Get ready for the sharks and the almighty dragons!
This is our gay friendly travel guide to Labuan Bajo and the island of Flores, the base for the mind-blowingly incredible underwater world of Komodo National Park.
WHERE IS FLORES ISLAND?
Flores is located in East Nusa Tenggara on the Southern end of Indonesia, between Lombok and Papua islands. The waters around the island form part of the Coral Triangle, containing one of the richest marine biodiversity on the planet: a true paradise for divers.
Oh and did you know Flores means flower in Portuguese? It originates from the large Catholic influence brought over by the Portuguese colony in the 1511-1846.
Flower island – another reason to love this place.
LABUAN BAJO: THE GETAWAY TO KOMODO ISLAND
Labuan Bajo is a fishing town on the western side of Flores island used as a tourist base for trips to the Komodo National Park.
What used to be a small fishing village is now a bustling tourist centre with its own airport and daily flights to Bali.
Labuan Bajo is also a good base to visit the rest of Flores island, which is abundant with village life, caves, mountains and beautiful waterfalls.
1. Find gay friendly accomodation in Labuan Bajo
The diving schools will usually offer discounted accommodation if you choose one of their packages. There were 3 places that stood out for us and were very welcoming towards us as a gay couple:
BLUE MARLIN KOMODO Book online
- We did our dives with Blue Marlin and decided to stay with them. Their deluxe rooms are modern, comfortable, with a delicious breakfast and private balcony. Deluxe rooms cost 950,000 rupiahs (£45/$70) a night.
- Blue Marlin also offers 4 bed dorm rooms at 150,000 rupiahs (£8/$11) per person, or 120,000 rupiahs (£6/$9) a night if you dive with them.
BLUE PARROT Book online
- Beautiful and small Bed and Breakfast with a very friendly owner. Located higher up in the mountains, it is close enough to the city centre but far from all the noise.
- The breakfast is plentiful and delicious. Prices start from 650,000 rupiahs (£30/45$).
THE PLATARAN KOMODO RESORT Book online
- High end option with large, spacious beach front villas and incredible views overlooking the sea.
- Great for couples looking for that romantic, postcard perfect island holiday.
- Prices start from 2,060,000 rupiahs (£100/$160).
2. Where to eat in Labuan Bajo
There were a number of decent places around Labuan Bajo to eat, depending on what you prefer:
- Blue Corner: good for local food like gado gado and mee goreng.
- Happy Banana Sushi: popular for sushi and rated as the #1 restaurant by Tripadvisor.
- Made In Italy: very popular Italian restaurant and highly rated for its pizzas.
- La Cucina: another Italian, famous for its pastas and excellent coffee.
3. Where to go out in Labuan Bajo
Let's get one thing straight(!) – just as we experienced at Senaru Village on Lombok island, don't come here expecting pink mania frenzy. There's none.
However, there is a very mixed, international crowd, predominantly into scuba diving and/or involved with tourism.
These were the most happening hangouts when we visited in September 2015:
- Paradise Bar: popular on Saturday evenings when it has a live band performing.
- Blue Marlin bar: there was always a fun atmosphere at the Blue Marlin bar every evening after sunset as fellow divers compared notes over an ice cold beer.
- Gay Pride Labuan Bajo…ok ok, now we're just being silly…!
DISCOVER KOMODO NATIONAL PARK
The majority of people come to Labuan Bajo and Flores Island to see the Komodo dragons and for the diving.
There is of course more to explore on Flores island, but as keen divers, the highlight for us was the underwater world.
1. Diving in the Komodo National Park
The Komodo National Park was established in 1980 and comprises the waters and islands surrounding Labuan Bajo just off Flores island. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1986 and has been well preserved since.
It forms part of the Coral Triangle, which contains some of the richest marine biodiversity on earth. It was also selected as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature in 2011.
After all our diving experiences, such as our Open Water and Advanced courses in Koh Tao, fun dives in the Maldives and also in the Philippines, our experience diving in the Komodo National Park topped it all.
So be warned: after diving here, your expectations will be so high that subsequent dives will pale into comparison!
