Named after the Portuguese word for “flowers”, Flores is an Indonesian jewel in the Lesser Sunda islands Archipelago. Unlike some other Indonesian islands, Flores is a little less overwhelmed with travellers. At least when we travelled there. It’s a fascinating island with active volcanos, three different coloured crater lakes and stunning beaches.
We travelled for a month in Indonesia and for one week on Flores. The adventure started in the most Western town Labuan Bajo and ended in Maumere. The gorgeous island of Flores with its backbone of various highlands is breath-taking. Western Flores has rough mountains covered by original vegetation, in Eastern Flores much of the original forest is supplanted by grassland. In this article we help you plan your travels to Flores:
- Towns and highlights worth visiting on Flores
- Where to stay on Flores
- When to travel to Flores
- How to get around
- How to get to Flores Island
Flores is part of the Indonesian province East Nusa Tenggara. Together with over 500 islands, Sumba and West Timor, Flores is located in the Eastern part of Nusa Tenggara. Nusa Tenggara is also called Lesser Sunda Islands. Flores has 5 main cities, from West to East: Labuan Bajo, Ruteng, Bajawa, Ende and Maumere.
First of all, the rice fields of Flores deserve a special mention in this article. I have seen many before in Asia but the rice fields we found on Flores – especially west of Kelimutu on the main Flores Highway – are the most beautiful ones we ever saw. The sun was shining and in the middle of the rice fields, farmers were picking rice. Two older men and a young boy, with their lower legs in mud, used two buffalo’s to prepare the land for them. Just stunning.
After a 3-day boat trip from Lombok, Labuan Bajo is our first stop on Flores. The town is located on the Western tip of the island. It is the capital village of the Manggarai Barat region with not a lot of things to discover. With its 2.000 inhabitants, Labuan Bajo is a tiny village where most people make their living by fishing. The busy bay with tourists, boats and local fishermen is where it all happens. We were told that hikes in the hills are perfect to enjoy panoramic views and sunsets. But after seeing the most beautiful sunsets during our boat trip, we decided to skip any form of exercise. Time to take it easy, drink beer, eat fries and go for a good night of sleep!
On our second day on Flores, it was time to hit the road! After a 130-kilometre drive landward, we arrived in Ruteng. The trip from Labuan Bajo to Ruteng took 3,5 hours and we cannot claim it was fun. A sleepy driver, winding roads and impressive cliffs made me want to walk to Ruteng. I kept my fingers crossed and gave cola to the driver to keep him awake. Although we kept keeping an eye on Mr Fall Asleep, we also genuinely enjoyed the rainforest, volcanic landscapes, pastel coloured churches and observing locals. It was fascinating to observe how many family members fit into one van or on one scooter. I honestly wonder how many people survive car accidents. I was SO HAPPY to get out of the car once we arrived.
Ruteng has about 55 churches and the main point of interest are three traditional adat houses. We knew we were going to see a lot of the traditional adat houses on Sulawesi, so we skipped that cultural bit of Ruteng. Instead, we just walked around the village, watched kids playing football and did some fruit shopping.
Day 3 and 4: Our next stop was the village of Bajawa. Bajawa is a perched village on Flores and therefore known as the coldest village on the island. The town itself is not an extremely special village to visit. Though it is the perfect starting point to discover the region of Ngada. And so we did! Together with a local guide, we explored the south of Bajawa. Our guide showed us how to recognise cacao plants, we found avocado’s, tried pineapples and smelled vanilla. I loved it!
Great highlights for a day trip from Bajawa
Traditional Village – Bena
Last but not least we visited the traditional village of Bena. I was a bit sceptical at first. A ‘traditional village’ can be a tourist trap where everything is set up to make money. I was so happy that at Bena village this was not the case. It was a true open air museum where I found myself travelling back in time. I recommend visiting Bena with a guide so that he can tell you all about the fascinating rituals and cultural heritage of the town. Make sure you walk to the “end” of the village to enjoy the incredible view. I would recommend connecting with the locals. Maybe it was the local natural drugs, but they are really friendly and happy.
The Mangeruda hot springs are situated on the northern flank of the Inieri volcano, that warms up the water. We really enjoyed the short hike to the hot springs. At the hot springs, local women do their laundry, kids play and a handful of travellers go for a swim. We had our daily noodle refill at a small warung near the water. Please remember to respect the local habits and to wear decent clothing if you go for a swim.
When you look at the map of Flores, you will notice the many volcanoes on the island. The landscape is impressive and there are many hiking options. There are 15 volcanoes on the Indonesian island. Some of the volcanoes are active, rumble restless and erupt grey smoke. “Acts of the Gods” is what the locals will tell you. We hoped the Gods were in a good mood. The most impressive volcano we saw, was the Inierie volcano. A small steep-walled crater and the highest peak of Flores. No historic eruptions are known from that volcano, but we were lucky enough to see the volcano “smoking”.
