An easy jumping off point to visit the strange and mysterious Komodo Dragons
By Leah Alves
One of the Lesser Sunda Islands in the eastern half of Indonesia. Labuan Bajo is a town of Flores on the westernmost tip and is the main tourist hub and access point for many activities on Flores.
Most people visiting Indonesia flock to Bali, Lombok or one of the Gili islands. Flores is an extremely underrated island with an endless amount of activities for nature and animal lovers, easily accessible from Labuan Bajo.
With just enough tourists to give it a relaxed island vibe, without local culture being trampled, it is the perfect base to visit the strange Komodo dragons as an alternative to overpriced and cramped boat tours.
WHEN TO GO
It is always summer in Indonesia with temperatures in Flores varying between warm and swelteringly hot. The dry season is between April to November and prices are typically hiked during this time.
The rainy season stretches between December and March and if you don’t mind the epic bursts of monsoon rains, this is generally the time with fewer tourists and cheaper prices.
Keeping in mind that the further east of Indonesia you go, the drier it is. Flores is very far east and does not experience as much rain as other areas of Indonesia.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
>The cheapest method of getting to Flores is a bus/ferry combination from almost anywhere. The journey can be incredibly long. For example, from the Gili Islands or Lombok, it will take around 30 to 36 hours and includes numerous busses and ferries. Alternatively, Flores has several airports.
>The main airport is Fransiskus Xaverius Seda Airport which is located in Maumere. There are daily flights to and from Bali, Lombok, and Timor to this airport and others on the island.
If you are going to be staying in Labuan Bajo, Komodo Airport is located only 15 minutes from the small town. The only possible route is between Bali and this airport.
Renting a scooter is definitely the most adventurous and fun way to get around the island. Keep in mind that there are some hair-raising dirt roads to certain sites, such as the underwater cave, which is not for the faint-hearted. Otherwise, there are buses and vans which go all over the island or the option to hire a car and personal driver.
BEST MAJOR ATTRACTION
The most interesting and exciting thing to do while visiting Flores is visiting the Komodo Dragons. Komodo and Rinca island are about 2 hours by boat from Flores and are the only islands in the world which are habitat to the strange animals.
It is incredibly easy to book a tour through your hotel or through many of the locals who will approach you with great deals. Alternatively, you can take a walk down to the dock and organize with local boat owners. As an added bonus, you can ask to be taken to swim with Manta Rays as all the locals know great spots teeming with these graceful creatures.
BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTION
A sunset trip to Kalong Island, known as Bat Island, to watch the spectacular show of hundreds of thousands of Flying Foxes sleepily taking to the sky in search of food. It is an awe-inspiring experience as the tiny mangrove island becomes alive and the winged bear-looking animals lift off into the sunset hued sky.
BEST ALTERNATIVE ATTRACTIONS
Sunrise at the tri-colored volcanic lakes at of Mt. Kelimutu. Three cratered lakes which offer a fantastical view as the lakes change color sporadically - from inky black to olive green, bright turquoise and deep red. The lakes are a strange and spectacular sight, well worth the rocky, 30-minute truck drive from Moni.
Depending on where you stay on Flores, Kelimutu can be quite the trek. It is located on the complete opposite side to Labuan Bajo, the main tourist hub, and is an eleven-hour bus journey between the two, however flying is also an option.
Alternatively, you can visit the Cunca Wulang waterfalls with glorious swimming spots and small cliff jumps. It is a wonderful walk through the jungle with a local guide which begins about 35km out of Labuan Bajo. It is easy enough to find by following the road to Ruteng until you see the signs for the waterfall.
Despite learning the walking route beforehand, it is more than likely that you will be pressured into locals for being accompanied by a local guide - for a small fee of course.
Another exciting option is to visit Rangko Cave, a unique saltwater cave which is accessed by a twenty-minute boat ride. It is a beautiful, quiet spot to swim, especially at around 3 pm when the sun lights up the crystal clear water of the cave.
