The Indonesian island of Flores used to get by on Bali’s overflow alone, and the trickle of travellers that landed in the sleepy west coast town of Labuanbajo often used it as a spring board to the epic Komodo National Park, then quickly left.
But Labuanbajo is sleepy no more. That trickle has become a river, and the island named ‘Flowers’ by 16th-century Portuguese colonists who were astonished by its lush, fragrant forests, is on the verge of becoming Indonesia’s next big eco-travel hotspot.
It makes sense. After all, Flores is the kind of gorgeous that grabs hold of you tightly. It has empty white sand beaches and bay islands, excellent diving and snorkelling and a skyline of perfectly shaped volcanoes. The 700km trans-Flores highway that connects the east and west coasts skirts knife-edge ridges that sheer into spectacular river canyons, brushes by traditional villages and leads to multi-hued volcanic lakes.
For years this tropical jewel box remained a secret, its gems accessible only to those willing to venture off the beaten track. But thanks to steadily improving infrastructure and a maturing tourism industry, Flores is blooming like never before. Most visitors hire a car with a driver and take it all in on a long slow road trip, making sure to linger, before or after among the national park’s Komodo dragons.
Of course, Labuanbajo initially popped on traveller’s radars because of Flores’ 1817sqkm Komodo National Park.
Komodo dragons are gargantuan swaggering beasts that live on two rugged islands in the national park – Komodo and Rinca. These prehistoric giants grow to more than three meters long and weigh up to 100kg. You can charter a local boat from Labuanbajo for two or three day cruises in park waters, snorkel over pristine reefs, lounge on pink sand beaches and hike on Rinca and Komodo