2. Meet Keith and Kenny the Komodo dragons!
The Komodo National Park is most famous for being home to the largest living species of lizard.
We visited the Komodo Dragons on Rinca Island and met the very charming Keith and Kenny, the new Nomadic Boys!
Unlike Stefan and Sebastien, Keith and Kenny can grow up to 2-3 metres in length. They gained their nickname due to their dragon-like appearance and aggressive behaviour.
You can visit the dragons either on Komodo or Rinca islands. The tours are with the park wardens who know how to safely manage the dragons and will help you stage some excellent photos with them.
You can easily arrange tours to Rinca and Komodo islands from Labuan Bajo but if you are tight with time, book it online.
3. Treat yourself to a luxury liveaboard
The best way to truly experience the Komodo National Park area is to spend a few days living on a yacht in the surrounding area, diving, snorkelling and visiting remote islands you wouldn't otherwise be able to reach on a day trip.
We went on a luxury liveaboard experience around the Komodo National Park with The Samata, a traditional Phinisi Indonesian yacht.
The Samata is geared for scuba diving and snorkelling with excellent, new equipment. It has 2 speed boats attached to it at all times, ideal for short diving and snorkelling journeys when anchored.
The cost of chartering a liveaboard experience in the Komodo National Park or in Raja Ampat on the Samata for 2016 is $3,800 for 2 guests per day and $250 (per day) for each additional guest, plus 10% tax.
For more information, please refer to our post about our liveaboard experience with the Samata.
EXPLORE MAINLAND FLORES
Flores island mainland also has a great deal of natural wonders to explore, like Mount Kelimutu with the Coloured Lakes, Batu Cermin cave and the awesome Cunca Rami waterfall.
In addition to all the natural highlights, there are many coffee farms, paddy fields and cocoa plantations spread throughout the island.
Another less famous activity on the island is tofu making, particularly at Merombok village where it is mass produced.
We watched a group of boys pounding the beans, soaking them, heating them up to then shape into cubes, drying them and eventually selling them in bulk.
We recommend the very charming Juvens, who's a local guide and has his own tour company called Explore Flores. Juven runs a variety of daily trips and multi day tours aimed at doing just that: explore Flores!
We had an excellent day trip with Juvens who is extremely passionate about his island and wants to tell the world about it, while making you smile at the same time.
To book a tour with Juvens, send him a message via the contact form on Pure Flores' website.
OUR FAVOURITE TRAVEL TIPS
⭐️ TRAVEL INSURANCE — We recommend you always take out travel insurance before your next vacation. What happens if you suffer from illness, injury, theft or a cancellation? With travel insurance, you can have peace of mind and not worry. We love World Nomads travel insurance and have been using it for years. Their comprehensive coverage is second to none and their online claims process is very user friendly.
⭐️ SAFETY & SECURITY — All travelers (gay or not) can sometimes encounter danger when traveling. CloseCircle is your “virtual body guard” mobile app which provides security alerts and support wherever you are in the world. They have a 24/7 emergency response team monitoring their users who will contact you immediately if the SOS swipe button is activated. Support can include anything from practical advice, to free evacuation from areas with extreme weather or security risks. You can read more about CloseCircle in our article about how to stay safe whilst traveling.
⭐️ ONLINE ANONYMITY — A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a must in many countries: it allows you to surf anonymously and maintain your privacy whilst traveling. You'll particularly need it in countries where gay dating apps are blocked by the government. We recommend ExpressVPN, a reliable and cost effective service which we used and loved during our travels.
⭐️ HOTELS or APARTMENTS — When we plan a trip, we always look for the best hotel deals. We love Booking.com because not only do they have a comprehensive listing of accommodation options, they also offer the best prices. Added bonus: they provide 24/7 support and free cancellation for most listings.
⭐️ SIGHTSEEING and ADVENTURES — When we travel somewhere, we like to seek out the best experiences, whether it is cooking with locals in Bangkok, hiking on a glacier in Patagonia, or going on a wildlife safari in Sri Lanka. Our favorite place to look is GetYourGuide because they have over 30,000 highly rated activities, a user-friendly booking process with free cancellation and a 24 hour customer support.
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