Diving in Komodo and Traveling Across Flores Island, Indonesia
Flores Island, Indonesia is one of the most visited islands in the country, along with Bali and Lombok, given its close proximity to the latter two islands, and also its practical position as the jumping point for diving in Komodo National Park, where the infamous Komodo Dragons can also be spotted.
Many people base themselves in Labuan Bajo from where boat trips for diving in Komodo or for trips around the park are easy to organise. Others travel right across Flores island from Labuan Bajo to Maumere or vice versa.
Because Flores Island, Indonesia is quite diverse, it is home to many different activities, so if you have time, traveling right across it by land would be the best way to take in a lot of what it has to offer.
Diving in Komodo and Traveling Across Flores Island, Indonesia
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Although diving in Komodo National Park (just off the western coast of Flores island) is one of the highlights in this part of Indonesia, traveling across Flores should not be missed either. Several companies and freelance drivers will organise a trip across Flores island over a number of days, with some of them stopping at the main attractions.
The trip can also be done overland in a minimum of two days with an overnight stop at Bajawa, although this is discouraged as it would not give you sufficient time to see any of the attractions properly.
Since Flores Island, Indonesia is home to an airport at each of its ends, i.e. both in Labuan Bajo and Maumere, and also in other central spots on the island such as the town of Ende, it is very easy to drive overland on one part of the island and fly to the other, or even fly right across the island if you would like to avoid being driven along winding mountain roads at heart-stopping, gut-wrenching speeds.
Finding a Driver or a Tour
Private guided tours around the island are readily available. Alternatively, you can even find a driver to take you to the destinations of your choice. Although it is possible to use public transport around the island, this can be very uncomfortable and time-consuming.
We found that our most practical option was to use the widely-available “shared cars”, essentially public cars carrying a number of people around the island from one spot to another.
We found a recommendation for a shared car from Maumere to Moni on a Facebook group. We called the number, agreed on a price of IDR 150,000 (about € 9.38) each, (which was pretty standard for the route) and waited for the car to collect us from Maumere airport after which we were driven straight to Moni, with other passengers being picked up on the way.
From then on, we kept calling the same number whenever we needed a ride and a shared car was always available to pick us up close to our hostel and take us to our next destination within Flores Island, Indonesia.
The rides are not the most comfortable. Drivers will normally squeeze in as many people as possible into the cars, but the arrangement is very practical and the service was pretty timely.
Are there public transport options available on Flores Island, one might ask? Well, yes there are, but they do not operate from airports, and would require the rental of a secondary means of transportation (ojek or bemo) to get you to the departing terminal. Seat reservation is not possible, and schedules are very volatile!
Furthermore, it seems the buses departing from Maumere are scheduled until early afternoon, whilst most flights land in the late afternoon! Unless you plan to spend an overnight in Maumere, transportation by public transport is not really an option.
Labuan Bajo – the gateway to diving in Komodo
This is the starting point for traveling in Flores Island, Indonesia for many people, who make their way here from Bali or Lombok either via air, or a combination of ferry and land transport (which takes around 24 hours), or via a multi-day boat trip. The same journeys can of course be done in reverse.
Labuan Bajo is mostly a harbour town with facilities catering to tourists attracted by its proximity to the Komodo National Park, which although not technically part of Flores, is the most popular attraction for people visiting Flores Island, Indonesia. Diving in Komodo is very popular. Dive sites within the park are plentiful and home to some of the best diving experiences in Indonesia.
Labuan Bajo is essentially built around a couple of streets, packed with hotels, restaurants, dive shops and agents all offering the same tour packages to the islands in Komodo National Park. Many people typically spend 3-4 days in Labuan Bajo depending on whatever trips and excursions they wish to take, and whether they plan to do any diving in Komodo National Park.
Tours to Komodo National Park
Packages vary from single-day to sleepover multi-day boat trips, which usually include destinations such as Komodo Island, Rinca Island, Padar Island, Pink Beach and Manta Point among others.
Komodo dragons are residents of either Rinca Island or Komodo Island. The dragons can be seen in the “wild” and indeed most people are lucky enough to see some roaming around. After a tour around the island you will normally be taken to the rangers’ house where a few fat dragons might be lazing around, apparently waiting for food, even though rangers claim that the Komodo dragons are not fed and hunt all of their own food.
You will also very likely see deer, buffalo and wild boar on the island, although they won’t be anywhere close to the dragons of which they are petrified. The Komodo dragons seemed totally unbothered by our presence and lazily gave us some very passive (I thought/hoped?) looks.
The rangers kept us at a safe distance from the giant lizards and we did not feel unsafe at any point, although some of the other females in our group did freak out when we were told that the lizards are attracted to menstruating women!
