Bajawa is a charming hill town on the island of Flores. It is a full day’s journey by bus or car from Labuan Bajo – around 10 hours. Despite the long distance, it is many people’s second stop after Labuan Bajo if they are travelling overland across Flores. Those who wish to break the journey up often do so in Ruteng, which is about halfway between the two. Others still may come from the large town of Ende to the east.
Bajawa’s altitude gives it a pleasant climate, particularly after the heat of Labuan Bajo or Ende. It is surrounded by forest-covered mountains, and the bus or car journey passes through some pretty spectacular scenery. The alpine feel is enhanced by the log cabin architecture. There’s even a hotel called Edelweiss.
For most visitors, Bajawa’s biggest draw is the traditional villages which surround it. The town is the centre of the Ngada region, the most culturally rich area of Flores, where traditional religions and customs thrive.
The traditional villages nearby have led to a booming guide industry. They are very interesting, although it can feel a little like you are going on a ‘human safari’. Bajawa’s popularity has led to great tourist amenities and hotels for a town of its size.
How to Get to Bajawa
How to Get to Bajawa By plane
Bajawa has an airport, although services change regularly. Only a few airlines operate routes to the airport. At the time of writing, you can get flights to Labuan Bajo and Kupang.
How to Get to Bajawa By bus
Bajawa is a popular stop on the overland bus route across Flores. Many tourists will come here straight from Labuan Bajo, which takes around 10 hours. You can book a seat in a travel, a small air-conditioned bus which is much more comfortable than a local bus.
If you don’t fancy spending that long on a bus, you can break up your journey with a stay in Ruteng. Like Bajawa, this is a hill town with a cool climate. While there’s not much to see, it’s a pleasant enough place to spend a night’s stopover. The bus from Ruteng takes around 5 hours. From Ende, the largest town on the south coast of Flores, the bus takes around 4 hours.
How to Get to Bajawa By car
It’s possible to get a seat in a shared taxi to most of the destinations which you can reach by bus. This is a more comfortable, but more expensive, option. If you ask at your hotel they should be able to organise it for you.
What to do in Bajawa
Most visitors to Bajawa will pay a visit to at least one of the traditional Ngada villages nearby. It’s hard to walk far in town without somebody approaching you and offering their services as a guide. The high level of competition means prices are pretty reasonable, especially if you haggle. To hire a motorbike with driver for the day costs around Rp 150,000. This does not include donations to the villages, which should be around Rp 25,000 each.
The most popular and authentic village is Bena. Nine clans live here among striking traditional stone buildings and thatched houses. Like most people on Flores, the villagers are now Catholic, but their animist practices are still very much alive. If you’re lucky, you’ll visit during a big social event like a wedding or harvest festival. If you are, then you will be welcomed very warmly as a guest, particularly if you are a foreign visitor.
Bena’s popularity means it’s a great place to pick up souvenirs and traditional handicrafts. In particular, this area is renowned for the production of ikat. This is a type of traditional cloth, made from brightly coloured thread hand-weaved into elaborate patterns. High quality ikat is highly sought after and can change hands for large amounts of money. An authentic piece of ikat makes for a great gift for loved ones back home.
More adventurous travellers head to nearby Gunung Inerie, the highest volcano on Flores. Dominating the skyline around Bajawa, this is a spectacular sight. It’s not an easy trek, but the views are absolutely spectacular. It takes around four hours to reach the summit, although experienced climbers can tackle it in less.
A more relaxing excursion is to the nearby hot springs at Soa. Around 25 kilometres from Bajawa, a bemo can take you most of the way. Alternatively, you can jump on an ojek or rent a motorbike. This is a very relaxing spot, with a hot waterfall tumbling into a serene lake. The springs cost Rp 14,000 to enter – money well spent given you get a hot shower thrown into the bargain!
Where to Stay in Bajawa
Bajawa’s tourism boom means there is a good range of accommodation in town. The best of the bunch are Hotel Happy Happy, a friendly Dutch-run guesthouse, and Manulalu. The WiFi in Hotel Happy Happy is lightning quick by Flores’ standards, and the breakfasts are magnificent, with platefuls of fresh fruit and home-baked bread. The manager doubles as a guide for village visits and mountain treks. Manulalu is great for their breakfast, view and hospitality.
A less charming, but perfectly acceptable, option is Hotel Edelweiss. Sitting up the hill from Hotel Happy Happy in the town’s main tourist drag, this is the classic backpacker choice but has rooms to suit most budgets.
Where to Eat in Bajawa
There are various dining options near the Hotel Edelweiss. Most are decent without being outstanding. Milonari is housed in an alpine-style wooden cabin and offers up lovely Indonesian dishes accompanied by live music. Further in town on Jl D.I. Panjaitan, Credo Café is a nice spot for lunch, with a range of light bites and local coffee on offer.
If you’re planning an overland route across Flores there is a good chance you’ll end up in Bajawa. I hope this article covered the main things you want to know when visiting the town for the first time. We’ll be keeping the article updated. If you have any tips you’d like to share or you think we missed something please let us know in the comments below.
Have you ever visited Bajawa? Do you have tips for other travellers? Share your thoughts in the comment below.