The beautiful Indonesian island of Flores is growing ever more popular year on year. Some visitors choose to fly into Labuanbajo, explore world-renowned Komodo National Park, then jet back to Bali; others opt for a rushed overland tour with a private car and driver. Adventurous budget travellers, meanwhile, fly into either Labuanbajo or Maumere, hire a motorbike, and set off to explore the island independently.
We chose to do the above, though instead of hiring a motorbike in Maumere for the entire two weeks, we travelled between places by public transport or by hitching a ride and hired a motorbike as and when we needed one. This guide will tell you how to see the best of Flores in 14 days; see below for a quick itinerary and read on for all the details!
Day 1: Fly from Bali to Maumere; bus from Maumere to Moni
Day 2: Early morning hike to the crater lakes of Kelimutu; explore the area around Moni
Day 3: Moni to Ende/Blue Stone Beach
Day 4: Ende/Blue Stone Beach to Bajawa – stop on route to admire Mt Ebolubo
Day 5: Explore Bena and the surrounding Ngada villages; relax at Malanage Hot Springs
Day 6: Visit Ogi Waterfall and hike up to the viewpoint at Wawo Muda; see sunset atop Wolobobo Hill
Day 7: Visit remote Belaraghi village
Day 8: Bajawa to Ruteng
Day 9: Explore the Spider Web Rice Fields and Liang Bua cave
Day 10: Visit Ranamese Lake or Todo/Wae Rebo village
Day 11: Ruteng to Labuanbajo
Day 12: Day trip into Komodo National Park
Day 13: Explore the area around Labuanbajo; visit Batu Cermin/Rangko Cave or Cunca Wulang Waterfall
Day 14: Fly from Labuanbajo to Bali
Getting to Flores:
Most visitors arrive in Flores by flying into either bustling Labuanbajo, the island’s largest and most commercialised town, or into Maumere, which lies at the opposite end of the island; Ende also has an airport that is serviced by daily flights. There are daily domestic flights from Bali, Lombok and Kupang (West Timor), as well as less frequent schedules from other destinations. We flew into Maumere, explored our way across the island, and then departed from Labuanbajo.
It’s also possible to arrive in Flores by boat from ports on Sumbawa, Sulawesi, West Timor and Sumba; tour companies also run trips to Flores from Lombok, stopping at spots in Komodo National Park on route.
Getting around Flores:
Flores is a long sliver of an island, the 670km Trans-Flores Highway running its entire length, skirting the coast, brushing by paddy-fringed villages and tittering on the edge of knife-edge ridges. To get between towns you have the option of hiring a private car and driver, renting a motorbike, catching one of the public buses or bemos (small mini vans) or hitching. Public transport can be sporadic at times, so be prepared to either wait, hitch a passing ride or pay more to charter your own vehicle.
Highlights of Flores:
We took a morning flight into Maumere then a bus on to Moni. If you have more time, especially if you’re a diver, you can spend a day or two exploring the coastline around Maumere. The bus from Maumere to Moni leaves from a small shelter on the side of the road about 5km from the airport; say ‘bus to Moni’ to any ojek or taxi driver and they will know where to take you.
Maumere Airport – Bus Station: 10,000 IDR/ojek (motorbike taxi)
Bus from Maumere to Moni: 60,000 IDR/person
Moni is a pretty, single-street hill town that’s fringed by rice fields and lush volcanic peaks; it’s the perfect spot to chill out for a day or two. What brings travellers here, however, is its proximity to the crater lakes of Kelimutu.
Admission Fee: 150,000 IDR (Mon-Sat)/225,000 IDR (Sun)
Parking Fee: 5,000 IDR (Ojek)/10,000 IDR (Car)
Kelimutu (1639m) is a sacred and extinct volcano that lies at the centre of the mountainous national park of the same name. You’ll need to pre-arrange a car/ojek to pick you up from your guesthouse at around 4am; the drive up to the carpark takes roughly 45 minutes.
From the carpark it’s a short 20-minute hike up through forest to the viewpoint that overlooks Kelimutu’s three famous crater lakes; witnessing the sun rise from this vantage point is a truly magical experience. The volcanic lakes have been nicknamed the ‘tri-coloured lakes’ because each one is a strikingly different shade of turquoise.
