Here are our tips on planning the different aspects of a trip to Flores:
Finding a Komodo Island Tour
We only had one afternoon to find our Komodo Island tour, which is plenty of time if you aren’t a wimp, but we just didn’t have the energy to ask around a lot so we ended up booking through our hostel. This likely made it slightly more expensive than it needed to be. Once we did venture down in to the town we realised that it would have been super easy to find a tour as calls came from every doorway as we passed: “dragons tomorrow?”
Despite taking the easy route we did still have some decisions to make, namely what type of boat to take and which islands to go to. There are two types of boat, fast and slow, and we opted to take the more expensive fast boat which meant that we had 4 snorkelling spots instead of 2. Also, if you want to see Komodo Island on a 1 day trip you pretty much have to take the fast boat because it’s so far away. On the slow boat, you visit Rinca Island which also has Komodo Dragons and is closer to Flores. On reading reviews, we actually think that Rinca may be the better island to see the dragons although it sounds as though they hang around the kitchens suggesting that they do get fed a fair bit. To be honest, as we have said in our blog, the visit to the dragons was possibly the low point of our day and the experiences on Rinca and Komodo are probably equally disappointing.
Don’t let that put you off though, because the National Park is absolutely gorgeous and the views alone merit a trip out, and once you get in the water the real magic happens. This is why we would recommend a fast boat because you get more snorkelling stops but obviously money will be a consideration and it is almost double the price. The company we ended up with through Ciao was fine, a little lax on timekeeping and general organisation but the boat was safe, quick and comfortable and the lunch provided on board was perfectly fine.
Regardless of who you book with, water, snacks, suncream, hat and patience are all necessities.
For more details on what we actually saw on our tour please see our blog Dragon, meet Dragon.
Finding a Dive & Snorkelling Boat
We put a lot more energy into finding a dive boat. It’s a simple matter of walking up and down the main road and wandering in to any dive shop that takes your fancy. We did a bit of pre-research on tripadvisor to make sure we didn’t go anywhere with a horrendous safety record and after that it was simply a matter of asking questions.
We have a slightly interesting set of circumstances; for one thing, James can’t dive, much as he would love to, so we needed a dive boat that offered snorkelling spots. For another, Caro currently holds a Junior Open Water card which she attained when she was 11 years old, so she looks a bit different to the picture on the front. You don’t need to take any additional qualifications to upgrade to an Open Water card but you are supposed to get it replaced at 15, so we needed to double check that the shops would accept hers. They were all happy to do this although one shop wanted her to take a pool refresher course the day before diving. We were fine with this in principle but it would have delayed us a day, it cost IDR500k and there were plenty of other shops that didn’t require it, so we ended up going somewhere else.
Here’s a couple of things that we learned both through the booking process and on the boat:
- The dive shops have very very similar names so triple check that you are in the right one
- If you haven’t dived in the last 12 months they may ask you to do a pool refresher. Absolutely every shop we went in to asked when Caro’s last dive had been.
- Make sure to check out the dive spots that they are taking you to and what level of certification is required. A good number of the sites require Advanced qualification and if you are only Open Water they may take you to a nearby cove, so just double check.
- If you want some info on the sites that we visited over two days you can find them here.
- The dive guides will talk about depths and weights in metric rather than imperial, although your gauges will still be in imperial. When Caro said she had dived to 60ft they thought she meant metres and their eyes turned to dinner plates.
- Most of the boats don’t have platforms so you will be doing a giant stride off the side
- Komodo is infamous for its currents so if you have any issues at all make sure you talk to the dive shop about them before getting on a boat. By following your guide, you will kept well away from any dangerous currents but sometimes you have to swim hard, so make sure they know your ability level.
- As with any dive boat there are a mixture of certification and experience levels. More often than not the certification level means little when it comes to actual dive experience, nearly all of the people we met had fewer than 30 dives, despite being advanced qualified. This lack of experience can make for an interesting dive, lots of trouble with buoyancy and lots of being swum in to.
- Your dive will be 60 minutes at the absolute max and chances are someone in your group will run out of air before then, anyone who is efficient with air will likely find themselves surfacing with half a tank left. You will want to stay under longer but you will still get a beautiful dive.