The rangers can guide you on a short, medium or long trek on Komodo island, but because we were on a multi-attraction boat tour, we could only do the short trek.
Padar Island offers a magnificent panoramic viewpoint you can climb to, from which all three bays can be seen simultaneously, making it a very popular and spectacular selfie spot! If you do go on a boat tour, do make sure that this destination is included since it was probably our favourite spot on the whole trip, and try to get there early to avoid the crowds!
It would be best to wear sturdy shoes to walk up to viewpoint because of all the dust and gravel. I slipped several times whilst wearing my flipflops and we saw people who were scared of climbing up to the top because they felt that the path was way too slippery. Carry a bottle of water with you, you will be thankful for it after the hike!
Pink Beach was our least favourite spot. Firstly, the beach is only very slightly pink so don’t expect any of the reddish sand which you might have seen in over-saturated photos. The beach is pleasant enough and there are some fish and corals just off the beach around which you can snorkel, but compared to other snorkelling spots in Indonesia, we found it to be rather underwhelming.
Manta Point is an area rich in plankton which attracts a large number of Manta rays. Our experience there was almost comical. Several boats were “patrolling” the area looking for mantas. We were told to put on our mask and fins so that we could jump into the water as soon as a Manta is spotted although this was in no way guaranteed.
After a few minutes of circling around in the clear waters we heard a cry of ‘MANTAAAA!!!” at which we (a boatload of 10 people) all jumped off without actually knowing where the gentle creature was, or in which direction we should swim. Unsurprisingly scared off by all the commotion, the manta disappeared before we could catch a good glimpse of it.
We all climbed back aboard, amidst a very dangerous and chaotic atmosphere as other tour boats circled around us in “too-close-for-comfort” proximity. This process was repeated a further two or three times, until eventually, we did manage to observe the beautiful creatures graciously swimming away from us as fast as possible (despite their grace, they are fast!).
It all felt like a bit of a circus at the end of the day and we enjoyed a more authentic Manta experience in Raja Ampat, way more than that in Komodo. Our friends who went to Manta Point the day before we did, failed to see any Mantas due to the strong currents that day.
Boat tours can be booked the day before you wish to join the tour, we believe that there’s no need to pre-book days in advance. The tours are very similar so it is mostly a matter of bargaining for the “best” price. Ensure that masks, fins and lunch are included in the price. Agents will want to fill up their boats so you will normally be successful when trying to bargain a price for the next day.
Boats do not normally have a dedicated agency, so there is really little means of ensuring the quality of your trip. Furthermore, boatman will take people from different agencies on board so no matter what you spent on the package tour, it’s only the quality of the packed lunch (prepared by the agent) which varies, the rest of the experience is quite similar.
Without pre-booking a tour, you run the small risk of having all the boats filling up quickly in peak season, so if you prefer pre-booking a tour, you can easily use Viator to do this.
A day tour including Komodo Island, Padar Island, Pink Beach and Manta Point set us back 400,000 IDR each (about € 25, excluding park fees). Most agents were offering the same tour for over 500,000 IDR, so do shop around! The couples sharing our same boat had paid 600,000 IDR (about €37.20) and had nicer disposable lunch plates and better quality food!
Diving in Komodo National Park
Labuan Bajo’s main strip is home to many dive shops offering similar packages for diving in Komodo. Because of Nikki’s medical condition, (read his tips on Diving with Diabetes), he is always thorough when researching the dive shops he chooses to dive with, and Uber Scuba had some pretty good reviews for diving in Komodo!
Though not the cheapest available, we booked a package trip for the following day which included three dives for IDR 1,3000,000 (around € 81) and snorkelling for myself for IDR 600,000 (€ 38), which although is very expensive for a snorkelling trip, is actually the cost of joining a dive boat and taking the place of a diver.
As expected, we found the trip to be very professionally organised. The 15 divers were divided into 4 groups with one dive master per group. Pre-dive briefing was shared before every dive, including a description and specifics of the dive site.
The dive boat was one of the larger, more comfortable ones with a nice lounge area, which I found perfect for relaxing and reading my book. Lunch was a yummy affair of tempeh, chicken curry, rice and vegetables, whilst coffee and tea were available at all times. Doughnuts and fruits were also offered for breakfast and at different times of the day, so there’s really no risk of going hungry on the trip!
We were taken to some good sites, and diving in Komodo was nothing short of amazing, though if we had to compare, we preferred the diving and snorkelling in Alor Island, Indonesia. This could be due to better conditions and near-perfect visibility in Alor!
