When in Labuan Bajo

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.

More photos from our time in Indonesia

Seeing real life dragons

One of the main reasons we came to Labuan Bajo was to go to the Komodo National Park and see the Komodo dragons. They only exist here and are very old as a species and seem to be gifted with the genes for survival. They can swim, but not far, which is why they only exist on the islands in the National Park. They can be fast, if they want to, have a poisonous bite (killing their prey slowly), young ones can climb trees, smell each other, trace blood from kilometres away and they just look impressive. They can’t fly however, but that might be just a matter of a few thousands of years.

We went on a combo snorkelling and trek tour to see the dragons on Rinca Island where there are the most dragons and you have the best chance of seeing them. We were lucky enough to see all age ranges, male and female, with a bit of action from one of the older male dragons wanting to claim his spot next to a female. I got it all on video and let me tell you, once you see them make even the smallest move, you’ll happily stay behind your local guide who is equipped only with a forked stick.

Not sure how effective the guide and the stick would be, if a dragon would decide to launch towards you. Overheard someone saying that there is no warning and they could be happily dozing away (or seemingly so) and start and attack.

Mating season just finished more or less and females have now hoarded loads of eggs in one hole with multiple decoy holes kindly dug by some kind of bird which used it during their hatching season before. The females eat some of their own eggs for a couple of months, so in the end, if I understood correctly, about only 10% hatch. The young ones then climb trees and eat their smaller kind, lizards for breakfast, lunch and dinner. How lovely!

Check out the video below. It has a few bits in from the days before we went to see the dragons as well.

Driving aimlessly and jumping off a rock

What a whirlwind of a few days it has been. We’re now on day 5, but spent two of those getting to this incredible place. The plan was to be in Lombok right now and get over the initial shock realisation that we’re actually doing this. Instead, because of the earthquakes, we changed things around and arrived in Labuan Bajo on Flores. The beach/read/relax bit is coming up tomorrow, but husband is feeling poorly (too much sun already), so we’ll see how that goes.

Labuan Bajo is a small town, mainly living off tourists coming here to see the Komodo dragons, dive or snorkel. There are a few bits inland to see, but the islands, underwater beauty and the Komodo National Park is kinda it, and don’t get me wrong, enough of a reason to come here.

Labuan Bajo Harbour

Labuan Bajo Harbour

Because this town mainly lives off tourists going on boat trips, the harbour is full of boats, sometimes even ferries. It also is a place where most of the plastic gets dumped unfortunately. On the bright side, they are trying to keep the National Park clean, doing some education for the locals and tourists on the impact plastic has and an organisation started an initiative to have less individual plastic bottles around for single uses. Like most people, we bought a gallon of water and reuse the same bottles we got on day one.

Before I go into what we’ve been up to, I just have to mention the Roti. I am still not entirely sure what’s in it, but the closest thing I can think of is a sweet milk bun with a crust of coffee paste on top. Sometimes they have a filling, but not sure what that is. Anyhow, it’s delicious. Also, shoutout to instant noodles. They saved us in Surabaya, cause everything was meat and we didn’t want to risk starting off our trip getting stuck on a toilet.

Another tangent, sorry, we craved vegetables already on the first day of being here. I think travelling for two-ish days didn’t help the feeling that we needed something other than rice and noodles. So we treated ourselves at Bajo Taco to some guacamole and a vegetable burrito. Since then, it seems, I am cured and also, we found local food that doesn’t just consist of chicken and rice, so all good now.

Labuan Bajo

Happy, tired and sweaty after eating some veggies

Cunca Wulang Waterfall

Day outside of Labuan Bajo on Flores

I highly recommend renting a scooter. It was IDR 75,000 for the day for one scooter. Helmets are included, though sizing was a big generic I think, cause mine was a bit too big and had to adjust it every time we hit a bump, which was basically every 30 seconds. But that was alright with me cause it was amazing to drive aimlessly towards inland on the one and only road. With no real plan, bathing stuff and a full tank, we just started driving. I knew there was a waterfall somewhere, but didn’t know how to get there. On the map the road just cuts off. Turns out there are two waterfalls, Cunca Wulang and Cunca Rami.

Day outside of Labuan Bajo on Flores

The closer we got, the more white people we saw and figured we had to go, if that many made an effort. At this point we were joined by two other couples and we teamed up to get a group price for the waterfall and guide. It ended up being slightly cheaper than had we gone just by ourselves. It does seem to be a bit of an arbitrary bargaining.

What we didn’t prepare for was that our sandals would be a bit of a challenge getting us through the “jungle”. I slid and fell, lost my sunglasses, realised I lost them only after we’d been swimming and found them again on the spot I fell.

