Beyond Bali: Labuan Bajo is an Indonesian fishing town that deserves your attention
LABUAN BAJO is a rustic fishing town that rests on the island of Flores in the east of Indonesia.
It may have its beginnings as an unknown rural village only ten years ago but thanks to the destination’s sandy beaches, dive sites and Komodo dragons, Labuan Bajo is now highly acclaimed for its many unique natural and cultural attractions.
For those whose idea of adventure is sighting rare underwater creatures, there are hundreds of dive sites in Labuan Bajo housing different species of marine life including turtles, parrotfishes, sharks, manta rays and even pygmy seahorses.
One of the best places for diving is inside the Komodo National Park that offers everything from muck diving, shore dives and gentle reefs to risky zones with strong currents and massive predators (eg sharks).
Cannibal Rock, Manta Alley and Batu Bolong are also popular dive sites to witness a variety of underwater species. Some divers would also enjoy the spot between Tala and Komodo where the End of the World dive site is reputed to have extensive fields of marigold cup corals.
For experienced divers, GPS Point is considered one of the best in northern Komodo with beautiful soft coral growth and small sea mounts that are home to a host of scorpion fish, nudibranch, hermit crabs, morays and more.
Komodo dragon sightings
Established in the ’80s to conserve the rare Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), the Komodo National Park covers three major islands – Komodo, Rinca and Padar. The islands have since expanded to protect the biodiversity of these islands including both terrestrial and marine life.
In 1986, the Park was declared a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, both indications of the Park’s biological importance.
For first-timers, catching sight of Komodo dragons in its native habitat is quite an experience as you would need to take a guided trek which passes through forests and savannah areas in the park where dragon encounters are more common.
These guided tours are available from Rinca and Komodo itself; however, tourists are not allowed to wander into these areas alone without local guides as the creatures are dangerous.
The lost village
Labuan Bajo is also known for its Manggarai architecture which can only be seen in the traditional houses at Wae Rebo, an ethnic village within the outskirts of the island.
Getting to Wae Rebo does require some effort on your part; as there is no vehicular access due to lack of roads; you would need to trek on steep footpaths built at the side of a rocky terrain.
It’s worth the journey because as soon as you reach the well-preserved village, the lush green environment around you gradually opens up to reveal a breathtaking landscape of Manggarai architecture against a misty forest backdrop.
The traditional houses which are called mbaru niang are a unique cluster of circular cone-shaped huts that can accommodate up to 20 families each. Again, you would need experienced local guides to take you here as it’s a very remote area.
Ten years ago, it wasn’t as easy to find decent accommodation in Labuan Bajo. Now that the island town has developed into quite a tourist hotspot, there is a selection of hotels and resorts to choose from.
Bayview Gardens Hotel is also a good choice as it offers all the modern conveniences you need and a distinct botanical garden atmosphere. For a home away from home experience, Villa Seirama Alam features private villas while the Laprima provides luxurious rooms and facilities.