After visiting Java, we travelled onwards to Flores Island. Flores in the East Nusa Tenggara province of Indonesia is one of the few Christian islands of Indonesia. So what better place to spend Christmas when in Indonesia? 😉
tl;dr – Want to watch a video instead?
Travelling on the Trans-Flores Highway
The main road connecting the largest cities on Flores is not-so-aptly named the “Trans-Flores-Highway”. That might sound like a motorway, but is actually a very curvy and sometimes quite challenging mountain road – but also offers some stunning views of the beautiful landscape and cute villages of Flores Island. We travelled by Gunung Mas Intercity Bus between Labuan Bajo and Ruteng, which takes about 5 hours during the rainy season – the blue busses run several times a day, pick you up and drop you off exactly where you need to go and are very comfortable, with leather seats and air condition. The bus will stop for coffee or lunch in Lembor. No comparison to “Bemo” local busses 😉
Christmas in Ruteng
Western Flores is mostly inhabited by the Manggarai people, more than 90% of which are Catholics. For Christmas, we visited friends living in Ruteng, one of the largest Manggarai cities and seat of Ruteng Diocese. Celebrating Christmas was quite different than it is in Europe, like having to be at the cathedral two hours before mass began to get a seat, or the fact that there are decorative presents under all Christmas trees – but people do not actually give presents on Christmas. I particularly enjoyed the totally over-the-top, colourful street decorations: everywhere in Ruteng, neighbours team up to decorate their street with the most colourful, blinking lights.
In some parts of Ruteng, you can still see the traditional layout of the Manggarai villages: a central square built around the house of a local chief and the graves of ancestors, with fields and houses spreading out like spiderwebs.
Tip: The best Cappuccino in Ruteng
Five years ago, we really missed our coffee when in Ruteng… but this has changed: Calin Café in the centre of Ruteng might be the coolest Cappuccino place between Labuan Bajo and Ende. The owner Andreas trained as a Barista in Munich and then opened his own Café in the centre of Ruteng. When you pass through Ruteng, don’t miss out on a great Cappuccino!
Liang Bua Cave
Just 15km away from Ruteng, Liang Bua cave is hidden in the lush green forest. In 2014, 30.000 year old human remains were found in the limestone cave – and those humans were only about 1 metre high. The drive to Liang Bua takes some time due to the road being very small and winding. The cave is accessible and there is a small museum near the cave entrance with information about the ongoing research.
Labuan Bajo on the Western tip of Flores is where most tourists will stop, because it has the island’s main airport and is the starting point for boat tours to Komodo island. Labuan Bajo changed massively since our first visit five years ago: the whole harbour area was completely rebuilt with a new seaside promenade, light house and event area. The long-term goal of the Indonesian government is to lure more tourists from overcrowded Bali to Labuan Bajo. Whether that is a good development is questionable – on the one hand it is turning what was a lovely small port city into a tourist resort, on the other hand it is creating much-needed jobs on Flores.
New Year in Labuan Bajo
We ended our trip to Indonesia with the New Year’s celebrations in Labuan Bajo, with a big concert and fireworks on the new waterfront.