The lakes at Kelimutu are sacred to the local Lio people, who believe the souls of the dead migrate to their waters. Apparently, if you dream about the lakes you should alert a local guide; it’s said that siren-like spirits have lured people to their demise, which can be avoided if the right prayers and offerings are made.
Sunrise is the best time to visit Kelimutu, after the pre-dawn mist rises and before the clouds roll in. Our tip would be to hire transport to the carpark and then hike back to Moni on peaceful footpaths that take you through the villages of Pemo and Woloara. You’ll pass rice fields, cascading streams and farmers working the land; hiking through the local landscape turned out to be the real highlight of Moni for us.
The path re-joins the highway opposite Rainbow Café; you’ll pass two waterfalls just before that are well worth stopping at. One lies on the main trail; for the other you’ll need to diverge, following a series of bamboo bridges on a path that starts beneath a signed archway.
Transport to Kelimutu (Car): 250,000 IDR (One Way)/350,000 IDR (Return)
Transport to Kelimutu (Ojek): 60,000 IDR (One Way)/100,000 IDR (Return)
We managed to bargain with our guest house owner and paid 150,000 IDR (One Way) for him to take us up in his car.
Hike from Kelimutu to Moni: Roughly 10km, 3 hours
We arrived back at our guesthouse at around 10am; we could have moved on that day but chose to stay in Moni another night. With picturesque surroundings and friendly locals, Moni is well worth lingering in.
After a mid-morning brunch, we hiked to the hot spring at Kolorongo (3.5km from Moni), which lies in the middle of the rice fields and is 100% natural. Though small, it is certainly impressive. On the way you’ll pass another hot spring, situated in a small village and signposted on an entrance archway. Here the water has been channelled into open, tiled pools; there’s a small admission fee to bathe.
Moni Accommodation Recommendation: Christina Homestay – 200,000 IDR/night including breakfast
Christina Homestay has clean rooms, a helpful owner who gave us a discounted rate to Kelimutu, a lovely restaurant overlooking Moni and good value, tasty food. It is certainly one of the better options in town.
2. Ende/Blue Stone Beach:
From Moni you could move straight on to Bajawa; the muggy port town of Ende is a common stopover on route. However, with little in the way of sights, we decided to skip Ende and spend the night at Blue Stone Beach, 26km past Ende.
Just off the Trans-Flores Highway you’ll see a brightly coloured sign reading Pondok Batu Hijau/Blue Stone Beach Cottage. This great place offers a restaurant that gets busy with passing tourists throughout the day, as well as four well-built bamboo cottages for those who wish to stay the night. We would highly recommend staying here to enjoy Blue Stone Beach without the daytime traffic. Food prices in the restaurant are surprisingly reasonable and the breakfast we received was plentiful.
As its name suggests, Blue Stone is known for the unique colour of its pebbles, which, collectively, give the beach its famed blue hue. Unfortunately, locals are collecting bags of these stones on a daily basis and selling them to tourists in Bali; if this continues there may be nothing left of the blue stones in just a few years.
Blue Stone Beach Cottage: 250,000 IDR/night including breakfast
Transport from Moni to Blue Stone: 150,000 IDR
The owner of Christina Homestay in Moni offered to drive us directly to Blue Stone for the above price; we had planned to take the bus to Ende and from there visit Blue Stone as day trip. However, at 11am the bus still hadn’t shown, so we agreed to his offer.
Bajawa is a laid-back, predominately Catholic hill town that lies at 1100m above sea level; it has a cooler climate and is framed by forested volcanoes. The main drawcard of Bajawa is visiting the nearby traditional villages of the Ngada people, who use the town as a trading post.
We managed to hitch a ride from Blue Stone to Bajawa while waiting on the highway for a passing bus; apparently the bus would have cost 60,000 IDR/person. If you have your own transport, stop on route to admire Mt Ebolubo, an impressive active volcano that is forever billowing smoke.
We spent four nights in Bajawa; here’s how we recommend spending three days:
Spend your first day visiting the area’s traditional villages, the homes of which are fascinating, complete with thatched roofs. Start in LUBA, home to four clans, where you’ll see houses decorated with depictions of symbolic horses, buffalo and snakes. Ask before taking photos and make a donation when you sign the visitors book; 10,000 IDR/person is OK.
