Backpacker’s Guide to Labuan Bajo

Currency exchange to Indonesian Rupiah 2016:  AUD=10,000  USD=13,600   EUR=15,000  GBP=19,700

 

Reasons you might find yourself in Labuan Bajo:

  1. Komodo Dragons
  2. SCUBA Diving

If you’ve found yourself heading there with any other fantasies about what the Gateway to Komodo might have to offer, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Upon arrival in Labuan Bajo you’ll quickly realize the main drag looks something like this- Dive Centre, Tour office, Restaurant, Dive Centre, Tour Office, Tour Office, Hotel, Tour Office, Dive Centre, Restaurant. There is little to do outside the two main activities of diving and Komodo trekking, especially for those on a budget. There’s hope though! Whether you simply want to see the Komodos, or have some spare change to engage yourself in more, we can help you get the most out of your visit to Labuan Bajo without completely breaking the bank!

Getting there

Local Transport-

The cheapest and most budget conscious way is to go overland and utilize local busses and ferries. The trip takes 24-36 hours from Mataram to Labuan Bajo. You’ll find minimal comforts, but it is far and away the cheapest option. The only tip we have is try not to book the entire trip with an agency. It seems convenient to get all your bus and ferry tickets at once, but it’ll cost you a little more, and we have heard stories of travellers arriving at a bus depot only to be told they won’t accept their ticket and have to purchase a new one. To avoid this and to minimize cost, buy each piece of your trip as you go. Your route will look something like this:  Start in Mataramà Bus to Labuan Lombok/Kayangan Ferry Port à Bus gets on the ferry to Pototano, Sumbawa à Overnight on same bus to Bima à Mini Van to Sape à Ferry to Labuan Bajo

Price: 250-400k/person

Flying-

4-6 flights leave daily from Denpasar Airport, Bali to Labuan Bajo. This is easily the fastest and most comfortable way to get there. The flight is 1.5 hours, easy, and affords beautiful views of the Mt. Rinjani shortly after take-off. If you have the extra few dollars to spend and can afford it, we recommend flying at least one direction, either to or from.

–Price: 600k-1.2mil/person one way

Slow Boat-

The slow boat is, well, the slowest way to get there. 4 days, 3 nights, many people often book this from one of the Gili Islands or Lombok. It includes transport to Bangsal, your food, accommodation, AND your Komodo experience. It’s really all-encompassing as you’ll visit both Komodo and Rinca Island, snorkel with manta rays, and do a bit of trekking on Satonda Island. Not only is this the slowest way to travel, but it’s the most expensive and is even more expensive during the high season. That being said however, it’s really good value. Note: the price you get from the booking office will not include the exorbitant national park fees you’ll have to pay once arriving in Komodo National Park. This is the ultimate backpacker and cost efficient option

 –Price: 1.2mil-2mil Rupiah + Park Fees (See Things to Do)

 

Boat from Labuan Bajo

 

Where to stay

Labuan Bajo hotels are more expensive than those on Bali or Lombok, but this goes for most things here. On average, the cheapest double rooms are 150k for a fan or 250k rupiah for aircon and the availability of dorms is limited. Your best bet is to find a friend and split the cost of a double room. Keep in mind the prices may vary depending on high/low season and we were there in January (low season) Here are some of the backpacker budget friendly options we found during our visit.

Mutiara Hotel

Located on Jalan Soekarno Hatta (the main drag), they have basic double rooms with a fan. Though we didn’t stay here, the rooms seem clean enough and you’re right in the centre of town. You’ll be hard pressed to find a room cheaper than here.

 –Price: 100k/night

Chez Felix

Easily our favourite place we stayed. Sitting a little way up the hill, they offer clean rooms and a restaurant offering beautiful views over the bay. The owner claims to have been the first hotel in town, thus his prime real estate. We arrived during the wet season (low season) and were able to negotiate a little with the price of our room. Breakfast is included here, though fairly basic. One huge bonus of staying here is the owner offers motorbike rentals for 50k/day!

