6 November 2017
6 November 2017
As part of the Indonesian Government’s bid to attract millions of tourists to destinations other than the hotspots of Java and Bali, the gorgeous island of Flores could potentially be at the forefront of its marketing campaign. And it’s not difficult to see why.
It’s a long, thin strip of land dotted with volcanoes, jungle-clad mountains, white-sand beaches and a myriad of remote traditional villages. It’s also home to the famous Komodo Dragons within the spectacular Komodo National Park.
But for now, it attracts a relatively small number of visitors, especially outside the peak months of July and August. So, if you’re prepared to forsake some creature comforts it’s a destination which provides a wide variety of experiences.
You can either travel west to east, or east to west along the 670 km Trans-Flores Highway. Our tip would be to opt for the latter as you’ll finish off two weeks of heavy travelling with everything that Komodo National Park has to offer.
You’ll also need to choose between taking the cheap, but slow and somewhat unreliable public transport to get around, or splash out on a travel car – effectively a taxi which you can either book privately or share with others if you team up with travellers following the same route. They can be relatively expensive for longer journeys as many drivers won’t risk driving back in the dark and so there are accommodation costs to take into account. Rates should be between 6-700,000 IDR per day, or up to 1,000,000 IDR if an overnight stop for the driver is included.
Just be prepared for some long journeys between towns. And, although the Trans-Flores Highway has improved over the last few years, when you divert on to many of the side roads you’ll be met with some of the biggest pot-holes you’ve ever seen!
We flew from Bali to Maumere and then headed east to west back to Labuan Bajo over 14 days. And here’s how we did it…
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Arriving in Flores
If you’ve decided to take the travel car option, you might be able to book a driver before you arrive so that he can pick you up directly at the airport. On the face of it, this wouldn’t be a bad option as we had to run the gamut of extremely pushy taxi drivers as soon as we picked up our baggage from the reclaim area. And we ended up being scammed when our driver merely took us to another point in Maumere where he tried to drop us off and put us on a mini-bus (we refused to pay him and ultimately just jumped on a public bus anyway).
Alternatively, you could try to team up with others on your flight or at the airport and negotiate with a driver outside the terminal.
If you’re travelling light you can also travel by ojek – in effect a motorbike taxi – which means riding pillion for about two hours to Moni. Or you could take an ojek to Maumere bus station to pick up a bus. Only don’t be surprised if you’re also travelling with some chickens and pigs.
The bus from Maumere to Moni
The crater lakes of Kelimutu
For many years, this has been the number one tourist draw on mainland Flores. The three volcanic crater lakes famously change colour at regular intervals as minerals within them react with volcanic gas.
To see them at their best you’ll need to get there as dawn is breaking, so an overnight stop at nearby Moni is a must. Accommodation is basic and you’d be best to shop around when you arrive.
To access Kelimutu National Park you’ll need to book a shared taxi to the car park near the summit. But there are plenty of people in Moni willing to offer you a lift for 250,000 IDR.
After paying the national park entrance fee (5,000 IDR for Indonesians, 150,000 IDR for foreigners) there’s a 30-minute paved walk to the summit from where you can watch the sunrise over a huge panorama of volcanoes. If you’re lucky, the swirling mist will have abated early and, as the morning light begins to pierce through, the awesome sight of the three crater lakes will come into view.
You need to bring a reasonable dose of patience with you, though, as the thick mist is unpredictable. We had to wait an hour for it to disperse and we spoke to people who’d already been the day before and hadn’t been able to see a thing. So be prepared for a second night in Moni if you don’t want to miss it.
Kelimutu’s crater lakes
Blue Stone Beach & Mount Ebulobo
If you’ve been lucky enough to see the crater lakes in the morning, you can catch the bus (20,000 IDR) for the two-and-a-half-hour journey to Ende. Actually, the one we caught was more like a truck with rows of wooden benches in the back and no windows. Which made for an exhilarating, if extremely bumpy journey.
Once in Ende, you’ll need to book a travel car for the following morning to your next destination in Jerebuu (near the tourist hub of Bajawa). It’s a good five-hour journey but there are a couple of worthwhile stops along the way.
