Flores extends a long arm east from Komodo towards the Solor archipelago, its highland landscape punctuated by volcanic cones, its coastal waters fringed with nature reserves and a marine park. Diverse cultures with ancient traditions have survived in the isolated villages of the interior. A 670km highway runs the length of Flores in a series of curves and switchbacks from Labuan Bajo in the west to Larantuka in the east, offering a look at many facets of one of Indonesia’s most interesting islands.
The best travel tips for visiting Flores
For the hardy, a trip across the Trans-Flores highway offers Indonesia in a nutshell. Break the journey up into overnight stops. One day travellers can be awed by the patterned rice fields near Ruteng, revel in the cool mountain air at Bajawa or snorkel at the marine national park in Riung. The next day could include Ende, and Kelimutu’s three crater lakes at Moni, passing cocoa, vanilla, coffee and pineapple plantations along the way.
The third leg of the journey leaves the volcanoes behind and dips down to a gorgeous azure sea and enters former Portuguese strongholds at Maumere and Larantuka. Named Cabo das Flores (Cape of Flowers) by the Portuguese in the 16th century, Flores was already a vital link in inter-island trade with the 15th-century Javanese Majapahit Empire and later with South Sulawesi’s Gowa kingdom, which began converting coastal communities to Islam. The Portuguese built a fort on Solor island, to the east, to protect their trading interests in malaria- and cholera-ridden Timor and established a Catholic mission at Larantuka.
Despite the dominance of Catholicism here, a great deal of cultural diversity remains, with many intriguing traditional villages.
Best things to do in Flores
The island of Flores is a natural wonderland offering pristine beaches, dramatic landscapes, traditional cultures and a warm Indonesian welcome. Nature offers some of the best things to do here, so don’t skip straight to Komodo National Park from Labuan Bajo port, linger a little instead.
#1 Gaze at Mirror Rock in Labuan Bajo
Labuan Bajo sits on a beautiful bay filled with the outriggers of local fishermen. This has always been the main gateway to the Komodo National Park, as well as the port for inter-island ferry traffic from Sumbawa, but Labuan Bajo has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years. No longer a sleepy harbour town, it is now the main tourist centre east of Lombok, with a plethora of accommodation and dining options, and regular flights from Bali and Jakarta.
The fabulous sunsets remain. Batu Cermin (Mirror Rock) is a series of caves and canyons about 5km (3 miles) from Labuan Bajo by car, and from there on foot. A large grotto contains stalactites and stalagmites, and while some of the caves are narrow and dark, others receive sunlight from above.
#2 See the 'Hobbits' of Liang Bua from Ruteng
Ruteng is a pleasantly cool town situated up in the western hills, it's also the trailhead for the 2,400m-high, rainforest-covered Gunung Ranaka which looms over Ruteng. It is a four-hour walk to the summit and is a good venue for birdwatching. However, the best thing to do here is to visit Liang Bua, 12km north.
Here, the fossils of Homo floresiensis were found by a joint Indonesia-Australia team. These tiny skeletons, nicknamed ‘Hobbits’, are believed to be a new human species that existed alongside modern humans as recently as 12,000 years ago, yet may have descended from Homo erectus, which arose some 2 million years ago.
#3 Snorkel at Seventeen Islands Nature Reserve
Experience the breathtaking beauty of nature and pristine stretches of white sand by snorkelling in the uninhabited Seventeen Islands Nature Reserve from Riung. Colourful coral and darting schools of tropical fish call these clear, warm waters home.
What's more, this remote fishing village is also one of the few sites where Komodo dragons can be spotted outside Komodo National Park.
#4 Visit the traditional villages of Bajawa
More than any other area of Flores, the Ngada region has retained its traditions and rituals alongside Catholicism. Stop at Bajawa whose cool mountain air, exquisite yellow-on-black supplementary warp sarongs and traditional villages give you a sense of ancient life here. Bena, Luba, Langa, Gurusina and Nage villages offer examples of Ngada’s ancient culture. All have ngadhu shrines, with carved tree-trunk bases, and bhaga – miniature houses – in the village centre. Interesting megalithic stones are easiest to find at Bena and at nearby Wogo Tua (Old Wogo).
Langa and Bena lie in the shadow of a perfectly coned volcano, Gunung Inerie (2,227 metres/7,306ft). It can be climbed in 3–5 hours, depending on your level of physical fitness. Gunung Ebulobo, one of Flores’s most magnificent volcanoes, can be climbed from Mulakoli village, off the main road to Ende.
#5 Gunung Kelimutu
A couple of hours’ drive northeast of Ende are three adjacent volcanic crater lakes on Gunung Kelimutu, a spectacular sight, surrounded by lush countryside. Located at an altitude of 1,640 metres, the lakes are separated only by low ridges and, curiously, are of different colours. Like chameleons, their colours have been constantly changing since Gunung Iye in Ende erupted in 1969.
Theories for the changes in colours range from imbalances in bacteria and microorganisms to dissolving minerals as the water eats through the rock. Village elders say the colours remain constant, but optical illusions make them appear to be different. The best time for viewing is at sunrise.
#6 Make a day trip to Komodo National Park
Labuan Bajo is the gateway to the breathtaking Komodo National Park. From Labuan Bajo, you can take a boat trip to the park and explore the stunning natural beauty of the islands. The park is home to the iconic Komodo dragons, the world's largest lizards, and offers visitors the opportunity to observe them up close in their natural habitat.
The park also features pristine beaches, coral reefs, and a diverse range of marine life, making it an ideal destination for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts. Visitors can also take a trek through the lush forests of the park, where they can spot rare bird species and other wildlife.
