13 Tips For Visiting Wae Rebo Village In Flores Indonesia
Thinking about visiting Wae Rebo village in Flores Indonesia and staying in a traditional house made out of lontar thatch? Having recently done the trip ourselves, I felt it’s necessary to share our experience to help prepare you for what to expect. We had loads of questions that we couldn’t find the answers for on the internet, so hopefully this article will give you answers you may well be looking for too.
Table of Contents
Where is Wae Rebo?
Never heard of Wae Rebo village? Neither had we until very recently. We had heard good things about the island of Flores so we decided to add it onto our first ever trip to Indonesia. After doing a bit of research, we came across Wae Rebo and knew we needed to go and see this incredible village and spend the night there..
The best way to get here is from Bali which is just a 1 hour flight to the main city of Labuan Bajo.
You can get a boat over, but I think it takes a good few days, and from what I heard it is pretty bumpy. Our flights only cost us about $150 AUD return which we booked with Batik Air a few days beforehand. The airline is pretty good and the flights were on time.
When you land in Labuan Bajo, the airport is literally a five minute drive from the city. We stayed at Loccal Collection during our trip which is like a slice of Santorini and we stored our luggage there before going to Wae Rebo because it’s an overnight trip.
1. Why you need to book a tour to Wae Rebo
I have seen a few articles about how people drove motorbikes to the village. I 100% do not recommend doing this as the roads are steep, narrow and totally broken. It would be a mission, let alone super dangerous to even attempt it.
We booked a Wae Rebo tour which cost us 1,750,000 IDR each (about $170 AUD). You can book this three day tour to give yourself extra time.
From Labuan Bajo, it should be a four hour car ride, and a five minute motorbike ride to starting point of the trek. You then have to hike up hill for about three hours, although it took us less time which we’ll talk more about in this guide. When you reach Wae Rebo, you’ll stay in one of the unique cone shaped houses with other tourists, there’s about 30 beds in the house (I didn’t count them, so this is a guess).
Included in the tour is lunch, dinner, breakfast and lunch the next day. Although it seems pretty expensive, and obviously you could organise the trip yourself, doing a tour is way easier, especially as I don’t think we would have continued with ours if we didn’t have a tour guide because we went during a massive storm.
If you attempt to go to Wae Rebo village without a tour, you’ll need to know where to go on the hike because there are paths which go in different directions. You’ll also need to organise a bed to stay overnight at the village of Wae Rebo as well.
2. Why you should visit this village
The traditional cone shaped houses called Mbaru Niang, are set in the middle of the Indonesian jungle over 1000 metres above sea level. Now, it might be a mission to get to – which we’ll talk more about below – but what makes it so special is that it is only one of two traditional villages in Indonesia which look like this – the other one located nearby where the local kids go to school in the Todo Forest.
Wae Rebo village gives tourists an opportunity to go on an adventure to visit the last village of traditional houses in the Indonesian jungle.
It’s hardly a top secret place to visit, you’ll see tourism banners at Labuan Bajo airport when you hop off the plane for this village, but it’s promoted for good reason.
We have never been on a more rewarding adventure before, because when you reach this village, it will truly take your breath away.
3. Why are tourists allowed to visit Wae Rebo?
When the Indonesian government stepped in and put money into helping preserve the village, they built two more houses here, I’m guessing one of them was for tourists to stay overnight in. Then 12 architects from Jakarta helped re-build the remaining houses which didn’t go unnoticed.
UNESCO awarded the village the Top Award of Excellence in 2012 for the spirit of the community coming together to preserve one of the most unique villages in the world.
The locals at Wae Rebo told us the first ever tourists to make the trip out to see them were Russian, then Japanese.
Over the years, the interest to visit this incredible place has grown hugely in popularity.
They told me how an English guy stayed with them sometime in the early 2000s for one year and eight months to study their culture. I thought that was pretty amazing, especially how he’s since returned with his family to show them what a special place it truly is.
4. How many tourists actually visit Wae Rebo village?
We wondered why tourists are allowed to visit such a special and unique village in the jungle, and we felt very conscious of not wanting the community to feel like they are in a zoo for tourists to come and take Instagram photos and not appreciate or respect their culture.
We didn’t know how many tourists would be there when we arrived, but we were lucky because the weather was so bad the day we went, only two other small groups managed to make the trip there (one being a Papuan family, and the other being three friends from Jakarta). In total, there was just 10 of us who visited Wae Rebo that day.
We heard the day before over 50 tourists stayed the night.
Pre-Covid they were seeing over 200 tourists every day.
So be prepared because it’s highly likely you won’t be the only people there when you arrive.
There’s also a poster up on the front of the house the tourists stay overnight in which shows you the visitor count. In 2007 when they opened up the village for tourists to visit, they saw 105 visitors. By 2015, 3741 tourists came to visit. There’s a pie chart on this poster which shows you how tourism helps preserve the village of Wae Rebo, which made us understand that tourism helps support the local community in the village of the Manggarai regency.
We kinda saw it like Wae Rebo is the tourist village, while the other nearby village in the Todo Forest is where the locals mostly live. There’s a shop inside the tourist house as well selling T-shirts and coffee beans which they grow themselves. A t-shirt costs 200,000 IDR (about $20AUD) so they are making a good fortune from tourists here as everyone bought one during our stay.
