Travelling from Flores to Bali by bus can be difficult, taking the bus and ferry route is one of the cheapest options, but it might not the easiest.
We’ll outline your options, the costs, pros and cons, further information and then go through the booked bus and ferry choice that we took and the journey in detail.
You have the option to:
Fly – you can fly, in 2014 the only un-blacklisted airline was very expensive as a flight company had just gone bankrupt too.
Boat – join a tourist boat trip, lots of sightseeing along the way, will take longer and cost a little more than a flight, it’s a good way to travel. We took this option to Flores – Komodo Boat Trip.
Public transport – brave the public ferry and buses, it could be a very long journey, with constant delays, this is your cheapest option.
Booked Transport – Large newer ferries, shuttle mini vans and a bus – trip takes around 40 hours.
We were going to risk the dodgy airlines until one went bust and all the flights were suddenly booked or exorbitantly expensive. So we followed some fellow travellers and chose the middle road. This involved catching ferries and coach-like buses for 40 hours straight, but it wasn’t a stress free affair – read more below about our journey so you don’t get caught out.
The costs varies, be sure to bargain. Our friends booked through a contact of our guide. She came to their hotel, charged 600,000 Indonesian Rupiah each and said this was a ‘set price’, not negotiable. When we went to her shop, she was away, her colleague charged us 500,000 Rupiah – it pays to shop around.
Some travellers we met on our trip bargained it down to 450,000 Rupiah. This includes all ferries and buses, dinner and breakfast.
We now know you can catch the same initial ferry then a public bus from Sape to Bema without an operator and from Bema bargain the same buses for the longer journey and get it up to 200,000 Rupiah cheaper for the trip.
The coach companies aren’t perfect – look at it as an adventure, be relaxed and roll with the changes, and you might enjoy it. Booking can be done from all information centers in Bali or Labuan Bajo.
Can you survive the Flores to Bali bus ride?
I expected issues, so despite only 1 hour of sleep, I enjoyed it as an interesting experience. Mark did not like it and got frustrated with the lack of correct information, the constant changing of stories and how much effort was required to not be ‘taken for a ride’ – excuse the pun.
Diary of our Journey from Flores to Bali by Bus and Ferry
We started in Labuan Bajo, Flores on in March 2014. We were told to be at the ferry by 7.30am. So we rushed breakfast and once on the ferry, sat in port until 9.20am. This seems to be the norm, so don’t rush. I would be there by 8.30am just to be sure. The ferry was more modern then I had anticipated. Cheekily, we asked if we could sit in what looked to be the VIP area at the front. They just waved us in and we lay on the plush, but rundown chairs and slept or watched movies for the 6 hour crossing. We would have had a much different time in the hard plastic seats in the general area – so it’s worth asking or try to get VIP seats when you book your trip.
We disembarked at Sape and found our shuttle. It’s not easy finding who is actually from your company with all the hawkers trying to sell you transport. But I spotted a clip board with our bus company’s logo, phew!
Other travellers told us their ferry had stopped in the harbour and said it wouldn’t dock till 6pm, they then paid a small boat to take them as they were worried they would miss the shuttle. But the shuttle waited for other passengers anyway, so don’t bother.
We all cram into the shuttle, our bags slung onto the roof and tied down with ropes. There were no spare seats or aircon, but the drive was only 1.30 hours to Bima.
At Bima we had 45mins to get some food, the coach left at 7pm and the included dinner wasn’t until midnight.
The toilet on the bus was very cramped, Asian style, no toilet paper, no working light and had random ropes and a bucket that you had to negotiate in the small space. It was nearly impossible to use while still, I didn’t even try it on the move and in the dark.
The TV promised by the ticket seller, was a hole for the bus drivers bag. But the seats were ok and reclined a decent amount. Mark got some sleep, but I found I was sliding too much and we got quite cold with the aircon set on arctic. At some point a large cockroach fell from the overhead compartment and landed on my bosom… the engine was loud enough that Mark only stirred to me screaming and jumping out of my seat right next to him.
Midnight arrives and the lights are all turned on and the driver runs down the bus and shoos us off to a small shop, where we have a very quick, free dinner. I scoffed mine down so I could go to the toilet, and the driver came and banged on my toilet door as he had already got everyone back to the bus in the time it took me to find it and pay.
The driver, who seemed to be fleeing some devils, drove like mad along roads that we had previously only ever seen driven very slowly, due to the winding and badly maintained nature of rural Indonesian roads. We just tried not to think about it… count sheep… count sheep. We felt like the Dwarfs out of the Hobbit in a barrel going down the river, trying to sleep in our seats – the experience feels about the same.
At 2.15am we arrived at the next ferry. The bus drove on and we were woken up and herded off. For the next 1.45 hours we star gazed on the ferry roof, which was quite special.
Reaching Lombok, we jumped back in our seats to try grab some more zzzz’s. By 7am we had arrived at Mataram, again we were woken and shepherded off to a shop for a free breakfast. We were told the bus would leave at 11am. We had a text message from our friends warning us about this stop, who left 24hours before us to do the identical trip, they told us this stop meant a lot of waiting and being mucked around. They had in the end paid extra for a separate shuttle and taxi.
We waited, but had shuttle drivers telling us the bus wouldn’t leave until 4pm. Our bus had been locked and left. With pressure from the shuttle’s, saying a ferry leaves at 11am, we tracked someone down for some answers. What ensued was almost 30mins of a baffling amount of people and nonsense being yelled at and spoken to by up to 15 people at once, we couldn’t follow who was part of our bus company and who wasn’t.
We were being told that the bus was leaving at 4pm, then different times between 11am and 7pm because they were waiting for other passengers and also the bus was broken. Some more seasoned, fellow travellers were getting sick of it and said they had a flight that evening. We had all been promised to be in Bali by 4pm, so they used this to continue to say they needed to make a late flight. This eventually got them moving and we were dropped (by the supposedly broken bus) at another coach down the road which we squashed into.
At this point we were confused and unsure due to the language barrier if we were going to the right place or they were just sick of us. I had tried phoning the company during all this, but they refused to speak English and just hung up.
Within 45mins we glimpsed the ferry terminal and relaxed, knowing we were again on the right track. We did the same trick, the bus driving on, us getting off for the 5 hour journey and then hopping back on as the ferry pulled in to Padang Bai. The driver assured us he was going to Denpassar, as rumours had it we were going to Ubud first. Luckily he was right and by about 8pm, we pulled into a large bus lot in central Denpassar. From here we caught a taxi to our hotel. Starving, dirty and exhausted, we met our Italian friends who completed the trip before us, to swap horror stories, before showering and collapsing into bed.