Flores and Komodo: Indonesia’s wild frontier

Flores is where the diversity of Indonesia becomes most apparent. Located within Bali, it is a jumping-off point to explore the surrounding islands. With an Indonesia travel guide in hand, you can navigate the treasures of this area with ease. The 17 Islands Marine Park, Komodo National Park, and the holy peak of Mount Kelimutu are all within easy sailing distance. Flores is home to a primarily Catholic population despite its volcanic highlands and thatched-roof cottages.

You'll need a strong stomach for lengthy automobile rides, as with most off-the-beaten-path destinations. But the volcanic rainforest environment and the neighboring islands, which appear as they sprouted from the azure seas, are well worth the effort.

Getting to and around Flores


Flying into Bali, which has long-haul solid aircraft connections, is the most convenient method to reach Flores. A local flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo on Flores' western edge is available the next day.

From Labuan Bajo, where there is a major airport, I traveled by road and boat to the eastern city of Ende, where there is a little airport. If you want to see everything I recommend, including Flores (and I recommend spending some time in Bali if you haven't been there before), you'll need at least ten days. Due to the lack of English speakers and the rugged terrain, a driver and guide accompanied me the entire day. 

Kamil, my tour guide, grew up in Labuan Bajo and was a native Floridian. It took him seven years to save enough for the dowry of three water buffaloes and five pigs, he said, demonstrating how traditional marriages are still practiced on the island. Most islanders are farmers; thus, his position as a guide naturally gained him a great deal of esteem among the locals.

Komodo National Park

From Labuan Bajo Airport, we took a short journey to a neighboring dock to board the MV Keti. My home for the following five nights while I visited Komodo National Park was this converted fishing boat, now a private charter. The only way to visit the islands of the park, which have been under UNESCO protection since 1991, is by boat in the Flores Sea. You may beat the crowds to the islands the following morning by anchoring near them.

Komodo Dragon

On board, there's a modest double cabin with a little en suite and enough deck space for you to relax beneath the flapping sails. You'll probably eat rice three times a day, but the chef who cooks for the tiny staff uses only the freshest ingredients. A two-night stay allowed me plenty of time to go around and see the sights. There is no set itinerary, so you may spend your time snorkeling, scuba diving, or just seeing the islands.

The islands of Komodo and Rinca, which are part of Komodo National Park, rise out of the ocean like the spines of an ancient sea monster. Stop at low-lying Kalong Island on the way to the national park. Clusters of black bats cling to the trees, and the mangroves are so dense that you can't see the ground.

At dusk, we watched as clouds of flying foxes filled the evening sky. These enormous bats, with a wing span of up to 1.5 meters (5 feet), go to adjacent islands for fruit.

Komodo and Rinca both provide a haven for the island's namesake dragon. Despite their massive size, they are masters of disguise, spending much time stalking the seashore. Despite knowing that dragons are the most enormous reptiles on Earth, I was unprepared for how long they were.

Those who choose to explore the islands on foot must do so with a government-issued guide who, while speaking only rudimentary English, will have keen eyes and an intimate familiarity with the landscape. The tour guides have a big stick to discourage inquisitive lizards from going too near. While dragons get all the attention, other wildlife, such as wild horses, deer, and wild pigs, may be seen here as well.

Manta rays

To get to the upper areas, people have carved routes through the rusty soil. From the summit of Rinko, you can see the mountains of Komodo rising out of the water.

The islands are among Indonesia's driest regions, so it takes a lot of drinking water to scour the landscape, which resembles a desert and has patches of spongy scrubland as accents.

The opposite is true of the marine environment. Between times spent on land, you may spend your days sailing among the islands' bays and snorkeling or scuba diving amid the coral reefs.

At Manta Point, between Komodo and Rinca, you may snorkel with reef manta rays while you float on the calm river. They looked like giant white handkerchiefs floating lazily over the ocean. They are larger than Komodo dragons and may have a mouthwidth of up to 4 meters (13 feet), so I was concerned that I would swim right into one if it opened its jaws.

