Once a regency of sleepy fishing villages with empty white sand beaches and bay islands, Manggarai in East Nusa Tenggara is now on the verge of becoming the next “it” tourism destination in Indonesia. Its extraordinary marine life is definitely an attraction, but more so are its unspoiled, off-the-beaten-track natural gems that draw travellers from around the globe to its shores for quality downtime and to unwind.

Bird’s eye view of the ocean and scattering islands from a Rinca hilltop.
Photo by Namhar Hernanto/NOW!JAKARTA

One developing area in Manggarai is Labuan Bajo, located on the northwestern tip of Flores Island in East Nusa Tenggara. The capital of West Manggarai district, Labuan Bajo is home to breathtaking sunsets, and is also the launching point for trips to Komodo Island and a number of other surroundings with great opportunities for diving and snorkelling, as well as nature exploration.

This tropical jewel box remained a secret for years, only explored by those willing to go off the popular travel map to discover hidden gems away from the tourist masses. Now that infrastructure has been improved and the tourism industry is maturing, Labuan Bajo has gained a reputation as a must-visit destination with many predicting it to shake off the shadow of the ever popular Island of the Gods.

The harbour town of Labuan Bajo, surrounded by a skyline of gorgeously shaped hills, has doubled in size. Convenience stores and homey guest houses, in addition to restaurants and dive centres, have lined the downtown streets, giving the sleepy area a wake up call and inviting the young locals from the surrounding inland areas to test their luck and make a living here.

Bajo’s coastal areas provide the quintessential summer getaway, the kind where afternoons are measured in strolls on pristine beaches and fishing villages, or plates of the freshest of seafood as you nibble through the sunset.

Guided trek through the hilly landscapes of Rinca with a local ranger and Plataran team.
When it’s not brilliant pink, the sunset of Labuan Bajo will set fire to the sky as seen in this photo, viewed from the beach of Plataran Komodo Resort & Spa.

Away from the coasts, traditional villages have barely changed over the last few centuries. You’ll notice water buffalo horns displayed on the traditional wooden houses with thatched roofs as a symbol of the home owner’s status and wealth. Buffalos are still sacrificed on wedding days and funerals. The traditional markets buzz with life, oozing old world charm.

Of course, Bajo’s main attraction remains offshore; and this explains the growing number of Phinisi boats and yachts decorating the town’s harbour. From day cruises and live-a-boards to sun bathing, diving and snorkelling, the waters and island that surround Labuan Bajo provide ample opportunities for those looking to escape the rat race that is metropolitan life.

These vessels will take you to any of the dozen islands off the Labuan Bajo coast of your choosing. One of these islands, Rinca Island, is home to the famous, mighty Komodo dragons. In fact, last year’s census stated that Rinca has a bigger Komodo population than the Komodo National Park on Komodo Island.

Resident deers of Rinca Island.

Anyway, sailing off to Rinca from Bajo will take you on a journey through the calm waters of the Flores Sea, passing small islands that glow in the distance, against the blue sky. For many, including myself, this journey alone is the dream of a tropical paradise getaway coming to reality.

Mooring on the hidden dock of Rinca Island, Koh Kima, you will walk on foot through Low Buaya Walking Trails. Don’t be surprised, for you’ll be greeted by shouting monkeys behind the bushes just off the trail before the gate.

But before you explore further, you’ll first have to make a stop at the island’s “front office”, where you’ll be briefed by a ranger (who will also be your guide) about the island as a protected area, and what you can expect to encounter during your trek; you can choose the short, medium, or long trek.

Plataran Phinisi Felicia approaching Rinca Island.
Jetty of Plataran Komodo Resort & Spa.

Even on this very spot, which is around a five-minute walk from the dock, you can already spot a herd of deer lounging under the trees – when they’re not munching on the grass. Baby Komodos are often spotted wandering around here, too.

After a short walk from the front office, you’ll arrive at the “kitchen area”. Here you can spot a number of Komodos lounging around and/or taking a nap. Visitors normally take this as an opportunity to snap some photos of and “with” the giant lizards. Your guide, of course, will help you.

