First Time In Labuan Bajo – Labuan Bajo – Flores
Labuan Bajo is the base of operations for almost any tourist operations in Flores. Most importantly, the trips to Komodo and Rinca, home of the fearsome Komodo dragon left from there. The only problem was getting from Bali to Labuan Bajo.
From Ubud, there were a number of tours that involved spending several days on a boat. Four days and three nights, taking in the Gili Islands and a number of islands around Lombok. The cost was $250 to sleep on the deck or $350 for a small cabin. These were both quite steep, and neither of us were too certain how we would handle so much time at sea on a boat of unknown quality, particularly as Indonesia has a questionable track record with boats. We decided instead to fly and get a boat from Labuan Bajo to Komodo Island.
We made our way back to Seminyak, to allow us an easy run to Denpasar’s airport. Entering the huge, grandiose airport that we’d previously only seen at night, we were amazed by how large and open it was. After attempting to find our flight to Flores, we realised that we were in the terminal for International Departures. Whilst internal flights still left from the same airport, we still had a good 15 minute walk with full bags before we would get to our check in.
Bypassing the large double doors that represented International Departures, it felt a little like we were being ushered out of sight, heading down a long corridor that, whilst it was painted in colourful murals depicting Bali’s unique heritage within Indonesia, still felt a little less fancy than the huge hall that we had left behind.
Much to our dismay, arriving at the domestic terminal, we found that it had a drop off point right outside. However, we managed to check in without even having to wait in a queue – Garuda Indonesia put plenty of people on the checking desk. Soon enough, we were on our way to Labuan Bajo. The plane was a smaller plane than any I’d flown on, with a turboprop engine rather than a jet. It had been exactly 364 days since my first flight – just shy of a year – and for some reason I felt almost as nervous about this particular flight as I did back then. Despite having flown on 15 flights in the intervening time.
I’m not sure if it was the threat of a slower plane that didn’t have jets that had me nervous, or the fact that almost everyone that I’d told about my first flight the year before said that I wouldn’t have to worry, as I wasn’t flying on a small plane. But with a capacity only slightly higher than a double decker bus, this plane did feel like it might be small enough to feel ill effects from turbulence. Climbing onboard and finding sick bags behind every seat did nothing to help my confidence.
Making matters worse, our seat was located right next to the propeller, so I got to hear every splutter as it ran up to speed, questioning whether it was whirring too much or not whirring enough.
The takeoff wasn’t as quick as I’d become accustomed to, and the crosswinds on the runway felt a little more pronounced, but ultimately my concerns had been over nothing. The flight passed as normal, albeit at a lower altitude, treating us to incredible views of the islands en route.
A little over an hour later, we were flying over what we thought was Komodo Island – checking our map and trying to match up the coastlines. Komodo was one of our must-sees of the trip, and we were keen to see it from above. The small island was a mix of browns, greens and a multitude of blues and yellows around its circumference. It gave the impression of a remote wilderness, that we were hoping to conquer over the next few days. We knew that conquer was a strong way of putting it.
Soon enough, we landed in Labuan Bajo airport, which was the smallest airport that I’d seen (not that there was a huge amount of competition). The feeling of being on the edge of a wilderness continued here, with the runway being flanked on three sides by scrub with hills and mountains rising up in the distance. Getting through arrivals was a quick affair, and after a 50,000IDR cab ride (~£3ish) – picked up from outside the airport – we were in Labuan Bajo.
Labuan Bajo was a lot like Ranau – in that it gave the impression of being a bit of an ad hoc construction. Paving slabs were uneven where they had actually been laid, there seemed to be scaffolding all over the place, and everything seemed to be covered in a film of fine dust. It also shared some similarities with Kuta, in that it was very obviously geared towards tourism, replacing surfing with diving. Every other shop on the main stretch seemed to offer tours and diving opportunities.
We picked out a hotel and booked into it, panicked a little by the fact that we hadn’t found anywhere on Airbnb. The hotel ended up being about £20 for the night, but barely offered any amenities beyond the questionably stained bed linens and the air con. The bathroom was a fairly grim affair, with no sink, a toilet that didn’t flush, and a shower that scarcely worked.
Heading back into town, we booked a 2 day tour to Komodo Island through Alexander tours (at 900,000IDR per person – about £50 each), we then went out for dinner. We came upon the Blue Marlin restaurant and dive school, which offered a wonderful view over the bay, and a view of a spectacular sunset.