Long hidden in the shadows of its more famous neighbour Bali, the island of Flores is part of a volcanic belt which stretches from Sumatra through Java and the Banda Sea – and is most famous for its population of Komodo dragons.
The chain of 14 active volcanoes creates a myriad of valleys and knife-edged ridges, creating a diverse landscape that is home to abundant flora and fauna. Attractions include Mt. Kelimutu’s tri-coloured lakes and the many cascading waterfalls within the national park, as well as the island’s white-sand beaches – Komodo Island also has a pink sand beach (one of the 7 in the world).
Beyond its shores, you can dive at one of the 50 spectacular dive sites, go kayaking among craggy coasts and mangrove shores, explore intriguing caves, and experience the hospitality and unique rituals of the island’s people.
Komodo National Park
Komodo National Park, which consists of three large islands – Rinca, Padar and Komodo – is home to the endangered Komodo dragon. This UNESCO site is where you can encounter the world’s largest living lizard in their natural habitat, which features panoramic views of savannas, rainforests, and white beaches. These solitary creatures come together during the mating season between June and August.
The dragons can be spotted along designated paths on Komodo Island. It’s a 3 to 4-hour hike to Mt. Ara, while on Rinca Island, the trek is about 1.5 hours. The best option is to hire a guide and carry a stick for protection. Lucky visitors may catch a glimpse of these predators attacking their prey – despite their sheer size, they are not active hunters, preferring instead to stalk their prey.
Other attractions on Komodo include a pink-sand beach, and you may spot hers of wild deer, buffalos and wild horses.
Mt. Kelimutu National Park
Mt. Kelimutu National Park is famous for its 3 lakes collectively called Kelimutu, that changes colours from blue and green to red and white. Hiking to the lakes, which are located at the summit of Mt. Kelimutu at 1,690m, is a popular activity, following a challenging 12 km track. The best time to see the lakes is very early in the morning when the thick fog clears as the sun rises. There are other hiking trails in the park, but due to the geothermal instability around the park, it’s best to trek in the safe areas between Moni and Mt. Kelimutu. The park also protects many species of endemic birds, including the Floresian kancilan and Floresian eagle.
Flores has several dive areas, and the best way to explore Flores’ underwater terrain is on a liveaboard as the dive spots are spaced quite far apart. The most popular site is around Komodo National Park, where the deep-sea vents are nutrient-rich waters attract endless schools of fish and thick carpets of corals and other invertebrates. The sites vary from easy coral slopes to sheer cliff walls and flat bottoms, underwater plateaus and plenty of swim-through caves with varying colours and types of pristine coral. Mantas, sharks, turtles, dolphins and whales can also be spotted.
Maumere Bay is probably the only area you can explore without a liveaboard – however, operators here are few. Diving in Maumere tends to focus on wrecks or the ocean’s smaller creatures.
The best conditions for diving Flores are from April to December as this usually forms the majority of the dry season. The diving scene here is normally catered for intermediate to advanced divers, due to the strong currents that are present, in addition to the general lack of qualified divemasters.
The village of Lamalera is home to traditional whale hunting, a practice which dates back to the 17th century. Using simple sailboats following ancient traditions, the villagers hunt whales to provide food for the entire village – this is why it is exempt from the international ban on whaling. Annually, whales migrate from the Indian to the pacific ocean from May to October.
Whaling is done on traditional flimsy wooden boats (peledang), which are manned by 7-14 men, including harpooners. Prior to the hunt, these Catholic inhabitants attend a mass to pray for a successful expedition. Once prey is spotted, it is harpooned and towed to the shore – visitors can visit the event but being on a separate boat is advised, as it can get very rough on board. In one season, islanders catch between 15 to 20 whales.
The majority of the inhabitants of Flores are Roman Catholic, but they also practice local traditions, including the Harvest Festival, a major event celebrated across Flores island. You can visit Tado Village where you can take part in a series of activities such as making traditional oil lamps or making rope out sugar palm fibres. Ancient ritual t9ours and jungle survival treks can also be requested.
There is no direct flight from Singapore to Flores Island. The nearest international gateway is via Bali, from where you can take a domestic flight to either Labuan Bajo via Garuda Indonesia or Maumere. For more information, visit www.florestourism.com