Indonesia Travel Information - Nusa Tenggara

Nusa Tenggara: Islands of Diversity

Nusa Tenggara consists of the five larger islands of Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, Sumba, Timor (of which only the western half belongs here) and a number of smaller islands around them. These islands are also home to many of Indonesia's most traditional ethnic groups.
A visit here can show what Indonesia once was like - this is still an archipelago where each island, or each district within an island, has its own distinct traditional architecture, dress, craft traditions and language.
It is about the last region of the country where most people still wear traditional dress daily, and crafts like handwoven ikat cloth is made more for local use than for tourists.
Nusa Tenggara is in the rain shadow of Australia, therefore coastal areas of these islands tend to be hot and arid. However mountains rise behind the coasts of most islands, sheltering cool, green valleys, active volcanoes and fantastic crater lakes.
The straits separating these islands have some of Indonesia's finest coral reefs, while wildlife on land includes the famous Komodo Dragon.
Despite this diversity, relatively few tourists make it to these islands. Lombok gets the overflow from Bali, but beyond it Komodo and Flores are the only ones that receive a regular trickle of visitors, with all others remaining well off the beaten track.
Lombok offers much better beaches than Bali, a great volcano, and a mix of Muslim Sasak and Hindu Balinese cultures.
Komodo National Park is a World Heritage Site, the best place to see wildlife in this region, and also an excellent diving area.
Flores is most famous for the crater lakes of Kelimutu National Park, but has much more to offer: volcanoes, traditional villages, fine ikat weavings and splendid beaches.
More of the same awaits east of Flores in the Solor and Alor archipelagos.
South of here, the islands of Sumba and Timor remain strongholds of traditional culture, with excellent handicrafts to be found.
Between them, the smaller islands of Rote and Sabu have distinct traditions of their own.
Add to this the fact that this is one of the cheapest and friendliest parts of the country for travellers, and you will quickly see why Nusa Tenggara competes with Maluku as my favourite part of Indonesia!

Attractions Off the Track Tourist Traps Getting There
Main Attractions

Bali's eastern neighbour, Lombok is dominated by Mount Rinjani, Indonesia's second highest, and perhaps most beautiful volcano. Lombok also has better beaches than Bali, and a very distinct traditional culture.
Komodo National Park

Justly famous for their "dragons", the rugged and arid islands of this park, located between Sumbawa and Flores, also offer fantastic beaches and coral reefs.
Even apart from the "dragons", Komodo itself is the very best island to see wildlife anywhere in Nusa Tenggara, with deer, wild boar, junglefowl, megapodes and flocks of cockatoos readily seen.
It is well-worth spending a night on one of the islands and experiencing them without the groups of day-trippers.
Around Bajawa

After Komodo, most visitors make this mountain town their first stop travelling eastwards on the island of Flores.
Bajawa is surrounded by active volcanoes, and the very impressive traditional villages of the Ngada people.
Kelimutu National Park

The three coloured volcanic lakes of Kelimutu are Flores' most famous attraction. The Lio people living around this area also make some of the finest ikat weavings in the country, and there are impressive examples of traditional architecture in some villages.
Off the Beaten Track
Traditional Culture of Lombok

Lombok's colorful Sasak culture is overshadowed by the even more spectacular culture of neighbouring Bali.
Sasak culture isn't usually performed for tourists' benefit, but if you manage to attend ceremonies like weddings or circumcisions, you may well see it in all its glory.

This scenically green and hilly island is usually only crossed by visitors in transit.
The only ones to linger are surfers.
Those who stop and explore, especially in the eastern half, will find colorful traditional Muslim culture, some traditional village architecture, historical sites and unspoilt friendliness.
Flores off the Beaten Track

Most visitors to Flores only stop at Labuhanbajo (for Komodo NP), Bajawa and Kelimutu.
However the island has a lot more to offer. Traditional villages and ikat weavings can be found in most regions, great hiking is to be had in its scenic hills, and there are good beaches and snorkeling spots along the north coast.

The largest island in the Solor archipelago east of Flores, Lembata is famous for its volcanoes, ikat weavings, and the whaling village of Lamalera.

Very few tourists ever visit Pantar, which has an active volcano and traditional weavings and cultures similar to those of neighbouring Alor.