Just a couple of hundred metres downhill from Luba lies BENA, the most visited Ngada village, which is home to nine clans. Bena is also one of the largest and most traditional villages; most houses have male or female figurines on their roofs, while doorways are adorned with buffalo horns and jawbones – a sign of family prosperity. Traditional beliefs and customs still endure with sacrifices held three times a year.
A sign of its popularity with visitors, souvenir stalls line the front of homes and an entrance fee of 25,000 IDR/person has replaced donations. Bena welcomes visitors from 6am to 6pm, though it’s also possible to spend the night here for 150,000 IDR/person.
TOLOLELA is the third traditional village in the area, which is much quieter and less visited than the former. It’s possible to walk here from Bena on a trekking trail through the forest, though if you have your own transport it doesn’t really make sense to do so. It’s possible to drive all the way; the last 1.7km is, however, extremely steep so we’d recommend parking near the small settlement of Gurusina and walking uphill to the village. Again, donate at least 10,000 IDR/person when you sign the visitor’s book.
Finish the day by soaking in Malanage Hot Springs, a 5km drive from Gurusina. The springs here (10,000 IDR/person) are completely natural, situated at the base of one of the area’s volcanoes where two streams, one hot, one cold, combine. It’s a peaceful place and basic change facilities are available.
We started our second day visiting Ogi Waterfall (20,000 IDR/person), around 6km from Bajawa. The fall itself is pretty impressive, plunging forcefully into a deep pool that is unsafe for swimming. The 10-minute walk to reach it from the carpark is a joy itself, taking you past glistening rice paddies. When we visited some were newly planted, full of water, while others were lush and green.
After an early lunch we drove up to Wawo Muda, a volcano that last erupted in 2001, leaving behind a mini-Kelimutu. We parked in a small village about 5km from Bajawa then hiked up to the crater lakes viewpoint (around 1 hour); the trail is wide and easy to follow.
Along the way we passed a lot of charred forest, possibly from the eruption, though there was certainly burning taking place at the time of our visit – right at the end of the dry season. As we visited at this time, the lakes had all evaporated; the best time to see their various colours is during the wet season from December to March.
We finished our second day in Bajawa by watching the sunset atop Wolobobo Hill, around a 9km-drive from town. The turn-off is signed about 2km east of the Watujaji Terminal and is marked on maps.me as ‘take the street to Wolobobo’. The views at the top of the hill are spectacular at any time of day, though especially at sunset; you’ll get your finest photo of Mount Inerie from here.
On our final day in Bajawa we visited the little-visited traditional village of Belaraghi, a 44km-drive each way. The road down to Aimere on the coast is extremely winding, as is much of the Trans-Flores Highway. The turn-off up to Belaraghi is signed and marked on maps.me as ‘Belaraghi Starting Point’. We managed to drive most of the way, though walked the final 2km, the road deteriorating so badly that I could no longer navigate it on our rented scooter.
Belaraghi is a real gem, the houses similar in design to those of Bena, Luba and Tololela and the local people extremely friendly and welcoming. Ollie and I were very lucky, arriving at the time when a couple, on a private tour with a guide, were being shown around. Because of them, we witnessed a traditional music performance and were invited to lunch! We were humbled by the hospitality of the locals and felt privileged to have been offered a small window into such a unique and totally different culture.
Donation to Belaraghi: Up to you (we gave 15,000 IDR)
We hired an automatic scooter for the three days we were in Bajawa (80,000 IDR/day) from our homestay; this is by far the cheapest way to explore the surrounding area and gives you total independence. Hiring a car and driver will run to around 800,000/day; an ojek will be less.
If you have time and the inclination, you could hire a local guide and summit Mount Inerie, which stands at 2245m above sea level and towers over the surrounding area. Most climbers start the hike at 2 or 3am in order to be at the top for sunrise; it’s around an 8-hour return trip. The cone is incredibly steep; people say that you practically have to ski down, using your feet instead of poles.
A local guide will cost around 500,000 IDR; for an English speaking guide and transport to/from the start point, expect to pay up to 1,000,000 IDR for two people.
