If you’re planning to visit Komodo National Park, let me tell you right now, you’re going to love it. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the manta rays and Komodo dragons, and there’s more than enough incredible scenery to go around. In order to reach Komodo, you’ll need to pass through Labuan Bajo, the national park’s gateway town. If you’re wondering what to do in Labuan Bajo, there’s honestly not a long list. It isn’t exactly a bustling tourist town, but it’s an essential checkpoint on your way to the islands.
There are more than a few things I wish I knew before landing in Labuan Bajo and I think it’s good to know what to expect before you arrive. Hopefully, this post helps you to plan ahead and be prepared for it all.
Most articles I’ve seen about things to do in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia actually turn out to be about Komodo. Sure, Komodo is right across the water, but it’s not technically in the town. Most people treat Labuan Bajo simply as the gateway to the national park, but unless you’re hopping on a liveaboard, you will be spending at least some time in town.
Compared to other nearby parts of Indonesia like Bali and Lombok, Labuan Bajo can feel a little chaotic and unruly. It’s not nearly as built up as its touristy neighbors and there are fewer options for food and lodging. I found this okay, though. You’re not there for the hotels, after all.
One of the most essential tips I can give you is this: Labuan Bajo is basically one street. Jalan Soekarno Hatta is the name of the ring road right by the water and pretty much everything of interest is right on this road. If you’re booking a hotel in town, I highly recommend staying right on this road or inside the ring it creates. It’ll make your life so much easier – take it from someone who booked a homestay way up on the hill overlooking the town.
Luckily enough, there is no best time to visit Labuan Bajo and Komodo National Park. There are amazing things to see all year round and the temperature stays pretty consistent. One thing to consider is that the rainy season is from November to March so if you’re visiting during that time, it’s a good idea to be prepared to get wet. (That being said, I visited in November and it didn’t rain when I was there.) The dry season is from April to October.
If you’re in the region to see the wildlife that the Unesco World Heritage Site of Komodo has to offer, you’re in luck. Most of the charismatic species you’d hope to see, both on land and underwater, are there all year round. If you’re planning on scuba diving, the dive sites you’ll visit will vary based on the season since there are some species that migrate within the park based on the time of year. Your scuba tour leader will know more about this.
The bottom line is, no matter when you visit Labuan Bajo, it’s a good time to be there!
Labuan Bajo is located on Flores Island in the Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara. This is to the east of popular tourist destinations like Bali and Lombok and these two islands usually serve as the starting point for most foreign tourists traveling to Labuan Bajo.
The best and easiest way to get to Labuan Bajo is to fly from either Bali or Lombok. I’ve heard of people taking a ferry boat to Labuan Bajo but I really wouldn’t recommend it. It takes more than 24 hours and I’ve heard of boats sinking on the journey.
When you arrive, be aware that the Labuan Bajo Airport is teeny tiny. Don’t be surprised when you’re dumped off the plane right onto the runway.
Getting around Labuan Bajo can really be a challenge. For starters, I highly recommend staying on or very close to Jalan Soekarno Hatta, the main street in town. This will put practically everything important within walking distance.
When you do need to go a further distance such as to the airport, you’ll need to take a “taxi.” Quotation marks are necessary because these “taxis” are actually just the cars of random people on the street inviting you into their private vehicles for a ride. Don’t be intimidated, most of them are nice and friendly.
In my experience, the best way to catch a “taxi” is to walk along the main street looking confused and wait for one of the locals to yell “taxi?” You can also try your luck by walking up to any cluster of locals and asking for a ride.
The most important thing is to always agree on a price before you get in the car. If you try to negotiate on the way or when you arrive, you’ll undoubtedly get ripped off. Sometimes, even if you do negotiate ahead of time, they’ll still try to rip you off. One night, after having negotiated a price, we got to our homestay and the guy tried to tell us he meant the price to be per person. We told him no and he was grumpy.
As a general rule of thumb, aim for Rp 50,000 (about $3.50) or less for any ride within the town. The number of people in your group shouldn’t matter.
Secondly, if you are a solo traveler, definitely consider sharing your location while on your ride. Using the “Share Live Location” function on WhatsApp, I send my Mom my location whenever I’m taking a taxi ride alone just in case.
If you’re considering what to do in Labuan Bajo and Komodo isn’t on your list, what are you even doing there?! Komodo is one of the most amazing national parks on the planet, an exotically biodiverse and picturesque destination. Visit Komodo Island and Rinca Island to see the legendary dragons, snorkel among incredible coral reefs and marine life, scuba dive at Manta Point to see manta rays in their natural habitat, and take a boat trip to a small island or two to discover the local culture.
If you haven’t booked your tours and trips to Komodo before arriving, you can walk into most shops in Labuan Bajo and book on the spot. There are tons of tour operators to choose from, so make sure to do your research and choose one with both a strong safety record and a commitment to protecting the natural park. When it comes to tours, you basically have two options: a day trip (or many) or a liveaboard boat. (I compare the two in this blog post if you need more information.) No matter which you choose, make sure it includes a Komodo Island tour to see famous Komodo dragons, a snorkeling or diving experience in the crystal clear waters, and a hike to the top of Padar Island for the most incredible panoramic view. (Pro tip: early morning is the best time for the Padar Island hike!)
Whether you choose day trips or a liveaboard boat, this little gateway town will be the jumping-off point for Komodo.