- Talk to the people in your hotel/hostel, we ended up booking in large part due to a word of mouth recommendation and we had an amazing time
- At the time of writing the standard cost for 3 dives was IDR1.65m and IDR600k for snorkelling
- You will also have to pay national park fees
It probably took us about two hours of effort altogether to find the right shop for us, and we picked it in large part because a girl in our room at the hostel had dived with them. Divers Paradise Komodo also happened to be the cheapest shop in town at IDR1.45m for 3 dives and IDR500k for snorkelling. You also get a discount if you do multiple days, and Caro decided after day one that she had to go back and do some more. Here’s what you can expect from DPK:
- Banana pancake breakfast at the dive shop
- Water, tea, coffee and snacks provided throughout the day
- 3 dives or snorkels led by a guide
- Diving and snorkelling equipment – granted it’s a bit old and on day two Caro didn’t have a working depth gauge and her BCD started leaking a bit but it was fine. The masks were surprisingly excellent.
- Super comfortable dive boat with lots of space to relax between dives
- Popcorn when you get back to the dive shop
- Efficient, friendly and enthusiastic crew
Despite James coming down with man flu we had an absolutely fantastic two days with DPK and would highly recommend them. To make sure that you get the right one shop here is a map of where they are on the main strip:
Finding a Driver & Guide
We are going to join everyone else on the internet who says it: you do not need to arrange your driver before you get to Labuan Bajo. Chances are you have pencilled in a couple of days of snorkelling / diving / island visiting before you plan to set off cross country and the afternoons and evenings offer ample time to do the rounds on the main strip to find a good driver. Having said that, it did help to have done some up to date research on prices as most of what we read both online and in the Lonely Planet was slightly out of date and the prices turned out to be higher. We did contact a few drivers before we got to town to find out about pricing for our itinerary. In general, it was quite a frustrating experience because it was mostly over whatsapp chat and no one seemed that motivated to reply with any kind of haste, an interesting sales technique. It took both of us working on it to actually get any traction and by the time we arrived in town we had three quotes for what we thought would be a 9-day trip across Flores. In the end, we actually did it in 7, which was plenty of time. We didn’t end up going with any of the drivers that we had talked to in advance.
Once in town you employ the same technique as with the diving, walk around and stick your head in doorways asking for overland trips across Flores. There are loads of shacks along the main strip but you will find that your options narrow very quickly on the basis of four things:
- The people in the shop don’t speak English
- They don’t offer overland tours
- They offer tours but the drivers don’t speak English
- The trips they offer are eye-wateringly expensive
When you find a place that offers what you want and doesn’t require you to sell an organ to get it, here is a bit of advice:
- You will likely have done research about where you want to go but definitely get their input too, they are the experts after all
- Do you have a driver and also a guide, or does the driver act as both, or are they literally just driving you across the country and the rest is up to you?
- Check what is included in the price: fuel, meals (both yours and your driver’s), accommodation (again both yours and your driver’s), entry fees, village donations etc.
- In the end, we went with an offer that was the bare minimum, car, driver, fuel. We paid for everything else separately and made sure that we weren’t expected to pay for his food and board.
- We did make sure that he would be able to give us recommendations of where to eat and stay though, this turned out to be extremely helpful
- Most trips across Flores include a trek and overnight in Ana Rais. Despite loving hiking, we decided to give this a miss to save time for other things. If you don’t want to go there make it clear right at the beginning
- Be prepared for a lot of driving no matter how long you have to get across the country, the roads aren’t ideal and the sights are a long way from one another
- It’s really helpful if you can be a teensy bit flexible with your start date, just a day’s wiggle room can help ensure you get the right driver
- Try and meet the driver in advance if you can
- If you are travelling across the island, chances are you will be charged an extra day to get the driver back to Labuan Bajo again
Now that we have given you all of the tips of how to do it yourself we will highly recommend Vinsensius, who was our driver, guide, history and culture professor and everything in between for our 7-day trip. We found Vinsen by accident, thinking that we were contacting someone else, but we lucked out completely because when we met him in person we were convinced within minutes that this was who we needed to go with. In terms of price he was at the cheaper end of the scale but not the cheapest, his English is absolutely fantastic and he knows Flores extremely well. Vinsen has a shop pretty much in the middle of the main strip called Vinsen Komodo Paradise. If he’s not there then just drop him a whatsapp message on +62 82 342 794 078. Please tell him that we said hi.
For the full rundown of our trip across Flores please see our blogs which will follow shortly!