Bajawa Accommodation Recommendation: Edelweis Homestay – 200,000 IDR/night including breakfast
Edelweis Homestay offers small inside rooms with cold water showers and larger, plusher outside rooms with hot water. We managed to get one of the latter at an off-season rate. Staff here are friendly and helpful, have motorbikes to rent and can organise onward transport.
Surrounded by beautiful peaks and lush terraced rice fields, Ruteng is a predominately Catholic market town that lies about four hours from Labuanbajo. When we visited Flores in October, the whole island was dry and brown, that is except from Ruteng, which was still a healthy green. Indeed, this easy-going town in the heart of Manggarai Regency has its own micro-climate, receiving more rainfall than anywhere else in Flores.
Many travellers rush through Ruteng; we, however, recommend staying a couple of nights if you want to explore the surrounding area. We took a public bus from Bajawa (75,000 IDR/person); it picked us up from our homestay at 7am, though didn’t actually get going until 8am. The journey took around 4 hours; it dropped us in the centre of town.
On our first day in Ruteng we rented a scooter (100,000 IDR/day) from where we were staying and drove out to Liang Bua cave and the Spider Web Rice Fields. Liang Bua, around 15km north of town, is famous as the place where the remains of the ‘Flores hobbit’ were found in 2003. Evidence of excavations can be seen inside the cave itself, while a small museum lies 50m down the road, containing information about Liang Bua (mostly in Indonesian), fossil casts and replica bones.
The Spider Web Rice Fields are, as their name implies, shaped into a series of spider webs. There’s a viewpoint around 16km west of Ruteng, which you can climb up for the best views. At the time of our visit, the fields were in parts lush and green and in other parts dry and brown.
Liang Bua Entrance Fee: 20,000 IDR/personSpider
Web Rice Fields Viewpoint: 20,000 IDR/person
On our second day in Ruteng we drove to Ranamese Lake, a pretty crater lake surrounded by dense forest that lies just off the Trans-Flores Highway 25km from Ruteng. There’s a short walking track that takes you past a waterfall and numerous pavilions that overlook the placid waters. The entrance fee is exorbitant for foreigners (100,000 IDR/person) but we managed to get in for local price (5,000 IDR/person) by telling the ranger at the ticket office that we were working in Jakarta!
We felt that Ranamese was worth the 5,000 IDR that we paid but certainly not the price being charged to foreigners. We spent about an hour there; there’s not much to see (other than the lake and waterfall) and you can’t walk very far (there’s no path all the way around).
Other Places around Ruteng:
Wae Rebo Village
A hugely popular traditional village, Wae Rebo has become a victim of its own success. If you read reviews online, you’ll see that travellers have had both positive and negative experiences; you should do your research and make up your own mind as to whether or not you visit.
If you do decide to go, be aware that it’s a three-hour drive from Ruteng to the village trailhead in Denge; from there Wae Rebo is a 9km hike that takes a further three to four hours. The road to Denge is very rough and there’s no public transport; you’ll need to either drive yourself or hire a car and driver. A ‘donation’ of 200,000 IDR/person is expected for a visit (which supposedly includes lunch) or it’s 350,000 IDR/person if you wish to stay overnight.
Another traditional village in Manggarai Regency, Todo village lies about 40km southwest of Ruteng. In the past, Todo was the centre of the Manggarai kingdom and the home of the royal clan; it makes a worthwhile alternative to Wae Rebo, allowing you to see similar traditional ceremonial houses. From what we heard, entrance to the village is 60,000 IDR/person.
Ruteng Accommodation Recommendation: Hobbit Hill Homestay – 250,000 IDR/night including breakfast
This fantastic place, set amid the lush rice fields 2km from town, was undoubtedly the best place we stayed in Flores. Owner Urdis speaks perfect English, delicious home cooked meals are available (30,000 IDR/person for vegetarian) and the cosy rooms come with hot showers and outside seating areas where breakfast is served.
The start or end point to most Flores adventures, Labuanbajo is a dusty port town that is easily the most commercialised place on the island. New hotels and resorts are springing up year on year, while the main road through town, Jalan Soekarno Hatta, is a strip of wall-to-wall western restaurants, local eateries, travel agencies, hostels and dive shops.
