If first impressions count for anything, we landed, we drove around a bit, got to the main town and I declared “I’m moving to Flores”! Labuan Bajo is a beautiful clash of new construction next to tin shed shops. It’s calm and quiet and somehow very ordered in its chaos. It’s also completely different to Bali which I wasn’t expecting. The first thing I noticed – no offerings on the street. Flores is a mostly Christian/Muslim island so there are no or very few Hindu temples or offerings to be seen.
You can fly from Denpasar to Flores and it’s only just over an hour – just long enough for a nap and to watch the other islands pass underneath you. Flores is an island with towns or villages dotted all over it however for the most past, Flores is untouched and still very natural but you can see how tourism is already starting to become important to the island. The tin shed shops are making way for little boutiques (yes I found shopping after only being there an hour), and there were a few coffee shops that wouldn’t have been out of place in little Melbourne-style lane ways.
Flores, meaning flower, was named by the Portuguese whose presence is obvious. The buildings and architecture have a distinct Portuguese feel to them…and I haven’t even been to Portugal yet! Flores, pronounced Flor-Rez, is the main island base to reach Rinca and Komodo, the smaller islands near Labuan Bajo that are home to the famous and scary looking Komodo Dragons. You reach these islands by taking a boat from pretty much anywhere on the port. There are fast boats to get you there quicker but I think part of the experience is taking a traditional boat and taking your time, swimming along the way, having a nap while the boat slowly moves through the waves, and watching all the smaller islands seemingly appear as if they exploded from underwater.
Two places I have to mention and well worth a visit: Bajo Bay and Made in Italy. Made in Italy is an incredible Italian restaurant on the main street. You walk up narrow steps to a space that resembles an old brick and iron factory, very industrial but with gorgeous timber furniture, lounges and art. The food…some of the best Italian I have had since leaving Italy! The pasta was home made and fresh, tasty and decadent polenta chips covered in Parmesan, and a very very good wine list. Bajo Bay is a two storey restaurant and bar right on the harbour and apart from the amazing food, it does a great happy hour and refreshing cocktails. The second floor is the bar area which during happy hour is full of visitors and the view…well see for yourself.
The Lonely Planet says Flores has become the next big thing in Indonesia and with stunning hidden beaches, amazing diving, mountains and volcanos (thankfully quiet at the moment), and rice fields, it’s hardly surprising. What got me the most were the colours. My morning walk was the blue-est waters meeting white sand with palm trees and purple flowers. I met an older chap and his grandsons who were helping Dad on the boat before heading to school, and they lived right there, on the boat. It’s not often we are lucky enough to see true village life so I sat down and watched and tried to chat. But while Indonesian is the main language of Flores, there are actually 6 official languages in Flores and whichever one the older man was speaking, it wasn’t Indonesian. So I smiled and nodded, joined in pointing at things, and still managed to feel like we had a good chat!
If you are holiday-ing in Indonesia and want to stay somewhere quiet and natural, consider Flores as a MUST island to put on the list. It’s a tourist mecca if you are looking for dragons, diving, great local and international food, and just somewhere a bit quiet to relax and daydream about moving to a tropical island…