The Indonesian island of Flores offers visitors stunning scenery both below and above water, but traveling here can be a challenge.
If you're expecting Bali-quality accommodation and food, you'll be disappointed, but if you're looking for a slice of Indonesia that's away from the crowds, this may be just the place.
Komodo National Park is what originally put Flores on the map, and it's still the top tourist destination both for its dragons and underwater life. Most easily accessed from Labuan Bajo, the park consists of two islands -- Komodo and Rinca. The dragons live on both, but are said to be bigger on Komodo because there's more food. That also means that the ones on Rinca are more aggressive!
You need to hire a boat to get to either island and pay for a guide once you're on land. If you're lucky and get a good guide, you'll learn a ton about these prehistoric animals. Here are two fun facts (more on our blog):
- Komodos are completely solitary and selfish, so much so that they would eat their babies. (To be fair, they can't identify their young, but that doesn't change the fact that they're cannibals. It also explains why the population is so small.)
- They only need to eat once every two months and their favorite meal is buffalo. To score one, they need to sneak up behind it and bite. Then they have to wait one month for it to die. Talk about a long wait time for a meal!
We combined our visit to Komodo with some scuba diving, the best of which was at Manta Point. We saw about eight mantas, including two huge black ones that cast the most eerie shadow on the sandy bottom of the ocean. Watching these majestic creatures soar was amazing, but we sadly didn't capture any underwater photos.
Our next port of call after Labuan Bajo was Bajawa, which is a rundown town set amidst beautiful surroundings, including several volcanoes. Rent a bike and head to the Mengeruda hot springs up north, which race through a stunning canyon before giving you the massage of your life.
Then head south to Bena, a traditional Ngada village complete with ngadhu and bhaga. If you're lucky, a local will tell you more about the village than your guidebook. The coolest thing we learned is that the building of a new house used to require the sacrifice of 20 buffaloes. Their heads are still displayed outside the front door.
From Bajawa, head to Moni, the base for your Kelimutu experience. The volcano is famous for its tri-colored crater lakes and makes for some fun photo opportunities.
But it's not all fun and games: The local people consider the lakes to be sacred and believe that within them reside the souls of the dead. Don't be surprised to see worshippers amongst the tea hawkers.
The best way to see the lakes is to go up in time for sunrise (leave Moni at 4:30 a.m. by your own car or with a driver). That said, allow plenty of time, dress warmly, and bring snacks. The best views for us were actually around 8 a.m. when the clouds started to pull back.
Interestingly enough, that was also when the volcano was the most empty since many people had left to move on to their next adventure.
Does Flores sound like an island you'd like to explore? If so, here are our three biggest tips: pack warm clothes, rent a motorbike, and allow plenty of time.
For more photos of Flores visit our photo tour.