Flores – Indonesia
With newly improved airports and better roads, Flores offers great overland adventure but doesn’t require any survival skills to do so.
Population: 1.9 million
Main town: Labuanbajo
Major industries: tourism, agriculture, fishing
Unit of currency: rupiah (Rp)
Cost index: double room in guesthouse 400,000Rp (US$40), Bintang beer 20,000Rp (US$2), daytrip from Labuanbajo to Komodo National Park 250,000Rp (US$25), car and driver per day 6,000,000Rp (US$60)
Why go in ASAP?
Start with the dragons and end with picture-perfect beaches, in between enjoy great diving, lush tropical forests, smoking volcanoes, stunning hikes, exotic cultures and some of Asia’s best pizza (really!).
Indonesia’s Flores packs a lot into an island only 380km long west to east. Now with newly improved airports (there are numerous flights a day from Bali) and better roads (though they do still curve like mad), Flores offers great overland adventure but doesn’t require any survival skills to do so. In the west, Labuanbajo is a laid-back port town made for travellers: cafes, guesthouses, bars, dive shops and some great restaurants (get that incredible pizza at Made in Italy), all with just enough funkiness to preclude feeling packaged. To the west Komodo National Park is home to the huge namesake man-eating lizards (aka dragons). Rinca, a park island close to Labuanbajo, has just had a major revamp that includes new visitor facilities.
Heading east across Flores, there are new tourist offices, cafes and guesthouses in the towns and small cities such as Bajawa and Moni that you pass through on the trans-Flores highway. Road improvements mean you can easily divert to see a newly erupting volcano, an isolated beach or one of the hidden villages of the island’s diverse and ancient cultures.
Festivals & Events:
Like a vision from the past, the village of Bena reflects the ancient culture of the Ngada. Rows of dramatically thatched houses face megalithic tombs. Always welcoming and always worth a visit, you’ll be especially rewarded if you make the six-day Reba ceremony in late December or January featuring dancing, feasting, sacrifices and ebony black costumes.
Labuanbajo is right on the cusp: an inviting town that’s an ideal base for Flores adventures but which hasn’t yet sold its soul — and mellow vibe — to tourism.
Maumere is a bookend to a Flores trip: fly into Labuanbajo, fly out of Maumere. But it’s a dud to visit, so you’ll just want a quick night there before your early morning flight back to Bali.
In only a week you can revel in an overload of experiences. Start in Labuanbajo, gazing worriedly at the other-worldly dragons, then stop off at one of the perfect beaches on any of many nearby tiny islands. Toss in some of Indonesia’s best diving and snorkelling. Get a public mini-bus or private car and head west up and over, in and around the island’s ever-varied landscape. Stop off in places like the cute mountain town of Bajawa, where you can visit the Ngada people’s village of Bena.
Onwards east, the steamy port city of Ende is bracketed by perfectly conical and often smouldering volcanoes. Pause at the traveller-friendly hamlet of Moni for a day to see the sunrise over triple lakes at Kelimutu – each a different vivid colour, from turquoise to orange. The next day, stop at Paga’s pristine beach before finishing in Maumere. This trip is literally a kaleidoscope of experiences you’ll still be digesting months later.
The Komodo dragon (ora) is a monitor lizard, albeit one on steroids. Growing up to 3m in length, random encounters are a bad idea. Some dragon details:
They are omnivorous, and enjoy eating their young.
Bacteria in the dragon’s mouth is its secret weapon. One bite from a dragon leads to septic infections that inevitably kill the victim. The huge lizard lopes along after its victim waiting for it to die, which can take up to two weeks.
There is no accepted reason that the dragons are only found around Flores although it’s thought that their ancestors came from Australia 4 million years ago.
Most bizarre sight:
Flores offers a lot of tough competition for this label, but you’ll likely stare in mute wonder at the vast rice fields laid out in the shape of spiderwebs near Cancan
An ever-growing number of cafes aimed at visitors offer up all manner of fresh, creative and often organic meals. Freshly caught seafood figures on many menus while in towns and cities Indonesian classics and the ever-changing nasi campur (dish of the day) are cheap and tasty.