Trekking to Wae Rebo Village

Returning to Labuan Bajo, I departed for Wae Rebo, a settlement in Flores's Manggaraian ethnic group's homeland to the southeast.

Nipa, the original name for Flores before the Portuguese changed it, refers to the island's serpentine shape; the Trans-Flores Highway follows the island's spine.

Denge, a little community not far from Wae Rebo, is seven hours away by car, and there are no rest stops along the way. My guide handled this problem by knocking on a door in a nearby town and asking permission to use their restroom. The entire clan came out to see me, and they were all quite happy to have me there.

Wae Rebo Village

You will spend the night in a guesthouse in Denge before taking a guided three-hour hike through the subtropical forest to reach Wae Rebo, a remote settlement in the highlands. The palm trees give pleasant shade as the route ascends sharply into the woodland. As I emerged from the trees into the settlement, I saw pristine forest-covered ridges stretching out into the distance.

Wae Rebo is one of the few remaining traditional villages on Flores, and it consists of a circle of mbaru niang, or cone-shaped, thatched dwellings. We needed the elders' approval, so they took me first to the most crucial house. After that, they played some holy drums and asked the spirits of the dead to bless my arrival. After that, I was on my own to discover.

While children play football and vast mounds of harvested coffee beans dry in the sun, seated women weave traditional songket fabric, which many men still wear. The freshly brewed coffee was beautiful, and I'm not even a coffee connoisseur.

Although many also have second homes in Denge, each house is home to a different family, and one building doubles as an airy inn. One night, I slept on a tikar (a pandan leaf-weaved and packed mattress) beneath the palm fiber ceiling. Later that night, I ate supper with a local family, huddling around an open fire as we cooked banana cakes, sweet potatoes, and rice.

17 Islands Marine Park

Blue starfish

If only it were more convenient, I'm sure Riung would swarm with visitors. This fishing community on the north coast is a great place to stay when visiting the 17 Islands Marine Park, and it's just a seven-hour journey from Denge.

The marine park is a collection of 24 islands with beaches and water clarity on par with the Maldives.

My guide arranged for a local fisherman and his boat to be at our disposal so that we could spend the day island hopping and diving. Whenever I went swimming, I was generally the only one at the beach. We had a picnic on the beach, feasting on fish and squid gathered that morning and grilled over an open fire.

The coral is healthy, and there are many types of fan coral, ranging in size from individual dinner plates to clusters that emerge from the sand like delicate lace. There were blue starfish and small trumpet fish that looked like little seahorses at practically every snorkeling area.

Two nights in Riung will allow you to enjoy a full day of water activities. Private, air-conditioned, and sparsely furnished rooms are available for overnight stays at the monastery. No hot water is available, although that won't be a problem. This place is positively balmy.

Mount Kelimutu

Mount Kelimutu

Volcanic activity throughout millennia has shaped the landscape of Indonesia, including Flores. Seven hours away from the 17 Islands Marine Park, Mount Kelimutu stands out for its unique trinity of crater lakes. Each lake has its unique coloration due to varying amounts of dissolved minerals and oxidation, and these colors shift seasonally.

According to local lore, ghosts haunt the lakes. Tiwu Ata Mbupu (lake of older adults) is located westward and is usually dark blue. A small crater wall separates the dazzling blue Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai (lake of young men and maidens) from the rusty red Tiwu Ata Polo (bewitched lake), which is said to harbor the ghosts of wrongdoers.

Near the volcano's foot, I stayed in one of the Kelimutu Crater Lakes Eco Lodge's roomy private villas to hike to the summit first thing in the morning.

We drove up the volcano's slopes to a parking area, where our guide waited. The hike to the peak takes around 40 minutes. As I watched the dawn rise over the jungle-clad hills, I savored a cup of coffee I had purchased from an enterprising local.

A flight may be caught from Ende, a beach town a few hours' journey from Mount Kelimutu, back to Bali and its international aircraft connections. You may avoid driving across Flores to the volcano by flying from Labuan Bajo to Ende.

Start planning your trip to Indonesia

Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They’re just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.

Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They’re just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.