Put your adventure cap on as Labuan Bajo is the place to go.
Labuan Bajo has got it all – the beaches, the views, and the unique wildlife. Though slightly further afield than Bali, this Indonesian island gem is a fantastic alternative to the tried and tested. Bintangs are still dirt cheap, nasi goreng is still being served up, and child-friendly accommodation is just as easy to come by. But, there are certain things about Labuan Bajo that you just won’t find in Bali.
If you’ve done your dash in Denpasar and are ready to look beyond it, turn your attention to the pink beaches and Komodo dragons of Labuan Bajo.
Where to stay
The town of Labuan Bajo is a gorgeous spot to visit and explore, but to get the full destination experience of Flores and the greater East Nusa Tenggara area, spending a few nights on a liveaboard boat is a must. There are plenty of companies offering a liveaboard experience, with something to fit every budget. You can book anything from a super authentic ‘fisherman’ style boat to boats that boast 10 huge rooms with ensuites, and multiple decks to relax on.
If you’re going for a stay with maximum Instagram impact, any of the ships at Sea Safari Cruises will do it. Their 4-boat fleet is unmissable on the water. When their big blue sails are unfurled, the traditional wooden sailing boats wouldn’t look out of place on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean.
Though uniform in appearance, each of Sea Safari Cruises’ ships vary in size and berth. The biggest of the boats is Sea Safari VII, which is licensed to hold a maximum of 28 passengers. There are 14 rooms on board (twin share or queen), each with their own toilet, shower, desk space, and air conditioning. As far as cabins on a traditional boat go, these are super well appointed.
The communal areas are equally as impressive, with three large decks to sit and enjoy the scenery, a bar, and a spa. If the heat is a little too much, there’s also a spacious indoor area, complete with work stations and a karaoke machine.
A liveaboard experience with Sea Safari Cruises is all-inclusive, so all meals, snorkel gear, and park passes are included. If you’ve got your diving ticket, you can opt for a diving cruise, with all of your diving equipment supplied.
If you’d rather a bit more autonomy over your activities, staying in Labuan Bajo and booking day trips might be more up your alley. There are plenty of hotels to choose from, with Le Cecile, Seaesta Komodo Hostel & Hotel, and the Ayana our top picks on the island.
What to do
There’s no doubt that Labuan Bajo is for the outdoorsy type. Some of the destination’s most famed attractions will require you to strap on your hiking boots, get wet, or get up close and personal with nature.
If you’re not the biggest adventurer, heading to Pink Beach in Komodo National Park is an easy way to start. Just as the name suggests, this stretch of beach isn’t your brilliant ‘island white’, but pink instead. Yes, pink!
What makes this beach even more beautiful, is the contrast between the pink sand and the shallow turquoise waters. You won’t need to bring much more than swimmers and a camera to enjoy Pink Beach. But, if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you should definitely pack snorkel gear too.
Snorkelling and diving
The snorkelling and diving in the East Nusa Tenggara region is out of this world.
There are tons of amazing places to get acquainted with the sea life, but you can’t go past a paddle at Kanawa Island. The water here is so clear that you can almost do away with the snorkel mask, and just watch what lies beneath from the comfort of the jetty. But, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t put your flippers on to explore.
Hanging around the jetty pylons, you can see anything from clownfish and big schools of parrotfish to the impressive-looking (but not so friendly) lionfish. If you have your dive ticket, pop on a tank and head out to the edges of the reef for the chance to see turtles, sharks, and rays. For an almost guaranteed ray sighting, head to Manta Point. Aptly named, this spot is teeming with manta rays.
Sunset at Kalong Island
If it’s animal encounters you’re after on your trip to Labuan Bajo, make sure you do a sunset cruise at Kalong Island. You can’t access the island (and you probably wouldn’t want to), but you can watch the sunset and nightly migration from the comfort of your boat.
Each night at dusk, literally thousands of fruit bats that call Kalong Island home migrate to the Flores mainland for the night. The seemingly endless number of bats streaming from the island is a spectacular sight to see.
While there are umpteen amazing reasons to visit Labuan Bajo, seeing the Komodo dragons is the number one reason most travellers head to the region. The prehistoric-looking creatures inhabit both Rinca and Komodo islands, but Komodo Island is the only island that has rangers on hand to help facilitate a safe encounter with them.
If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a dragon as soon as you land on the island. If not, no need to stress as there’s a 99.9% chance you will get to see one on your visit. Grab a guide, and let them lead you through the island (don’t forget to pack some walking shoes!). They know where to find the dragons, how to read them, and just how close you can get without setting them off. The island is also home to a ton of wild pigs, wild deer, and wild chickens, which you will encounter even more frequently than the dragons.
A word of warning: don’t expect this to be a picturesque jungle walk. If you visit the island any time other than just after the wet season, the island is hot, dry, dusty, and a bit desolate looking. But the dragons are what you came for anyway…
Hike Padar Island
The poster child of the region, Padar Island has some of the most spectacular views in all of Labuan Bajo. From the top, there are panoramic views out over the black, white, and pink beaches, the liveaboard boats peppered through the bays, and the neighbouring islands.
This hike isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s a steep, staired climb to the top, made that much more difficult by the extremely high humidity levels. If you think you’re sweating on the boat ride to the shore, you haven’t learned the true meaning of ‘sweating’ yet.
The best time to begin your hike is before sunrise, both to combat the heat, and so you can catch the first light falling on the peaks and bays. It’s a tough slog to make it to the top, but it’s worth it for the phenomenal vistas.
If propeller planes are your idea of a nightmare, book your flight to Labuan Bajo through AirAsia. The smallest planes in their fleet are the Boeing A320-200s which have a 3×3 seat configuration, and the reassurance of a jet engine.
There are 19 weekly flights between Perth and Denpasar, and seven weekly flights between Denpasar and Labuan Bajo. Flights don’t always line up perfectly, so an overnight stay in Bali may be required. If that’s the case, a room at the Novotel Bali Ngurah Rai Airport does the trick. Once in Labuan Bajo, a short taxi ride will have you to the port, ready to board your liveaboard.
Top things to do in Labuan Bajo
Featured image: Monique Ceccato
See more: Asia travel