Flores‘ famous coloured volcanic crater lakes are much larger than I had expected from photos I had seen beforehand. Black, blue and turquoise when I visited, the Kelimutu lakes change colour from time to time. Read more about … Continue reading
I stayed in at Bintang Bungalows for two nights, with a visit to Kelimutu and a tour of the local area as my activities. The homestay is centrally located in Moni village and offers a great view across the road to the church, with hills on both sides and as far out as the sea.
Bintang is split into two halves; the left side with the restaurant is run by Tobias, and the right side, where I stayed, is run by his sister-in-law Shinta. She is a powerful woman who has set up this homestay business on her own after living on many different Indonesian islands, though she is originally from the Moni area. I spent several hours chatting to her about her life and her family; she had a four-month-old baby when I was there, though she has three older children as well.
I haggled the price of my room down from Rp. 120,000 to Rp. 100,000. I had a private bathroom but it was somewhat rundown and in need of work. There was no door between the bathroom and the bedroom. The bathroom had a cold water shower and a large bucket for flushing the sit-down toilet. Outside the bathroom there was a sink. The weather can be cold in Moni, due to its altitude, and I showered less often than usual as a result of not having hot water.
The double bed was comfortable and came with a mosquito net. There was just one thin blanket and I was relieved I had packed my lightweight sleeping bag.
Breakfast was a banana pancake with tea or coffee, tasty but not very filling. I ate at Tobias’s restaurant downstairs and although it was expensive, the portions were large.
When I stayed at Bintang, they were doing renovations to build more rooms on the left side. This meant that all day every day the sounds of building work, drilling and banging, disturbed anyone trying to rest. The restaurant downstairs often played pop music and Shinta and her staff and family were quite loud people, calling to each other from right outside my room. These factors affected my sleep, in my room on the top floor, right next to Shinta’s living room. Other rooms may be quieter.
Bintang is very popular; it was full one of the nights I was there, and this was not tourist season. Staff were helpful and honest about travel information and prices. Shinta offers car rental and can help organise your onward travel. You can book a room by emailing email@example.com or telephoning Shinta on +62 (0)852 3916 8310.
Moni is one destination most visitors to Flores are bound to spend a night, as the departure point for visiting Kelimutu volcanic crater lakes, the most famous tourist attraction on the island. So here’s a brief guide based on my own two-night stay.
Moni is not right next to Kelimutu—it’s still a 13km journey away—but it has become the main hub for visitors, probably due to its location on the main trans-Flores road, and a large number of accommodation options and other tourist facilities have sprung up.
The village lines both sides of the main road, and has a church and a field area, which is used for the local market on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday mornings. From the upper parts of the village you can look out to a fantastic view across the hills, all the way to the ocean.
You won’t get woken up by the call to prayer in Moni, because there is no mosque. Like the rest of Flores, Moni has a Catholic majority. Walking through the village is pleasant and the local people were friendly. I met three little girls, who took me to see the Mary statue and shrine beside the church. The local language is called Lio, which sounds very different to Indonesian, though the majority of people also speak Indonesian.
Many homestays line the main road offering reasonably priced rooms for travellers. I stayed at Bintang Bungalows, which is apparently a popular option. It was full for one of the nights I was there, and this is outside the main tourist season. I paid Rp. 100,000 (after haggling from Rp. 120,000) for a room with bathroom and cold water only, and it was quite cold for showering. Moni is not a hot place though the high altitude means it gets strong sunlight in the middle of the day.
Eating cheaply is difficult in Moni, where most eateries are restaurants aimed at foreign tourists. Local people tend to cook at home rather than eating out. However, down the road I found a cheap bakso (meatball soup) place, run by an East Javanese man. I ate at Bintang Restaurant, run by Tobias, the brother-in-law of Sinta who owns Bintang Bungalows, and the portions were on the large side, which may justify the extra expense.
Transport and guides are available in Moni. Motorbikes can be hired for Rp. 100,000 or more per day, and I hired a guide, called Udin, and motorbike for a whole day for Rp. 130,000. Sinta of Bintang Bungalows has a car and a minibus (bemo) that she rents out. It is easy to organise onward transport from Moni to your next destination, because it is located on the main trans-Flores road, so buses, minibuses and public cars all pass through.
Staring at the milky blue waters I could see why some people were tempted to dive in as if goaded by an invisible spirit to swim in the beautiful lake, slipping off their sandals and jumping to their deaths in the poisonous volcanic water.
Earlier I had dragged myself out of bed at 4am (what kind of holiday is this, I had thought) in nearby Moni, and hopped on the back of a motorbike with my guide for the day, Udin, for the journey up to Kelimutu for sunrise. These volcanic crater lakes are the number one item on every visitor’s must-see list for Flores, and justifiably so.
The road twisted and bended, climbing upwards, cloudy in places so we could see only a few metres ahead. I was relieved I had opted to take a guide rather than hire a motorbike myself. Pausing at the entrance to Kelimutu National Park, I showed my KITAS (long-term Indonesian visa) and got in for the local price of Rp. 11,000 including parking and a camera permit. The usual price for foreigners is Rp. 20,000 for the ticket, Rp. 50,000 for a camera permit and Rp. 3,000 for parking. We arrived in the car park and began our walk up to the top. It was still dark and I used the torch I had brought, though the moonlight also lit our path.