Moving on with the Rinca journey, you’ll be guided to the forests to see the Komodo nests where the giant lizards hatch their eggs. A Komodo buries its eggs (the number of the eggs can reach 30) inside a hole that can reach two metres in depth and width. The holes used by the Komodos as their nests are initially dug by native birds known locally as “Burung Gosong” (megapodius reinwardt), also residents of the island, as their own nest. Of course the Komodos being the ‘boss’ will later “steal” the holes when it’s time to lay their eggs.

To conclude the journey you’ll be taken to a trek through the vast Rinca savannah, and a hike to the top of the hill that offers the best 360-degree, bird’s eye view of the surrounding landscape – rolling hills and the sparkling ocean with a scattering of islands. This is where I was in complete awe of the view making it a tough task for the guide to finally convince me to leave and go back to the base camp.

My next tropical paradise getaway took me to Kelor Island. Approaching the island and fixing my eyes on the beach, I knew I was in for some fun in the sun. Kelor is made up of rolling hills, but what allured me the most were the island’s pristine, white sandy beach and the calm waters. Any beach person or sun worshipper will appreciate it. Of course it didn’t take long for me to find myself lying down on the beach, before putting my goggles and fins on for a Kelor underwater exploration. There are trees for you to seek refuge under, when the heat of the sun finally gets to you; or you can easily jump into the water to cool off.

Pink Churchill (left), Lobster Waicicu and Udang Ramayana (right).

Daily flights from I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali to Komodo Airport in Labuan Bajo are offered by Garuda Indonesia, Nam Air, and Wings Air. The Komodo Airport is located some two kilometres from Jalan Soekarno Hatta, the main street of downtown Labuan Bajo.

Recommended tour and activity organisers such as Flores XP offer leisure activities from diving, snorkelling, trekking, Land Rover tours, ATV, sea tours, camping, and bird watching and more.

Once rested,  you’re ready for a luxury Plataran cruise and expedition to the nearby islands. My incredible journey crossing the Flores Sea to Rinca and Kelor was onboard Plataran Phinisi Felicia, the largest in the fleet of Plataran’s phinisis and yachts. Felicia houses two master cabins, two double cabins, and two bunk bed cabins, offering unsurpassed luxury and space to laze while touring the islands and bays of Flores.

Flores XP
Jalan Soekarno Hatta, Labuan Bajo, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara

Plataran Phinisis & Yachts
Jalan Soekarno Hatta, Labuan Bajo, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara

The dining and nightlife scenes in Labuan Bajo are burgeoning thanks to places like Atlantis on the Rock and Atlantis Beach Club. A hidden dining gem on Waecicu Beach, Atlantis on the Rock is where you can have a bite of specialty dishes amid cool ocean breezes. Away from Waecicu, the first and only beach club in Labuan Bajo, Atlantis Beach Club brings hedonism to the harbour town with live music and DJ performances.

Atlantis on the Rock
Waecicu Beach, Labuan Bajo, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara

Atlantis Beach Club
Jalan Gorontalo, Pede Beach, Labuan Bajo, Flores, Nusa Tenggara Timur

There are quite a number of homey guest houses and mid-range hotels to choose from in and around Jl. Soekarno Hatta in downtown Labuan Bajo. But if you’re after hospitality, comfort, service, and accommodations that are also destinations, then you should make your way to Bajo’s coastlines. I’d recommend Plataran Komodo Resort & Spa, a sanctuary for those looking to escape and indulge in luxuries at the same time. In a quiet secluded cove on Waecicu Beach, this resort is a true tropical paradise, a luxurious base for indulging in sun-kissed days of relaxation and adventure in one of Indonesia’s most beautiful and untouched regions.

Plataran Komodo Resort & Spa
Waecicu Beach, Labuan Bajo, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara
+62 812 4614 4348



This article is originally from paper. Read NOW!Jakarta Magazine June 2018 issue “City of the Future?”. Available at selected bookstore or SUBSCRIBE here.