We spent 10 days in around Labuan Bajo and though we are no experts for every little corner of the town like some expats working in dive centres, we did get to try enough to have some recommendations, should you ever decide to visit this place.
I admit, we could have eaten out more, gone snorkelling every day, stayed in a bustling hostel meeting plenty of other backpackers. But we didn’t. This was the first destination of our six months long travel adventure so we have to watch it a little. It is easy to get overexcited and want to try it all or get sucked in by all the delicious restaurants attracting all the tourists.
We had a budget and with that in mind, we planned a little around the things we really wanted to do whilst here and what we could probably give a miss.
Choosing the diving centre – Divers Paradise Komodo
Obviously, one of the main reasons for coming to Labuan Bajo was snorkelling and seeing the Komodo dragons, so we were hardly not going to go on a boat trip. I recommend going to a few of the shops to ask for a couple of different options of trips to get an idea for prices and feel of the people selling the trips. I think it is important to feel like they know what they’re doing and it’s not just a touristy thing where they drop you off and you have to fend for yourself.
We booked our trips with the Divers Paradise Komodo. They were a little cheaper than most, but they were professional and knowledgable, made us feel welcome, were conscious about the environment and impact of plastic and tourists, and made the best banana pancakes for breakfast and popcorn when you returned from your day trip. If budget is really tight or you’re short on time, make it a half day snorkelling and half day visiting the dragons. We did that a) because we wanted to see the dragons, b) didn’t want to spend a whole day on an island in sun burning weather and c) to give the snorkelling a test with this dive centre to see, if we liked it. Like it we did, so we booked another full day snorkelling tour. Even though everyone else was diving, we were well taken care of by our snorkeler guides and sometimes even got to see more of the underwater universe than divers did.
For the half day snorkel/half day trek, we paid per person:
- IDR 500,000 for the snorkel/trek
- National Park fee: IDR 165,000
- Ranger (local guide) fee: IDR 115,000 (this varies day by day though)
Discovering the surroundings
Rent a scooter, if you’re staying a bit outside of Labuan Bajo or think that you will want to explore more than the city on foot.
A scooter for a day should costs IDR 75,000. If you’re renting for longer, I’m sure you could negotiate a better daily rate. In fact, we should have done that for our stay a bit north of Labuan Bajo.
Cunca Wulang and Cunca Rami are well worth a visit. You’d need a day for each of these unless you’re taking off at sunrise. Getting to Cunca Wulang is a little easier on the bum and on the arms for the person at the helm of the scooter. It also involves a jump of a rock, if it tickles your fancy. With anything worth seeing, there is local guide fee. We formed an impromptu group with two other couples and got a cheaper rate per person. It wasn’t cheap, but well worth it. We paid IDR 94,000 per person. I think it should only be IDR 50,000 but they are hard to negotiate with.
Cunca Rami isn’t too much further but, man, it’s a journey, alright. It says it’s 7km from the main road but it took us just as long to get there as it took us from Labuan Bajo. It paid off with a great local guide showing us all the trees and fruits on the way there and inviting us to his Sunday family lunch. We paid IDR 50,000 for the local guide and IDR 50,000 per person for the waterfall entry. We also gave a little to the local guide afterwards as a thank you for the free food. We felt it was right but may not be expected.
Food places in Labuan Bajo
Again, since we are on a budget for our longer trip, we didn’t have the luxury to go out every day and explore every restaurant created for backpackers and tourists. But we still tried a few and here are the places we recommend:
- Warung Mama – cheap place, great local food, popular with young people and backpackers. Recommend anything vegetable, traditional rice, fried noodles and tempeh.
- Warung Blue Corner – similar price range as Warung Mama. Great homemade local food. Recommend fried noodles.
- Bajo Taco – Mexican inspired. Nice mocktails, great burrito. Brilliant view for the sunset over the harbour, though right next to a mosque and may be a little loud during sunset and dinner.
- Happy Banana – Japanese and healthy fusion food. Most expensive of the four places, but worth as a treat. Good, if you want to have more vegetables and something closer to western food. Recommend, the vegan wrap, juicy quinoa burger, vegan dumplings, and any of the desserts. Coconut coffee also very delicious. Great atmosphere too, friendly staff and lots of cosy corners to sit and relax.
On days we didn’t go out and eat somewhere, we turned to instant noodles. It’s the most convenient life saver, if you are hungry, need to save money and just want to chill in your room/on your terrace. Also, if you have access to hot water, try making your own with the Asian noodles, instant flavoured sauces, some vegetables, chilli and sweet and sour sauce. The latter two are sometimes provided in homestays.
I definitely recommend staying in Labuan Bajo, if you’re not after a beach holiday. There are places that are not directly on the main street and are quite nice and being in the town makes it way easier to go on trips either organised or by yourself.