ISLANDS & VOLCANOES
I have travelled before to West Flores, but let me tell you or at least this is my opinion: Central and East Flores are so much more amazing! It is insanely beautiful and hard to describe. You just have to see for yourself.
I have always wanted to go to visit Kelimutu, which is the national park where the tri-colored crater lakes can be found in Central Flores. I have seen so many photos before and it just looks incredible. It has been one of my dreams for a very long time to see this natural phenomenon in real. So, spontaneously I booked a ticket to Flores for a couple of days to finally visit Kelimutu.
The closest airport you can fly to is Ende, which is located on the Southern coast of Flores. From Ende it is about one and a half hours to Kelimutu by bus or car. Unfortunately, there are no direct flights from Bali (or at least I couldn't find them), you have to transit at least once, usually in Labuan Bajo (West Coast of Flores). So, I decided to fly instead to Maumere, which is on the Northern coast and about three hours away by bus/car to Kelimutu. There is a direct flight to Maumere from Bali that takes about two hours. Maumere is located more east than Ende and I thought - might as well explore this part of the island then.
I stayed at a beautiful little hotel close to Maumere which is called Coconut Garden Beach Resort. It is located right at the beach and is surrounded by so many palmtrees - you can't believe it until you are standing in front of it, it is insane. They have simple standard rooms and bigger beach bungalows, so depending on what you want you have a choice. The beach at the hotel is very quiet, there are no other buildings to the right and left of the hotel which makes it perfect for a getaway. You have a beautiful view of the mountains and the ocean from the beach and the sunsets are breathtaking because the sun is just setting behind the mountains and over the ocean. The hotel is very simple, a lot of bamboo and straw, and perfect for a beach hideaway. They can definitely improve a few things, but they offer the most important things for an island timeout which is coconuts, palmtrees, saltwater and a sunbed. And that is exactly what I was doing on my first day. Absolutely nothing, just swimming in the ocean and napping on the beach.
On my next day at 2am, I got picked up to go to Kelimutu. I wanted to be at the top of the hill in time for sunrise. The drive from Maumere is around 3 hours by car to the starting point of the walk up to the hill. If you don't want to leave in the middle of the night and prefer to take the local bus, you have the possibility to stay overnight in Moni first, which is the small town located the closest to Kelimutu. There is a selection of guesthouses and homestays there and you can just take a local transport to the start of the path up. This might probably just take around twenty minutes. The walk up only takes about half an hour. If you want, there is also a longer hike from the village until the top, which takes around one and a half hours. The half an hour hike up is not difficult at all. There are a few steps in between the trail and at the end there is a steeper incline, but it is definitely doable. Make sure to bring a flashlight! It is pitch dark, if you start going up around 5am. And more importantly, make sure to dress right. Thermo workout pants and a proper jacket should be in your suitcase going to Kelimutu. Once you reach the top, it is highly possible that you will be surrounded by clouds, which can get quite freezing because they just blow right into your face.
Already on your way up, you can see the first two crater lakes. There are two ways up: one is going all the way up to see all three crater lakes and the other one is going right to the point, where two crater lakes are separated through the stone wall and you have a view of both of them. Make sure to take the first hike before the second one, so you have a beautiful view during sunrise. From the top of the hill, you can see both crater lakes on one side and the third on the other side. People believe that the crater lakes are the places where the souls go after people die. Depending on their character and how they lived their lives, the souls each go to a different crater lake, which also reflects on the color of the lakes. Usually the colors are turquoise, blue and a greenish color, but depending on the climate and minerals the lakes can change their colors. For example, one lake can be green sometimes but then also red. When I was up there, I had a wonderful view of all the lakes. I had to wait a little bit first until the clouds were gone, but I could see all crater lakes in an each individual color and it was just breathtaking. You just forget about everything else and truly appreciate nature's wonders.
After visiting Kelimutu, on my way back to Maumere, I stopped at Koka Beach, which is located at the Southern coast of Flores. And let me tell you this beach is amazing! I was there around 10am and there was absolutely no one there! Koka Beach has two bays: one is great for swimming but small little waves and a long stretched white sandbank. The other one is not used for swimming, because it goes deep very fast, but the water and rocks are just so pretty there. The beach is about 3km away from the main street so it is just surrounded by the jungle which is super quiet and just so relaxing.
On the next day, I desperately wanted to go snorkeling so I went on a boat trip to Pulau Pangabatang and Pulau Babi. We took the motorbike from the hotel and drove towards a small port in Nahawale, which is about thirty minutes from Maumere area. From there, you can rent a local wooden boat that takes you around the islands for the entire day. Make sure to go to the Warung there and get some food for the boat, they have really amazing and super cheap grilled fish.
From Nahawale, it is about thirty minutes to Pulau Pangabatang where there is absolutely no one! The beach is so beautiful, I could not believe it. There is only one single palmtree on the entire island and the rest is just greens and sand. The water is so clear and blue, it is stunning. If you want to go snorkeling, you need to swim about 15 minutes into the ocean where you will find a reef with beautiful fish. There was not one single boat when we were there and it was just such a cool experience. On our way to Pulau Babi, which is another thirty minutes away by boat, I definitely experienced my highlight of the whole trip: dolphins! We saw something splashing in the water and at first I only saw the fins on top, but then they came closer and closer. There were about ten dolphins jumping up and down off the water right next while we were on the boat. It was such a cool moment to see them out where they live in the nature, without anyone keeping them.
On Pulau Babi (I already thought Pulau Pangabatang was great) I was just blown away. It is a beautiful island with a very, very small local village and beautiful mountains. Everything is green and full with tropical greens and palmtrees. The sand is so soft and white, the water is clear and beautiful, it is just such a heavenly place. Again, there was no other person besides us and the view to the mainland and the other islands was breathtaking. I have seen many beautiful things in this world, from thousands of fish in Raja Ampat to beautiful islands in West Flores, but this was definitely my most favourite moment.
I know that Bali and Lombok are beautiful islands, but I do really recommend to go and explore Flores. Everything is just so simple there and rural, the people are incredibly friendly and you feel like you are just in a different world. The bike ride from Maumere to Nahawale just felt like you are driving through the jungle somewhere, without anyone living around you, just palmtrees to the left and right, nothing else. This was an incredible feeling. Whatever is going through your head, is just forgotten because you truly appreciate and feel the nature 100%. And this feeling is priceless. SO - book your ticket and explore Flores!
How to get to Maumere:
There are three flights from Bali to Maumere, which do not operate daily though. Wings Air has a flight at noon, NAM Air and Garuda in the morning. Going back, Wings Air flies in the morning, Garuda operates around noon and NAM Air in the afternoon. From Maumere, you can fly as well to Kupang, which is located south of Flores (next to East Timor).