The easternmost island in Nusa Tenggara, Alor is becoming more and more popular as a spectacular diving area. It is also interesting for its culture: the coastal Alorese make fine ikat weavings, while those in the mountainous interior preserve Papuan features and languages.
West Timor

West Timor is one of Indonesia's best kept secrets. Its scenery is unique, with rugged hills and sparse vegetation. Traditional culture is very well preserved, with traditional villages and an extremely varied tradition of ikat weaving and woodcarving.

Rote is a smaller island off West Timor's southern tip. About the only tourists ever visiting are surfers heading for Nembrela (T-land). But the island also has its own distinctive style of weaving and dance, with Rotenese girls among the most beautiful in the region.

Sabu is a small and rather barren island between Timor and Sumba.
Its isolation has helped it preserve some of the most traditional cultures in Nusa Tenggara, and perhaps the finest ikat weavings are also made here.

This large island south of Flores is known for its spectacular traditional villages, ancient stone tombs, grand ikat weavings and its annual Pasola festivals.

Tourist Traps
Boat Trips from Lombok to Flores     

Instead of traveling overland by bus through beautiful, unspoilt Sumbawa, most tourists prefer taking a tourist-oriented boat-ride from Lombok along the northern coast of Sumbawa to Komodo, ending at Labuhanbajo on Flores.
You'll be stuck for days with the same group of young holidaymakers on a small boat, have only short, rushed tours of places where the boat stops and pay more for the privilege than you would have doing it overland.
If you do decide to take these tours, try and check out both the boat and your fellow-travellers before signing up.
And remember: you can easily go overland by bus via Sumbawa.
Getting There and Around

By Air

There are flights from Singapore to Lombok on Silk Air, and now even on Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur.
Kupang in West Timor has had an on and off air link with Darwin in Australia over the years. As of latest, it has been off again for years, though you can still fly from Darwin to Dili in independent East Timor.

By Sea

Many optimists dream about a shipping link between Timor and Australia, but the reality is that there is no such thing, so your only (slight) hope is to catch a ride on a yacht.

By Bus

You can cross the border between West Timor and independent East Timor by land.
Buses travel to the border in both countries.


By Air

There are flights from Java and Makassar (in Sulawesi) to Kupang on Timor which is also a hub for flying around East Nusa Tenggara. Makassar is sometimes also linked by flights to Sumba and Flores, but these connections seem to come and go. Lombok also has regular flights from Java. Otherwise, Bali offers most connections to these islands. If you are thinking of flying one-way and island-hopping the other, start with a flight out of Bali, as flying back there could involve delays.
There are no regular flights from Nusa Tenggara eastwards to Maluku or Papua, just a very unreliable Kupang-Kisar-Ambon link on Merpati.

By Sea

From Bali, it is only a short hop by regular ferry or hydrofoil to Lombok.
Otherwise, you can take Pelni ships from Java, Sulawesi or Kalimantan to various islands in Nusa Tenggara, with the crossing between Flores and Makassar being the most useful and popular connection. There is one obscure Pelni route from Kupang east through remote SW Maluku islands to Ambon, too.

By Bus

There are direct buses, crossing the straits on ferries, to Lombok and Sumbawa from Bali and even all the way from Java.


By Air

There are flights, often unreliable ones, between the various islands of Nusa Tenggara, but most islands are so close to each other that taking the ferries is a better option.

By Sea

Connections from Nusa Tenggara to Maluku and Papua are very limited, and it is usually quicker to go via Sulawesi.
Within Nusa Tenggara, there is no need to wait around for those Pelni ships, as much more frequent, if also more basic car and passenger ferries connect all the more important neighbouring islands. The crossings along the northern route from Lombok via Sumbawa and Flores to the Solor and Alor Islands are mostly pretty short, though crossing to Sumba and Timor is usually an overnight trip.
The touristy boat-trips from Lombok to Flores via the north coast of Sumbawa and Komodo are very popular, though much more expensive than going by public buses and ferries.
Reaching smaller off-shore islands like those of Komodo National Park or the Seventeen Islands off Riung is usually by a chartered boat.

By Bus

Most larger islands here have a single main road that is in good condition and has buses as well as shared taxis, here often known as "travels"running along it. Most buses, other than those between Lombok and Sumbawa, stick to a single island though. Once you get off the main roads, things can rapidly start and get worse. Many minor roads are either dirt tracks, or are covered with rough, broken stones! What you get to ride along these is a matter of luck.


Renting a car with a driver is a popular way to see Flores, or even to island hop there all the way from Bali. It could also be handy for exploring West Timor or Sumba.
Individual islands could also be explored by motorbikes rented locally.