Before I started travelling I had these great visions of what it would entail. Exploring new lands, seeing spectacular sights and interacting with the locals. For years I had incredible travel experiences, but nothing that quite matched those high expectations I had envisioned before my travels began. This all changed when we did our Flores overland tour, Indonesia.
The Flores Overland Tour takes you along the Trans-Flores Highway. Calling it a highway is extremely generous, as it is a small single lane road that winds through the mountains. It is one of the few tarmac roads in Flores, which is probably why it gained its highway status. It travels from East to West and is one of the most spectacular roads you are ever likely to encounter. From mountain tops, to beachside drives, there is an incredible view around every corner.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of adventure we had on this trip. We really felt like we were the first people to be discovering this beautiful Island. Don’t get me wrong, I know there were many that came before us, but that didn’t stop us having that feeling. The feeling of being a true pioneer and discovering new lands. Driving our scooter through tiny cobbled roads in the middle of nowhere, and interacting with locals who were intrigued by our presence, finally fulfilled all my travel dreams.
While Labuan Bajo and Komodo National Park are quite popular for international tourists, the Flores overland tour has not yet reached the same levels of popularity. We travelled for entire days and saw only locals. So if you feel like a real voyage of discovery we highly recommend an overland Flores trip.
There are several options when it comes to your mode of transportation. There are some tour companies that operate using mini buses and will drive you on a specific route. These tend to be relatively well priced but are on a stricter schedule with a set itinerary. If you are willing to spend a bit more money a great option is to hire a private guide. You will have full control of your trip and will have the comfort of your own car. If you can get a group of 4 together this can reduce the cost but will also give you the freedom to personalise your tour.
Honestly though, I think there is only one way to properly do a Flores overland tour – rent a scooter. It wouldn’t be a proper Indonesian road trip if you didn’t rent a scooter and do it yourself. And it’s easily the cheapest option. We paid approximately 7 AUD ($5 USD) per day for one scooter plus the cost of fuel which was inexpensive in a scooter. Compared to the other options, it offers the most freedom and adventure.
You have the option to take that dodgy looking dirt road and see where it takes you. See a cool river valley with a little bridge crossing that would make for a great photo? You have total independence to take as little or as much time as you want. It may not be the most comfortable, glamorous option, but having the wind whip through your hair and getting absolutely drenched in a torrential downpour, all make the experience so memorable.
Before heading off on your crazy adventure, make sure you download the offline version of Google Maps. You will thank yourself for it when you are on the road. It’s always handy to be able to pull out your phone and see exactly how long you have left to go that day or which way to turn at a dodgy looking crossroads.
Rain Ponchos. You are going to get wet so be prepared. Most of the local supermarkets sell rain ponchos for a few dollars. Invest in one before you go because when it rains in Flores, it pours. They are great as you can cover your whole body, including bags. Plus you will look pretty slick cruising round in it!
Map of Flores Overland Tour
Flores Overland Tour Itinerary
Day 1: Labuan Bajo – Ruteng (134 km / 3 hours 43 minutes)
The first day of the Flores overland tour will take you to the picturesque spider rice fields. The region is known for its unique rice fields shaped in the form of a spider’s web. The rice fields are best viewed from Cancar village which is situated about 17km west of Ruteng. This small village, located on a hillside overlooking the rice fields, is the perfect vantage point to see the amazing patterns that have been created. The different rice fields encountered on this trip are incredible and none more so than the spider web rice fields.
We had a little bit of a hard time finding the rice fields as we saw no road signs and the dot on google maps wasn’t exactly correct. After a little bit of touring we found our desired view point – up on a slight hill, allowing you to appreciate the unique design of rice fields. A tip – when you come through the town, you will reach a four- way stop. To continue on the highway towards Ruteng, you will need to turn right. However, to reach the rice field viewpoint, turn left and follow the road up the hillside.
Once you have had your fill of the rice fields, get back on the road towards Ruteng. We got caught in a crazy torrential downpour and were thankful for our ponchos to protect us and our gear. The town of Ruteng unfortunately is not noteworthy but rather a sensible stop based on its location.
Where to Stay in Ruteng:
Everything about this trip was spontaneous and as a result we did not book any of our accommodation ahead of time. Although this can sometimes be a good thing, this also meant that upon arrival in each town we still had the chore of scoping out lodging.
On our backpacker budget, we chose to stay at MJR Ticketing Guest House in Ruteng. The family house was tucked in behind a computer/convenience store and matched our backpacker budget perfectly – simple and inexpensive. We had a modest private room which included breakfast for $23 AUD ($17 USD).
Where to Eat in Ruteng:
As we stopped in Ruteng on the way there and back, we had a couple of chances to eat here. For good, inexpensive local fare, try Chacha restaurant. Another budget friendly option was Kopi Mane. Although more known for its coffee, it still had some great dinner plates.
Day 2: Ruteng – Bajawa (134 km / 3 hours 37 minutes)
Bena village is the main stop on day two of the trip. Bena is situated about 16km from Bajawa at the foot of Mount Inerie. It is a traditional village where visitors have the chance to walk around and see the unique culture of the Ngada district. Take some time to admire the beautiful thatched roofs, incredible views and some of the hand made clothing that is for sale by the locals.
After a long day of travel, there are few better ways to relax than an evening in the natural hot springs at Malanage. The hot springs are located about 25 minutes drive past Bena village but keep a close eye out for the sign as it is hard to spot on the side of the road. Piping hot water from the hot springs meets the cold river water here, creating the perfect water temperature to relax in.
