When most people hear “Indonesia,” they think of “Bali.” Bali is an international, world-class hub of tourism, which is exactly the reason not everyone wants to go there.
Furthermore, with relaxed visa requirements, tourism growth in Indonesia is going to exceed what the archipelago can support. Which is why Indonesia is launching initiatives to convince people to try destinations other than Bali. They are focusing on ten destinations, including Labuan Bajo on Flores Island.
What is Labuan Bajo?
Labuan Bajo is a small fishing village on the west side of Flores Island in the East Nusa Tenggara region. It is ideally located to be a base to explore Flores Island and has a local population eager to embrace more tourists. The village faces north towards the Flores Sea and west towards the famous Komodo Island.
It is also the capital of the West Manggarai Regency, one of the major administrative divisions of Flores. It is relatively remote, with only one road into town and the nearest other town being Ruteng in the center of the island.
How can You Get There?
Labuan Bajo is served by Labuan Bajo Airport, also known as Komodo Airport. It’s a small domestic airport, but has regular flights from Jakarta, Surabaya, and Bali. Garuda Indonesia, Indonesia’s flag carrier, is the recommended airline. You can also take a four day “cruise” (really more like a ferry) from Lombok, although this can be dangerous during the rainy station. Bus service is available from Ende to Labuan Bajo, via Ruteng. Make sure to get off at Labuan Bajo proper, not the terminal eight miles out of town. For most people, though, flying is the best way to get there.
If you are chartering your own boat, berths are available at Labuan Bajo. Some cruise ships also stop there. For getting around town, consider renting a motorbike or, if you prefer somebody else to drive you, cabs and motorbike taxis are regularly available. The airport is only a five-minute drive and taxis are available. Take the usual precautions to avoid shady drivers.
Why Labuan Bajo?
So, why would you want to go to this village? First of all, it is only four hours by boat from Komodo Island and three hours away from Rinca, allowing an easy trip to see the giant lizards for those who are not chartering their own boat. The island is home not only to dragons but Timor deer, orange-footed scrub fowl and many other species. The marine environment around the island is incredibly diverse. Labuan Bajo is the starting point for liveaboard dive trips to see the amazing reefs. You can also take trips to hike on the island or single-day dive trips that include a visit to the dragons. Snorkelling trips are also available for those who aren’t qualified for scuba. One of the most famous dive sites is called Manta Point, where you can dive amongst manta rays and also small sharks and sea turtles.
Other places to visit include Kalong Island, which means Fruit Bat island. Not much more needs to be said! Go at dusk when the bats leave their roost. There are many places you can go hiking as well as beautiful beaches and some fascinating caves. Rent a mountain bike to explore the area, or visit a remote beach with a few other tourists. There’s a two-day hiking trip to Guning Mbeliling, which includes sunrise at the summit. This is best done with a guide.
Despite its remote nature, it’s possible to get cell service in most of the area. Check the Flores Tourism site for events and festivals – perhaps the locals will be demonstrating their famous whip fights.
Much of the tourist infrastructure has been built out relatively recently, but there is accommodation from budget guesthouses to beachfront hotels. There are ATMs and money changes available in Labuan Bajo (and not, worth noting, on the smaller islands or in the park. Make sure to get cash for tips before leaving the town). Most of the restaurants in Labuan Bajo serve local cuisine, but it’s possible to get Italian, European, or Chinese if you want something different.
Things You Should Know
Labuan Bajo is the only real base to explore both Komodo National Park and the western part of Flores island. Because of this, it can get crowded at peak times, and it’s wise to book accommodation and excursions well in advance. Dive trips, in particular, tend to sell out early because of the small size of the groups. Here are some things to know about Labuan Bajo:
- It’s pretty small. There are about 3,000 residents and if you’re reasonably fit you can get around entirely on foot. Save money and burn off those holiday calories by only taking a taxi when you are tired or have luggage.
- Some hotels have an airport shuttle. It’s worth asking.
- The waterfront is heavily built up. Be aware that if you want a quiet beach you will have to travel some or take a boat trip to a nearby island.
- Peak season is July and August. Things are much quieter in March, April and September, while still avoiding the rainy season.
- Ask your doctor about antimalarial tablets, as East Nusa Tenggara is a region where malaria is prevalent. This is not the case in much of Indonesia, so make sure to specify where you are going. You should also get any recommended vaccinations.
- However, you have the advantage of being in a small town which is less crowded, which reduces the risk of petty theft.
If you are thinking of an Indonesian vacation, it is likely time to avoid Bali. Labuan Bajo is an up and coming hotspot that is at the perfect time to discover. It’s well known enough to have facilities but not yet hugely overcrowded. Go there for unique diving and to enjoy a marine ecosystem that is unparalleled in the world.