Taking a road trip from Maumere to Labuan Bajo (or the other way around), will bring you up above 1,000msl and back to the seashore for 4 times in about 500km, the views are constantly jaw-dropping, and the local culture is unique, traditional villages are scattered everywhere around.
We did this route by bicycle, it was exhausting but so rewarding that we still dream of those landscapes. If you want to try yourself check our beginner’s guide to bike touring. If instead, you prefer a motorized means of transport for this Flores road trip, you can rent a motorbike or a car both in Labuan Bajo and Maumere.
The map of our road trip itinerary in Flores Island, Indonesia – Click on the track for the elevation profile.
Bicycle Touring Flores Island, East Nusa Tenggara Indonesia
Cycling Flores is incredibly though, in around 530km from Maumere To Labuan Bajo, you’ll go four times from the sea level to more than 1,000msl, climbing incredibly steep slopes under while being baked by the heat.
If that doesn’t scare you, bicycle touring Flores will reward you with a lush and mountainous interior, stunning volcanoes and ancestral cultures. one of the most beautiful islands we’ve ever seen.
It’s difficult to underline the highlights of this road trip since the whole route is gorgeous: Ruteng with its scenic spiderweb rice paddies, the traditional village of Bena, near Bajawa, where Christianity melts with ancestral beliefs, the Kelimutu crater lakes, so close to each other but so different in colors.
And then the white sands of Koka beach and the black ones of Ende, the perfect shape of the nervous volcano Inierie (2,245msl), the pristine jungle all around.
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About Flores Island
Flores is an Island of the East Nusa Tenggara archipelago in Indonesia, mainly famous for the Komodo National Park, the only place in the world where you can see the Komodo Dragons and a diving Mecca. Komodo is definitely one of the most popular safaris in Asia.
Flores island is becoming more and more popular among the more adventurous tourists, mostly fed up with the crowds of Bali and the Gili islands. Even though most of them stick to the western part, using Labuan Bajo as a base to explore Komodo National Park, do snorkeling or diving and seeing the famous dragons, there’s much more to see in Flores.
On this relatively small island, there are 17 volcanoes, 6 different language, cultures and costumes still tied to the old traditions, and last but not least, stunning beaches.
How to get to Flores from Java
The easiest way, of course, to get to Flores is flying there. Internal flights in Indonesia are quite cheap and frequent. Besides our dislike for flights in general, our problem was mainly figuring how to get the bicycles there.
No airline could answer our simple question: can we carry the bicycles on the plane in Indonesia? Just to give you an example, Garuda (one of the National Airlines of Indonesia), answered this question with: “I don’t know, you can try”. So we opted for the ship, hoping that Pelni would’ve been a little better than our nightmare experience (from Borneo to Java) with Dharma Kencana.
From Surabaya (Java) to Maumere (Flores) by Pelni Ship
Being fed up with cycling the busy and stinky roads of Java, we reached Surabaya by night bus (50,000 rupiahs, 6/8 hours or more).
The port is about 15km from the bus station. Buy your tickets only at the official Pelni ticket office (which is not in the port, GPS coordinates -7.244765, 112.738432) all agencies, including the official ones, will scam you.
Our Pelni ship, the KM Nggapulu, wasn’t that bad compared to the Dharma Kencana one we took from Borneo (but that was a real nightmare, so don’t expect luxury), just dozen of cockroaches instead of thousands. Our trip took 18 hours, but some boats can be slower, depending on the stops they make.
Maumere is a small and pretty ugly town, but it still is the major city of Flores Island, with a population of 100,000. There are a few unremarkable accommodation options in town, among which we probably end up in one of the worst, cockroaches also here.
Going a few km east there are much nicer beach options. The beach is black sand, not stunning itself but the underwater world is gorgeous, big coral reef here – indeed tourists Maumere is a hotspot for diving in Indonesia.
From Maumere to the small village of Paga there are about 60km, with two hills going up to 300msl, easy enough compared to what’s going to come. We crossed so the island from the north to the south in one of its narrowest points. The coral reef here is wide and it’s very hard to bath. There’s a great value bamboo guesthouse, one of the few places to eat.
8km from Paga is the stunning Koka Beach, you’ll have to take a steep road to the left, signposted. In Koka Beach, there’s a beautiful and super cheap bungalow owned a funny guy named Ricky. Sleep there.
The show begins. First of all, you’ll have to get back to the main road from Koka Beach, one hell of a kilometer. Then the road starts to go up, from 0 to 500msl in 10km, up and down for 10km more, 6km of descending (that you’ll curse) and than up again for again ten km to 750msl.
This stretch of road is tough but gorgeous, jungle all around and incredible views of the sea, but there are very few places to eat. Basically, there’s one village about 20km from Koka Beach where they can “cook” some instant noodles. To cool yourself down there are many small streams and waterfalls along the way.
Moni is almost a fake town, basically a bunch of guesthouses that seem to have agreed to charge all the same price (10€), not very smart since some are way better than others. Just out of Moni, direction Labuan Bajo, there’s a nice waterfall.
Kelimutu Crater Lakes – A scooter detour
From Moni to the Kelimutu Crater Lakes, the main local attraction, there are about 8km of uphill. We decide to rent a motorbike (6€ for the whole day) to have more time to spend at the lakes. The climb anyway, didn’t look so steep and there’s not much of a hike to do up at the craters.
The Kelimutu is a dormant volcano, whose craters are filled with water. The peculiar thing is that these lakes, despite being very close to each other, have very different colors. Moreover, they also change color during the day, find out more about the Kelimutu Lakes on our guide (upcoming). There’s also a secret hike from Moni that lets you bypass the ripping off entry fee of 10€ (12 on Sundays).
