Flores is an island located in the Eastern part of Indonesia in the province of East Nusa Tenggara. It’s named Flores, which means ‘flowers’ in Portuguese due to its lush landscapes. Most people take a flight to the city Labuan Bajo in the West, visit the famous Komodo National Park for a few days and then fly back to Bali. Flores has much more to offer than just the Komodo islands! And it’s so easy to explore Flores by bus.
After doing a liveaboard in Komodo I decided to postpone my flight back to Bali to see more of the island. There are different ways to explore Flores: By motorbike, by hiring a private driver or by taking the public bus. I’m not a big fan of motorbike tours and travelling on a budget so I travelled Flores by bus using public transport. This blogpost will tell you more about travelling Flores by bus, how to book the bus, bus schedules and everything you need to know to have a smoother journey.
Why you need to visit Flores
If I had to describe Flores in a few words I’d say: Green, original, diverse. The landscapes and nature in Flores is stunning. It features coastline, beautiful beaches, lush and green jungle, big volcanoes and lakes. Due to the altitude in the inner part of the island, temperatures there are around 23 degrees which is a nice change coming from the hot and humid coast.
Flores is mostly Christian-Catholic, whereas the main religion on Bali for example is Hinduism. When you drive around the towns you can see many churches which feels a bit odd thinking you are in Indonesia. On Sundays the locals go to the church and they also celebrate festivities like the communion and Christmas. In the mountain area, especially in cities like Ruteng and Bajawa, you can visit traditional villages and get an authentic insight into what life was and is still like in the rural areas.
As Flores is not super touristy you can experience a very original and still untouched part of Indonesia. In some locations we only met some other tourist at the attractions, but not in town. The local people of Flores are very welcoming. In fact, of all countries I’ve been to, Indonesia’s people are the friendliest. I felt like the people in Flores were interested in us in a very honest and open way.
Explore Flores by bus
Exploring Flores by bus is quite easy once you know how and where to book your tickets. I included my accommodation below as well as the hosts were super helpful when I had to contact the travel agencies and sort out a pick up. As Flores is not a very touristy island it’s always good to have a local speaker by your side.
The available bus options
In general there are scheduled busses, “hitch hike busses” (I named them) and typical public busses. The scheduled busses are all organized by the travel agency Gunung Mas. They have offices in the different cities but can also be called to schedule a pick up (this is when the local speaker comes in handy). There is no official bus schedule and also the pick up times are not always reliable. Gunung Mas is the most comfortable and reliable option to travel Flores by bus. In general you need to have patience and be fine with waiting for over an hour.
Gunung Mas office Labuan Bajo – phone number: 0852 393 22000
In case Gunung Mas is fully booked or not available there is also the option to take the public bus or the “hitch hike busses”. For these two options you basically stand at the side of the road and wait until a car or local bus stops. You tell them where you would like to go and if there is space they will give you a price and drive you to your destination. This method sounds complicated but works really well in Flores! I used the “hitchhike car” once and had to wait for only five minutes until it stopped at the side of the road. People are super friendly and all passengers in the car were picked up at different spots along the road (see more below). It might even be the best way to get around Flores!
The main tourist spots are around 4-5 hours apart from each other. I found travelling by bus quite comfortable as I could fully focus on the views. You can expect windy and steep roads, changing temperatures and a cool breeze. The route I followed by bus was the following:
- Labuan Bajo
Labuan Bajo to Ruteng
The first leg of the journey is from Labuan Bajo to Ruteng which takes around 4-5 hours. In Labuan Bajo you can either take a Grab to Gunung Mas office or ask your host to give them a call. I recommend to schedule the bus in the late morning to arrive in Ruteng in the afternoon. You then have some time to explore the city and organize the next day.
For your stay in Labuan Bajo I highly recommend Hotel Mehara. Their double rooms feature a lovely view over the city, with the ocean in the back. They were also super helpful organizing the pickup from the hotel. Restaurants and shops are all within short walking distance.
All in all the bus from Labuan Bajo to Ruteng was very comfortable. Lots of leg space, a nice breeze (no AC) and no stops. The only annoying thing was that I had to wait for the bus to pick us up at the hotel for over 1 hour. Cost per person: 120,000 IDR.
In Ruteng you should stay at D-Rima Homestay. The owner Ricardo is an incredibly friendly and helpful host. His wife Linda makes amazing food – you can order lunch and dinner at any time. It’s the best vegetarian food I’ve had in Flores! The room price also includes a nice breakfast.
Ruteng to Bajawa
The drive from Ruteng to Bajawa is slightly longer with around 5-6 hours on the road. Road conditions are great, but super windy at some points. I’m not sure if I recommend this travel to people who get motion sickness easily.
When I wanted to travel to Bajawa, all the busses from Gunung Mas were fully booked. My host at D-Rima Homestay therefore organized a public bus. At around 11 am I got picked up at the accommodation by car. Luckily that car ended up being the so called ‘public bus’. They said there weren’t many people taking the public bus so they ended up taking a car instead. In total we were 5 people sitting in the car (it had 3 rows). All in all a very comfortable journey for 150,000 IDR per person.
Kristian’s Homestay is a nice guesthouse in Bajawa. The room price includes breakfast and free drinking water. Kristian can also help you organize your onward travels, offers day tours and you can rent a scooter at the accommodation for only 100,000 IDR per day.
