Labuan Bajo Diving, Flores
Labuan Bajo a tiny town on the west coast of Flores island. Not gunna lie, It’s basically a long dusty street that sits in front of a harbor. The harbor is full of colorful fishing, and diving boats as well as luxe sail boats that belong to (we imagine) celebrities and mega-rich tycoons. While the charm may be missing when you are walking around town, what awaits you underwater is going to make you look at that dusty street differently. Labuan Bajo for divers is a gateway to an underwater wonderland.
Just by taking a walk up to the street behind the main drag, or by enjoying a bintang on one of the rooftop patios; you start to get a different perspective of this small, quiet town. Surrounded by turquoise water and beautiful islands, it really is more than that dusty main street!
Why Visit Labuan Bajo?
The town is famous for it’s diving and is a gateway to the famous Komodo National Park. The park has been named one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and it is easy to see why once you jump in the water. As the name suggests, the other draw card of the Komodo National park is the ridiculously big Komodo Dragons (aka sloth-dinosaurs) that inhabit the nearby Islands. Of these, Rinca and Komodo are the best for seeing the dragons and day trips or even multi-day trips are easily arranged.
Walking along the main street you will see a sign at almost every restaurant, hotel, tour agency, AND even shops advertising tours for the next day. Luckily for those who like to wing it, there is no need to book ahead to see the dragons for most of the year. If you are visiting in August, then you would be wise to book both your tours and your accommodation at least a few days in advance!
Labuan Bajo Diving
The diving here is world class. Like actually. We have done a lot of diving in the past year and we have been to some pretty epic dive sites. I honestly thought it would be hard to beat the Andaman Islands, but Komodo National Park blows that diving of the water (pun intended!).
The reason these dive sites are so damn good is largely to do with the currents that flow around the hundreds of islands and reefs. The current moves small particles of food past the homes of corals and small reef fish allowing them to flourish. The healthy reef and abundance of small fishies attract the big fishies, the big fishies attract the hunting fish, the hunting fish attract the sharks, etc etc.
The currents also provide lots of food for the other draw card of the area- the big ass manta rays that hang out in big ass squads. We saw about 20 on our trip, and we were there in the WRONG season for mantas. In the right season there is apparently hundreds of these big guys floating around. And I don’t joke when I say they are big guys! Their wingspan can be up to 4 meters and their bodies are really thick when you get up close to them- and you probably will (you lucky duck)!
Who To Dive With
We like to dive in smaller groups when possible. After diving in Koh Tao, we have had our fill of crowded dive sites and being kicked by random people who aren’t aware of their surroundings. We are also sick of watching the reef being destroyed by those same people.
There are a lot of dive companies based in Labuan Bajo, but what was important to us was that the companies respected the environment enough to limit their dive groups to small numbers. These days most do, but then if you jump on a boat with 10 dive masters- you could have 50 people in the water just from your boat. We ended up choosing Uber Scuba on the main road, near Le Pirate Hotel/restaurant. They have local dive instructors as well as few foreign instructors but these guys have been in Flores for years and know the dive sites just as well. All of the instructors, as well as the office staff were really helpful and informative. The dive briefs were so informative which I think is super important given that the conditions can be a bit hectic sometimes (see below).
Like any location, you can get your diving certifications while diving in the Komodo National Park. I do think that having a bit of experience under your belt already would be a good idea though. To get the most out of your trip, you wouldn’t want to be limited to the ‘easy’ dive sites, or the good conditions- in fact you probably won’t have a choice anyway- and getting panicked underwater is the worst thing ever.
The currents can be very strong, and they can even be dangerous sometimes. I don’t say that to scare you (even though that did scare me!), just to ensure you make good choices before you dive! This is why it is important to find a dive company that you not only feel comfortable with, but one that has experience with the dive sites. Uber Scuba gave us great briefings before every dive, and made sure we were prepared for the worst. A current can be a dangerous thing to get stuck in, but when you are with someone who knows what they are doing, and you are aware of what’s happening underwater you will be much safer, and calmer. And trust me- calm is good!
I am not a strong swimmer, so getting stuck in current is my worst nightmare ha-ha! I am happy to say I survived diving the Komodo’s; even if we did happen to have great conditions! And that’s another thing- don’t psych yourself out because of what I’ve written- the ocean is unpredictable! You can’t predict what it will be doing when you dive, so going with the flow (often literally) is the best way to approach it.
Have you been to Labuan Bajo? Tell us about your experience in the comments!