If you’re a habitual reader of Alex Garland’s ‘The Beach’ like I am, taking a dog-eared, saltwater-soaked copy with you on every adventure you participate in, then you’ll be familiar with the main character Richard, whose pursuit of paradise leads him to a secret island in the tropical waters of Southeast Asia.
His dilemma is that everything is overrun and overcrowded, and hot on the backpacker trail of the mid-nineties, is a rumour about an island that is the antithesis to mass tourism. Fast-forward 20 years later, and the desire to outrun the crowds and find solace in relatively undisturbed beauty still rings as true as ever.
This is where Flores comes in.
Indonesia is undeniably famous for Bali – but if you want greener nature, white, sandy beaches and the chance to mingle with tribes, all the while having a whole lot of space to yourself, then Flores (which is Portuguese for ‘Flower’) is definitely the place to be.
The easiest and fastest way to get here is to fly from Bali’s Denpasar airport. If you’ve just left Bali and find yourself in Lombok though, you can take a scenic boat trip (if you have a few spare days up your sleeve to make the journey) which has a couple of noteworthy stops along the way, including Komodo Island — home to the famous Komodo Dragon reptile and, believe it or not, a pink beach.
Komodo Dragons and pink beaches? No, this isn’t Avatar, but it certainly could be!
A visit to Flores’ Cancar Village will allow you to view spider-web rice fields which, from the right vantage point, resemble a spider’s web, fractured glass, or a green kaleidoscope (take your pick). The way the rice fields have been laid out and subdivided by the native Manggarai people is a sight to behold, and is actually a communal harvesting method steeped in both practicality (the bigger the family, the bigger the assigned crop) and ancient ceremonial traditions.
If you’re the type of traveller who loves learning about cultures old and new, then a visit to Ngada Village should be high on your list as well, as you’ll have the chance to mingle with friendly villagers, while learning about the local way of life, how they manage to live off the land, and the structural details which have gone into their iconic houses.
If you’re searching for solitude in nature with fresh mountain air and the setting of a bygone era which has survived the ages, Ngada Village is the answer. Life here appears simpler. After you’ve taken a few photos (or about 50, in my case), switch off your phone, bask in the serenity, and imagine what it’d be like to live away from the Big Smoke for a while.
If you’re sensing a theme of ancient culture and adventure here, then you’re right: Flores has enough history, mystery, and jade-shaded experiences to rival Jurassic Park. I highly recommend heading to the west of the island, where you’ll cut through a foggy cloud forest to the Manggarai village of Wae Rebo (just north of Mules Island). Here, the mountains encase a village of cone-shaped houses, thick jungle with trodden, red-tinged pathways used by the tribe to hunt wild animals, and for the fitness fanatics, several difficult trekking paths leading into — and out of — the village.
If you’re lucky, you might also receive a traditional welcome ceremony by the village elders as a way of initiating you into Wae Rebo’s tight-knit community.
Although you could spend days or even weeks in the mountains of Flores, eventually the beach comes calling. And, if you’ve made it as far as here, it’s worth continuing west to the fishing village of Labuan Bajo, where an underwater paradise awaits you.
Divers, snorkellers, beachcombers and backpackers I’ve met along the road often cite this village as one of their all-time favourites. The sea water radiates blue hues, while jagged, rustic mountains poke towards the sky in the background. Before you run down to the sea (and depending on the time of year and subsequent heat, you’ll pine for those cool waters), hike around for the perfect viewpoint to get a true sense of how wonderful it all looks. It is enormous, and the way the sea scoops into the side of the land to create fingers (think Halkidiki, Greece) is, for lack of a better word, awesome. Really awesome.
Indonesia, in a lot of ways, still feels undiscovered despite the global appeal of Bali (a place that is many things to many people, which is why it’s so popular). But next time you’re thinking of heading there, it’s worth adding Flores to your itinerary to get a true representation of what Indonesia has to offer, and why the country is fast becoming known as “The travel gift that keeps on giving”.
Explore Flores on a small group adventure with Intrepid now. View our trips here.
Feature image by nelzajamal.