On day 5 we hit the road again! The scenic 25-kilometre drive from Bajawa to Ende takes about 40 minutes and passes by green canyons tumbling into the sea, gorgeous black strips of sand and colourful villages.
Blue Stone Beach
On the route from Bajawa to Ende, you will pass by blue stone beach: obviously a beach with large blue stones. We read about the beach being completely filled with blue stones. Unfortunately, the reality was different: there were only a few stones left. Most of the special stones were gathered together and formed heaps on the side of the road: ready to be transported to the larger cities of Indonesia where people will make jewellery and other products. Such a shame!
Ende is best known for being the village closest to the Kelimutu crater lakes. We spend the 6th day of our trip on Flores visiting Kelimutu. Do not skip this during your travels on Flores! It’s absolutely beautiful to see three crater lakes in different colours looming in the rising sun. It was the highlight of my Flores travels. For locals Kelimutu is a holy place, there are myths about the changing colours of the lakes:
- Lake of the ancestors’ souls” – Tiwu Ata Mbupu
- The “lake of young people’s souls” – Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai
- Lake of evil spirits – Tiwu Ata Polo
The first and second lakes are situated next to each other. The third lake is about 1,5 kilometres west of the other lakes. We set our alarms in the very early morning to enjoy the sunrise and the colours of the lakes. Keep in mind that you will have to walk 30 minutes from the parking place. For your way back I recommend the walk towards Moni. I spotted this beautiful bird there PLUS we were the only ones walking this hike.
Our last stop at Flores! It is the capital of Flores island and a village that you can actually skip! No need to stay here very long, there are not many things to do. We heard there are plenty of small islands – the Pemana islands – that are worth a visit and a nice place for snorkelling. What we did on our 7th day in Maumere? We spend a day at the hotel swimming pool, drank Bintang and ate noodles. And we jumped into a packed disco-bemo with 6 locals. Best bemo ride ever.
On Flores, it is common to have a grave for your mother’s or father (in law) in your garden. Since we are not familiar with this way of burying your ancestor’s body, we spoke about it with locals. The Flores people speak very open about death. Having their ancestor’s spirits around and bringing them sacrifices, is part of their daily lives. They don’t consider death or graves as something you would like to stay away from. As someone who has a different association with death, it was interesting to see kids playing and made music literally on the graves of their grandfather.
Generally speaking, there are not an incredible amount of hotels in the towns on Flores. I only mention the hotels I liked in particular below:
- Centro Bajo Hotel in Labuan Bajo. Rate: 25 euro per night for 2 people. Comfortable rooms and friendly staff. Great place to relax after the 3-day boat trip.
- In Ruteng we slept at a very peaceful and unique place: at the nuns. Kongregasi Santa Maria Berdukacita is located on the hillside, just a bit south of the centre or Ruteng. It offers you a magical view, spacious rooms and early breakfast.Hotel: Kongregasi Santa Maria Berdukacita – Best is to go there and keep your fingers crossed for a room
- Happy Happy Hotel in Bajawa owned by a Dutch couple
On the western part of the island heavy rains are common from November to March with more than 3500 mm per year. Roads turn into muddy impassable paths. Eastern Flores on the other hand, is one of the driest areas of Indonesia and has about 700 mm of rain per year. This means that it’s best to avoid rain season and best to travel to Flores from June to August.
Wherever you are on Flores, the roads are rough and in bad condition. It makes road travel not fastest way to travel from West to East. As in most of the countries, road travel is the best way to discover the island. Check with your guesthouse, they can all arrange local buses or drivers for you. Keep in mind that some drivers race around the island as if the drivers live depended on it.
Renting a motorbike
Flores people, basically like everywhere else in Indonesia and Asia, all have motorbikes. They all ignore “Hati hati” road signs. Complete families and their belongings – varying from fuel tanks, chickens, rice bags – fill the roads of Flores. No helmets. Again, it was a miracle that we didn’t witness an accident. Somehow the unwritten traffic rules work. It made me realise that riding a motorbike myself was not going to happen! Did you drive a motorbike on Flores? Let me know your experience!
How to get to Flores island?
Each town on Flores had a small airport. We arrived by boat from Lombok and left with Merpati airlines plane from Maumere to Makassar on Sulawesi. Honestly, Merpati is not the best airline in the world. A few accidents did happen in the past years. Our flight was delayed due to an earlier flight that got cancelled. We did want to go to Sulawesi thought, so Merpati was our only option. If you are planning on doing the same: Look out the window to see the most beautiful atolls!
I also noticed their online booking tool is under construction at the moment. At the time I travelled to Flores, I booked the ticket at their website myself. I had to translate all content since the tool only had an Indonesian version. After confirming the flight and having paid, I got called by a Merpati employee who didn’t speak English to confirm the flight.
We hope you find this article useful! Feel free to share your thoughts on this post, the Quokka website, Flores or anything else by using our comment box!
This article includes some links that help me pay the bills. This is not a sponsored post, I genuinely loved the accommodations I stayed and paid for my stays with my very own credit card 🙂
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