If you’d like to read more about diving in Indonesia, follow this Guide to Scuba Diving in Indonesia, by Justin of “Art of Scuba”
Liveaboard Diving in Komodo
Liveaboards are a very popular way of diving in Komodo and exploring Komodo National Park for a number of days. Besides diving in Komodo, a liveaboard experience may also offer other activities across the park.
Different companies and agencies offer several liveaboard packages for diving in Komodo as well as for diving in Raja Ampat or other areas of Indonesia, however these are usually pricy and rarely experienced ona backpackers budget!
Fees in Komodo National Park
Besides the price of your tour in Komodo National Park, you will need to pay several (and we do mean that) additional fees during your trip, which can sometimes amount to quite a hefty sum.
We have tried to list the prices here as accurately as possible but our readers should note that they are subject to change:
- Komodo National Park fee per day: 150.000 IDR/person (about €9) (Sundays & Public Holidays 225.000 IDR/person – about € 14)
- Scuba Diving in Komodo National Park fee per day: 25.000 IDR/diver (about € 1.56)
- Snorkelling in Komodo National Park fee per day: 15.000 IDR/snorkeler (about € 0.94)
- Komodo National Park tax on Komodo Island and Rinca Island: 50.000 IDR/person (about € 3.12)
- Camera fee – 50,000 IDR/person (about € 3.12)
- Trekking fee: 5.000 IDR/person (about € 0.30)
- Park Ranger Fee on Komodo and Rinca: 80.000 IDR/group (about € 5 – maximum of 5 persons per guide)
Accommodation in Labuan Bajo
Hotels and hostels in Labuan Bajo are on the expensive side when compared to other in Indonesia. We stayed at Siola Hotel in a room with a private bathroom for about IDR 150,000 (about € 9.35) per night, a very simple but practical place located just off the main road in front of the night fish stalls.
The hostel, set around a long but narrow courtyard, reminded us of a prison, and the complimentary breakfast left much to be desired, but all in all, it was perfectly fine for a few nights, especially when considering the competitive price vis a vis other similar hotels in Labuan Bajo.
Check the latest accommodation prices in Labuan Bajo on Booking.com or Agoda.
Where to eat in Labuan Bajo
The Fish Stalls
Our go-to place during the few days we spent in Labuan Bajo were the fish stalls on the promenade in front of our hotel. If you would like to go local and you enjoy eating fish, this is the place to go to for your dinner!
Every stall displays the freshly caught catch of the day and you get to pick whichever one (or several) you prefer, with the assistance of the seller if you are unsure. If you are unfamiliar with the fish, the seller will guide you on whether the fish is, for example, very bony or very flaky. Calamari and shrimp are usually also available and your item of choice is either fried or grilled depending on your preference and served with rice and a small salad of beans and eggplant.
We don’t have recommendations for any specific restaurants since they all seemed to be serving the usual tourist menu and western food, which we were not in the mood for during our time in Labuan Bajo.
Other Things to do in Labuan Bajo
Labuan Bajo doesn’t only have to be about diving in Komodo National Park and spotting the Komodo dragons. There are some other things to do around Labuan Bajo itself on Flores Island, Indonesia if you have time to spare.
What other activities may be done in and around Labuan Bajo?
Cunca Wulang Waterfall – about an hour’s drive away, this waterfall requires a short trek so wear comfortable shoes. You can jump into water to cool down once you get there! The waterfall isn’t spectacular so might not be worth the longish trip and entrance and guide fees which you are obliged to pay.
Batu Cermin Cave – full of stalagmites and stalactites, this cave is interesting but not particularly remarkable and 30 minutes are enough to explore all of it. A guide will take you through using a flashlight and explain its geology. Entrance fee: 20,000 IDR (about € 1.25).
Rangko Cave – this cave is accessed via a drive from Labuan Bajo to Rangko village and a short boat ride to the beach on Gusung Island. Drivers in Labuan Bajo will take you to the village and negotiate a price with the boatman. You can also hire a boat directly from Labuan Bajo harbour. The brackish water in the cave is cool and clear and makes for a good swimming spot!
The town of Ruteng itself is unremarkable, but there’s lots to do and see around it, so it makes a good base from where to explore this particular area within Flores Island, Indonesia.
What are the things to do in Ruteng?
Spider Web Fields, Cancar – Cancar Village is located a few km away from Ruteng and can be reached by bike or car or on the way from Labuan Bajo to Ruteng. There’s a viewpoint from where you can see the “spiderweb” rice fields which are aesthetically interesting but only worth going to if you’re riding your own bike in our opinion.
photo credit: Firmanamff
Liang Bua (Hobbit) Cave – this can be visited as part of a day trip from Ruteng. What makes it interesting is the fact that skeletal remains of a “hobbit” woman (Homo Floriensis) were recently discovered. The museum next door explains all about the importance of this discovery.
