Once a small fishing village, Labuan Bajo (also spelled Labuhanbajo and Labuanbajo) in Flores is now a busy bustling epicenter of tourism. It is the launching point for trips to Komodo Island and Rinca Island, home to the famous Komodo dragons. While Labuan Bajo draws plenty of tourists, it is nevertheless quite a small town that runs along one main road, making it easy to navigate.
Nearby Seraya Island is a great opportunity to do some diving and snorkeling and every evening at Kalong Island thousands of flying fox bats put on an amazing display.
Komodo Airport is 2 km out of town. The upturn in tourism has meant that ojeks can only be taken if you walk outside the airport and taxi drivers charge set rates of 50,000 IDR one way for this short journey. If all else fails, it's a 20-minute downhill walk.
TransNusa and Wings Air (Lionair) all fly from Denpasar, and Kalstar provides daily flights between them. Most flights continue to either Ende H. Hasan Aroeboesman Airport, Maumere Fransiskus Xaverius Seda Airport in eastern Flores or Kupang in West Timor. Sky Aviation provides services originating in Bali and stopping on route in Lombok in both directions.
Labuan Bajo Airport is now large and new but as yet unfinished, with a single short runway. For all flights you will need to pay a domestic departure tax of Rp 11,000. Don't expect to be able to buy a ticket at the last minute. Even if the planes aren't full, the travel agents and ticket offices aren't always open to take your money. There are agents available - back in Labuan Bajo. There are small cafes downstairs at the airport that serves the most simple of drinks and snacks.
The port in Labuan Bajo is in the town, and everywhere is reached within a 5-10 minutes walk.
- The ferry from Sape (Rp 46,000) runs daily, and usually arrives around 14:00.
- A number of companies organise 4 days/3 nights boat trips from Lombok or Bali to Flores for around Rp 1,550,000. You sleep on the deck on thin mattresses (less than 1 inch thick, but you get used to it). No matter where you book the trip from, you will be shuttled to the eastern coast of Lombok with bus/ferry transfers before getting on the boat.
- The Perama tour is a well advertised trip running 4 days/3 nights from Lombok to Labuan Bajo, and 3 days/2 nights the other way. This sets itself apart from the others by having private (2 person) cabins. Prices are cabin/deck Rp 2,600,000/2,000,000 Lombok-Labuanbajo and Rp 1,800,000/1,300,000 the other way. Be aware of the safety records of these boats
- Pelni ships arrive from Makassar or Lombok. Pelni has two ships calling on Labuanbajo every 2 weeks. Tilongkbila departs for Bima, Lembar (Lombok, 24 hr) and Benoa (Bali) every other Thursday and returns the following Sunday to go to Makassar and other destinations in Sulawesi. Willis departs for Bima - Benoa - Surabaya every other Saturday and returns Saturday one week later to go east to Marapokot and Maumere.
All the tour boats have the same program of snorkelling, trekking and komodo dragon watching, stopping at the same stunning reefs, beaches and waterfalls along the way. For years there have been rumors of safety issues on these boats. However, so far all these rumors have been just that. There are, however, many who remark on the noise (on all boats), so bring earplugs and don't expect any deep, meaningful conversations while the engine is running.
The town is quite small and can easily be traversed on foot (in 10-15 minutes). Ojeks (Rp 3,000-5,000) and bemos pass every 5 minutes if you get tired of walking. You can rent a motorcycle for Rp 75,000/per day.
- Surrounding beaches
- Island tours
- Komodo Dragons
- Kanawa Island
- Diving in the national park
Komodo National Park encompasses a lot of water and islands west of Labuanbajo. If you want to go to Rinca or Komodo islands, or dive in the park you will have to buy a 1 day park pass for US$15 during the weekdays or $18 at weekends. Money from such user fees is collected by the local government and is supposed to go into conservation efforts.
Rinca Island (Indonesian: Rinca Kecil or Pulau Rinca) is a more convenient place to see Komodo Dragons than Komodo island. Some dive operators might be convinced to combine a stop at the island with a days diving - otherwise charters can be arranged, or walk along the main street of Labuan Bajo and some tour agencies may be advertising places on an existing charter. There are big dragons that are often right in front of the pier when people arrive. On arrival a guide will escort you to the park office where you will be relieved of a range of fees, then you can choose a 1 or 2 hour hike. Presumably if you had a pass from Komodo, you would be exempt from at least some of those fees.
