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Of course, you will be forgiven if you wish to spend most of your waking hours underwater. After all, if the snorkelling around Flores can be sublime -- and it can -- then the diving is best described as a raw, life-affirming adventure. Currents are strong, which keeps the water nutritious, the reef alive and lures big pelagic fish. With luck and good timing you are likely to see schooling reef sharks and manta rays, the occasional dolphin pod, and thousands of colourful fish swirling and flaring like fireworks. Wicked Diving offers wonderful three-day or six-day live aboard packages, Divine Diving runs excellent day trips to the national park from Labuanbajo, and the new Komodo Resort Diving Club on Pulau Sebayur allows you to dine and sleep amid barefoot luxury on a private island (just outside the park boundaries) an hour by boat from Labuanbajo and fifteen minutes from the national park, and thoroughly explore the park above and below the surface.

Old world charm
Next, leave the coast behind and head inland to explore traditional villages that have barely changed over the last few centuries. There are still buffalo sacrifices on wedding days and funerals, and you will see horns displayed outside thatched, traditional wooden bungalows as a show of status and wealth.

The market towns of Ruteng, in the mountains of western Flores, and Bajawa, a mountain town close to the island’s centre, are the main gateways to these indigenous communities. If you are willing to take the time and hike through the jungled steeps, you can overnight in the thatched conical homes of the isolated Wae Rebo people. The splendid hike and unique architecture is enough of a reward, but you will also be treated to traditional music and dance, as well as a demonstration of ikat, local weaving and dying practices to make tapestries.

There are more vehicle-accessible villages around Bajawa; Bena, on the flank of the 2,245m high Gunung Inerie volcano is one of the most interesting, with stunning megaliths and a community of thatched roof houses lined up in two rows along a ridge. In between are totem-like ngadhu (dedicated to male ancestors) and house-like bhaga structures (dedicated to female ancestors) smeared with sacrificial blood. The best way to explore these remote villages is to book with Manumadi Tour and Travel.

Volcanic sunrise
No Flores trip is complete without a steaming cup of ginger coffee and a glorious sunrise over Kelimutu crater, where you will find the tri-colour lakes just east of the island’s centre point, looming above the village of Moni. Check into the plush Kelimutu Ecolodge -- but expect an early wake-up call. Ever since locals led Dutch settlers here in the early 17th Century, sightseers have made the sunrise trek  to the chameleonic volcanic lakes that are so densely colourful they seem as thick as paint. It is thought that dissolving minerals, a process that can accelerate in the rainy season, accounts for the shifting colour scheme. One of the lakes never changes from turquoise, but the other two blush yellow, orange, red and brown, depending upon the time of year. The summit’s moonscape gives Kelimutu an ethereal atmosphere, especially when clouds billow across the craters and sun shafts burn luminescent pinpoints on the water’s surface. Kelimutu is sacred to local people, and legend has it that the souls of the dead ascend to these lakes, suggesting that they may be a portal to eternity.

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© 2012 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Flores shakes off Bali’s shadow’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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