Walking up steps and along a path, with a final climb up to the main viewing area, called Inspiration Point, we arrived somewhat out of breath, but pleasantly warmed by the 30 minute hike. Up at the top, the weather was cold, with a strong wind blowing.
A Disappointing Dawn
Unfortunately the cloudy start to the day was a sign of things to come. We couldn’t see the lakes, or indeed anything at all around the viewing point, since everything was shrouded in clouds. Then suddenly the wind blew, the clouds parted for an instant and I glimpsed the Kelimutu lakes.
As I watched, the sun now having risen, without any great dawn view that day, the clouds once again enveloped the viewing point and then it rained. I sheltered with the other visitors beside the concrete platform that marks the centre of Inspiration Point, though there was no roofed area. We waited for the rain to stop, and then after some more waiting, the lakes became visible once more.
Vast Lakes of Colour
I was blown away by the sheer enormity of the three Kelimutu lakes. Having seen photos prior to my trip, and having visited various other volcanic lakes in Indonesia, I hadn’t expected them to be so expansive. A sign states that the black lake covers 4.5 hectares with a depth of 67m. However, my guide believed this to be inaccurate due to the difficulties of measuring the lake’s size.
The lakes change colour from time to time, and were black, turquoise blue and lighter blue on my visit, all colours opaque. Each lake has a name: the black lake is called Ata Bupu, the light blue Nuamuri Ko’ofai, and the turquoise lake is called Ata Polo. The transitions in colour are believed to be caused by the concentration of minerals entering the water, which being in a live volcanic crater, has a high sulphur content. In some places I could see some bubbles at the water’s surface and the wind created ripples across all three lakes. Steep, high cliffs surround the lakes, and it is certainly a very long way down.
Besides science, the lakes play a significant role in the traditional beliefs in the Kelimutu region. Local people believe that a dead person’s soul enters one of the three lakes; there is one lake, Ata Polo, for the souls of people who have committed evil, a second lake, Ata Bupu, for the souls of old people who have died and a third, Nuamuri Ko’ofai, for the souls of those who have died young. As a result of this, offerings are made to the spirits residing in the lakes.
My guide told me about people who have wilfully jumped into one of the lakes, without intending to commit suicide. He described one visitor who was with friends at Inspiration Point before decided to walk back down towards the car park alone, while his friends were still admiring the view. Later his sandals were found, which had been taken off, showing that he had jumped and not fallen into the lake. Apparently several people have died in this way, and it is believed that they were tempted into the water by the spirits of the lake. Indeed the milky blue waters can appear deceptively inviting.
In fact, the poisonous waters are thick with minerals and sulphur, and therefore extremely dangerous. Several people have died in the lakes over the past few years, including locals. It is very difficult to retrieve corpses from the lakes, because they are pushed and pulled around by the volcanic strength of the bubbling magma underneath.
As well as admiring the view at Inspiration Point, it is possible to walk around to the farthest lake, walking along the crater rim. We walked along the paved, fenced pathway until it ended, and then continued on the clay-like ground, following the crater rim of the turquoise blue lake. The clouds had cleared to reveal an amazing view and as the sunlight hit the blue waters, the colours appeared ever more vivid.
Returning to the parking area via a different path, I was relieved I hadn’t dived into the black or blue water, and I could understand why Kelimutu has such a powerful pull for local people and tourists alike.
How to Visit Kelimutu
There are many homestays and hostels in nearby Moni village, which has become the tourist centre for visitors to Kelimutu. You can travel from Moni to Kelimutu (13km according to my old Lonely Planet) by motorbike as I did, either with a guide or by renting your own bike. A single ride up to Kelimutu on the back of a bike costs from Rp. 25,000. If you want a guide to drive you, escort you on the walk up and tell you interesting stories, this will cost more. I paid Rp. 130,000 for a full day’s guiding and motorbike tour to Kelimutu and then to other places around Moni. You can walk back down from Kelimutu to Moni, following a shortcut, and visiting a hot spring and a waterfall on the way. Some visitors choose to trek up to Kelimutu, but if you’re planning to be there at sunrise, it’s probably wise to go by motorbike. Cars and minibuses are also available in Moni for groups to hire.
Flores, located in eastern Indonesia, just east of Sumbawa, Rinca and Komodo islands, is a paradise island of forested hills, volcanoes and beaches. Although the major guidebooks all cover Flores and some tour operators offer trips to this island, Flores sees far fewer visitors than many other Indonesian islands; it is an absolute jewel of an island, waiting to be discovered by the mainstream tourism industry.
People of Flores
Flores has many regional languages and strong local cultures, still very much alive today. With travel limited by the mountainous terrain the local peoples have retained their individual languages and cultures much more than in other places I have visited. To speak to someone from a different ethnicity, the national language, Indonesian, is used. Unlike much of Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim country in the world, Flores has a Catholic majority, with many people following the religion quite strictly.
