Exploring Flores Island ~ Indonesia

by Tsvete Popp

Welcome to Flores Island, Indonesia! We were traveling around the Island some 2 weeks ago. Although we flew to Flores mainly to visit Komodo National Park, the real adventure began after the three-day boat trip ended and when our journey through Flores started. Although Komodo is one of the most popular destinations for travelers in Indonesia, many people do not know that actually, you cannot fly directly to Komodo, but to the little town of Labuan Bajo, located in the western part of Flores. Unfortunately, the most as I call them “comfortable tourists”, land in Labuan Bajo, take a quick boat trip, and fly back to Java or Bali. In fact, Flores Island is an amazing example of real Indonesia. A life that has nothing to do with the shiny tourism of Komodo or the Instagram cafes of Bali… A life that took us some centuries back. A life that is far from the chaos of the Western world. Far from the modernized madness of the 21st century.

I will briefly share some interesting facts about the not-so-famous Indonesian island Flores. Flores is located east of Java and Bali and is part of the Lesser Sunda Islands which belong to Indonesia. Although the island is two times bigger than Bali, its population of 1.8 million is almost three times smaller than that of Bali.

You may be wondering why an Indonesian island has a name that sounds kind of westernized? The answer is very simple – the island was renamed by the Portuguese, who arrived in the 16th century and changed its name from Tanjung Bunga to Flores (the island of flowers). They also brought the Catholic Church which is still the main religion here. In the 19th century, the Dutch bought Flores and many other islands in the region from the Portuguese for as much as 91.000 Euros (for that money you can build one or two bungalows in Bali nowadays…).
… to be continued

Let start with our journey through the island with my name, Flores! The journey was unique, shocking, full of love and surprises. I’m so glad we didn’t skip Flores as most people who travel to Komodo National Park do because real Indonesia begins where the comfort zone for some travelers ends…

These little guys we met in Ruteng as we were invited by their family in the rainy afternoon to have a rest in their house, enjoy the coffee and some cooked peanuts … Very “poor” people with the biggest hearts … More is coming soon 🙏

Although Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population, Flores is one of the islands where 90% of the population is (hardcore) Catholic. The Christian religion successfully mixes with their old traditions, which are quite far from the European understanding of Christianity. Although Christians predominate on the island, at exactly 4 o’clock in the morning you will hear the Muslim prayers from the numerous loudspeakers which located on every corner in any village.

The people living in Flores are extremely religious – they pray before meals, they still go to church on every Sunday, confess to the priest regularly and believe in Santa Claus until they are 15 years old (… shortly before the wedding).

Another interesting about Flores is that there are no cemeteries, as all people are buried right in front of the main entrance of the house. The first 2-3 times when we saw a tombstone in front of the house we thought it was a coincidence… but in fact, it is a tradition that is observed everywhere on the island. The easiest way to find out if a family is wealthy or not is to look at the grandmother’s grave in front of the door – the more lavish the tombstone, the richer the family… We were told that you have no right to bury anyone (except children) even behind the house because it is a sign of disrespect for the souls of the dead, who are believed to continue to live with the family after death.

Another (terrible) fact that was stressing me all the time – Flores is one of the islands of Indonesia, where the majority of the population eats dog meat. I will not explain how angry I was every single time I saw a dog restaurant… unfortunately the places that offer dog meat are plentiful and often are marked with “RW” … At least we were prepared with this information before traveling to Flores 😶

The first place we visited after Labuan Bajo was the town of Ruteng which is located very high in the Mountains of Flores at 1300 meters above sea level. There are 2 main reasons why we didn’t make the tour around Flores by scooter or motorbike: First of all, we were flying back to Bali from a different airport so we could not bring the scooter back. The second reason: the rainy season in combination with these roads… So we were traveling from one town to another by bus and collective taxis and around the villages by scooter, of course.

The first bus we took in Flores was from Labuan Bajo to Ruteng. The ride took 4 hours, the road was insanely curvy, going up and down the hills… On top of it, it was raining cats and dogs! I was so happy we were not sitting on the scooter at this moment, believe me!

