With such an abundance of diverse islands, exploring Indonesia is a massive undertaking. For travelers up to the challenge, Flores is a great place to start. Unlike busy Bali, Flores is a place where you will often be the only Westerner in sight. Beaches, active volcanoes, and genuine culture are the real reasons to brave the winding, painful road through Flores.
Often mistaken for an archipelago, Flores is actually one long, narrow island in the Lesser Sunda Islands. Flores is part of the island chain between Lombok and Timor, directly south of Sulawesi. Beautiful but rough around the edges, Flores is the epitome of just how diverse language, religion, and culture can be in Indonesia.
Labuan Bajo, thanks to its proximity to Bali and Lombok, often serves as the starting point for exploring Flores. We will start our tour in the west and travel east through Nusa Tenggara.
Labuan Bajo in Flores, Indonesia
Labuan Bajo turns out to be the only place in Flores that many travelers visit. Located on the western tip of the island, Labuan Bajo is a slightly more convenient port of entry than other towns in Flores. World class diving in the Komodo National Park and Komodo dragons - the world's most dangerous lizard - are reasons enough to brave this dusty, rough-and-tumble town.
- Read this Labuan Bajo travel guide.
Next stop on the west-to-east tour through Flores is the small town of Ruteng. Ruteng is more or less just an excuse to get off the bus for a night. Aside from lush, green setting amid rice fields, Ruteng is short of real attractions. The traditional Manggarai village two miles outside of town and Gunung Ranaka - a small, active volcano - are worth a visit.
About five hours east of Ruteng and ten long hours from Labuan Bajo, the town of Bajawa is a good representation of everything that is Flores. The lack of glamor is offset by beautiful surroundings; small, green volcanic peaks rise up around town.
Bajawa is a better base for exploring traditional villages; you will probably be approached by a guide at your hotel. Day trips to Bena, Nage, and Wogo cost around $25. Alternatively, you can hire a motorbike for around $5, grab a map, and see them independently.
Gunung Inerie is a local volcano which can be climbed on a tough day trip. The indigenous Ngada people in the area practice an interesting mix of Christianity and animism - the belief that animals and natural objects possess a spirit.
- Read more about trekking active volcanoes in Indonesia.
Riung is an optional, three-hour side trip from Bajawa. The Seventeen Islands Marine Park, just off the coast, is an excellent place to take a break. Nearly-empty beaches and great snorkeling beat the winding roads any day. Riung has a couple of budget accommodation options; day trips to the marine park cost around $25.
Five winding hours from Bajawa is Ende, a major town in Flores. Despite the lack of real sites, Ende is a nice place to eat good Indonesian food, meet local people, resupply, and rest up before going to see Kelimutu. The airport in Ende is very functional; flights and boats run to Kupang in Timor.
The picturesque village of Moni and the nearby volcanic lakes of Kelimutu are motivation for many travelers to brave the roads through Flores. Located only two hours from Ende, Moni is a small village with a green, peaceful vibe worth enjoying at least a couple of days.
Nine miles from Moni are the multicolored volcanic lakes of Kelimutu. Three lakes formed in the caldera of a volcano; the water changes color periodically based on the mineral content. The Kelimutu lakes, which once appeared on currency in Indonesia, are rife with local superstition and lore. A sunrise from the caldera rim is an unforgettable experience.
- Read more about trekking to Kelimutu.
Maumere, around three hours east of Moni, is the largest town in Flores. The city is enjoyable enough to explore; cheap seafood can be enjoyed along the coast. Maumere is the usual entry point for travelers starting on the eastern end of Flores and the last stop for many who started in Labuan Bajo.
Maumere is surrounded by lightly-developed beaches, including black sand beaches. Often one bungalow operation is the only option for eating and sleeping on some of the beautiful stretches of sand. Traditional weaving villages surrounding the city are excellent places to pick up beautiful ikat cloth to take home.
- Read more about Maumere.
East of Maumere
While many travelers end their Flores journey by taking a boat or flight from Maumere, the Solor Islands and Alor Archipelago are full of incredible adventure potential. Continuing east five hours past Maumere brings you to Larantuka on the eastern tip of Flores. Larantuka and Lembata act as bases to explore the many, former-headhunting islands east of Flores including tiny Alor Kecil and Lamalera.
Tiny, isolated Lamalera was recently put on the map by National Geographic and the BBC. The village still practices traditional whale hunting with canoes and harpoons. Conservation groups have given the okay for their sustenance hunting; adventurous travelers can actually accompany fishermen out in canoes. Although whales are rarely taken, the people survive on a regular catch of dolphins and sharks.
Getting Into Flores, Indonesia
Flores is well-connected with the rest of Indonesia through the major hub towns of Labuanbajo, Maumere, and Ende. Most flights arrive from either Denpasar or Kupang, Timor. A hodgepodge of small, domestic airlines run flights which must be booked at the airport or satellite offices. Check for the best rates from Transnusa, Merpati, and Indonesia Air Transport. Flights are often delayed or overbooked; some cite safety as a reason not to fly at night!
Ferries and infrequent Pelni ships connect port towns, however boats can sometimes be delayed or unpredictable.
- Read more about travel in Indonesia.