Situated in the eastern region of Indonesia, Flores Island is a hidden gem waiting to be explored. In a country celebrated for its stunning natural beauty, Flores stands out with its untouched beaches, lush rainforests, dramatic volcanic landscapes, and a diverse array of cultures. While popular destinations like Bali often steal the spotlight, Flores is gradually gaining recognition as a unique destination for travelers seeking an authentic experience.
Culture and history of Flores
The island of flowers: a name and a legacy
Portuguese settlers in the 16th century named the island from the Portuguese word for “flowers”. Today, the nickname still rings true as Flores bursts with vibrant colors, particularly when its wildflowers are in bloom. But the island’s beauty goes far beyond its botanical riches; it extends to its landscapes, cultures, and traditions.
Flores is home to multiple ethnic groups, each with its unique traditions, languages, and customs. The island’s cultural tapestry includes the Manggarai, Ngada, Bajawa, and Sikka people, among others. Despite their diversity, these communities share a deep respect for the land and a reverence for their ancestors, which are reflected in their cultural practices.
The traditional villages of Flores offer a glimpse into the island’s rich cultural heritage. Unique architectural styles, such as circular huts and tall, thatched roofs, can be observed in these communities. Traditional villages like Wogo in Bajawa and Wae Rebo in Ruteng provide immersive experiences. Visitors can indeed witness there age-old rituals, like the Ngada’s “caci” dance. And also participate in traditional weaving practices.
The island’s history stretches back to prehistoric times. Flores is renowned for the discovery of Homo floresiensis. This tiny hominin species is also colloquially known as the “Hobbit.” These archaeological findings have added a layer of historical significance to the island. Portuguese colonists arrived on the island in the 16th century. They left their mark on local architecture and introduced the Catholic faith, which remains a significant part of the island’s culture today.
Best places to visit in Flores
Your journey into the heart of Flores often begins in Maumere, the largest town on the island. The pace here is super quiet, allowing you to ease into the rhythm of Flores. The lively local markets, where you can sample fresh produce and interact with friendly residents, offer a taste of the island’s authentic charm. I was invited by the driver who picked me up at the airport for an improvised barbecue fish dinner at his place and it was a super nice experience.
If you have one free day in Maumere, you might want to go snorkeling at several snorkel spots around Maumere Bay. From Nangahale village, 45 minutes away from Maumere, you will get on to the local wooden motorized boat. And then explore three popular snorkel-spots : Kojadoi Island, Panga Batang Island and Babi Island.
Koka Beach: A Remote Paradise
As you venture eastward along Flores’ northern coast, you’ll discover one of the island’s best-kept secrets: Koka Beach. Nestled near the village of Wolowiro, this remote paradise boasts everything you’d envision in a tropical dream. Pristine, powdery white sands caressed by the gentle waves of crystal-clear turquoise waters make this a postcard-worthy destination. It is even more spectacular because it is a double beach separated by a small hill. Both beach are awesome but the only difference is the color of the water!
What also sets Koka Beach apart is its lack of development. There are no bustling resorts or crowds here, just the sound of the waves and the swaying palms. It’s a place of solitude, offering a sense of calm and serenity. As you soak up the sun and take a dip in the tranquil waters, you’ll feel a world away from the usual tourist spots.
The beach gets more crowded during the week end for lunch when many locals come to eat fresh grilled fish. You can ask Blasius who lives here and run a small homestay to prepare a delicious lunch for you.
Kelimutu: The Mystical Tri-Colored Lakes
Kelimutu is an iconic natural wonder on Flores. The reason is simple: it boasts three craters, each with a distinct color. These tri-colored crater lakes are an absolute must-see when visiting the island. The lakes can change colors over time, depending on their mineral content and oxidation levels.
The locals believe that Kelimutu is a sacred place, home to the spirits of the deceased. The lakes are associated with different spirits and have symbolic meanings. The trek to Kelimutu usually involves an early morning hike to the summit to witness the breathtaking sunrise. As the sun paints the sky with vivid hues, it reveals a stunning panorama of the lakes and surrounding landscapes. If you bring some food, be careful of the monkeys around !
Bajawa: A Cultural Hub
Bajawa, in the central part of Flores, is a cultural hub that offers a window into the traditional way of life of the Ngada people. These communities have preserved their customs and rituals for centuries. As you explore the villages, you’ll notice the unique architecture, with circular huts built using traditional methods and materials. The Ngada people are known for their distinctive “lion houses,” a type of traditional building.
Bajawa also serves as a gateway to the Inerie volcano, which is often used as a backdrop for a relaxing soak in local hot springs. The area around Bajawa is rich with lush landscapes and unspoiled forests, making it ideal for hiking and exploring the natural beauty of Flores.
Ruteng: The Spider Rice Fields
In the heart of Flores, Ruteng is known for its unique “lingko” rice fields, often referred to as spider rice fields because of their circular pattern. These fields are a testament to traditional agricultural methods and serve as a source of food for the local communities. The intricate system of irrigation and crop rotation is an example of the sustainable farming practices employed by the people of Flores.
Ruteng offers the opportunity to explore lush countryside and verdant forests. The region is perfect for trekking and hiking, with trails that wind through the natural landscapes and provide a glimpse into the everyday life of the Manggarai people.
Labuan Bajo: The Gateway to Komodo Island
Labuan Bajo, located on the western tip of Flores, has evolved into a bustling fishing town that serves as the primary access point to Komodo National Park. This town has grown to accommodate the influx of travelers seeking to explore the wonders of Komodo Island.
Labuan Bajo offers a range of accommodations, restaurants, and tour operators, making it a practical base for your Flores adventure. While in town, explore the local markets to sample fresh seafood and other delights. Don’t miss the chance to dine in one of the local restaurants, where you can enjoy a “ikan bakar” (grilled fish) or a plate of “sate sapi” (beef satay).
Komodo National Park: Where the Dragons Roam
Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the world’s most famous natural attractions. It is the only place on Earth where you can witness the legendary Komodo dragons, the world’s largest lizard species. These prehistoric creatures, known as “ora” by the locals, can grow up to ten feet in length and are an awe-inspiring sight.
A visit to Komodo National Park allows you to witness these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. The park encompasses numerous islands, each with its unique charm and appeal. In addition to the dragons, the park offers outstanding opportunities for diving, as its waters are teeming with diverse marine life and vibrant coral reefs. Exploring the underwater world, you’ll encounter manta rays, sea turtles, and countless species of fish, making it a paradise for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts.
Get around in Flores
I crossed the island twice, both times from Maumere to Labuan Bajo. The firs time was in 2021, during Covid. And I was everywhere the first foreigner that the inhabitants had met during one year ! I had to rent a car with a driver but now it is easy to rent a motorbike at Maumere and drop it at Labuan Bajo.