Labuan Bajo: The Main Tourist Town of Flores

Labuan Bajo is by far the most touristic place on the island of Flores, with its main street lined with companies selling diving and tours to visitors. If a tourist boom comes to Flores, Labuan Bajo will be just another of those South East Asian tourist places, like parts of the Bali, Lombok and the Gilis, and many of the Thai tourist islands.

Labuan Bajo main streetFor now, however, it’s not that manic and you can walk down the main road without having tours and transport sold “at” you every few metres. There is a range of eateries, from small, cheap place serving local food to restaurants stocking a range of Western dishes. You can arrange a tour to nearby Rinca and Komodo islands, famous for the Komodo dragon lizard. You can also head to some of the other islands that line up on the horizon, including Seraya Island.

If you’re in Labuan Bajo for a night or two, it’s worth heading to the seashore to watch the picturesque sunset, where you can see ships of all shapes and sizes in the harbour against a background of lump-shaped islands, all swathed in shades of golden brown.

Sunset from Labuan BajoLabuan Bajo is most visitors’ first or last stop on Flores, with an airport serving Bali and destinations in Nusa Tenggara. You can take buses, minibuses and public taxis to other parts of Flores and arrange car hire here.


Gardena Hotel, Labuan Bajo, Flores: Pretty Gardens, Good View of Harbour

I had read about Gardena Hotel being one of the nicest budget places in Labuan Bajo, and recommendations from travellers I met along my journey across Flores reinforced this view. Gardena is well-located in the centre of the town, but with its wooden bungalows perched on a hillside surrounded by trees and gardens, it didn’t feel busy and I was able to relax.

My Bungalow at GardenaMy bungalow was a detached structure, though some of the others were in pairs. It had a small veranda with a table and two chairs, from which I could glimpse the sea between the trees. There was a double bed with foam mattress and mosquito net, a cupboard that was missing its door, a fan, and my own bathroom. There was a sit-down toilet and a shower as well as an Indonesian-style water trough. Although there was only cold water, Labuan Bajo is quite hot so it was refreshing to cool down.

Throughout my bungalow there were many signs warning guests not to leave items outside on the veranda, not to leave mobile phones near the window and more. This made me think they may have had theft problems in the past, but I didn’t hear about any current issues like that.

Bed with mosquito netI paid Rp. 130,000 per night which included a breakfast of eggs, bread rolls and spreads with tea or coffee, on a self-service basis in the terrace below. There is also a restaurant at Gardena which served tasty, though somewhat pricey, dishes, and a selection of Indonesian and Western foods.

Staff were helpful throughout my stay, and laundry was very cheap. I was also able to leave my suitcase at the hotel when I went to stay on Seraya Island (which has the same owner as Gardena) for one night.

The one negative element of Gardena was the noise, from the harbour, the nearby school and the mosque, which permeated the flimsy bamboo bungalow walls. In fact this is the only hotel where I’ve ever been kept awake by the next-door guests having noisy sex.

Overall Gardena felt a little dilapidated, like not much had been renovated or repaired for a long time. But it was adequate and the greenery of the terraced gardens created a pleasing atmosphere. Compared to the tales I heard about other Labuan Bajo hotels, Gardena seems a good option.

View of the harbour from GardenaYou can find out more and make a reservation via the hotel’s website.

The Island of Flores: An Introduction for the Inquisitive Traveller

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 thWeavers of Nuandarie 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).

Kelimutu Coloured Crater LakesEven 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.

My Route

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.

Traditional Ngada HousesIt 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 if you are curious to know more about this jewel of an island.