Not many people know about this spot, which makes it a paradise you can have all to yourself. The one hour drive from Labuan Bajo to the nearest village is treacherous and people who do not have much experience with scooters or motorbikes should consider hiring a driver.
BEST ACTIVITY AND TOUR
There are endless activities, sites, and beautiful beaches to visit on Flores. For the less adventurous travelers who require a bit more of a schedule and transport which is not a self-driven scooter, it is possible to hire a freelance guide, with a car and driver, by asking around at hotels in Maumere or Labuan Bajo.
The cost of a private tour, much like everything else in Indonesia, is negotiable but reasonable -- US$350 is a good rate to travel the length of the island for five days, including guide, driver, car, and gas.
This gives you the opportunity to see all the wonders Flores has to offer in the company of a knowledgeable guide, who will speak several of the island's five main languages alongside Bahasa Indonesia and English.
BEST LOCAL HAUNT
- Paradise Bar is a great place to watch the sunset and indulge in live music with locals and travelers alike.
- Soa Hot Springs, near Bajawa, is a great place to hang out like a local with picnicking families.
BEST LODGINGS IN LABUAN BAJO, FLORES.
For the backpackers:
- Bajo Nature Backpackers
>Address: Jl. Soekarno Hatta, Labuan Bajo, Komodo, West Manggarai Regency, Nusa Tenggara Tim., Indonesia
>Phone: +62 812-3535-957
- Centro Hostel
>Address: Labuan Bajo, Komodo, West Manggarai Regency, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia
For the hotel goers:
- Waecicu Beach Inn
Address: Pantai Waecicu - Labuan Bajo, Kec Komodo, Labuan Bajo, Komodo, Kabupaten Manggarai Barat, Nusa Tenggara Tim., Indonesia
Phone: +62 822-4720-8778
- Hotel Wisata
Address: Jalan Soekarno Hatta No. 39, Labuan Bajo, Komodo, Goron Talo, Komodo, Kabupaten Manggarai Barat, Nusa Tenggara Tim., Indonesia
Phone: +62 385 41020
There are many restaurants to choose from in Labuan Bajo, however, for a fantastic, local seafood experience head over to the fish market. Here you can meander through the different food stalls which have the fresh seafood of the day on display. Point out what you want and it will be grilled and served to you on a delicious plate of seafood heaven.
Ikat weavings in the village of Sikka make for a traditional shopping experience. Flores is well known for its unique textiles, with sinuous patterns tie-dyed into the threads before they're woven. The highest-quality weavings (and the most charming salesladies) are in Sikka, just south of Maumere.
As you arrive, villagers will surround you with a wall of weavings, smiling and murmuring their deals of the day. A spectacular sarong, lovingly crafted over two months is around 25 USD.
VISAS AND DOCUMENTS
Thirty-day visas to Indonesia are granted upon entry and proof of exit flight to most Western countries. Valid passports necessary. However, Indonesia’s visa regulations are prone to changes so it is advised to always research before planning your trip.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
It is important to protect yourself with mosquito spray and lotions as there have been cases of dengue fever and malaria. The risk for malaria is not high enough for prophylaxis, however, this does not stop you from locals at Lombok and other areas using scare tactics to convince you to buy expensive pills.
COMMUNICATION AND MONEY
The Indonesian Rupiah is the currency used on Flores island. There are many money changing stations throughout Labuan Bajo and other areas of the island which will happily exchange Euros, Pounds and US Dollar.
Labuan Bajo has ATMs which accept foreign credit cards and will spit out the equivalent Rupiah. Traveler's cheques are difficult to change in Flores, it is advised to bring cash which can be changed or draw money using a Visa or Mastercard.
There is decent phone service in Labuan Bajo, Maumere and Ende. Of course, WiFi is available in most cafes, bar, and hotels.
Leah Alves is a South African nomad with an insatiable curiosity and a tendency for what she calls ‘barefoot traveling’ – raw, meaningful and in-depth exploration.
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