Unlike many hot springs that are fairly stagnant, the Malanage Hot Springs are free flowing. If you find the right spot in the river you can be massaged by the water as it flows all around you. This is a popular spot for locals to come and bathe in the evenings as opposed to a tourist hot spot which makes it even better. Entry is by a suggested donation of 20,000 Rp ($1.50 USD).
Where to Stay in Bajawa:
Bajawa is a more popular stop for tourists and hikers, and therefore it comes equipped with many more choices for lodging. Hotel Happy Happy had good reviews and was our first choice but was fully booked upon arrival. We ended up staying at a guesthouse called Hotel Edelweiss 2 which cost us $28 AUD ($20 USD) for a small private room and a shared bathroom. This is not to be confused with the original Hotel Edelweiss which is on the main street and was slightly nicer but more expensive.
Where to Eat in Bajawa:
Near Hotel Happy Happy is a little local restaurant called RM Anugerah. We had a hard time finding a place that was well-rated in Bajawa and this was the best of some not-so-positively rated restaurants. The food was good, but nothing to write home about. However, there were some home-made baked goods at the counter that made for some nice desserts.
Day 3: Bajawa – Moni (176 km / 4 hours 40 minutes)
A long day of travel. We recommend making it all the way to Moni so you can get up early and travel to Kelimutu for sunrise. To help break up a long day on the scooter and to give your bum a rest, you can stop at Blue Stone Beach near Ende. Blue stones line the beach here to create an impressive blue mosaic. Despite the longer day on the road, the views are impressive as you start off with volcano vistas, pass through jungle-y terrain and ride along the coast.
Where to Stay in Moni:
We settled on Antoneri Lodge which is on the main street in Moni and only 20 minutes away from Kelimutu in the morning. A private room only set us back $20 AUD ($14 USD) and met our non-luxurious backpacker standards. If you are looking for something a little classier, Kelimutu Ecolodge, which is located in a cute garden setting has good reviews, but expect to pay upwards of $100 AUD ($72 USD).
Where to Eat in Moni:
As Moni is a tiny town not littered with restaurant choices, we were pleasantly surprised with Mopi’s Place. The food, such as the vegetable curry only cost 40,000 RP ($3 USD) and was one of the better meals we had on the overland trip. This was the perfect stop to celebrate making it to the end of our route before having to make the return trip the next day.
Day 4: Moni – Kelimutu – Ende (60 km / 2 hours)
Kelimutu is probably the pinnacle of an overland tour through Flores. It is worth getting up early to go and watch the sunrise over the three different coloured lakes at Mt. Kelimutu. It can often mean getting up at 4am to make the trip up to the lakes. A short 20-minute ride from Moni will take you to the car park and from there it is a fairly moderate 30-minute walk to reach the lakes.
The three lakes at Kelimutu are absolutely stunning. The lakes are known to change colour so it is always a surprise to see what colour you will get. Generally, they are 3 different shades of blue but they have been known to turn red, white and chocolate brown. There are lots of different vantage points to view the lakes so make sure to explore all the different viewing areas to take it all in.
There are many friendly locals who spend their days at the top of Kelimutu waiting to talk to tourists. One of the things we loved about Flores is that the locals genuinely just want to talk and interact with you. The main reason is that they wish to improve their English as it helps improve their education and job prospects.
Keep an eye out for monkeys on your way back down. All along the path you will see monkeys running and jumping between the trees. Just be sure to keep a hold of anything valuable they may be able to get their hands on.
Where to Stay in Ende:
In line with many of our other accommodation choices, DASI Guest House provides simple Indonesian-style lodging at a reasonable price of $28 AUD ($20 USD). Another backpacker-friendly alternative is F Hostel Ende – one of few hostels in Flores. However, the price for two of us is the same in a dorm, is the same price as a private room at DASI Guest House.
Where to Eat in Ende:
Sadly, in an attempt to get wifi and air conditioning, we went with an unauthentic choice of Mokka Coffee for food. Although delicious, it wasn’t local or particularly cheap – both of which we try to aim for when traveling. But if you are in the mood for burgers and milkshakes, Mokka Coffee was a great guilty pleasure.
Day 5 and 6: Ende – Labuan Bajo (389 km / 10 hours 27 minutes)
Here comes the down side of renting a scooter. You have to return it to the same place you rented it from. That means a couple of days of riding back along the route you came. This may seem like a downside at first but I am so glad we got to drive along that road again. Yes, it’s a long journey but winding through the mountains was just as brilliant the second time.
It also gives you a chance to explore some of the places you may have skipped on the way out. You will definitely want to stop a few times (to give your bum multiple breaks) so make sure to experience some cool places on the way home.
One of our favourite stops on the route back to Labuan Bajo was Cunca Wulang Waterfalls which is located around 1.5 hours outside of Labuan Bajo. You need to hire a guide for this trip which costs around 100,000 Rp and then it is about a 45-minute walk to the waterfalls. At the end of this walk you get a chance to jump in from the rocks and swim up towards the waterfalls. It is a great final stop off before your week of adventures comes to an end.
If you choose another transport option, it is possible to fly out from Ende or Maumere which will save you having to do the return trip. However, we found that the roundtrip suited us perfectly as we had to wait a week to get on our preferred Komodo National Park tour anyway. This gave us a chance to get out and explore Flores and brought our whole trip together perfectly.
I don’t want to say that the Flores overland tour is better than Komodo National Park, because that’s a bold statement, but it’s got to be very close. The sights in Komodo are some of the best in the world but the sense of adventure we had on this trip was like nothing else I have experienced. There were some spectacular views on the overland trip along the Trans-Flores Highway, but it was the excitement, adventure and discovery of this trip that makes it stand out in my mind. When I look back on this trip, I think of flying along dirt tracks, feeling lost and free and that will always make our Flores overland tour one of my favourite trips of all time.