Flores is part of Indonesia's Lesser Sunda Islands, the westernmost island we would be visiting on our 1-month island-hopping trip through this gorgeous country. Known as the gateway to Komodo National Park, this island is far less touristy than Bali and is full of places to discover and people to meet.
This is most certainly a guide post, as most of my posts are (including where to stay, what to see, what to eat and how to get around) but this is a change in style of writing for me on the blog in that I've included details on our tales from the road - the good, the bad and the ugly. Enjoy!
How to Get to Flores
I wrote a detailed guide on how to get to Flores from Lombok, an epic 31-hour adventure that involves joining the locals on buses and ferries. You can read all about that journey here.
You will arrive in the western port city of Labuan Bajo to begin your island-crossing route.
Labuan Bajo, Part I
GET HERE: we arrived in Labuan Bajo from Lombok using public transport. Read my detailed guide here.
STAY: we checked into the Ataflores Hostel, a simple but sweet place just fifteen minutes walk from the ferry terminal. The wifi is patchy but the beds are comfy and there's free tea and a great sunset terrace. Dorms start at 110,000 IDR ($10.25 CAD).
EAT: there was a local street food stall just outside near our hostel serving up a buffet-style Indonesian meal for just 20,000 IDR ($1.90 CAD) per plate. Delicious! For breakfast, pop in to Bajo Bakery.
TALES FROM THE ROAD:
We began our journey in Kuta Lombok and had to hitch-hike twice in Lombok to get to Mataram in the east where the Mandalika Bus Terminal is located; every time we climb out of a car (or a bus or any form of transit) I’m always swarmed by locals because I’m blonde and blue-eyed and it's turned out to be quite a rarity on this island. I'm frequently stared at, giggled at, filmed, admired, told I'm pretty, asked for selfies and even hugs. Regardless, we lucked out and had a fantastic driver take us first from Kuta Lombok to Praya and then another on to Mataram; the second driver even pointed out sights along the way and played western music for us!
At the bus terminal in Mataram, loads of hagglers followed us trying to get us to buy unofficial bus tickets from them; they followed us all the way in to the bus station. Even the official sellers aren't wearing a uniform so it's hard to tell them apart. We finally explained that we didn't want people around and ended up speaking to just 3 people who arranged a bus for us to Bima on Sumbawa, including the ferry between the islands and a dinner.
Thankfully, Mandalika Bus Terminal has an air-conditioned waiting room with wifi which we passed a slow 3 hours in, fueled only by cookies from across the road! Just before 3pm, we climbed on board the warm bus where we were told we had to pay an additional fee for luggage (we refused and are getting quite good at saying no!). The drive from Mataram eastwards across Lombok to the ferry terminal took about three hours and then another couple of hours on board a ferry with locals to Sumbawa. I finished my massive book about Tibet on the ferry; time well used!
Dinner in a local cafeteria was served late in the evening consisting of rice, veggies and spicy tempeh (a soy-based protein sort of like tofu but firmer). The next 300-ish km were passed asleep on the surprisingly comfortable bus with very reclinable seats. We awoke bleary-eyed in Bima to take a rickety shuttle bus to Sape; this drive was honestly beautiful as we passed plenty of brightly coloured villages and expansive rice fields.
We bought ferry tickets and mini doughnuts for breakfast outside the Sape Ferry Terminal and then sat on hard metal benches for the 7 hour journey past Komodo National Park to the island of Flores, our final destination. We arrived at 4:30pm, nearly 31 hours after we had left our hostel in Kuta, resulting in a collapsing on the hostel bed in a pool of exhaustion.
Hunger pangs (and not having eaten anything all day besides remaining cookies) drove us out into the streets of Labuan Bajo in search of food which we found a few doors down from a lovely lady cooking up huge pots of homemade deliciousness for a couple dollars.
Ruteng, Part I
GET HERE: we haggled with a local driver to get us from Labuan Bajo to Ruteng for 100,000 IDR ($9.30 CAD) each in a car shared with 7 others. We stopped for lunch along the way which was nice to break up the 3 1/2 hour winding trek through the mountains.
STAY: we checked into the Centro Ruteng Hostel, a truly wonderful place in the heart of Ruteng. The place was so clean, the wifi was awesome, the showers hot, the beds comfy, the ladies adorable (they call everyone Miss and Mister!), the location perfect and the breakfast delicious. Dorms start at 100,000 IDR ($9.30 CAD).
EAT: there is a delicious bakery serving up yummy fresh-baked treats for just 1000 IDR ($0.09 CAD) each near the hostel called Malina's Cakes. Try their pancakes!
