Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
If I’ve repeatedly recommended about the live-on-board (LOB) experience for the Komodo Islands, it’s time to emphasize the necessity of exploring Flores overland. If one travels briefly, they would think the whole island has a similar culture. However, Flores has developed in its own pace, maintaining much of its traditional culture and natural terrain. Thus, the best way to enjoy Flores Island is by a relatively slow overland trip. This is a 14-days trip overland Flores, a mere suggestion of the most comprehensive itinerary based on my experience. For arrangements, we trust ibupenyu.com to help you. You can check out the @ibupenyu Instagram account for more updates.
The recommended route to really enjoy the island is to travel from east to west, ending your travels with the LOB experience. The route is a very interesting one, going up and down mountains, with air turning hot and cold.
Land in Maumere as there are more flights with bigger planes flying in and out of the city. There are few attractions in Maumere and in the surrounding areas. Weaved cloth are based with colors of black, yellow turmeric, or purple and red. Shapes of catholic churches is also something to see, and the mix between old and new buildings and houses is a good introduction. There are beaches to enjoy your first Flores experience.
For a more authentic Portuguese feel, from Maumere, you can visit Larantuka, an old city which houses some Portuguese heritage items since the 16th century, when the Portuguese settled on the island. Larantuka is particularly busy during Semana Santa or Good Friday because it still celebrated as they did since the Portuguese days. More about the Semana Santa experience can be read here.
Most visitors come to Flores for Kelimutu, hence they have to travel to Moni. Moni is only three-hour drive by car west of Maumere, or about 4 hours by public transport. It’s the hub town to visit Kelimutu Mountain, the three colored craters is less than an hour from this small town. Visiting Kelimutu is best during sunrise; after 7 am clouds are likely to cover the craters. To enter, one must travel with a guide, which can be arranged by the hotel. Foreigners are applied an entrance fee of IDR 250,000 / person unless you have a KITAS, which you pay the local fare of Rp7.500 / person. When visiting Kelimutu, don’t forget to have your swimmers on as you can submerge in natural hot water sources on the way down the mountain. Or, pop in the waterfall just up the road Bintang Lodge, Moni.
Not too far from the Bintang Lodge is a small traditional village named Watugana. It’s not set for tourists but that’s why I like it. They have old cemetery made of rocks and an area for their rituals. Around it are the local settlements and amongst them are the locals wearing the traditional cloth to keep them warm.
About 30 minutes from Moni is Watugai, a traditional village on top of a mountain. Legends said that the village has a sacred drum, which, in the past, they had to replace the skin annually with human skin. Allegedly, they now only use monkey skin. Homes are also unique with human breast carved on them. The locals said it’s a reminder that humans live because of mother’s milk.
For accommodation and travel arrangements, we like Bintang Lodge for accommodation and other travel arrangements. Their restaurants are also quite nice to catch a grub.
Ende is about an hour drive from Moni. It was the town where Soekarno, Indonesia’s first president, was exiled. His house is now a museum. Some might prefer to fly in through Ende than Maumere. I personally like Maumere first as it has a thicker cultural vibe and more pleasant to navigate around.
A few hours westward of Ende is Aimere, the sopi-making center. Sopi is the local liquor with a very simple distillation process, one that you can see in houses on the side of the roads. The picking of palm fruits, the main ingredients, is something interesting to see. No harness, just men climbing the trees in monkey-like movements from one tree to another.
Just about another hour or so is Pantai Batu Biru, translating to Blue Stone Beach. The rocks on the beach are an eyecatching sight that consist of, of course, blue, grey and yellowish rock on a black sand beach. Locals collect and sort the rocks to then send them out for housing purposes.
Recommended accommodation: Gemo Cottages, located in Aimere. It serves simple, delicious, and memorable meals aside to isolated rooms and comfortable beds.
Bajawa is westward from Ende about 5 hour drive. Bajawa is the hub to seeing many traditional village. One well promoted traditional village is Bena, about an hour drive from Bajawa. Although it has maintained much of its old tradition, there have been some changes; electricity has entered the village, tourists are better organized. Interestingly, they’ve also changed their preference of dye colors for their weaved cloths; they’ve gone back natural. If you don’t like the crowded Bena, there are several other villages such as Luba that are open to visitors.
Do ask around Bajawa for traditional events. During one of my visits, I came across a friendly traditional fight amongst locals. Much of the story is on our post about Flores here. For hikers, you might want to hike Inirie mountain located near Bena. It is said to be a three-hour hike for moderate hikers. A guide is available at the foot of the mountain at a cost of USD 250,000 / day.
Riung is not exactly hidden, it’s more likely ignored. The four-hour ride down a bumpy road is possibly a deal breaker, but aren’t the best places hard to reach? Riung is a village with a mix of Bugis people from Sulawesi and original Flores people. It has beautiful beaches on the small islands, just off the main coast. In the deep, colorful hard corals awaits, some as big as a human being. Although beautiful, there has been some degradation in corals but still very good. And, it is such a sight to just sit on the beach and stare up at Flores Island.
Riung is quiet with only very little amount of accommodations around. Possibly three. Strolling around the village does make you feel you’ve just dropped out of the sky into the middle of nowhere.
Ruteng is a hub for many attractions, mainly the Cancar rice paddies with patterns mimicking a spider web. It is also the gateway to the Flores hobbit legend and to Waerebo. Ruteng is located on highlands, which explains the cool air. It is quite big and has its own airport.
Three days in Ruteng would be enough to explore the town as well as the hilly terrain and traditional villages around it. From here, most people head out to Labuan Bajo, and most would pass through Waerebo.
Waerebo has been making a name for itself as tourist are said to visit it more frequent that the past years. For good reasons, Waerebo is a village up in the mountains which is iconic for their traditional houses and their traditional life. Why traditional? Because the only way to reach the village is by hiking for about 2 hours.
Reaching Waerebo, one must travel to Dintor, the closest village. It’s a 4-5 hour ride on a bad road. Some would opt to take a motorbike from Ruteng and it is a scenic view but be assured that it’s not going to feel like a short trip as you need to travel slowly through the bad road, despite how close it looks on the map.
Usually travelers reach Dintor by midday and start the climb right away. One must be guided up the mountain by a local guide because you need to be blessed by the elderly once you reach the village. A guide can help you there, also to arrange your accommodation as you will eat and sleep in the house for guests. From Dintor, ride a vehicle to Denge, the gateway village before the hike. Denge is about 2-3 hour hike up a small path. At times it could be muddy so hiking boots and sandals are advised. Once reaching Waerebo and blessed by the elderly you are freely to roam.
Our recommended accommodation is Dintor Lodge, located in the middle of rice fields.
Labuan Bajo is the gate to Komodo National Park, located on the far west of Flores Island. From being an attraction to travelers from around the world, it is not the melting pot of many cultures and nationalities, like a mini version of Kuta Bali.
After days crossing through Flores, a good drink and meal that is close to your palate might be what you would like by this time. There are many restaurants and bars to facilitate your craving for western food and beers. If you still want to explore the area, you can visit are Cunca Wulang and Cunca Rami waterfalls, the Labuan Cermin cave that’s best visited during midday, and sunset and sunrise view spots all over the coast.
So in total it takes a good 14 days to really explore the surface of the island, and of course longer to go skin deep. But it’s all worth it. In ideal world I think one month would be a good amount of time to really understand Flores as a tourist. Friendly people and beautiful terrain will accompany you all the way.