Feeling adventurous? Getting to Flores from Bali by land (and boat) is just the thing to get your heart pumping. Whether you're doing it to save money, take in the sights, or because your passport is at an embassy at Denpasar (ding, ding), here's how you make sure you arrive in one piece, and with your savings intact.
Bali to Lombok
The best way to handle this part of the journey is, unfortunately, through Perama. Take the bus from wherever you are to Padangbai. This is another town that's nothing like its description in Lonely Planet, but we did find a nice place to stay for the night. Zen Inn, around the corner from the ferry terminal, had hot water, AC, and nice decor, all for 200,000 IDR.
Once in Padangbai, buy your ticket to either Mataram or Senggigi. The slow boat, leaving at 9am, should cost 80,000IDR with an old Perama ticket. You get into Lombok around 2 or 3pm and have a transfer waiting.
Alternatively, bring your motorbike with you from Bali. Public transit on Lombok sucks, so having your own way around will definitely save you money.
The beaches around Senggigi are beautiful, but the town itself sucks.
If you have a motorbike, head north and get a bungalow on the beach. If you're stuck in town, the best option we found for under 300,000IDR was Green Leaf, which is across the street from Sunset Bungalows, south of the Perama station. Every cheap option listed in the Lonely Planet was a dump. In general, the book's description of the town was completely off.
If you don't have a motorbike, rent one for a day. Head north to the beaches, and make sure to catch sunset on a hill. If you're lucky, Bali's Gunung Agung will make an appearance through the clouds.
Senggigi to Senaru
If you didn't stop at Senggigi or the Gili Islands, then you should take a bus from Mataram to Labuhan Lombok. Don't pay more than 30,000IDR.
If you're in Senggigi and hope to get to Senaru to climb Rinjani, plan to spend some money. Without a bike, your options are limited. You can either head backwards to Mataram and deal with the bus/bemo situation from there. Or you can get a private transfer.
You'll be quoted at least 400,000IDR for a transfer, which is crazy. Here's how to pay around 150,000IDR: go into travel agencies and ask them if they have a trekking trip going out tomorrow (or whenever you'd like the transfer); if they say yes, tell them you'd just like to pay for the transfer; if they say no, try the next shop.
Your other hope is that they're going to pick someone up who's just finished a trek. That's what happened to us, and so for 150,000IDR, we were picked up at our door and dropped off at our next one. We probably paid US$5 more than the taxi/bus/bemo option, but it was well worth it.
Our driver, Jimmy, spoke great English and might be able to get you some decent deals on transfers and island tours if you contact him directly. His email is jimmygina96 at yahoo dot com.
Senaru to Labuhan Lombok
Get an early start (8am or so) with a motorbike transfer to Anchak (sp?), about 4km away. This is where the public bus leaves from to head to the port that connects Lombok to Sumbawa. Don't pay more than 10,000IDR per person for the motorbike transfer.
The bus mafia will meet you at the stop and try to charge you a ludicrous amount for the 2 hour bus ride. Don't pay more than 40,000IDR per person. We managed to get it down to 35,000IDR with the help of an English-speaking guide we met the day before.
Once in Labuhan Lombok, either take a motorbike transfer to the port or walk. We opted to walk because we knew we'd be sitting around the rest of the day. It's about 2.5km, heading east the entire way. If you're confused, ask for Sumbawa and locals will point the way.
Labuhan Lombok to Poto Tano
Buy your ticket at the port, not beforehand. It's 19,000IDR per person and the ferry takes about 2 hours.
Poto Tano to Bima
Try to talk your way onto an AC bus that's already on the ferry. The best way to do this is to go down before the boat docks, find a bus, and ask if there's room for two. Don't pay more than 100,000IDR per person. (If there's no bus on the ferry or no room on the bus, stay at the port and wait for the next bus to come.)
We got lucky and had a great bus with awesome AC and a lot of helpful locals who found it hilarious that we suddenly appeared next to them.
Bima to Sape
Here's where it gets interesting. There's no way to get to Bima in the morning if you depart Senaru in the morning, which means you'll have to overnight here. (I don't think you have this problem if you depart from Mataram since there are more frequent buses from there.)
Our bus arrived at around 11pm and the bus to Sape didn't leave until 5am, so we were left with two options: sleep on the bus or find a hotel in the middle of the night. We chose the former. It was hot and there were a lot of mosquitos, but it was doable.
The bus from Bima to Sape should cost 20,000IDR, but they'll try to charge you more. Stand your ground and at most pay 25,000IDR. You arrive to Sape around 6:30am, just in time to buy your ferry ticket.
Sape to Labuanbajo
The ferry ticket costs 54,000IDR and the trip takes about 7 hours, not 9 like the guidebook says. That said, our ferry left two hours later than the 8am departure time, so it all equaled out.
The ferry isn't comfortable, but it's not awful either, and there are lots of curious locals who'll be up for a chat.
Grand Total from Bali to Flores via Senaru
393,000IDR per person, based on two people. Not much cheaper than a flight, but definitely more scenic and interesting.
Interested in seeing the best of Indonesia without paying for a plane ticket? Check out our Indonesia destination pages.
And if you have any tips for backpacking Indonesia, leave a comment!