The Komodo National Park offer dozens of very pristine dive sites, with many migratory pelagics, vibrant reefs- making it one of the world’s richest marine habitats. The Park is located just offshore and easily reached by liveaboard operators, although daytrips may take two hours or more in each direction. Check that your dive operator is reputable, has safety equipment onboard and if possible is a member of the local dive association who have strict minimum safety requirements for their members.
There are many dive operators that offer dive courses, fun dives and 3 day live aboards. They have fixed pricing for fun dives at Rp 1,200,000 per day incl. 2 dives, full equipment and lunch (Rp 1,500,000 for three dives. Choose one of the Dive Association dive centers for the newest equipment, experienced guides and safety equipment onboard. It is true the currents around Komodo can be quite strong and some sites are unsuitable for beginners, however if you dive with a reputable company, in a small group, with an experienced guide and at the less current swept sites there is no reason even Open Water divers shouldn't be able to enjoy the diving !
- Flores Diving Centre, Labuan Bajo, ☎ +6281353331077, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Very friendly staff. The equipment is in good condition and they offer a wide range of daily boat trips to the dive sites including food and drinks Prices start at 900,000 IDR for a boat trip with 2 dives..
- Reefseekers. Friendly and professional Scottish run scuba shop. Prices are the standard Rp 800,000 for 2 dives including lunch and equipment, discounts for multiple days. Fantastic marine biology lectures set this one apart. Great service as well, and small groups.
- Manta Dive Komodo, Labuan Bajo, e-mail: email@example.com. Diving the national park of Komodo. For experienced divers and photographers.
Labuan Bajo is the most convenient point from which to go snorkelling in the Komodo National Park. The snorkeling within the park offers many opportunities to see pristine reefs with some of the greatest fish and coral diversity in the world.
Seraya Island (Indonesian: Pulau Seraya) is little more than a small, arid island outside of the Komodo National Park with a few bamboo huts for tourist lodging, a restaurant, and some villagers who let their goats graze on vegetation. The island’s cove is protected from the sea, providing calm and clear water for snorkelling. At low tide the coral is exposed and local fishermen walk on the reef in search of prey. Rowboats can be rented and taken to nearby islands for snorkelling and diving. Make sure to run up to the top of the hill behind the resorts and check out the sunset. The lodges on the island do have showers, but running water is only available a few hours a day.
One of the more spectacular displays of nature in the area is at Kalong Island (Indonesian: Pulau Kalong; also spelt Kalung), which literally means "Flying Fox Island." The name is quite appropriate as the island is home to thousands of Kalong, or giant flying fox bats. Boats to Kalong can be chartered from Labuanbajo for around Rp 300,000 for a return ride, including a snorkelling stop at a nearby island before you reach Pulau Kalong. Your boat will be moored next to the mangrove island and at dusk literally tens of thousands of flying foxes emerge from the mangrove island and move over your boat towards Rinca Island. For the entire colony to emerge will take roughly 20 min of continuous waves of bats passing over your boat. The boat ride to/from Labuanbajo will take roughly one hour. This trip can also be packaged into a one day tour together with (for example) a visit of Rinca Island and some snorkelling in the area.
There are currently three ATMs in town which belong to the BNI bank and can deliver up to Rp 2,500,000 per transaction in Rp 100,000 or Rp 50,000 notes, but also a few other banks and one money changer. There is a bad rate, so better change enough money before coming here.
Shops selling tourist trinkets, local fabric, and Komodo Dragon carvings are located in the center of town. Western products of varying quality are available in the toko or kiosk alongside the roads.
Consider taking a trip to the market early in the morning to purchase local coffee, spices, or just to look over a wealth of local produce and goods.
Choose from a variety of Indonesian, Chinese, and Western restaurants on the main road. There are also many masakan padang places along the main road, which are worth checking out for an inexpensive and filling meal. Opposite the TransNusa office there is a Soto Makassar place. As a tourist place some cheating takes place: some restaurants add 10% "service tax" to the bill. Other restaurants refuse to give change less of than 1000 rupiah. Insist on exact change.
