Flores can be found between Bali and Timor. Located in a biodiversity transition zone between Asia and Australia (the Wallace and Webber lines), Flores has a spectacularly unique biodiversity with 14 active volcanos, pristine marine habitats, and relatively low human population density.
Steeped in culture and history, Flores is not just an adventurers paradise. It is home to 7 distinct ethnic groups, many of which blend Catholicism and Animism.
A once powerful island, Flores was home of several kingdoms that launched and won a few rebellions against the Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch. In ancient history, there are scientific mysteries that have yet to be understood – from the discovery of what may be a pre-homosapian man, and remains that suggest a species of miniature elephants.
Although it is only an hour by plane from tourism hotspot Bali, it is worlds apart.
We were a large group of family and friends, ranging from my 1-year-old son, Ash, to some more seasoned travellers and cyclists in our 40’s and 50’s. In-between this we had an 8-year-old, two 11-year-olds, two mid-late teens and a few non-riding partners (which was soon to change!)
A few members of our group had spent time in Labuan Bajo and the Komodo National Park and we were excited to experience inland Flores. We had no idea at this point how amazing our 10-day adventure would turn out to be.
The first 6 days of our journey began with an inland adventure, starting with our arrival in Ende, in the middle of Flores. Here, we were met by the Rove team, led by Sylvester, one of the island’s top guides. The genuine and friendly greeting, and immediate assistance with luggage and logistics, was a sign of the hospitality that we were to experience throughout Flores.
Our first stop was a traditional Lio restaurant, the largest ethnic group in the Ende district, for a delicious lunch made up of pork, chicken and vegetable dishes, with both spicy options and less spicy options for the younger members of the group. For those who like a bit of spice, the traditional and freshly made sambal dadak of Flores is a must try. It is made using a traditional stone pestle and mortar; Sambal chilli, garlic, shallot, tomato and a handful of secret ingredients are combined as the perfect accompaniment to the delicious food.
After lunch we were soon on our bikes for the first in a series of beautiful rides that we embarked on over the next 6 days. Cycling in Flores usually involves some semi-rough or paved roads but the traffic is generally light or non-existent.
It was fascinating passing through the many villages and seeing the curiousity of the local people as we passed through in our brightly coloured spandex – and were not shy to ask us “where are you going?” or “why are you doing this?”
The topography of Flores, and with credit to our Rove guides, meant that on most days the riding had a combination of climbing up to the inland plateau for a bit of morning exercise, enjoying a more leisurely ride along the plateau in the hotter part of the day, and then some exhilarating, sweeping downhill runs, riding alongside the coast to close off the expedition. This allowed the more serious cyclists amongst us to really challenge ourselves whilst giving plenty of more casual, family-friendly options for the other members of the group.
With the amazing support crew and multiple vehicles, everyone, except our 1-year-old spent at least some time riding. Many of our group even spent a lot longer riding than they initially thought they would. Some days the more serious cyclists would head off first whilst the rest of the group relaxed and caught up later to ride and have lunch, or would go ahead to visit markets, villages or beaches, while the daft cyclists amongst us piled on more kilometres. We were exceptionally well accommodated throughout to really make the adventure our own, and the guides did an incredible job of balancing the wishes of the group.
There were so many experiences in our 6-days inland that it’s difficult to pick a favourite. The people, the culture and the food was what brought the country to life, and while it is almost incongruous to pick favourite sites, there were a number of places that we visited that were understated highlights.
In no particular order:
Mount Kelimutu – We spent a morning here trekking to the peak and viewing the most amazing three coloured crater lakes.
Riung 17 Islands Marine Park – We spent the day island hopping, snorkelling, exploring pristine, empty beaches and visiting Bat island!
Bena, a UNESCO World Heritage Site – a beautiful experience as the village appeared out of the bamboo forest at dusk, flanked by the imposing Inerie volcano and with views down to the south coast. This is the ancestral home of the Ngada. Taken care of by their relatives, it remains a living, thriving community.
The Ngada follow animist beliefs that require houses face a central square that holds megalithic formations and totems used in ceremonies still practiced today. It is way to mix the living with the ancestors, as the area is used also like a public park.
I was lucky enough to be invited to play football with the local boys here, and it was a fantastically rewarding experience to get involved with the community and learn more about their lives.
For such an unchartered destination, Flores has remarkably good accommodation. Everywhere we stayed was clean and hospitable, ranging from standard hotels to lodges nestled on the bank of a river.
Our final 4 days were based in Labuan Bajo and we spent these in the stunning Komodo National Park, which warrants a whole post of its own!
The Komodo Dragons are certainly a must see but the National Park is so much more than that. In 1991 the Komodo National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spent our days on the pristine waters on the beautiful Rove catamaran, Segara Buwana, admiring the stunning waters and islands, climbing peaks for the most amazing vistas, snorkelling on beautiful reefs and seeing the amazing bio-diversity of this area.
We saw a multitude of wildlife with some of the highlights being cruising with sea turtles, swimming alongside baby sharks, watching the dolphins accompany our boat and just admiring the sheer volume of fish and other sea life in the area.
I asked our a guide, Harry, if we would have a chance to see Manta Rays, as this was something big on my list of things to do. He said we had a 95% chance and he didn’t disappoint, we snorkelled for hours with what must have been over 20 Manta Rays.
Later, we visited the local fish pontoons for our daily, live lobster and fish, cooked on an open wood BBQ on a deserted, pristine island beach.
To sum it all up, I have travelled extensively around the world and this trip ranks right up there as one of the most memorable and fun adventure trips I have been lucky enough to go on. I couldn’t recommend Flores enough. In addition to its natural beauty, culture, food and amazing people, Flores offers an exciting range of adventure including diving, snorkelling, sailing, cruising, cycling, walking and hardcore trekking.
If you get there soon enough you will with no doubt encounter the same experiences we had, before everyone else discovers this spectacular hidden gem.
Written by David Ertle
David Ertle is a keen adventurer and spends his time between Australia and Indonesia. His passion to engage in active endeavours has taken him around the world, discovering both off-the-beaten track escapes and other, more mainstream destinations.