). The bar is quite limited, as is its opening times. Guests who arrive late on are advised to bring some food with them as if the bar has already closed when they get there, getting hold of something to eat is going to be very difficult.
Dorme Tree – Dorme Tree (see what they’ve done there?) has dorm beds at $6 USD, if there are four of you, a four-bed room will set you back $20! Cheap and cheerful, but clean and friendly, Dorme Tree isn’t in the ideal location, a bit of a way from the centre, but it offers great value for money to those happy to stay a little bit removed from the action.
Ciao Hostel – One of the most popular stays on the island, Ciao has lots of bunk beds, starting at around $11. The views are incredible, and whilst it’s not in the centre, there is a bus service to take you there as well as to the airport. It’s very clean, friendly and comfortable. Be aware though, breakfast is not included in the price.
The Palm Komodo – Another extremely popular option, The Palm Komodo is considerably closer to the centre than previous suggestions, only a 5-minute walk. It’s got a great pool, a terrace with incredible sea views and great food. There are lockers in the rooms. Beds cost around $14 USD.
Search for even more accommodation in Labuan Bajo here.
Things to do around Labuan Bajo
Laban Bajo is the gateway to some of the best diving spots in the world. Large marine life like turtles, sharks, manta rays, dolphins and pilot whales frequent the seas in Komodo National Park and are the main reason why divers and wannabe divers flock to this tropical paradise. But there are many things to do above the surface as well.
Rangko Cave is an easy half-day trip, involving a quick journey by bus and by boat to a cave where visitors can swim in. The water has high saline properties, making the whole experience feel like a floatation tank.
Cunca Wulang Waterfall is a half-day trip where you’ll be able to jump off canyons and swim in refreshingly cold waters. Either drive yourself on scooters or organise a car to drive the hour and a half up the steep Flores highway outside of Labuan Bajo. Then trek through the jungles and across suspension bridges for about 20 minutes before reaching the falls.
Island hopping tours leave the harbour daily, and no trip to Komodo National Park is complete without visiting the dragons. Komodo dragons are the guardians of Rinca and Komodo Island.
These gigantic, prehistoric lizards are the closest descendants to dinosaurs to the human imagination. They grow up to three meters in length and weigh up to 100kgs. They’ve been known to attack a wayward tourist or two, making them a formidable and alluring aspect to any visitor.
As an added bonus, most tours stop at the pink beach as well as Padar Island, which is one of the most selfied spots in Indonesia. A short, albeit very hot, hike up the hill awards you with stunning panoramic views of the park’s rugged rock formations and azure blue waters.
Hungry? After returning to port, you’re sure to have worked up an appetite. While the town has a plethora of dining options to suit any budget, one of the greatest meals you’ll have is at the local fish market. Local fisherman will display their wares. You can wander the dirt rows, choose your fish, lobster or calamari and choose how it’s cooked. A chef will then fry it up for you while you sit sweating under tarps on small, plastic chairs. The best part? It’s BYO!
Finally, it’s time to unwind. Labuan Bajo has some of the most beautiful sunsets. Big hills ring a harbour full of colourful butterfly boats, set against a backdrop of turquoise waters and rugged islands. When the sun dips down, it turns everything into an explosion of pink and purple. The water turns a deep fuschia and blends into the cloudy, tropical skies. There’s no better way to watch this light show than from the cool waters of a rooftop pool at Le Pirate, with a cold Bintang in hand.
How to get to Flores
After a large upgrade to the regional airport, Labuan Bajo is the easiest destination in Flores to reach by air. Many Indonesian airlines fly daily to Komodo Airport from Denpasar and Jakarta to name but two and offer connections to the other airports in Flores including Ruteng, Bajawa, Ende and Maumere.
If you’d like to do it on the cheap, it is possible to take a bus from Denpasar to Mataram in Lombok, with a long connecting journey to Bima, Sumbawa and then across to Sape where you can finally board a ferry to Labuan Bajo. While inexpensive, this is an arduous journey with no guarantees on reliable bus schedules.
The more popular route for backpackers is the Lombok to Flores cruise.
This sailing journey is a 4 day/3 night adventure which departs Lombok and arrives in Labuan Bajo via Komodo National Park. You’ll have the opportunity to visit uninhabited islands, visit Indonesia’s Pink Beach, snorkel with giant manta rays as well as hunt down dragons, all for $165 US. This fee is inclusive of activities, food, entrance fees and accommodation. Book your boat trip here.
Getting around Flores
Flores isn’t the easiest island to traverse, even with the 700km long Trans-Flores Highway, which connects both sides of the island. As soon as you leave the coast, you enter the dense jungle of the highlands. It’s a beautiful drive, but a treacherous one.
Bus routes link all major towns. However, it’s worth it to pay the extra rupiah for a private operator like Gunung Mas. The scheduling is more reliable and the safety measures are a little more stringent. If there’s a large group, it might be worth it to organise a private tour operator to take you out east. We recommend Adrianus Mbaga. Call him on +62 821 45066396 and he can organise all your Flores destination tours.
Heading east, the first highlight is the traditional village of Wae Rebo, followed by the hobbit cave, which is located outside of Ruteng. This cave contains remains and a museum dedicated to Homo floresiensis, a species of human who was only found on Flores and grew to only four feet tall. If you’re taking your time through the middle, these stops break up the drive to Ende nicely.
Otherwise, many visitors choose to drive or fly straight to Ende in order to visit what is arguably the most spectacular sight in Flores: Kelimutu. The tri-coloured lakes are actually craters of an extinct volcano. Hikes up to the peak are not to be missed if you’re travelling through the region.
Finally, the last major destination on the north coast of Flores is Maumere. What once was the tourism and diving epicentre of the island; the town and the surrounding corals were destroyed by a devastating earthquake and tsunami.
The region is on the mend, however, and if you’re after a quieter coastal town than Labuan Bajo, Maumere’s quiet, pretty beaches are a great way to end your Flores trip. Shop the markets for traditional weaving, which the area is renowned for before catching a flight back to Labuan Bajo and onwards on your Indonesian adventure.