Everything is on the main road. From north to south you have...
- The Corner. Seafood restaurant.
- Pesona. Standard menu of western menu and seafood.
- MadeinItaly. If you are Italian, the food served here might remind you of home. Pizza, pasta, risotto, antipasti or tiramisu; if it's Italian, they have it. It is, however, fairly upscale, and eating here every day would be a strain on your budget.
- Treetop. Great view of the bay, especially from the upstairs area. Extensive menu with many Chinese and Western dishes. Free WiFi. You can play pool downstairs.
- Fish market, Jl. Soekarno Hatta (Along the northeast part of the main road). Lots of food stalls along the harborfront in the evening. Fresh fish grilled to order.
- Happy Banana (To the south, near where the road splits into one way only.). Delicious food. Not only sushi. Wifi and AC. Tables with power outlet. 30-60 000Rp.
- Blue Corner (5 south of main harbor.). Local food. Very good mie goreng. 25 000Rp.
Beer (Rp 20,000) and Arak is available from the supermarkets and some of the shops around town. You can get the local moonshine (Arak), however, it resembles paint thinner, and it's not unlikely that you will go blind if it is contaminated with methyl alcohol.
- Paradise Bar (10 min walk north from the centre of town). The only bar that is open until late and has a fantastic view of the sunset. Every Saturday (at least) there is live music till late night, though don't get high expectations about their taste in cover songs. Paradise also serves pretty decent food.
- The Lounge. The default place for a sundowner. Anker beer is the best-seller, (Rp 27,000-25,000 + tax). They also serve cocktails and food until 23:00. Shisha is available, try the apple/mint flavor for that freshmaker feeling.
- Mediterraneo. Good sunset view, also for the food.
There is plenty of accommodation to choose from in Labuanbajo. And with tourism growing exponentially, new places are springing up constantly. The cheapest places are the local homestays (Penginapan) near the ferry port. However, practice your Indonesian first.
Listed from north to south, here are some of the hotels. All places include breakfast, but to some breakfast merely translates into a cup of coffee. Ask first to avoid disappointment.
- Gardena Hotel. Once the default budget place, the hotel now offers new bungalows on the top of the hill with great view. The old rooms, while falling apart are big with old beds, mosquito nets and private bathrooms in a shared wooden bungalow setting. The hotel also runs the resort on Seraya Kecil Island (Rp 250,000); a stay on the island (2 nights minimum) can be booked at the front desk. Rp 150,000-250,000.
- Bajo Beach Hotel. The beach part, is purely marketing. However, it's clean and well-run, with the rooms of similar size and price to Gardena, it is worth checking out before putting down your bags at either. They are among the few that have (broken) western toilets. For an extra Rp 100,000 you can get a room with A/C. Rp 120,000.
- Komodo Indah (5-10 minutes south of main harbor, left side of the road.). Tired, somewhat musty rooms with big bathrooms (Rp 150,000) or similar rooms with shared bathroom (125,000 Rp). The sole shared bathroom is shared by many, though, has no shower, and occasionally doesn't even have water. The beds are comfortable. There are no mosquito nets but there are not too many mosquitoes. Add Rp 100,000/night for A/C. Decent Wifi. Rp 100,000-150,000.
- Hotel Matahari. The restaurant has great views of the bay, and the rooms are located below it in two floors. The upper rooms still views and some sunshine, but the downstairs do not. Mosquito nets are provided and needed. Fairly dingy and dirty in parts but good airflow and nice lower deck for sunset watching. Rp 100,000-150,000 with own toilet and shower, inc breakfast).
- Surya Hotel. Excellent good value choice. Spotlessly clean tiled rooms, brand new with bathrooms and fan or A/C set around a charming flowered little courtyard with ever present helpful staff. 10 min walk out of town, which is why it is such good value. Rp 150,000-250,000.
- Manta-Manta Homestay (Path up the hill from the main road; near Bajo View). A handful of rooms on the hill. Pleasant and some distance away from the traffic on the main road. Can be a bit difficult to find - look for the sign advertising nearby Bajo View. Clean and bright rooms. 200,000 Rp.