With its unique combination of natural wonders, Komodo National Park is a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to Labuan Bajo.
Where to stay in Flores
Accommodation in Flores runs from basic backpackers’ pads to luxurious resorts. Old-fashioned budget guesthouses and homestays are dotted across the island. With old-style budget and midrange guesthouses found in the cities. Near the coast, expect seafront resorts. Flores offers traditional huts and smaller bungalows in places too.
Here's where to stay:
The gateway to Flores is the main departure point for trips to Komodo National Park. It still retains a laidback village feel. There are many good hotels in town, with pricer alternatives on nearby islands.
Ruteng, 140km to the east of Labuan Bajo is surrounded by forested volcanic hills and rolling rice-paddy plains. It’s dominated by homestays and traditional hut accommodations.
Nestling among lush rice paddies, the village of Moni exudes a lazy charm. Full of homestays and little ecolodges, it’s a relaxed place to spend a few days. Book ahead in high season.
On the north coast of Flores, Maumere was once the tourism centre of the island and its best diving resort. In 1992, a devastating earthquake and tsunami destroyed most of the town. Some resorts are now back up and running, alongside homestays and bungalows. The coral is taking longer to return.
Best restaurants and bars
Flores offers a wide variety of restaurants, from burger joints and Italian pizzas to Japanese sushi. However, it's the local fare that is often the best. The staple for the majority of Indonesians in Flores is rice, and in smaller towns and villages that’s what you’ll be served. Coconut milk and hot chilli peppers are popular cooking ingredients nationwide.
Dishes range from very spicy meat, fish and vegetables, such as the Padang food found everywhere in restaurants called rumah makan Padang, to those that are quite sweet. Almost all come with steamed white rice (nasi puti). The most popular dishes among visitors are nasi goreng (fried rice), mie goring (fried noodles), sate or satay (grilled meat or chicken on skewers) and gado-gado (cold, steamed vegetables served with a peanut sauce). In tourist spots, more Western-style dishes are on offer, alongside freshly-caught fish.
- Mediterraneo Restaurant & Lounge, Labuan Bajo Mixing Indonesian and Mediterranean cuisine with knockout harbour views, the seafood dishes and wood-fired pizzas at Mediterraneo make it popular with tourists.
- Atlantis on the Rock, Maumere This beachfront resort restaurant overlooks the Komodo Islands and offers sophisticated seafood to boot.
- Tree Top Restaurant & Bar, Labuan Bajo Perfect for a sunset cocktail, this three-tiered treehouse offers Indonesian and Western dishes with the best views in town.
How to get here
Labuan Bajo in western Flores is the main entry point for the popular Komodo National Park. As such, it has a modern airport, served by direct flights from Bali and Jakarta as well as from smaller airports in Nusa Tenggara.
TransNusa operates extensive flights to Labuan Bajo from other points in Nusa Tenggara, including Kupang (Timor) and Ruteng (Flores). TransNusa also flies to Bajawa, Ende, Larantuka and from Kupang and Ende. TransNusa’s flights into Ruteng originate in Denpasar, Ende, Kupang and Labuhanbajo.
PELNI sails between the islands, including to Labuan Bajo in Flores. There are also local ferries providing links to Rote, Sabu, Alor, and Sumba. Note that the seas are rough in January and February. The large PELNI ships run whatever the weather, but private ferries are often cancelled when the sea is rough. There is a daily public ferry running between Sape and Labuan Bajo (with departures usually in the early morning in each direction).
How many days do you need?
You will need at least a week to see the best of Flores, especially if you want to include the Kelimutu crater lakes, snorkelling at Seventeen Islands National Park and some beach time at Maumere. However, most visitors are here as a jumping off point to Komodo National Park with the traditional villages of Bena and Wae Rebo as extras. To do both, you'll need at least four days.
Travelling overland across Flores should not be attempted with limited time. The Trans-Flores highway reaches from Labuan Bajo in the west to Larantuka in the east – which can be done by public transport – but be aware that the 670km-long road is often shut down for hours or days due to landslides during the rainy season (Oct–Apr). There are gruelling through buses, but the journey is much better broken up over a week with overnight stops. With the exception of Riung, most of Flores’ main destinations lie along the highway.
Tips for getting around
The best way to get around Flores usually depends on how strict your itinerary is. Flying can make (somewhat expensive) sense if you're short on time, but most travellers opt for the bus. Bemos (minibuses) are helpful in and around tourist centres. The hire of a car and driver can be arranged through most hotels or guesthouses and is a good bet for those staying a week or longer.
If you're short on time, internal flights can be useless for covering longer distances. The airports at Labuan Bajo, Ruteng and Bajawa all have regular internal flights between one another.
Zipping up and down the Trans-Flores Highway and running daily, the bus is the most common way for travellers to get around, especially as most of the best things to see in Flores are dotted along the road.
By car or motorbike
Most bigger towns and resorts have car and motorbike rental options. Whilst it can give you some freedom, the roads are not the best, and during the wet season can be swept away altogether. Consider booking a private tour instead.
Mainly used in larger towns, these fixed-route minibuses can be helpful for visiting local sights away from your hotel. Wait at a bus stop or flag down on the road. You will need cash.
Best time to visit Flores
Flores has two distinct seasons: dry and wet. The dry season, which runs from April to September, is the best time to visit Flores as ferries will run between the islands, the landslides that plague the Trans-Flores highway are usually fixed, plus the hiking, snorkeling and beaches are at their best. Whilst the wet season (October to March) can be challenging for travellers because of the heavy rains and flooding, it can be a good time to visit the Komodo National Park as the Komodo dragons tend to be more active during this time.
Find out more about the best time to visit Indonesia.