Cunca Wulang waterfall on Flores

To get to the waterfall you have to cross a wooden bridge that looks questionable. I mean, the planks where only held by two nails each in the middle and some of them stood out. But not thrill enough, you have to jump off a rock to see the waterfall. Technically, you don’t have to. You can also climb in and then swim, but where’s the fun in that. I say that now, but I’ve never jumped from that high before (husband said it was 5-6m), so yes, I had butterflies and nervous tingles and my adult self saying “just climb down”. I know many might be saying “that’s not high at all”, but 5-6m is a long way down. Enough to think about what you’d just done on the way down. To think that “shit, I’m going under really far” or realising that you close your eyes too soon cause there is still a bit to go, or “hope my contact lenses make it through”.

But let me tell you, once you’re down, it’s gorgeous. Rocks formation carved from the turquoise coloured water. you have to swim a bit to get to the actual waterfall that comes through a circular opening, but it’s worth the price we had to pay and the jump I did.


More photos from our time in Indonesia

A few days in Brighton before our big trip

Oh man, I had no idea it was going to take me this long to get the video on Brighton edited and uploaded. It always takes about 5 times longer than you think!

But I did it! Yay/applause/pat on the back and thank you to lovely husband for making lunch.

Last summer, we’ve been to Brighton for a weekend and it was a lot colder than it is now. It is currently gloriously blue and sunny outside and it’s been amazing getting to know this city a little more.

Of course we had to go back to our favourite food places, explore some new ones and got a bit of a sunburn (who would’ve thought).

It was definitely the perfect few days before jumping on a plane to Indonesia tomorrow morning. Husband called it the calm before the storm. Let’s hope that this figure of speech isn’t becoming reality after all the horror show posts of boats capsizing and all I’ve read.

On that cheery note, enjoy the video. Again, bloody pain to get that together on an iPad but totally worth it. Maybe next time I’ll figure out how to get different background music on there besides the standard 6 theme tunes available in iMovie.

Everything is in a box in a box in a box

Today we moved everything into a box.

Which means we’ve now officially switched over to camping-and-living-out-of-our-backpacks mode. I don’t think I’ve properly realised what is happening. For about a month, my focus has been to get everything organised, packed and ready to go and I am very good at compartmentalising, i.e. keeping the eye on the prize in a rational and logical way. Emotions usually hit after I’ve achieved what needed to be done.

So here I sit in our local pub, a baked camembert and a half fish and chips later (didn’t eat all day, see compartmentalising), and start to feel all the feels. It is slowly sinking in that I may not people watch from this corner of the pub anymore, or that our flat is so not cosy enough for this grey and rainy weather. (Reason why we’re in a pub and it at home).

There is still a bit of processing time left; we’re going to Brighton for a few days to switch off and prepare ourselves mentally for what’s to come next. Weather isn’t playing ball so I’ll be wearing everything I’ve packed enjoying the British sea side.

Slight tangent, “our” cat has been in and out these past days exploring boxes and rooms. I wonder, if she knows we’re leaving.

Travel preparation – Packing and moving update

Today marks 1 month until we’ll hopefully sit on a plane to Indonesia. My inner state is split between “ARGH” and “EXCITING”, and I occasionally go through periods of “shit, what are we doing?” especially when packing things up. It’s been all about packing the past couple of weeks. I started slowly with a box of books. Then I realised that I might as well just do as much as I can to take the pressure off, and ended up packing all books, taking down the shelving unit and whipped out our suitcases to crack on with clothes we don’t currently wear and need.

Once the packing itch caught me, I cracked on with drawings, pictures and paintings. Everything looks a bit naked now. Once all our plants were gone, I already thought that it felt odd but now all what makes a home homier is gone. I also realised, that we don’t actually have that much. Every time I’d scan our selection of packing boxes, I question whether we’ll fill them all. I guess it is a good problem to have. It would be slightly more hair-pulling-panic-inducing, if I walked around trying to find more flat-packed cardboard.

I had packed already so much this past week, that boxes started to pile up in the living room. Considering that we still have to live here for another 3 weeks without jumping at the shadows in the middle of the night whilst going to the toilet or bumping your legs and feet every 5 minutes, I figured we need to re-jig things around the flat. So that is what we did yesterday. Husband in tow, I explained my vision (I clearly have thought very long and hard about it!).

Packing

We still have a load of packing boxes left, which I assume will now mostly be for the kitchen and other bits and bobs. Also, our suitcases aren’t even full. We can easily add what we’re currently using but not taking with us in there, which feels very reassuring.

About a week ago, we also test packed for the first time. Plan is to do another round this week when we’ve got some more missing bits. I think we’re on track and don’t actually have that much. Revisiting and revising the packing list definitely helped and also thanks to all the feedback we’ve received. I uploaded the latest packing list in the packing list post.

Here’s a little compilation of Instagram stories I did over the past couple of weeks.