Flores is a large island in Indonesia east of Sumbawa. It is a predominantly Christian (Catholic) island, as opposed to the majority of the rest of Indonesia, which is Muslim.
I did a road trip from Labuan Bajo in the west to Maumere in the east. This is the story of my road trip across the Trans-Flores Highway.
As there was no bus service across the island at the time of writing, I hired a private vehicle with driver. As there are not many tourists in Flores, I was forced to go by myself, which was quite expensive.
Flores is not very developed, which has its pros and cons. It is more remote and tourist infrastructure is limited. On the other hand, because there are few tourists, you pretty much have the island to yourself, if that is your thing.
A general note about travelling in Indonesia. The farther you go from Java and Bali, the more expensive it gets. This might seem counter-intuitive, but actually makes sense when you think about it. From memory, I paid about 80 euros per day for 3 days, 2 nights. This sounds expensive, but that included everything – not just the car, driver and fuel, but also all the driver’s expenses – food, accommodation, etc. Plus, it was a one way (i.e. not round) trip. That meant my driver had to drive all the way back to Labuan Bajo from Maumere. I think the poor guy did the trip in one day/night to avoid having to pay a few rupiah for accommodation on the way back. So, I assumed his margins were razor thin. The problem is the price of gasoline and maintenance. Spare parts and petrol have to be transported from Java. So, the further you go from Java, the higher the prices. For example, to hire a private boat for snorkeling costs around $40-$50 in Bali, but the same boat in Raja Ampat, a remote diving resort, costs $500!
Labuan Bajo is a shitty town. The only reason to go there is that it is the entry point to the Komodo National Park. It was the dirtiest town I encountered on my 4 month trip across Indonesia. It was extremely hot when I was there (approaching 40 degrees). There are one or two nice cafes. There is a very nice sunset, but the nice promenade they built along the waterfront has been neglected and is scandalously underused.
Most tourists fly into Labuan Bajo from Bali, visit the park, then return to Bali. This is a shame, because Flores is a beautiful island with lots to offer.
Ruteng is a mountain village. On the way to Ruteng, you can visit a traditional village, Wae Rebo. I decided to skip it, as the reviews were mixed and getting there and back was going to add additional days to my trip and my budget could not handle it. You can stay overnight in the village and participate in some traditional activities. Some people rave about the experience and its authenticity. Others, however, decry its commercialism and tackiness. Genuine opportunity for a unique cultural experience or overrated tourist trap? You decide.
Bajawa is another mountain village on the Trans-Flores Highway. It is cooler in the evening and you will need a sweater/light jacket. There are very few accommodation/eating options in the town (typical of Flores).
There are many attractions in the surrounding hills – you can visit traditional villages, relax in hot springs, or just enjoy the spectacular views of the surrounding nature.
While in Bajawa, I happened to stumble upon a local festival, the Reba festival. Every village in the surrounding area has a big festival once per year. The festival consisted of formal speeches and orchestrated mass dance performances. Then it turned into a big party with lots of elders getting completely wasted and dancing in a circle (see photos below). They also dressed me up and had me dancing along, but unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos of me in focus, as no-one was able to operate my camera (it’s a touch screen, but that was unfortunately beyond their technical comprehension).
Ende is the largest city in Flores and the business capital. There is nothing for tourists here and I drove straight through.
The section of the road from Ende to Moni has the most spectacular mountain scenery.
Moni is another mountain village on the Trans-Flores highway. There is nice atmosphere there and a couple of nice restaurants with live guitar. It is the main stopping point to visit the Kelimutu volcano. There are 3 multicoloured volcanic lakes there. Unfortunately, the day I was there was raining and there was mist covering 2 of the 3 lakes.
On the road from Moni to Maumere, I stopped off at a nice beach, Koka beach. You can hike around the surrounding hills/rocks for some nice views. Note, there are 2 toll gates where you have to pay a small entry fee – one to use the road to get to the beach and another to enter the beach itself.
Maumere is a pleasant town in the east of Flores. This was the last stop on my road trip. I then flew back to Bali. There is some good scuba diving here.
I stayed at the Pantai Paris homestay. It’s a basic place, but with friendly staff and a large garden. In addition to the homestay, they also support local projects. For example, they train local people on recycling (they make constructions in the garden using old plastic water bottles) and employ physically challenged people in the homestay.
Note, that although Flores is a very beautiful island, there is unfortunately rubbish all over the place. There is scant awareness of environmental and ecological sustainability, and although projects like the one run by the Pantai Paris Homestay are trying to change attitudes, there is sadly very little infrastructure and services implemented (e.g. regular garbage collection). You could argue, that if more tourists discovered the island, it would bring in badly needed revenues into the local government coffers, which would enable them to keep the environment clean and thus protect their greatest asset. Sadly, corruption and bureacracy are major hurdles.
Click on the thumbnails to enlarge the images: