From its birth as a sleepy little Bajau Laut (Sea Gypsy) fishing village, Labuan Bajo literally ‘The Bajau anchorage’ has grown into one of the tourist boomtowns of Indonesia.
However, most modern-day travellers use the town primarily as a springboard for a road trip into the highlands or as the launch pad for boat trips into Komodo National Park
Some of the most luxurious traditional sailing ships in the world spend part of their year based in Labuan Bajo, and their elegant forms add an unmistakeable air of romance to any view of the bay. But cruising in Komodo need not be the reserve only of luxury travellers, and, for those on a budget, the fleet of local boats offers what must be one of the world’s most affordable private cruises. It’s possible to hire a simple boat complete with skipper and mate (with food, water, fuel and snorkelling equipment included).
This friendly little town is small enough so that a gentle stroll from one end of the main street to the other takes less than half an hour. There are now established restaurants all through the coastal part of town serving excellent fresh fish and perfectly prepared local vegetables. One of the must try local specialities is ikan kuah sunu (deliciously refreshing sour fish soup) and Flores style shrimp steamboat.
The night market also has stalls selling delicious fresh fish and rice (from about IDR30,000), and the morning market with groaning tables loaded with vibrant reef fish and baskets crammed with an amazing selection of fresh fruit and vegetables is the perfect place to get an insight into life as it has been lived here for centuries.
Times might be changing for Labuan Bajo, but, standing on the hillside looking down into the tangle of islands that lie offshore, it is easy to imagine that the view has changed little in the three centuries since buccaneer William Dampier anchored his man-o-war in these waters. The air of adventure is still very much alive and well in the Cape of Flowers.