Visit This Underrated Indonesian Island For Unique Outdoor Adventures

Of Indonesia's 18,110 islands, everyone tends to think of Bali. Despite making up only 0.29% of Indonesia (by area), it is the most-visited destination, pulling in around 40% of the 16 million annual tourists. In response, the government devised a "Ten New Balis" initiative to divert some of that traffic to other corners of the country. One of these is Flores Island, nestled in the Lesser Sunda Islands. Known for its diverse landscapes, rich history, and vibrant culture, Flores is an enchanting and underrated destination.

Flores Island emerges as a hidden gem for outdoor adventures. The long and narrow island spans 5,500 square miles, with tropical forests, active volcanoes, and beautiful beaches painting the scenery. The crown jewel is the Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to 5,700 giant Jurassic-like lizards called Komodo Dragons. They do not exist anywhere else and are the largest lizards in the world! But beware, they are not friendly.

One of the park's highlights is Padar Island, known for its stunning viewpoint, accessible by a two- to three-hour trek. The hike, though challenging, rewards adventurers with spectacular sunrise or sunset views. Equally special is the Pink Beach, renowned for its strikingly colored pink sand and clear waters, making it a perfect spot for swimming and relaxation. Rinca Island, also in the park, has some fantastic hiking trails and unique flora and fauna. An island-hopping boat tour, like this one from Viator, can introduce visitors to the breathtaking diversity of the park.

Ancient anthropology and traditional culture

The history of Flores is as colorful as its landscapes. Inhabited since at least 30,000 B.C., the island was first settled by Melanesians. The Portuguese arrival in the 16th century brought significant societal and religious influences, particularly in areas like Larantuka and Sikka. Flores was also home to the Homo floresiensis, an ancient species of human dubbed "the hobbit." Anyone interested in anthropology should visit Liang Bua cave, where this "hobbit" was found. 

Flores is also home to present-day traditional villages, like Wae Rebo. This particular village is located in the crater of an ancient volcano, 3,600 feet above sea level, accessible only by an epic 6-mile hike through lush rainforests. This traditional village of the Manggarai people features unique five-tiered, cone-shaped thatched huts called mbaru niang. The village welcomes guests with an introduction ceremony by the elders, a cultural immersion, and an overnight stay with dinner and breakfast.

The Melo village, located about 45 minutes from Labuan Bajo, is home to indigenous people with unique age-old rituals. Melo's cultural highlight is the Caci dance, a ritual whip fight performed during the Penti festival to mark the new harvest year. Additionally, the village features dances like Tetek Alu, a bamboo pole dance, and the Ndundu Dake dance. Visitors are welcome to respectfully witness the ceremonies, and the best and most insightful way to do this is with a local guide. 

Natural escapades and travel tips for Flores Island

The western town of Labuan Bajo is the perfect base for traveling around Flores Island. Staying there will keep you close to the action. Unique outdoor activities around Labuan Bajo include watching the sunset from Love Hill (very romantic!), relaxing on Pede Beach, hiking to the waterfalls at Cunca Wulang or Cunca Rami, marveling at the reflective stones of Mirror Cave, and exploring Rangko Cave with its hidden lake. 

If you are an underwater adventurer and end up on the east side of Flores Island near Maumere, hit new depths with the rich marine life of the surrounding seas — this relatively unknown spot provides world-class opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving. The reefs are plentiful and in pristine condition, especially by Babi Island. You may encounter wild whale sharks, manta rays, octopuses, and many more curious species. The best time to dive and visit Flores Island for outdoor activities is between April and November.

Getting to Flores Island is straightforward — flights arrive at Komodo (LBJ), Maumere (MOF), and Ende (ENE) airports daily from many Indonesian and international destinations. To get around the island, a hired car with a driver or a rented motorbike would be best, but beware that the road conditions in Flores are pretty modest. For travelers looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination that combines adventure with cultural exploration, Flores Island stands out as an exceptional choice.