The video above was taken by our tour guide on Komodo Island.
If you live in Bali, or you've been many times, you might like to try a trip elsewhere in Indonesia for a change of scenery. I highly recommend a Flores tour if you have a spare 5 days to do something a bit different.
The flight from Denpasar domestic airport is only an hour and it's cheap (around R2m return ~A$200) and actually the whole trip only cost around A$700 each for my friend and I. Note that we took hand luggage only, which was great for getting onto the plane easily. We honestly didn't need more than one backpack's worth. You should take one pair of sandals or flip flops, a pair of sneakers for walking, a swimsuit or two, some travel sick tablets (I buy mine at the Apotek in Ubud and its great), sunscreen and a few t-shirts and shorts plus underwear and moisturiser. I generally have a nice frock I can roll up just in case, which was useful for our cocktail at the resort, but it was pretty relaxed there too. I was amused to discover some instagrammers bring many suitcases on the boat and sometimes even their own photographer, but that doesn't sound fun to me.
You should book yourself a boat tour first and work your Flores hotels and flights around it. We stayed the first night in a cheap and cheerful place in Labuan Bajo, then two nights on the boat then another night in a slightly more upmarket place back in the port town before flying home to Bali. The mistake here is that we should have spent one more night in Flores and hired a car for an island tour as there is a lot to see in Flores, not just the Komodos. Grab one of the drivers touting their tours at the airport. They all pretty much cost the same and they will all offer a similar tour. You can try your luck, or send me a note to get the name of our driver whose english was very good.
Flores is less developed than Bali, but there is still a reasonable range of hotel and boat options. We had cocktails and a beautiful meal at the amazing Ayana Resort the first night. It was perfect for sunset, but at +$500 a night its not a place I can afford to stay in. Our more local hotel was serviceable and clean, in a convenient spot, and with a pool and little restaurant.
Sunset and dessert at Ayana Resort, Labuan Bajo
The boat was lovely; just me and my friend, a crew of 3, a tour guide and his young intern Ecik. Again, you could go more luxury for your boat option, or cheaper with more sharing of space, but our guys were lovely and friendly, and the tour was amazing. Two nights were enough though, especially when I had a mild stomach bug for the first 24 hours, and I did appreciate the fancier hotel at the end. Also my friend Ava is vegan; the concept of which hasn't quite made it to the Floresian hospitality industry. On the boat she was stuck eating rice, tempe and fruit. My meals were delicious, and included fresh fish in the evening.
Food and Drink on our Tour Boat, with our intern, Ecik
It looks like the tour groups all do pretty much the same circuit, since we kept seeing the same boats. We got picked up at the hotel, taken to the port, and delivered to the boat on a little runabout. It was then a couple of hours to a small island called Kelor where we trekked up a short but steep hill to the lookout. It was gorgeous although the climb is tough for the older, the unfit and the unwell. We cooled down in the water after taking in the amazing view, then went back to the boat for another ride to a little coral reef for snorkelling. This was fun; we were dropped a one end of the bay, floated along with our heads in the water and barely any effort, then got picked up at the other end. The water is like crystal and was filled with gorgeous fish. On the first night we stopped in another beautiful bay and, right at sunset with the sky lit up in pinks and oranges, a million fruit bats lifted themselves from their sleep on one island and flew over our heads to another island for their nightly feed.
The next morning was an early start to get to a spot where there are usually manta rays. Unfortunately it was a bit rough and no other boats had seen them so we skipped the snorkel and went on to Komodo Island, the main attraction.
There was recently a strike of tour guides and hospitality workers protesting the expensive price rise of more than 6x for tourists entering the national park. Luckily the plan has been scrapped (for now) and the cost is still R500,000 per person to enter (about US$35). This is to pay for the upkeep of the national park and your guide's wages...you don't get your money back if you don't see a Komodo! They are wild animals and work on their own time. A couple of groups the week before us sadly didn't see the beasts which would be bitterly disappointing. June to September is mating season so there are actually fewer Komodos hanging around in the sunshine for tourists to view. The best time to see the lizards is actually in January but the seas are rough in the wet season, so next time I will try for October or May.
Luckily we did come across two decent sized male dragons which was thrilling to see. They kind of just lumber around but they are enormous and exotic and ancient and there is a slight edge of danger to the whole thing. Our guide told us of a dumb Singaporean tourist a few months previously who had gone against all advice and tried to sit on a Komodo. He was duly bitten and went home to die from the deadly poison in the dragon's saliva. There is a good reason they tell you not to get too close!
After Komodo there was a short ride to pink beach - it's more of a light blush, but pretty nevertheless and with a lovely reef to snorkel around. This night on the boat was a little rougher, but really not bad. After I spent the previous evening running to the loo I actually slept like a baby. My precious tablets were handed over to our poor green intern and I didn't really need them, despite my ordinarily terrible sea sickness.
The next morning we went to snorkel with kura kura - turtles. This was amazing; we paddled right above a massive one in water that was about 15m deep yet you could see right to the bottom! Our final stop was one more amazing tropical island palm trees, white sand, gorgeous little reef, sun loungers...we could have stayed for hours.
The whole boat trip was exceptional, with great guides, basic but fresh and delicious food, and loads to see and do everyday...or choose not to since we had our own boat! All food and drink was provided along with towels and snorkelling gear. The park entry is extra and a small tip for the crew and guide at the end is nice to offer if you can.
The boat tour we took was with Bintang Komodo Tours. We got a pre-high season deal somehow and paid R1.8m each (around US$130) for two nights on a large houseboat to ourselves with snorkelling gear, a guide and all meals included. This was super cheap due to being at the end of the pandemic - expect to pay at least double that these days. They don't provide alcohol but you can pay extra and request it, or purchase some yourselves from the bottle shops in Labuan Bajo. As a predominantly christian region, they don't have the same prohibitions on alcohol as elsewhere in regional Indonesia.
There isn't much to Labuan Bajo, so no need to try to spend time here. We had a hot walk around the town centre to try and find food but there weren’t a lot of options, and even fewer for my vegan friend. The setting of the town is spectacular though, and we had a great view and I enjoyed delicious seafood at the Green Cherry restaurant. Flores is hotter and drier than Bali, but the cool ocean breeze is deceptive so take extra sunscreen and lather up regularly.
Flights Check here with Expedia
Boat - Basic Bintang Komodo Tours
Boat - Fancy Ayana Lako
Hotels Upmarket Plataran
Hotels Mid Range Bintang Flores
Cheap & Cheerful Selini on the Hill