I found the people of Flores to be honest about information such as prices, and genuinely helpful, which was a welcome break from the tourist rip-offs and downright dishonest conmen in certain other parts of Indonesia.
Traversing the Island
With a long shape, measuring 450km from east to west, Flores has only one main road, a two-lane bendy asphalt strip that weaves through forested hills and mountains and along the south coast, covering over 600km with its twists and turns. Most travellers choose to enter at either the eastern port of Maumere or at Labuan Bajo in the west, both of which have airports, and travel in a west or east direction, exiting via the other port. Ende, located on the south coast in the middle of the east-west route also has an airport, offering another port of entry.
Due to the twisty nature of the road, it can easily take an hour to travel only 30km, and the journeys easily cause motion sickness. The road is fairly quiet and there are certainly no traffic jams! As an independent traveller you have several transport options. You can hire a car and driver for around Rp. 500,000 per day, which may work out well for groups. Travelling alone as I did, however, this becomes too expensive. You can hire a motorbike, but if you aren’t used to riding on twisty mountain roads this would be a very tiring option. There are public buses where you ride amongst the chickens, goats and pigs that are being transported. This is definitely the cheapest option, but if you want something nicer, try bemos. These are minibuses that ply the same route (there is after all only one main route, with two directions).
Even more pleasant, however, is going by “travel”. Here in Flores the word “travel” is used to refer to public cars, just like ordinary cars, but with yellow number plates, which are allowed to pick up and drop off passengers. You can avoid traipsing to and from bus terminals and order a “travel” to collect you from your hotel and take you to your hotel at your destination. Essentially you get to travel by comfortable car, with other passengers, for a fraction of the price of hiring your own car and driver. This was my chosen form of transport to traverse the island.
According to Wikipedia Flores has a population of 1,831,000, much of which consists of villages and hamlets spread across the island. Entering at Maumere, Flores’s largest town though it’s really not very big, it is possible to go east to Larantuka, or head west to Moni, which is what I did. Paga makes a nice place to stop for a rest by the beach, to eat grilled fish, freshly caught.
Moni is the village with accommodation that is closest to Kelimutu. These coloured volcanic lakes are justifiably at the top of every visitor’s must-see list for Flores. The fresh air and picturesque countryside may tempt you to spend a few days relaxing in Moni, visiting nearby villages, waterfalls, hotsprings and more.
The next destination for many visitors is Ende. I chose not to spend the night in Ende, but in changing cars there I was able to see its black sand beach. People will tell you to go there to see the blue stones on the beach, but I saw loads of them collected in piles by the roadside as I headed towards Bajawa and they didn’t seem that special.
It is worth spending time looking around the Bajawa area, which offers an array of sights. I trekked up to Wawo Muda volcanic lakes and visited traditional Ngada villages, both of which I highly recommend. There is also a hot spring at Soa where you can bathe in the waters, and the town of Bajawa itself is worth a look around.
After Bajawa I stopped at Ruteng for a night, and stayed at a Catholic convent. If you have time and transport there are sights to be seen in the mountainous countryside around Ruteng which is in the Manggarai ethnic region, including terraced rice fields.
The final leg of my journey was to Labuan Bajo in the far west of Flores, an entry or exit point for most visitors to the island, and starting place for tours to see the famous Komodo dragons lizards on the neighbouring islands of Rinca and Komodo. I’ll be covering Flores in more detail in forthcoming articles, so follow AnySomewhere.com if you are curious to know more about this jewel of an island.
That exciting feeling of buying plane tickets has happened again! The parting of money in return for the excitement of a forthcoming trip. These are my travel plans for April; let me know if you have any tips on any of these places.
I’ll be flying out of Surabaya so I hope to have a day or two to explore that east Javanese city first. From there I’m headed to Flores, one of the Indonesian islands that makes up Nusa Tenggara, east of Bali and Lombok. It’ll be the furthest east that I’ve travelled in Indonesia. I’m flying into Maumere in the east of the island, exploring the length of the island and leaving from Labuanbajo in the west. Then I’m off the Bali to review the Viceroy Bali for Worldette. After that it’s time for a relaxing break before returning to Java.
My time in Flores will be limited to eight days but since I’m happy to be travelling most of the time, that’s no problem. I enjoy the idea of being able to do short trips within Indonesia, since I am here anyway, instead of feeling like I have to backpack around for months. If I was in the UK I wouldn’t hesitate to take a short break in Europe, without feeling like I had to see all of a particular region, so I’m trying to do that here.
I’m planning to see Kelimutu, since everyone says it’s amazing. These colourful volcanic crater lakes are Flores’s most popular attraction. And I will stop at places including Ende and Bajawa. I’m interested to see what the local cultures are like, and as always when I travel, I want to talk to people about their lifestyles. Have you been to Flores? Where would you recommend?
How about Surabaya? I’ve heard people say many things about this East Javanese metropolis, including that there is nothing worth seeing there. Tales of traffic jams abound. Yet I am curious, having visited many other Javanese cities, to see how it shapes up. Have you visited Surabaya? Any tips?