On the westernmost tip of the Island of Flores, the town of Labuan Bajo, or also spelled Labuhan Bajo sits peacefully: a small fishing site with surprisingly comprehensive tourist facilities. The central logic for its wide range of amenities is the extraordinary interest of travelers to the existence of the Komodo dragon, locally called ora, if not for its superb national park that encompasses some 80 islands.
Facing two important islands – Rinca and Komodo – the only habitat in the world for the mythical and endangered species, the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), the town of Labuan Bajo acts as a transit port and a destination to Flores’s newly discovered interior. The town at the most western end of Flores provides a place to stock up on groceries and other necessities for those traveling on liveaboards to the islands or further east.
Prior to entering the Indonesian version of Jurassic Park, travelers will seek for important information in and around this busy port. Labuan Bajo has quite a few travel agencies, stores, restaurants, money changers, dive operators, and a wide range of accommodation, from simple guesthouses to starred hotels along the beachfront that can provide free information about the Komodo National Park. The information is also available for the whole Island of Flores that stretches 450 kilometers from west to east. Here the term ‘Long Island’suggests more than just a refreshing cocktail or the largest island in New York, when avid travelers to eastern Indonesia would probably romanticize the term for the Island of Flores itself. In fact, getting across the island is absolutely not a short trip when you go overland.
Aside from the assortments of good tourist accommodation, the town itself is quite poor in functioning infrastructures. Expectations should, therefore, be curbed to a moderate level, especially when going on a city tour on your own, where you will find the town somehow pretty simple. Fortunately, it is quiet so that heavy traffic is unlikely. Although watching a colourful sunset over the romantic bay from a restaurant on a hill is quite a stunning experience.
Administratively, Labuan Bajo is the capital of the West Manggarai District that covers a quarter of the total area of the Island of Flores. Although the pace of the hospitality industry is accelerating, yet 65% of its income still comes from agriculture. Agricultural lifestyle in Flores, Sumba, and Timor, gives considerable impact on the simplicity of its people, imbued with extraordinarily vibrant cultures. The tradition to celebrate what Mother Nature has to offer is authentic, namely the Pasola and the Nyale in Sumba, the Caci in Flores,the Baleo in Lembata and Alor, and the Reba in Ngada. All are associated with agricultural and coastal lifestyle of its people. In Manggarai and West Manggarai, the majority of the people embrace Islam as they are migrants from Sulawesi, Lombok, Java, and Sumatra, with a few of them still believing in ancient animism.
To most travelers and to westerners who own many businesses here, the developing town is somehow favorable and even romantic. The view on wooden cottages with thatched roofs camouflaged by shrubberies and towering trees up in the sloping township, overlooking an idyllic harbour, make an evening conversation with traveling partners an unforgettable experience. For some adventurers, Labuan Bajo can be an ideal getaway.