This is a great thing to do on your arrival day. There are a number of restaurants, shops, a market, and one very loud mosque plus lots of picturesque spots to just look out over the bay. Labuan Bajo is a very small town so you can easily walk the entire thing in an hour or two.
When we had exhausted our diving budget, we spent a day exploring by motorbike. Outside of town, all hints of tourism disappear and you get a glimpse into local life. While it wasn’t one of my favorite things to do in Labuan Bajo, it was an off-the-tourist-trail option for an affordable day.
If you do decide to rent a bike, you can discover some of the rolling terrain to the north of the town. Drive about 20 minutes north and you’ll be on a peninsula with lots of very short hikes that lead to beautiful views.
Perhaps the best place for a stunning sundowner in town, Le Pirate is an all-in-one hotel, restaurant, and bar. The third floor hosts the bar complete with cocktails and a plunge pool where you can take in the views.
We found live music at Le Pirate and Treetop Restaurant (see below). Listening to a local performance is a great way to spend an evening while watching the sunset over the bay.
We found some really good food in Labuan Bajo. Here are our favorites:
Happy Banana – This is a cute and cozy Japanese restaurant with an extensive menu that includes sushi.
La Cucina – A great option for pizza and pasta in a casual atmosphere.
Le Pirate – The second floor of Le Pirate has a full restaurant that features weekly specials as well as movie nights and live music. The third floor is a roof deck complete with a plunge pool where you can order cocktails and appetizers with a view of the sea.
Bamboo Cafe – This was my favorite breakfast spot in Labuan Bajo. Everything we had was super delicious!
Mediterraneo – This place served shockingly fancy Italian food but the vibe was still relaxed and casual.
Treetop – Affordable food with a great variety of dishes and cocktails. There was live music here a few nights that we went by and the guy sounded great!
In addition to these restaurants, you can find fresh fish at a fish market down at the main pier (the northernmost part of the ring road, Jalan Soekarno Hatta.) It is a bit touristy, but the thing that threw me was almost all the fish we saw in the market were ones we recognized from the Komodo reefs. While I do know that Komodo has some level of marine protection, my limited research has revealed that there is trouble enforcing this, and lots of fishers are fishing in no-take zones.
It’s a personal choice whether you want to visit the fish market or not given this information. For me personally, my interest in how we can protect marine environments while still supporting the humans that need to make a living was sparked right there in Labuan Bajo. That exact moment at the fish market is the one I recognize as the beginning of my career change into marine conservation.
All things considered, lodging in Labuan Bajo is dirt cheap. There aren’t a ton of options in town, but as long as you book a bit in advance, you’re likely to find someplace good.
Le Pirate – In addition to being a restaurant, Le Pirate is also a cute hotel. The location is perfect and judging from my sneak peek down the hallway, the rooms are, too.
Komodo Lodge – A few people on our day tour of Komodo National Park were staying here and had good things to say. It’s a mid-range accommodation with a cozy, homey feel.
A liveaboard boat – Honestly, if you’re coming to Komodo and not booking a liveaboard, you’re missing out. We stayed in town, semi-regretted it, and will 100% be booking a liveaboard next time!
Indonesia isn’t the most eco-friendly country on the planet, but Labuan Bajo was especially polluted. The streets had tons of trash, gutters were overflowing with brownish-grey water, and it was kinda smelly, honestly. It was so sad to see, especially when it’s not the fault of the locals. The waste management system is lacking and the local people are just surviving the way they know how.
It’s the least we can do as tourists to not add to the environmental problems in Labuan Bajo. Here are a couple of ways we can all help.
One of the easiest ways to be an eco-friendly traveler is to bring a reusable water bottle and refill it as you go. I was thrilled at how easy this was in Labuan Bajo! There are tons of refill stations in town that are marked with a sign from Trash Hero, an awesome environmental organization in Southeast Asia. You can refill for a small fee or sometimes for free.
Click here for an interactive map of the refill stations in town.
Before choosing a tour company, make sure they are making a positive impact in Komodo National Park. We chose both our dive center and tour company primarily based on their involvement with environmental initiatives in the area (and their safety ratings too, of course.) If sustainable travel is important to you (and it should be,) then make sure your chosen tour companies care about the environment.
National park fees are common no matter where in the world you are, but they’re especially expensive for Komodo. We paid around $35 USD per person per day which was a bit steep, but realize that this money is supporting locals who work in the park as well as funding conservation efforts. That’s a worthy cause if you ask me.
While it was disheartening to see all the pollution in Labuan Bajo, I was completely shocked by how much trash there was in Komodo National Park itself. Just because it’s a protected national park doesn’t mean it’s immune to trash. Whatever you bring with you during the day, make sure to pack it out and dispose of it properly.
If you’re coming from Bali, the Gili Islands, or even Lombok, you’ve probably been running around in a swimsuit all day without giving it much thought. In Labuan Bajo, however, this is definitely not okay.
You’ll notice the town is much more conservative than other nearby parts of Indonesia, so just remember to cover up while walking around town. If you’re in the national park, wearing a swimsuit is no problem, but make sure you have clothes on by the time you reach the dock.
While it’s true there aren’t a ton of things to do in Labuan Bajo, the town does seem to be trying to cater to visitors. The food was surprisingly good and there were a handful of hidden gems to be found around town.
Most visitors don’t stay long in Labuan Bajo and while that’s definitely justifiable, it’d be a shame not to at least check it out on your way to Komodo. I hope this post helps you navigate the town and have a great time while you’re there.
January 17, 2020