 –Price: 150k/night fan room -200k/night aircon room  (We negotiated 500k for 3 nights with aircon)

Dorms-

We only came across one place that offered dorm beds, but there may be others. The name escapes me, but it was along the main loop on top of the hill. Ask around upon arrival and someone will probably be able to help you find one.

 –Price: 80k/night

 

Labuan Bajo
View down main street Labuan Bajo

 

Getting Around

Taxi-

This is the most expensive way to get around. The majority hang out at the airport and it can be difficult to get one once in town. Tourist information can arrange one for you.

 –Price: 30-50k for short trips

Ojek (Motorbike Taxi)-

We didn’t come across too many of these, but they were around from time to time. Usually it was a guy yelling out to us if we needed a ride. Not sure on the price though. Assume it’s highly negotiable.

 –Price: Negotiable

Bemo-

No, not B-mo, the lovable character from Adventure Time. These are crazily decorated local vans highlighted by their loud music and giant spoilers (yes spoilers on a van). They look ridiculous, but they’re frequented by the locals, and the cheapest way to get from place to place around town. They drive around in a big loop from the main drag, up the hill, then back down past the night market. They’re in abundance and if you miss one, the next isn’t far behind.

 –Price: 5-10k

Motorbike-

Ah! The backpackers preferred method of transport. There are plenty of rental places in town. Shop around as much as you’d like, but you’re going to wind up paying nearly twice as much as in Bali. Motorbikes are more expensive to buy here, hence the rental price hike. Try Kita on the main strip. They’re friendly, trustworthy, and have new bikes.

 –Price: 75-80k/day

 

Motorbike

 

Filling Your Belly

Warungs-

We love these places. Warung simply means “small family owned business”. You’ll recognize restaurant warungs by their front windows filled with a dozen different local dishes. There are only a few actual warungs in town. They give you rice and you choose the rest. Stick to veggies and eggs for a cheaper meal. Chicken is expensive and fish can be too, so price can vary greatly depending on your choices.

 –Price: 10-30k/person

Street Food-

Seriously, is there a better way to eat cheap? Steamy pots, smoky barbeques, and the smell of frying garlic! This is my favourite way to eat around Asia.  Mostly in the evenings, a few street carts serving Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice) and Bakso (Clear soup with noodles, meatballs, and fried garlic) motorbikes hang out around the main street. They’re sadly a bit scarce here, but the ones we did try were very good!

 –Price: 10k for Bakso or 15k for Nasi Goreng

Brown paper tepees (as we’ve dubbed them)-

A cheap grab and go meal. Most often found at a stand or motorbike on the side of the road, or in a shop. Its contents usually a mystery until you open it, you’ll probably find some form of Nasi Campur (Mixed Rice) or Nasi Goreng. Yum!

 –Price: 10k

Night Market-

One of the highlights of Labuan Bajo is the night market. Bustling with people, the air filled with the smells of dozens of local dishes, it’s a must visit. The seafood BBQ here is the star attraction as every other vendor has it. Fresh off the boat fish and squid cooked to mouth-watering perfection over hot coals. Prices vary hugely depending on the type of fish and size, but always barter. The selection of Indonesian dishes throughout the market has something for every taste and budget. Oh! Be sure to try the Martabak (Egg and veggies wrapped in thin pastry and fried)!The only disheartening thing about going here is watching the locals toss plastic cups and garbage into the ocean and onto the ground, turning the area into a bit of a cesspool.

 –Price: 15-50k/person

 

Labuan Bajo (1)

 

Things To Do

Komodo Island Tour

It’s expensive. There’s no way around it because there is nowhere else in the world you can see the magnificent Komodo Dragon in the wild. And they know that! Even if you can manage to negotiate the price of the trip down a little, there’s no avoiding the park fees, which you pay directly to park officers once arriving on the island. Here’s how the park fees are broken down:

2016

Park Entrance Fee- 150-225k (225k on Sundays)

Ranger Fee- 20k

Observation and Wildlife Fee- 15k

Trekking Fee- 5k

Government Fee- 50k

Total= 250-325k

 

Those are just the park fees! Not including the tour! Shop around and do a bit of negotiating to find a tour. Be sure you find a company you like and trust. The trip to Komodo is 4 hours give or take depending on weather, so it’s a full day out. Most tours include the Komodo adventure, snorkelling at Pink Beach, and lunch. You’ll have picturesque views of green islands against blue waters as you motor through the beautiful bay and towards your destination. This is what you came for though, right?