Going down from the same road there are two free-access hot springs, providential to us since we caught a heavy downpour and the temperature up there wasn’t so warm. The first one is a big manmade tub, the second one is very small and hidden among the rice paddies.
Bicycle Touring from Moni to Ende – 62km
Another 10km uphill (reaching over 1,000msl), a short plateau between two valleys and then begins the sweet descent. Landscapes are more and more amazing, terraced rice paddies, lush forest, and great waterfalls. We have to stop every five minutes to take a picture.
If you don’t go too fast, you may notice a small sign on the right-hand side of the street where the traditional village of Wolondopo is located, two kilometers away. A detour worth taking. The road is a steep climb, that reaches to this amazing little village surrounded by coffee plantations. Bamboo houses with thatched roofs and ritual places, people look at us astonished, we are alien, I think here they rarely saw a white man or a tourist in general. This beauty of bicycle touring in Flores (or everywhere else).
Back on the main road, we keep on following it down to Ende, a typical Flores ugly town with a few ugly guesthouses.
Road trip from Ende to Bajawa – 124 km
Cycling east, for the first 40km, the road is a beautiful coastal roller coaster. Black volcanic sand beaches are great to cool down, we met wavy water though.
Then the climb to Bajawa begins, long and steady, 80km up to 1,400msl. It’s not as steep as the one to Moni but its length makes it exhausting. As usual on this road trip in Flores Island, jaw-dropping views are plentiful, with incredible rice terraces that make those of Bali pale in comparison. At about 1,000msl the vegetation changes completely, turning from tropical jungle to almost alpine forest. It gets chilly also.
Even along this road, there are not many options for food and no accommodation. Pack supplies and be ready to pitch your tent if you can’t make it up there, although it won’t be easy to find a camping spot.
Bajawa itself is a moderately big town for Flores standards, with plenty of accommodations available, good food options, and a nice market.
Bena, Gurusina, and other Ngada villages
Bajawa is one of the more interesting areas in Flores island, it’s the land of the Lio people, an ancestral ethnic group that has preserved its tradition almost intact.
Traveling by bicycle to this villages though is very hard and time-consuming. Although the road is paved, the gradients are extreme for bicycle touring. So again we rent a scooter for the price of 6€ per day.
Bena, Gurusina, and the other Ngada villages are simply unbelievable, like being teleported to a different time and space. Ritual monolithic altars, bamboo houses, thatched roofs, family totems, buffalo skulls, sand painting, sacred decorations, traditional weaving, and more unique stuff. Learn more about them by readingour article about Bena, Gurusina, and the other Ngada villages.
Bena is about 13km from Bajawa, add a few more for Gurusina. Not far from Gurusina there’s an almost secret spot not to be missed, the Malanage Hot Springs (GPS -8.883712, 121.003758 – Google knows)
From Bajawa to Borong by bike – 80km
The road trip of Flores island continues, bicycle touring from the mountaintop to the shore again, as usual. This section of road goes around the picture-perfect volcano Inerie, the highest volcano on Flores with its 2,245 meters.
The road hits Aimere, a non-existent town famous for the production of Arak, a homemade type of alcohol distilled from palm or rice. Here, once a week, a long distance Pelni ship, stops by on its route to Papua. This is the best option to reach Sumba island straight from Flores, but it’s very hard to plan accordingly since these boat schedules are enveloped in some sort of mysterious secrecy.
The beaches of Aimere district are made of beautiful black sand, the scenery is epic, with the Inerie volcano looming over. From here the road goes up again to 500msl and then down to 0, to the forgettable city of Borong.
Bicycle trip from Borong to Ruteng – 54km
That’s probably the toughest part of our bicycle touring itinerary of Flores Island. From the sea level to 1,400msl in 35 km, a bike touring hell. The scenery though, is more beautiful than ever, with rice terraces that make the famous Ubud ones pale at the comparison.
At the 32nd kilometer, there’s the Ranamese lake a scam of a lake. An overpriced entry fee (don’t remember how much) and an overpriced guesthouse (30€ maybe, for a crappy room). They even built a wall not to let you spot the lake from the road, you can go around it anyway, and see that it’s just a nice like, not worth spending money to see, IMHO.
The last 20km to Ruteng are downhill, may macaques around. Ruteng itself is nothing special, just a place to sleep while exploring the surroundings. Local attractions areGoro Curu(a small hill perfect early morning walks),Poco Ranaka (an active volcano),Poco Ngandonalu (the highest peak in Flores, 2,367msl), and the Leang Bua Caves, where the fossils of homo florensis (a distinct species of homo, only 1-meter tall, who lived on Flores only 17,000 years ago)were found.
The last section of the road trip, from Ruteng to Labuan Bajo – 126km
The road stays above 1,000msl for 50km, going a bit up and down with strong ripples. This is the part of the itinerary of this Flores road trip where is possible to admire the unique Spider-Web rice fields, rice paddies made in the shape of spider-webs indeed, an ancient way of dividing the land among the villagers, which also has a cosmogonic meaning.
Somewhere south of the main road, is the peculiar traditional village of Wae Rebo, only accessible on foot (a three-hour hike). Wae Rebo is an old Manggaraian village, where to see the Mbaru Niang, traditional, circular cone-shaped houses.
The road then goes on a scenic downhill, and them pretty flat for 30km. Then another climb from 200msl to 950msl in 8km, before the final 20 flat kilometers to Labuan Bajo.
Labuan Bajo is the only real touristic center of Flores island, everything is overpriced here, the beaches are dirty. The best part is no-doubt the fish market near the harbor, where you can eat fresh fish for a ridiculously cheap price.