In Ruteng we were staying with the family of Ricardo and Linda, who have turned their home into a cozy homestay. We spent 2 nights and 3 days here and we’re able to be part of the everyday life of a normal Flores family. On the second day, Ricardo was driving with us around the region of Ruteng – we visited the famous spider web rice fields, one of the traditional villages, and the village where his mother is living. The best sightseeing in Ruteng is to be with locals and we are so glad to be able to experience the region as we did – very closed to everyone and everything.

Although Ruteng is not very touristy, some of the families are very dependent on tourism and have lost pretty everything due to the Corona crisis. The people who are living in the villages are able to survive because of their own rice, vegetables and peanuts production.

The people around Ruteng are were very welcoming, everyone invented us for coffee and peanuts. They share more than they have and accept nothing but friendliness in return… What a great example of the simpleness of life which we already have lost in the western part of this world…

What is the most important thing in life? To have some food for your kids and a roof above their head when it is raining cats and dogs. We got invited to the house of this lovely family which is living the simplest life in a village near Ruteng on Flores Island. The family has 3 kids and is living mainly from their work on the fields around Ruteng in Flores.

The family was very poor, working mostly for the others. In return, they get no money but a percentage from the harvesting of rice, corn, sweet potatoes, and peanuts. That’s it.
Ricardo (our host that was driving around with us and who brought us to the family) was translating the whole time and was telling us a lot about life in the villages around Ruteng. He told us that the life of the people living here ends every single day after dinner. The key to accomplished life is to have something to eat before sleeping.

Inside the house were one bed, windows, a door, and the carpet where we were sitting on. Despite all the difficulties the family invited us for a coffee with a lot of sugar, boiled (yes, boiled) peanuts, and something liked cooked sweet potatoes.
The kids were playing around and singing some local songs. I’ve probably never seen smiling kids like this before. And this during the heaviest rain we had while in Flores. Inside the house, it was extremely loud as the rooftop was made out of corrugated sheet metal. It was a very touching and special experience, probably the best we had so far in Indonesia.

Our next stop after Ruteng was the Village Bajawa which is famous for its most beautiful traditional villages and many volcanic craters located around. We traveled from Ruteng by bus and it took about 4 hours (… and 4 million curves) to arrive at the so-called bus station of Bajawa (which didn’t look like one). In Bajawa we stayed in a guest house called Cinnamon Guesthouse.

It was not easy to find somewhere to sleep as almost 80% (not only here but also around Flores) of the accommodations were closed due to the Corona situation this year. The Guesthouse was very simple but absolutely clean. The only issue was that we had no warm water in the shower which in a combination with the temperatures outside was not that cool. But to be honest, for 6 € per night with breakfast is the maximum that you can get on the island.

On the first day, we woke up at 4 am and went to see the sunrise from Wolo Bobo which is one of the 7 craters situated around a half-hour drive from Bajawa Town. Wolo Bobo is a result of a volcanic eruption 10,000 years ago and nowadays offers the best views of Mount Inerie if you are lucky enough to see it without the crowds. Mount Inerie is the highest volcano on Flores 2245m but now it was not the right time for hiking due to the unpredictable rainfall.

Bena traditional village is located about 19 km to the south of Bajawa and is one of the well-preserved traditional villages and the best we visited in Flores, Indonesia. The form of the village and the architecture of the houses are still preserved and life still seems to happen like some hundred years ago.
This is a fine example of a traditional village in Flores that is still occupied. Its location is very magnificent and somehow mystic as the village is well hidden in the jungle at the bottom of the mountain and volcano Inerie. Its existence at the bottom of the mountain is a characteristic of the old people who believed and worshiped the mountain as the place of the Gods. The people of Bena believed that the existence of the Yeta God who had a throne on Mount Inerie would protect their village.