- Bajo View. This place up on the hill from the main road is unique in that it has tents set up permanently in a courtyard. The tents have a built-in fan to keep the heat down. Nice bar overlooking Labuan Bajo. 170,000 Rp for a tent that fits two people. Shared toilets.
- Cool Corner Backpacker Hostel (On the main road just past MadeInItaly restaurant). The only dorm-style hostel in town. Two rooms with 8 or so beds each. Cramped and very basic; no common room or any other typical hostel facilities, though it does offer AC, custom built bunkbeds and clean bedding. The toilet/shower is its main weakness (as there is only one for the entire hostel). 60,000 Rp.
- Chez Felix (Down the main road, turn left at the Warnet and up the hill). The Felix Hotel (Rp 250,000) is new and hits a sweet spot between quality and price. Mainly because it's new and clean.
- Golo Hilltop Hotel. To get away from the noise the Golo Hill Top Hotel is excellent with great views and a delightful new pool. Standard rooms are fan-only, and the wall fan is in an odd position which limits its effectiveness. Food comparable to the Gardena but great service. It is a 5-10 min walk to town down the hill - the road is terrible but the walk is not too bad, even on the way back up (best to carry a torch at night). Rp 250-450,000.
- Green Hill Hotel. Boutique hotel (whatever that means) with A/C and big bathrooms. The service will netiher offend nor impress you and the problems they encounter (such as power cuts) are truly not their fault. However, the price tag this place comes with might make you expect more. However, if you want a reliable option and are willing to pay for that, this is your place. Rp 450,000.
- Sylvia Resort Komodo, Waecicu Beach (5km north of Labuan Bajo). 50 rooms, lobby lounge, pool tables, Wi-Fi access, restaurant. Two swimming pools, one for the kiddies and another for adults. The rooms all have A/C and solar hot water, King size beds, and TV. Rp.550,000/night.
- Bintang Flores (10 min drive south of dusty Labuan Bajo). It's so so. US$100-250.
- The Jayakarta Suites Komodo Flores, Jalan Pantai Pede Km 5, Labuan Bajo, Flores, ☎ +623852443688. Located only 10 minutes by car from Komodo Airport. Check for the rooms and facilities in their website. Breakfast is awesome. They provide a professional diving club, Orca Dive. It's worth to try! US$60-200.
Internet cafes along the main road are plentiful, and their connections are all generally the same at 1 Mbit/s which is fine for Skype and youtube. The Warnet in the south has the newest hardware, and most places have headsets for Skype.
All restaurants mentioned above have free Wi-Fi.
- Komodo National Park encompasses a lot of water and islands west of Labuanbajo. If you want to go to Rinca or Komodo islands, or dive in the park you will have to buy a 3 day park pass for US$15. Money from such user fees is collected by the local government and is supposed to go into conservation efforts. Rinca Island (Indonesian: Rinca Kecil or Pulau Rinca) is a more convenient place to see Komodo Dragons than Komodo island. Some dive operators might be convinced to combine a stop at the island with a days diving. There are big dragons that are often right in front of the pier when people arrive.
- Kanawa Island (Pulau Kanawa) is surrounded by spectacular reefs with thousands of fish species, turtles, corals and reef sharks. Sometimes it is possible to see some stingrays and small sharks just around the arrival jetty. You can dive from the island with companies such as Wunderpus Diving ( www.wunderpusliveaboard.com ) who will collect you each morning and drop you off in the afternoon after diving, they will also offer course based from the island at times. Kanawa island is 10 km away from Labuan Bajo (about 1hr with a local boat or 10 min with speed boat) and located just at the borders of Komodo National Park. on Kanawa there is a small bungalow resort, designed for travelers, complete with restaurant etc... possible to visit the national park directly from there with wooden boats. Reef around Kanawa is protected, so fishing is not allowed, but the restaurant provides fabulous fresh seafood coming form the nearby fisherman island. Turtles love to hatch on the beach just next to the restaurant.
- Seats on 12-seater "Travel Buses" to Ruteng, Bajawa, Ende, Moni, Maumere etc can be arranged through the Perama office on the main street - the price usually includes pick-up from your hotel.