 –Price: 700k-1.2mil/person + Park fees

 

Rinca Island Tour-

Only two hours boat ride from Labuan Bajo is the second and only other island Komodo Dragons inhabit, Rinca Island. It doesn’t have the same “wild” feeling as Komodo, but it has Dragons and that’s what’s important. Besides it being closer, the price of a tour on Rinca is much less than that of Komodo. The major difference is you miss out on Pink Beach. You do however get to snorkel.

 –Price: 300-400k/person + Park Fees

 

 Komodo (20)

 

SCUBA Diving-

As every dive centre here will tout, Komodo National Park has world class diving. They also realize there’s not much else to do in Labuan Bajo. We talked to a number of different Dive Centres and settled on Uber Scuba because they were one of the few companies going out for 3 dives a day. Most only offered 2, either because of the low season or the long journey to the dive sites. We had great visibility, but found the diving a little lacklustre. Maybe it was overhyped, or maybe we’ve seen so many sharks and turtles that they hardly phase us anymore. Or maybe our mistake was forgoing Manta Point and heading to some dive sites up north that the whole company was hyped about. In any case, the dive sites were topographically interesting and the corals and fish species are incredibly numerous. It’s worth diving here because you never know what you’ll see and many visitors, from whales to dugongs, have been spotted.  Keep in mind you’re heading into Komodo National Park and there will be park fees on top of your diving cost, which you’ll give the dive centre and they’ll arrange to pay. The park fee for diving is 175k rupiah

 –Price:

2 dives with equipment and lunch- 900k + Park fees

3 dives with equipment and lunch- 1.3mil + Park fees

 Diving Flores

Cunca Wulang Waterfall-

Rent a motorbike, ask for directions and head out to this awesome swimming hole. It’s about an hour drive from Labuan Bajo with winding roads, small villages, and spectacular views. Upon arrival you must check in and pay fees for the park and a guide (You can’t trek it without one). It’s a 2 kilometre trek each way through a bit of jungle, but once you’ve reached the falls you can cool off for as long as you’d like. Jump off the 7-10 meter cliff and relax on the rocks for a while before heading back through the jungle. Bring plenty of water with you and bug spray!

 –Price: 110k for 2 people + tip for your guide + motorbike rental and petrol

 Cunca Wulang

 

Beaches-

Ask anyone living in Labuan Bajo and they’ll tell you there are no nice beaches. The nice ones you need a boat to get to (and that’s expensive). The local one, no one recommends. They only recommend buying a drink at one of the nicer hotels on the water and using their pool if you want a swim. However, about 10 minutes outside of town is Waecicu Beach. Ask for directions in town. Sylvia Resort and Waecicu Beach Inn are home to the beaches, but it was recommended to us by the locals. It may, strictly speaking, be for hotel guests only, but we encountered no problem. There’s an island within swimming distance from the beach in front of Waecicu Beach Inn though which doesn’t belong to the hotel. So maybe park the bike and go for a swim to what’s sure to be your own private beach!

–Price: Free

 

 

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking to make the trip on an absolute backpacker’s budget, here’s what I recommend. Go overland to Labuan Bajo, stay a few days (do some diving if your budget affords it), see the waterfall, and take the slow boat back to Lombok. The 4 day 3 night boat trip is all encompassing and truly the best value for money. The boats are generally less crowded going from Labuan Bajo and seeing the dragons is a great way to end your adventure. Komodo Dragons are absolutely incredible animals. Brilliantly powerful and absurdly quick and agile, you’ll be happy you made the trip to see them in their natural habitat. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. Enjoy the journey and happy travels!

Have any tips from your own Komodo Dragon adventures? Hotels, food, or tour recommendations in Labuan Bajo? Or have any questions for us? Let us know in the comments!

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