Firstly, there’s Blue Stone Beach – a lovely, wide expanse of black sand, dotted with smooth blue stones which the locals use for building and exporting elsewhere in Asia. It’s in a beautiful setting, backed by jungle and looking out to distant mountains. There’s a good chance you’ll be the only ones there, too. Only we reckon it’ll be prime for development if Flores gets the anticipated tourism investment. Especially as the international airport at Ende is only 10 kilometres away.
The road between Blue Stone Beach and Bajawa rises and falls through mountainous jungle. It also deteriorates at regular intervals, switching from fully covered tarmac to craters of cobblestones and occasionally just plain rubble.
Eventually, the mist-shrouded conical peak of Mount Ebulobo dominates the landscape. It’s worth stopping at a suitable vantage point to take some photographs and just gaze upon its beauty.
Blue Stone Beach, near Ende
Villa Manulalu, Jerebuu
Most travellers stop at Bajawa and use it as a base to explore Mount Inerie and the Ngada villages that dot the area around Jerebuu. Instead, do yourself a favour and pre-book at least a couple of nights at Villa Manulalu in the heart of Jerebuu itself.
Its glorious setting includes valley views across to Bena and other Ngada villages, while the imposing volcano of Mount Inerie dominates to your right. In fact, if there’s a better spot to enjoy an alfresco breakfast anywhere we’ve yet to find it.
The owners and staff are super friendly and helpful, too. Don’t miss it.
Bed, breakfast, coffee & beer – what more could a traveller want?
A stunning view to enjoy breakfast
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If you’re up for a challenge, the trek up to the summit of Mount Inerie is magnificent. Not to mention, an extremely tiring one.
You can book a local guide at Villa Manulalu and you’ll be up before dawn to be driven to the starting point some thirty minutes away. After that, it’s an increasingly steep ascent (it’s a volcano, after all) of three hours until you reach the summit. The view from the top is simply out of this world – a 360-degree panorama of mountains, volcanoes, jungle and sea.
If anything, the descent is actually more difficult as, at one point, you find yourself literally foot-surfing down a steep incline of sand and shingle. But nobody said that scaling a volcano would be easy, right?
Quite simply it was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done.
Bena and the Ngada villages
The Ngada people have lived in the area surrounding Mount Inerie for generations and their traditional villages, composed of wooden pile houses, are fascinating places to visit.
Bena is perhaps the most striking of all the villages and consequently is the most popular. It’s easy enough to visit by hiring a local guide who can also help with translating from Indonesia/Ngada to English and vice versa. You can also hike along a circuit that includes Bena and other villages such as Wogo.
Better still, you can fully immerse yourself in Ngada culture by hiking to and staying overnight at remote Belaraghi.
From Bajawa you do have the option to make the trip to Riung on the north coast, with its 17 Islands Marine Park. Otherwise, you’ll have booked a travel car at Villa Manulalu to take you on the four-hour journey to Ruteng.
Along the way, there are more opportunities to stop off at a beach or two, especially at Aemere. And not for the first time, when we took a stroll along the beach we were mobbed by inquisitive locals wanting to practise their English and have selfies taken with us. Some might find that a bit intrusive but we found it difficult not to get sucked in with their overwhelming enthusiasm!
Like Bajawa, Ruteng is typically used as a base to explore the surrounding area. For instance, there are the spiderweb ricefields of Cancar and the “hobbit cave” at Liang Bua. Both can be done by bus, scooter or travel car in half a day.
Our tip for an overnight stay is at Susteran Santa Maria Berdukacita (tel: 0385 22 834), a functioning convent with 15 guest rooms. There’s a 9 pm curfew but what you get are a comfortable clean room and exemplary service.
Our primary reason for staying in Ruteng was to organise a trip to the uber-remote Manggarai village of Wae Rebo. To get there is a challenge in itself. The easiest way is to book a travel car to take you to Denge, then hike up to the village with a guide, stay overnight and either return to Ruteng by travel car or head on to Labuan Bajo. We were offered the return option at Susteran St Maria Berdukacita for 2.5m IDR but decided on a much cheaper DIY version instead.