TALES FROM THE ROAD:
I woke up early in Labuan Bajo and finished another book before the day began. This hostel did not include breakfast which is different than most hostels we have stayed at in Indonesia, so we trekked out into the streets in search of a bakery to fill our bellies. We then bargained with a few drivers in Bimas (local buses) to take us westward to Ruteng on our way to hike Mount Kelimutu. We were offered a variety of prices starting from 200,000 each which we confidently drove down to 100,000 ($9.30 CAD) each with a guy who would take us a few km up the road to meet his friend who would drive us to Ruteng.
We met the driver at the intersection of the road leading from Labuan Bajo where it means the main road that crosses Flores and joined 7 other passengers in a car designed for not that many people! The ride was actually surprisingly pleasant even though we squeezed in the back with all the luggage as we enjoyed the views of winding roads through mountains, listened to a mix of Indonesian and Western music, ate free oranges from other passengers and stopped for a local lunch in a small town called Tangge.
The hostel in Ruteng was refreshingly lovely - the ladies who run the place like to call the guests Miss and Mister which is so sweet. The showers were hot, the tea delicious, the breakfast bottomless and the beds warm and comfy. We spent the evening wandering the town of Ruteng which had a warm and welcoming atmosphere - children chased us shouting hello, locals asked for selfies, people working in a church gave us a free tour and took photos for us and a class of martial arts students showed us their skills (both in the martial arts and in their grasp of the English language!) outside the local cathedral. The biggest highlight of the day may have been the delightful bakery we stumbled across where sweet treats were available for just 1,000 IDR ($0.09 CAD).
GET HERE: our driver from yesterday called another driver to take us from Ruteng to Bajawa also for 100,000 IDR ($9.30 CAD) each. The drive was about 4 hours along winding mountain roads. We did not enjoy the service in this drive (smoking, late, bad driving, rudeness, etc.) so only paid 75,000 IDR ($7.00 CAD) in the end each.
STAY: we checked into the Marselino Homestay run by a very welcoming and English-speaking host. The tea was endless and they had plenty of information about local attractions and how to continue our journey. We split a double bed room for 160,000 IDR ($14.95 CAD).
EAT: we ate at a local restaurant called Lucas where the portions were large even if a bit pricier than we were used to (seems to be the trend all across Flores).
TALES FROM THE ROAD:
Having been told we would be picked up at 9am by our driver we were outside and ready 20 minutes prior so as to be able to hit the ground running! We met our driver who immediately gave off an unpleasant vibe but we attributed it to a language barrier. We clambered into our usual spots in the very back and enjoyed a bit more space than yesterday's car as our bags fit in the trunk this time.
We met our next passenger further along in Bajawa. After we picked her up, our driver asked if we could wait an hour for another passenger which we did not agree to as we didn't want to sit in a hot and stuffy car outside a hotel for that long since we still had a 4 hour drive ahead of us! Instead, we drove down bumpy side roads and collected 2 alternate passengers to fill the car, all of whom along with the driver proceeded to chain smoke for the majority of the drive. We had requested them to smoke outside as both Ela and myself were feeling under the weather and the design of the car meant the smoke pooled in the back seats. Their response? Laugh at us and tell us (via Google Translate) that they did not care.
The roads were in decent condition yet somehow we managed to fly up and nearly hit the roof at every minor bump in the road resulting in a less than pleasant journey from Ruteng to Bajawa through the mountains. We offered him 150,000 IDR for our journey (25K less each) citing our displeasure. In response, the driver tried to steal my bags and then followed us in to our guesthouse where thankfully, our host intervened and told him this is no way to treat guests. The driver reluctantly took the reduced rate and left.
We felt safe and confident throughout this exchange but it was a reminder to be aware and conscious of what's going on around you and most importantly, to stick up for what you feel is right!
Bajawa is nowhere near as inviting as we felt Ruteng was; after a quick walk around town, we spent most of the afternoon in a restaurant using wifi before spending our evening reading in our sweet little homestay.
GET HERE: we took a public bus from Bajawa to Moni for 120,000 IDR ($11.20 CAD) per person. The music is loud and fun, the drive is easy and the 7 hour stretch whisked along. We also go to stop for lunch and a fruit market. You can book this bus through your accommodations.
STAY: we checked into the Angi Lodge which is very clean with hot showers and free breakfast although the wifi is spotty due to it coming from the owner's phone as a hotspot. It goes for 500,000 IDR ($46.65 CAD) for a king bed room - you'll find Moni accommodation options to be limited and pricey.