Ruteng to Labuanbajo: Bus (70,000 IDR/person)/ Shared taxi (100,000 IDR/person)
Being low season, we were able to negotiate 150,000 IDR for the both of us; we ended up being the only passengers! Cars wait in Ruteng centre to take travellers to Bajawa and Labuanbajo; it’s easy to find a ride in the morning, perhaps less so later in the day.
Komodo National Park
What brings travellers to Labuanbajo is its proximity to world famous Komodo National Park, home to the world’s largest lizard – the Komodo dragon. Boat tours range from day excursions that cover some of the park’s most popular sites to multi-day liveaboards. With mostly pristine coral and a range of aquatic species to be seen, diving here is some of the best in the world.
Tours run daily and vary greatly in price; definitely shop around! You’ll probably find that if you email companies before arriving in Labuanbajo, you’ll be quoted tours that cost millions of rupiah; our advice would be to wait until you’re in town to book anything. You’re bound to find a better deal that way. The only exception could be if you’re planning a trip in July or August, peak season in Indonesia; at this time it may pay to book ahead.
We booked onto a shared day tour that cost 500,000 IDR/person, the cheapest rate you’ll find. We booked the trip through our hostel and spent the day with 10 other people; the boat could hold up to 15. Two similar boats left the harbour at the same time as ours and followed the exact same route. We departed Labuanbajo at 5:30am and returned after the sun had set at about 6:30pm; lunch, water and snorkelling equipment was included in the price.
During the course of the day we visited four popular sites:
- Padar Island – Famous for its spectacular viewpoint
- Pink Beach – Known for its pink hue thanks to coral deposits in the sand, also a great snorkelling spot
- Komodo Island – Dragon spotting!
- Manta Point – A snorkelling spot where you may be lucky enough to swim with manta rays
Rinca Island is slightly smaller than Komodo and the other place in the park where you can spot dragons; in fact you’re more likely to see the beasts here than on Komodo. This is partly due to the island’s smaller size and partly to the tendency of dragons to hang out around the ranger’s camp kitchen. Some tours include a stop at Rinca or day trips here cost from 400,000 IDR.
Bear in mind that, unless you join a liveaboard and make it to popular spots early in the morning or later in the day, you won’t be alone. Even in October, towards the end of the season, there were still plenty of people at each of the sites. Enjoy the experience, the stunning scenery and the chance to see Komodo dragons up close and try not to let the crowds bother you!
Other Places around Labuanbajo:
We spent our last day in Flores exploring a little of the area around Labuanbajo, renting a scooter (65,000 IDR) and taking in the vistas from the various viewpoints north of town. We also enjoyed strolling along the waterfront, taking in all the different boats and watching fishermen unload their catch at sunset.
If you’re looking for a bit more action around Labuanbajo, check out the following:
- Gua Batu Cermin (50,000 IDR/person) – Located around 5km from town, ‘Stone Mirror Cave’ is known for the mirror effect that can be seen on the rocks at a specific time of day. You can don a hard hat and squeeze through some tight spaces to see a fossilised turtle and coral gardens.
- Gua Rangko (50,000 IDR/person; 250-300,000 IDR/boat) – You’ll need to drive about 13km northeast of town to Rangko village, then hire a boat to reach this ocean cave. Gua Rangko is famed for its turquoise pool, which makes a great swimming spot, as well as its beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.
- Cunca Wulang Waterfall (130,000 IDR/1 person, 210,000 IDR/2 people) – The entrance fee for this waterfall becomes better value as the number of people increases! The winding canyon here is studded with swimming holes and waterfalls; it’s located about 30km southeast of Labuanbajo.
Labuanbajo Accommodation: Bajo Nature Backpackers – 250,000 IDR/night (private room) including breakfast
This hostel is located on the main road through town; it has both dorms and private rooms with shared bathrooms. We found it passable for a couple of nights, not the cleanest place we’ve ever stayed but certainly not the worst in town. Accommodation options in Labuanbajo seem to be very nice but very expensive or cheap and poor quality. The staff at Bajo Nature Backpackers are friendly and helpful, they offer budget Komodo tours and 15% discount at the restaurant next door.
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