It is a fairly large village with the houses set opposite each other with a wide-open area between them where you can see many old graves. Usually, in this area, the life is ending and continuing at the same time as small kids are playing between the graves as it would be the most normal thing in the world.
The arrangement of the houses in Bena looks very unique because of its circular shape in U form. Each house also has a roof decoration that is different from each other based on the lineage that in power and lives in the house, while doorways are decorated with buffalo horns and jawbones – a sign of family prosperity. The skulls and horns of water buffaloes and pig jaws are sacrifices made by the household at various ceremonies.

The ride from Bajawa to Moni was the worst one for us on Flores Island. We were traveling by collective taxi (don’t think about a normal taxi or private car…) which was picking up and dropping off people everywhere. Social distancing was not introduced as a term to our driver as he was trying to push inside the car as many people and luggage as possible. After one hour of horrible drive from Bajawa someone called him and he decided to drive the whole way back just to pick another 2 people. So the drive from Bajawa to Moni took double-time (7 hours) as it was initially planned.

Moni village is famous for being the starting point for all activities in Kelimutu National Park. It is only 30 minutes ride and 20 minutes of walking from the famous Kelimutu volcano lakes. The village runs totally on tourism so we saw many people gone completely bankrupt and being totally desperate due to the Corona situation. Many told us that they sold everything just to pay the bill for electricity and to buy some rice for the family. Without agriculture in the surrounding areas, it wouldn’t have been possible for the people to survive in 2020. Compared to Bali where many foreigners and expats are living and life keeps on going somehow, on Flores the damage of 2020 was way more visible and for sure it will take much more time to recover someday…

On our first Morning in Moni, we woke up at 3:45 and some 30 minutes later we were on our way to Kelimutu National Park to welcome the sunrise from the top of the volcano. The road was still very slippery due to the heavy night rain so it took a bit longer than the planned trip. As we arrived we had to walk another 20-30 minutes to the lakes. We were not the only people as I was expecting, but still, we were no more than 10 tourists going for the sunrise on time.

Kelimutu has 3 lakes with varying colors. One of these lakes is Tiwu ata Mbupu (Lake of Old People) which usually has some deep blue color. The other two lakes are Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai (Lake of Young Men and Maidens) and Tiwu Ata Polo (Bewitched or Enchanted Lake). Both lakes have green, red, or even white colors depending on the volcanic activity.

Kelimutu is a combination of words from “Keli” which means mountain and the word “Mutu” which means boiling. According to local residents’ beliefs, the colors of Lake Kelimutu have their respective meanings and have very powerful natural forces. But in fact, the colors are changing due to the different volcanic activities of Kelimutu.

Kelimutu National Park in Flores recorded its first eruption in 1830, released black lava and a terrible eruption. Also recorded in 1860 to 1870 erupted for the second time. The eruption was accompanied by hot lava flows. And lastly, this mountain had intense activity in 1968.

Where to Stay in Flores

Flores is the gateway to Komodo Island and one of Indonesia’s top destinations. As you would expect from a major touristic destination in Indonesia, Floresk has no shortage of options when it comes to accommodation. As always, I’d suggest you stay somewhere central, to make accessing all the attractions as easy as possible.

If you are arriving in Labuan Bajo you will be probably staying for some nights here (Labuan Bajo). Labuan Bajo is a great starting point for all activities in Komodo Nationa Park and starting point for your road trip through Flores. If you are searching for more luxurious accommodation in Komodo National Park you can find many options here. We did the most famous road trip through Flores and visited the most interesting places on the island. Our trip started in Labuan Bajo, the second stop was Ruteng, famous for the unique spiderweb rice fields. Our third stop was Bajawa famous for its volcanoes and traditional villages. Our next stop was Moni and Kelimutu Nationa Park. And the last stop from where we flew back to Bali was Ende!

Kelimutu National Park

You can find alternative hotels in Komodo here.

You can find villas in Flore and Komodo here (Airbnb + up to 41 € off).

Read more reviews and compare Komodo hotel prices here.


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