Bajawa to Moni
The longest journey was from Bajawa to Moni with over 6 hours on the bus. I organized the tickets for this leg in Ruteng as I didn’t want the busses to be fully booked. My advice for you is to do the same: Book the tickets from Bajawa to Moni in Ruteng. The cost is 200,000 IDR per person. The bus again was very comfortable. The only thing is that there are not really breaks so you need to ask the driver to stop for toilets. It’s good to bring lots of water and snacks as 6 hours can be quite long.
In case you can’t book the transport in Ruteng there is the option to have a public bus organized by Kristian or check at the Gunung Mas office in Bajawa. The office and bus station in Bajawa is 2.5 km outside of town though so you will either need a scooter to get there or get a scooter taxi (10,000 IDR per person).
In Moni I stayed at EJA Guesthouse. The rooms are bright, spacious and modern. Unfortunately this guesthouse doesn’t provide free drinking water and Wi-Fi, and they charged 150,000 IDR to rent a scooter for only half day.
Moni to Maumere
Moni is quite a small town and doesn’t have ticketing offices for transport. Getting from Moni to Maumere, which is around two hours away, was super easy though! I waited at the side of the road and after only five minutes a car stopped. The driver said he was going to Maumere. We agreed on a price of 75,000 IDR per person. I was surprised how smooth and easy it was to find a driver. I didn’t even have to wait for the official public bus. All in all the ride was very comfortable.
A very comfortable hotel in Maumere is Merlin Hotel. It’s clean and offers spacious rooms. All in all I recommend to not stay more than 1 night in Maumere. It feels more like a small town than a city, you can’t really access the water and there is not much to do. The choice of restaurants is also quite limited, especially if you are vegetarian.
Maumere to Labuan Bajo
The quickest and cheapest way to get from Maumere back to Labuan Bajo is by plane. If you add up the travel costs by public transport you probably pay the same price in the end. Taking the bus from Maumere to Labuan Bajo is only possible via a night stop at Ruteng. You should therefore plan at least 2 days to travel back to Labuan Bajo. Have a look at the chapter ‘Things I would’ve done differently‘ to read more about how I would’ve changed this route in hindsight. All in all travelling by bus in Flores was super easy!
Flores travel advice
There are some things to consider to make your travel through Flores a bit smoother.
SIM Card data Bali vs. Flores
If you are coming from Bali and purchased a SIM Card there, depending on your provider, you might realize that the internet stops working in Flores. With Telkomsel, the data you purchase in Bali doesn’t work in Flores and vice versa. To solve this problem just go to a Telkomsel store and ask them to top up your data for this region (you don’t have to change your SIM card). 8 GB cost around 50,000 IDR.
Free drinking water
A lot of homestays I visited had water tanks to refill your drinking water for free. To reduce plastic waste I think it’s in general a good idea to always have a refillable water bottle with you while travelling. In Flores you can even save some money on water as most home stays don’t charge for the refill.
I’ve never experienced people being so friendly and open like they are in Flores. I couldn’t walk through the streets without being greeted what felt like every two minutes. The people asked me if I needed a lift, where I wanted to go and gave advice on what to do in the area. But not in a weird and uncomfortable way! When I travelled the South of Laos this was totally different for example. There I felt alone and the local people people didn’t care about me. Especially in Flores, but Indonesia in general, I felt very safe the whole time and I had deep trust that I could ask for and receive help whenever I needed it.
Flores is one of the less travelled countries and therefore you might have a harder time finding the comfort you get as a traveller in islands like Bali. Some towns I went to only had 1 or 2 basic restaurants, one homestay didn’t have any Wi-Fi. The busses are usually delayed, the driver is going fast and overtaking a lot and it’s all a big adventure. Flores is a beautiful island but can sometimes feel challenging. Keep an open mindset, be friendly and have patience. Trust, that things will work out in the end – they really do!
Things I would’ve done differently
Last but not least I would like to share some things I would’ve done differently in hindsight – maybe they will help you planning your trip to Flores!
Bring warmer clothes
My trip around Flores was very spontaneous and I therefore not really well prepared. I left my long trousers and my rain coat in Koh Tao. With low temperatures in the higher areas of Flores I was missing them a lot though. I put on every thing I brought to not be too cold. Make sure you have some warm clothes with you that are good for cooler temperatures. Rain coats are available anywhere but maybe you have one anyway so it’s good to bring it. When I was in Moni there was some rain in the morning and sitting on a scooter while it’s raining is not the best. Especially if you can’t afford your clothes getting wet.
I try to avoid flying where it’s not really needed. My carbon footprint is probably quite high due to travelling anyway but I think it’s still important to be aware of it and try to reduce it where possible. I flew from Bali to Labuan Bajo, took a flight back to Labuan Bajo from Maumere and then went back to Bali on another flight. In hindsight I would’ve flewn into Maumere from Labuan Bajo and travelled back to Labuan Bajo by bus. Then from Labuan Bajo you can take a boat back to Lombok and from there end the travel loop in Bali (or even Java). It’s one less flight, and more importantly one big adventure that is added to your journey! I think the boat trip from Labuan Bajo to Lombok is spectacular. You will go through Komodo National Park and see parts of Indonesia that are not on a normal travel agenda.
Update from a fellow traveller: To avoid flying altogether get Pelni ferry from Bali to Maumere, and then work your way back.
All in all I am very happy that I extended my stay in Flores to see more of the island itself. It’s a real gem. Travelling Flores by bus and public transport is incredibly easy and much cheaper than hiring a private driver. The nature, the culture and its people I’ve seen along the way were something I haven’t found on my travels yet.