We came to Flores on a recommendation from friends who said the diving was some of the best in the world. Nick and I will never turn down an opportunity to dive so we made sure to pencil in at least a week of exploring on the Island. Per usual, we didn’t have a clue what to do there and didn’t anticipate how big Flores was, but booked a flight anyways and thought we’d wing it when we arrived. We gave ourselves a little over a week with only a flight into Labuan Bajo. Upon arriving we learned that Flores has so much more to offer than Komodo Dragon’s, between the national park, secret beaches, rice terraces and volcanos, we saw such a small potion of the island and look forward to returning to explore even more. Here’s an overview of our experience, tips and recommendations.
Labuan Bajo is the jumping off point to Komodo National Park, home to some the best dive sites in the world and the only place to see Komodo Dragons. It’s your average port town with plenty of guesthouses, hostels and homestays, local and western restaurants and a ton of dive shops and tour companies. Our priority was diving so we checked out a few shops and decided on Uber Scuba, which we would highly recommend. Your typical day is 3 dives in the center or the north of Komodo National Park. The center has “easier” dive sites, meaning slightly less current and the north is much more advanced, very strong currents and deep dives. If you don’t have your advanced dive certification it’s better to stick to the center of the national park. The price is 1,500,000RPI per day for three dives, lunch, and snacks. This doesn’t include your entrance fee to the marine park which is an additional 175,000RPI per day, 225,000 on Sunday’s and holidays. It was the most expensive diving we did in Indonesia but absolutely worth every penny. The dive sites Batu Balang (central) and The Cauldron (north) have a reputation that people complain about “not seeing coral because there are too many fish”. We spent two days diving, one in each area, and we were completely blown away by how good the diving was. On one of our dives in the north we saw more sharks than we have on all 50 dives around the world combined.
The two places to see Komodo Dragons are Rinca Island and Komodo Island, however there are more dragons on Rinca so it’s common to go there for a day trip. The dive shops offer a day of 2 dives and in place of the third dive they will take you to Rinca Island for a few hours. We looked at pricing to do a separate day on Rinca Island that included snorkeling and a 4 hour trek, that was approximately 800,000RPI each including marine park fees, guide fees and the Rinca entrance fee. We decided to give up a dive and go to Rinca for a short trip instead. It was very hot, there’s nothing to do but see the dragons and I don’t think it deserves a whole day. If you are not certified to dive however, this is a good option as it includes snorkeling in the marine park.
Labuan Bajo doesn’t have a lot to offer in the city itself so if you have extra days you can rent motorbikes for 75,000RPI and head to the beaches about an hour north or the waterfall nearby. In the evening head to the fish market for Ikan Bakar (grilled fish) and Cumi Goreng (fried squid) and enjoy a cocktail on the rooftop bar at Le Pirate. Warung Mama is great for cheap, local fare, stop in La Cucina for a delicious pizza and Happy Banana for fresh sushi.
We left Labuan Bajo and flew to Ende for about 30USD. Ende is located in Central Flores on the southern coast. There are some great beaches and the Kelimutu Volcano near-by that attracts tourists. Kelimutu is a beautiful volcano with three colored crater lakes on the top that change colors sporadically based on temperature and weather conditions. If you plan to visit, take a bus or flight to Ende and then arrange transport to Moni, the closest town to Kelimutu. Moni is an hour drive inland from Ende and can be reached by private car for 500,000RPI. For budget travelers, hop in a Bemo (local van) and ask them to drop you off at the Reworeke Bus Terminal for 5,000RPI a ride and then get in a local bus to Moni for 50,000RPI. We took the local bus without any problems. As soon as you exit the Bemo the drivers will ask if your going to Maumere or Moni and they drop you right in the center of town. The buses run to and from Ende/Moni throughout the day so you won’t have a problem finding one.
Kelimutu Volcano is about 45 minutes drive up a winding road from Moni, but make sure to see it at sunrise for the best views and least chance of clouds. We rented motorbikes for 100,000RPI each and left at 4:30am to see sunrise. The price for foreigners to visit is 150,000RPI and after reaching the car park it’s an easy 15 minute walk to the top.
We got back to town around 10am and upon recommendation from our guesthouse owner, we took the motorbikes to Koka Beach, an hour drive from Moni on the coast. The drive itself is worth having motorbikes, expect breathtaking views in every direction. Koka Beach was beautiful, secluded and a little piece of paradise on Flores. We stayed for a few hours, went for a swim and ate Ikan Bakar for lunch before heading back to Moni for the evening.
When you plan to leave Moni whether that is to Ende or the eastern town of Maumere, there are local buses headed in either direction all day. We hopped in one that took us straight to the airport before heading to our next destination, Rote Island.
Flores was bigger than we expected. The bus rides are at least 4-6 hours to each destination but last minute flights are the best deal costing no more than $50 for a seat. If we had more time we would have loved to explore the eastern and northern parts of the island. If you are planning to go to Bali, Flores is a two hour flight east and absolutely worth a visit. The dragons itself make one of the most memorable experiences of your travels!