Wae Rebo Village – this “traditional” village on Flores can be visited as part of a long day trip from Ruteng. Be aware that some trekking is involved to access the village, and you can even stay overnight. The authenticity of the village has been a little lost nowadays as hordes of tourists make their way to spend a night there, so if you’re looking for a more unique experience we believe that you are better off visiting traditional villages in Sumba and West Timor. If you will not be heading to those islands at all, Wae Rebo might provide some insight into tribal living.
This will probably be your overnight stop if you are planning on crossing the island in two days by land. The town is set in the highlands and provides great views over the imposing Mount Inerie.
Things to do in Bajawa
Trek up Mount Inerie – not for the faint-hearted, being quite a challenging trek but well worth the wonderful views from the top!
Bena Traditional village – this is quite popular with groups and here is where you can see the Ngada people weaving traditional ikat. 25,000 IDR (about € 1.50) entrance fee.
Malange Hot Springs – pools with both hot and cold water at this natural spa! 10,000 IDR (about € 0.60) entrance fee paid to a local caretaker.
There’s really not much to do in Ende at all, although we did not mind spending a coupe of days in this town. The Blue Stone Beach is worth a visit but be aware that there aren’t as many blue stones as you might expect, since most have been collected for souvenirs!
Ende is also home to a small airport, with cheap connections to Labuan Bajo. This may turn out useful if you wish to skip the long and winding road between the two towns.
We stayed at Dazi Guesthouse for a couple of days (Tel +6285218638432) in a comfortable room with attached bathroom for 250,000 IDR/night (about € 15.50).
Check the latest accommodation prices in Ende on Booking.com or Agoda.
Moni is the stepping stone to Kelimutu National Park, famous for the tri-coloured lakes which are one of the most beautiful spectacles you can experience on Flores Island, Indonesia, especially during sunrise if you are lucky enough to have clear skies.
Mount Kelimutu National Park
The park can be accessed via ojek (motorbike taxi) from Moni or by car. We paid 50,000 IDR (about € 3.12) each for a two-way ojek ride at 4am (the driver will wait for you in the parking lot). The park is a very cold (during the early hours of the day) 45 minutes’ steep uphill ride from Moni. You can also hire a driver to take you up in a car, if you prefer a more comfortable (yet more expensive) ride. We booked the ojek ride at Mopi’s Kopi, the cafe we had dinner at on the previous night – just ask the barman for details!
The entry fee to the park is 150,000 IDR (about € 9) or 225,000 IDR (about € 14) in weekends. After being stopped in the parking lot, you needed to climb some stairs, walk for 20 minutes along an easy path and then again a few more stairs to the viewing point.
If you’re there to watch sunrise, be aware that it can get really cold and a jacket is definitely needed, more so if you’re going up on bike.
The tri-coloured volcanic mineral lakes are gorgeous, in the right conditions. Two of the lakes are right next to each other with just a crater wall separating them, whilst the other lake is to the west of them. When we were there the “twin” lakes were different shades of blue, whilst the “separate” lake was black. The water colour changes according to the amount of sunlight, the water microorganisms and the dissolution of the volcanic chemicals, and can range from red to a deep green.
The westernmost lake is called Tiwu ata Mbupu (Lake of Old People) whilst the other two lakes are Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai (Lake of Young Men and Maidens) and Tiwu Ata Polo (Bewitched or Enchanted Lake). Legend has it that the lakes are guarded by ancient spirits which change the colour of the lakes. Whether or not you prefer the traditional colour-change explanation over the scientific one, the lakes are surely worth a visit!
Where to stay in Moni
We stayed in a very large, clean room with a great bathroom at Andy Lodge – (tel: +6281337980855) for 350,000 IDR (about € 21.80) including breakfast, which is more than we normally budget on accommodation in Indonesia, but we found it difficult to find a room which provided more value for money at such short notice. Booking in advance is recommended especially in peak season.
Where to eat in Moni
We were only in Moni for one night and we had both dinner and breakfast at Mopi’s Kopi, a great little place offering live reggae music (during dinner) and serving all kinds of western and Asian food. The barman also arranged an ojek to take us up to the park at 4am the following morning.
Beaches Between Moni and Maumere
Doreng beach, Koka beach and Paga beach are worth a stop if you have time to spare on your way to Maumere. The white-sand beaches are popular with locals but few foreigners make it here and you can even spend a night at the homestays on the beaches too!
Diving in Komodo, spotting the Komodo dragons and watching sunrise at Kelimutu were easily our highlights in Flores, but several other activities across the island are sure to keep you busy for a while!
Check the latest accommodation prices in Maumere on Booking.com or Agoda.