When people visit Indonesia, you will find that the majority will have been to Bali. The beauty of this amazing country, however, is more than just Bali. It can be found in the difference of the variety of islands. Meaning that you should to extend your trip beyond the well-known and well travelled island of Bali and head to, among others, Flores, my favorite island in Indonesia. Anybody and everybody that has asked me for travel advice on Indonesia, or South East Asia for that matter, has heard one word, Flores. I spent little over a week on this volcanic, friendly and internet-challenged island with its human eating Komodo dragons and the best dive sites and completely fell in love.
When talking about this beautiful island in East Nusa Tenggara, I usually get two question. Why this island and how can I get there? Flores is a few islands east from Bali and can be reached in two ways, by boat or by plane. A flight from Denpasar will set you back about 50 euro one way and will take one hour and a half, too easy. A boat will cost you a lot more time (24h) but will cost less. I took the plane twice to save on time, but I will take the boat the next time as I have heard it is a beautiful trip. I would, however, recommend taking the plane to go to the island and taking the boat back. In this way you will avoid a large part of the tourist trail.
Your main harboring point in Flores, and the place where I spent a full week, is Labuan Bajo. This half Muslim, half Christian town at the West coast is the most important town of the island and there is a lot of boat traffic coming and going. Tourists usually come here for two reasons, scuba diving and the Komodo islands. Both of those reasons revolve around the same national park, the Komodo national park. But I will add a third reason to put Flores on your bucket list and that is the locals. Most tourists however will only pass by Flores to visit the giant Komono dragons. Giant looking lizards that are capable of eating people and even their own children. And don’t get me wrong, these dragons are worth a short visit. You can either go to Rinca or to Komodo itself. The inhabited islands are beautiful, as all volcanic islands are. But you don’t have to do the long trek to Komodo (which is much farther than Rinca). In my opinion, the dragons will look the same on both islands. Rinca, however, is a closer to land and will save you some money. If you are doing this trip, make sure you add a sunset view over the flying foxes that leave Kalong Island to collect food. There are thousands and thousands of them and seeing them is simply spectacular.
A Baby Komodo dragon which has to live in the trees to avoid adult Komodo dragons
Flying Foxes off of Kalong island
The Komodo national park contains much more than just dragons. The most beautiful part of the park can be found between and around those islands, under water. Komodo national park is a no fishing zone (however in Asia it tends to be difficult to convince local fishermen of rules like this) and has an abundant amount of marine life that you can spot by either going snorkeling or diving. Scuba diving in Komodo means seeing a varied array of fish, included the endangered Napoleon Wrass, lion fish, jack fish, etc. plus a lot of bigger sealife such as manta rays, white or black tip reefsharks and plenty of turtles (if you’re very lucky and in the right season maybe even a whaleshark). Next to all the wildlife, the corals are largely untouched and you will be able to see corals in colors of which you didn’t even know that they could be found so bright in nature. You won’t quickly find this amount of amazingness on well visited islands like Koh Tao in Thailand or Gili Trawagan in Indonesia. I was put in touch with one diving school in particular, which happens to be Belgian, Manta Rhei Diving School and have been recommending them to everyone since. The school and beautiful boat is staffed with amazing local and international people. They work with good equipment and will know where the best diving spots are. Not to mention the delicious lunches and free accommodation (when there is a free spot in the house) that is included when you go diving with them (not to forget about the cutest dog).
When I say that Flores is my happy place, I’m talking about the kindness of the locals. The people living on the island are so nice that it is difficult not to be in a good mood. The majority of tourists coming through Flores for the Komodo dragons never actually set foot on the island and definitely never go beyond Labuan Bajo and therefore the island is still a bit untouched. Most locals will wish you good morning every day or will give you a genuine smile. The kids will line up next to the road to get high fives from tourists coming by on their scooters and will be fascinated by your appearance (apart from the cheeky little boys below).
Next to the fabulous drop off point to the Komodo National park that Labuan Bajo is, there is much more to explore on the island. Close to Labuan Bajo you will find a couple of waterfalls and a few secluded beaches you can go to. Just Labuan Bajo is enough to have a deep connection with the island. But there is so much more on the 400 kilometer stretch. Another top attraction of the island is the volcano climb to Kelimutu with its three different lakes that all have their unique color of blue. There are local villages in Bajawa, a whole lot of windy roads between the volcanic mountains and plenty of stunning photo opportunities. I didn’t do more than the surroundings of Labuan Bajo as I spent most of my time on the boat or under water, so have a look here for more information.