EAT: we ate at Mopi's across the street from our homestay where they play great live music in the evenings! The food is more expensive than our typical spend, but we've found that to be the trend in Flores and Moni in particular.
TALES FROM THE ROAD:
Our first public bus journey of Flores was a fun one - lively music was played on the seven hour journey, mostly local music but with chart-topping western music sprinkled in that we would pause what was in our headphones to sing along to.
The bus has a capacity for about 20 but depending on the busyness of the route, may see plenty more than that squeezed on and even people sitting on top of the bus in the luggage rack! We ended up sharing our seats with our backpacks which proved to be a bit like a game of tetris.
The journey from Bajawa to Moni is 7 hours through winding mountain rounds providing pretty passing scenic views of rice fields and busy villages. We made a lunch stop in Ende, witnessed a punching fight between two men on scooters somewhere near the beach, got stuck for half an hour behind a construction site in the middle of a road, stopped at fruit markets along the way for fuel and complained periodically of sore bums from sitting in the same position for far too long.
We checked into our hostel in Moni after being dropped off half a kilometre away requiring us to trudge back up the hill with our heavy bags resulting in us collapsing onto the king-sized bed the limited accommodation options in Moni had forced us to choose for the night. We were thankful for hot water and clean rooms but the hot-spot wifi coming from the owners' phone was patchy at best.
Having crossed the island primarily to hike up Mount Kelimutu, that was the first order of business, so we hopped in a car with some other travellers we had met along the route and were driven up to the parking lot at the base of Mount Kelimutu (car was 250,000 IDR for 5 passengers + entrance to Mount Kelimutu was 150,000 IDR each).
The trek was barely 20 minutes but provided stunning views of 3 brightly coloured (and slightly pungent) volcanic lakes that had made the 3-day island crossing truly worth it. To push ourselves further, we walked the 10km back to town after sunset down through local villages, jungle pathways and across rice fields passing angry dogs, plenty of surprised cows and having to cross a river in pitch-black as the bamboo bridge looked sketchy at best.
We finished the evening with live music and overpriced curry at Mopi's, a local restaurant in town favoured by tourists.
Ruteng, Part II
GET HERE: we returned directly from Moni to Ruteng skipping over Bajawa which meant a 10 hour bus ride for 200,000 IDR ($18.65 CAD) apiece. The ride was surprisingly comfortable and we scored the back row to ourselves allowing us to lie down and actually enjoy the ride.
STAY: we returned to our favourite Flores hostel, Centro Ruteng. Check out my review above.
TALES FROM THE ROAD:
The heat beat down on us in our highly windowed room waking us early for a pancake and fruit breakfast - the majority of Indonesian hostels and homestays provide pancakes for breakfast and I have no complaints!
We caught the comfiest bus I've been on in Indonesia so far just after 9am arranged by our homestay. For the first 1 1/2 hours to the coastal town of Ende, there was one more passenger than seats available so the 4 of us tourists squeezed into the back row of 3 seats resulting in some painful body parts! For the remaining 8 1/2 hours however, we lucked out with the entire back row just for me and Ela meaning we could sprawl out, lie down and really enjoy the ride.
I finished a fabulous book (check out my book list), slept a lot, looked out the window at the rushing views and used up my entire phone battery jamming to Spotify. The ride passed surprisingly quickly.
We were thrilled however to reach Ruteng and return to the Centro Ruteng Hostel which we love so much; we were remembered by our hosts and they greeted us warmly with "Ms. Ela and Ms. Jana!" and cups of steaming tea.
Labuan Bajo, Part II
GET HERE: we returned to our starting point in Labuan Bajo from Ruteng on the public bus arranged by our hostel for 70,000 IDR ($6.50 CAD) a person. The journey took about 5 hours.
STAY: we returned to the Ataflores Hostel in town. Check out my review above.
TALES FROM THE ROAD:
We hugged our hosts at Centro Ruteng goodbye to venture back to where we had started our epic Flores-crossing adventure. Instead of going by car as we had arrived from Labuan Bajo, we hopped on the local public bus for a cheaper price, stowed our luggage across and under seats and settled in for the bumpy 5 hour ride winding through the mountains.
The ride was simple enough and we pulled into Labuan Bajo just before lunch time. Labuan Bajo is not the kind of place you want to spend much more time than you have to; the people stare a lot, the beaches are dirty and the tour shops try to sell you things that might not even exist!
Our goal of Labuan Bajo on the way back was to explore Komodo National Park; read my next posts to hear about this incredible place!