After speaking with a local family we managed to hitch a ride on the back of a cement truck that was making its way to the village of Dintor – a truly memorable trip along one of the worst mountainous roads we’ve ever experienced. After staying overnight there we were transported with a local guide to Denge, the starting point for the four-hour trek up to Wae Rebo. We opted not to stay overnight but instead returned via ojek to our accommodation in Dintor, before returning the following morning to Ruteng in a truck-cum-bus. As I said, it can be a bit of a challenge!
But we’d urge you to make the trip as the village, which can only be accessed by foot and consists of just seven conically-shaped houses, is about as far removed from the stresses of modern life as you could imagine.
Approaching Wae Rebo
Drying coffee beans at Wae Rebo
Labuan Bajo & Komodo National Park
If you do return to Ruteng, the best way to get to Labuan Bajo is by mini-bus. And it’s probably the most comfortable ride of the whole journey so don’t worry about the expense of a travel car.
Labuan Bajo sits at the head of a spectacular bay, which itself is the gateway to the fabulous Komodo National Park. And, although its bars, restaurants and cafes are a welcoming sight after ten days or so on the road, most people don’t linger here too long before heading out onto the water for one or a few days.
You don’t necessarily need to pre-book a tour as there are plenty of tour operators in town. But, having done our research, we pre-booked a two-day tour with Flores Experience Adventure, whom we can recommend. Our tour included an overnight stay camping on the beach of an uninhabited island, snorkelling with a school of manta rays, getting up close with the world-famous Komodo dragons on Rinca Island, and watching in amazement as hundreds of thousands of flying foxes flew over us at sunset.
The National Park is a truly stunning place and, if we were to go back to Flores, we’d like to explore a lot more of it. Be prepared, though, for the Komodo dragons to be something of a letdown if they’re not up to making an appearance for you on cue. That’s the lottery of nature, I guess.
As you can see, it’s not an easy itinerary unless you’ve booked a car and driver for the duration of your stay. Even so, it can still be done in two weeks, or even less. However, if you’ve got more time to spare you might want to explore east of Maumere, Riung’s 17-Island Marine Park and, of course, more of Komodo National Park.
Or, indeed, one of the other less-travelled Indonesian islands in the area, such as Sumba or West Timor.
In the meantime, please feel to contact us if you’d like any further advice.
Flight to MAUMERE Bus from MAUMERE to MONI Accommodation Choose on arrival
Do Explore the crater lakes of Kelimutu (early am) Bus from MONI to ENDE Accommodation Choose on arrival
Shared taxi from ENDE to JEREBUU Do Explore Blue Stone Beach; View Mount Ebolubo Accommodation Villa Manulalu (recommended)
Do Explore Bena and the surrounding Ngada villages Accommodation Villa Manulalu
Do Trek to the summit of Mount Inerie (early am) Accommodation Villa Manulalu
Shared taxi from JEREBUU to RUTENG Do See the spider web rice fields via scooter or private/shared taxi Accommodation Susteran Santa Maria Berdukacita (recommended)
Shared/Private taxi from RUTENG to DINTOR / DENGE Accommodation Martin Homestay / Denge Homestay
Do Trek to Wae Rebo Accommodation Wae Rebo Homestay
Do Return to Dintor/Denge Shared/Private taxi from DINTOR / DENGE to LABUAN BAJO Accommodation Villa Seirama Alam
DAY 10 – 11
Do Take a two-day boat tour of Komodo National Park Do Explore Taupo en route; explore Napier late afternoon/evening Accommodation Villa Seirama Alam (upon return to Labuan Bajo)
Do Relax in Labuan Bajo; Take a trip to one of the local beaches/islands Accommodation Villa Seirama Alam
Taxi to airport for flight
Flores route map
What did you think? Have you had the chance to explore Flores? Do you have any recommendations to add to our itinerary? Or perhaps you’re thinking of visiting there in the near future? Either way, we’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
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Hi, we're Ian and Nicky, an English couple on a voyage of discovery around the world, and this blog is designed to reflect what we see, think and do. Actually, we'd like to think it also provides information, entertainment and inspiration for other “mature” travellers, too. So please feel free to pour yourself a glass of something suitably chilled and take a look around.