5. How old is the village?
When we arrived to Wae Rebo, we wondered how old the village is as it felt like it’s super old. When we asked our tour guide and the local community, they said they didn’t know. But one of the villagers told me he is the 20th generation of his family to live there which is mind blowing.
6. How long is the car journey?
We watched a YouTube video of someone going to Wae Rebo and they were really car sick from the winding roads, so we were a bit apprehensive about it. The winding roads last for about an hour or so, but we didn’t find them too bad. After about two hours, you’ll come to the final mini-mart to get anything you need for the trek like water or snacks. This is the last toilet stop until you reach the bottom of the mountain for the trek.
After we went to the mini-mart, about 20 minutes later, we got stuck because of the river had flooded. Our guide has been to Wae Rebo 16 times and has never seen the river flood like that before. It was torrential rain and we considered heading back to Labuan Bajo, but we decided to go on a detour to get there which was another five hour journey ahead of us. We didn’t know how bad the roads would be which were even more narrow and windy as we drove over a pass and down a mountain and along the ocean to get there.
What is more impressive was our driver. We were in a 2wd car, yet his driving was absolutely incredible. He managed to drive us through more flooded rivers to get there. I literally have no idea how he did it.
So, we left Labuan Bajo at 7:30am, got to our lunch spot at Wae Rebo Lodge at 3pm and started hiking at 4pm. If the road hadn’t flooded, we would have started hiking by around 1pm.
7. What to expect from the hike
It was a massive gamble for us because of the torrential rain, we didn’t know what the hiking trail was going to look like to get to the traditional village. My anxiety increased by the time we started the hike because the rivers were pumping, and we had no idea what to expect.
We honestly envisioned ourselves walking in metres of mud deep rice fields and trying to cross rivers with our rucksacks above our heads.
But, as soon as we started the hike, we quickly realised it wasn’t anything like that. There’s an actual path that’s clearly trodden on and we were so relieved because it was pretty easy. Plus, when it’s raining we were protected by the trees so we didn’t feel too much rain either.
Now the path is steep for about an hour and a half, then it’s flat and down hill after that. Our guide pre-warned us that we would probably be hiking in the dark, something I was dreading. I am terrified of the dark, and hiking in a jungle in torrential rain wasn’t something I would ever put my hand up for.
But while the hike is steep to begin with, within an hour, you’ll come to a lookout where you’ll realise how high you have climbed. I personally found the hike on the way back way harder because it was slippery from the rain and fallen leaves and steep as well. Steve actually slid over right next to the edge of the cliff and I saw another tourist do the same too so be very careful and wear good hiking boots.
The hike actually really reminded me of hiking in Lamington National Park in Gold Coast Australia. Funny how just a couple of hours down the road from where we live feels similar to hiking in the Indonesian jungle. The tropical landscape is really similar with flowing waterfalls along the way.
8. How long does the hike actually take?
Our guide told us the hike to Wae Rebo village should take around three hours on a normal day. Because it was pouring with rain, we were expecting it to take us maybe four or five hours. It turns out that it took us 2h10m to get there so we made it just before dark. We aren’t fast hikers at all and we’re always at the back of a hike with a group, but we didn’t stop too much. I couldn’t believe it was only a few hours to get there!
I made a note of our times on the way back from Wae Rebo to the car the next day:
8:40 we left Wae Rebo
9:30 lookout tower where you can see Wae Rebo
9:44 to the stop that starts downhill
10:00 to the first lookout
10:55 back to the carpark
11:08 back to the car at Denge Village from motorbike ride
We spoke to the friends from Jakarta who stayed at Wae Rebo village with us too and they said it took three hours. I’m not sure how long it took the family as they couldn’t speak English.
I asked our local guide what was the longest time it has taken one of his guests to reach Wae Rebo and he said over eight hours! The guest was in her 80s and stopped every few minutes along the hiking trail. I thought this was incredible that she did it, because the trail isn’t easy.
The locals however run along the trail in 30 minutes, and it takes them maybe one hour if they are bringing something back up the mountain like rice for example. This is because they have to walk this hiking path to get back into Denge Village to buy supplies. There is no other way to reach any shops than to do this trail.
9. Hire a walking stick before you begin the trek
There’s an old man at the starting point of the trek with plenty of good walking sticks to hire for 10,000 IDR (approx $1 AUD). My advice is to definitely hire one because you’ll need it to help you get up and down the steep path. It helped us massively on our trek!
10. What the meals look like on the trek
When you reach Denge Village, you’ll have lunch at Wae Rebo Lodge and you might have the same meal for lunch on the day there and on the return trip. This consists of rice, tempeh, eggplant, fish and veggies.
When you get to Wae Rebo village, you’ll have dinner with the rest of the guests in the middle of the house you’ll be staying in. Understandably it is simple food served up being rice, veggies and prawn crackers.
In the morning you’ll have more rice and eggs too.
As the locals grow their own coffee beans, Steve tried their coffee and said it’s one of the best coffees he’s ever tasted.
So, naturally he bought some coffee from them to take back home.
11. Sleeping in the traditional house
I can’t begin to explain it, but when you get to the traditional village, there’s an energy about it like no other. The views of Wae Rebo village is so incredible as it’s situated in a valley, completely surrounded by the dense jungle. We were in total awe and had to keep stopping, just to take it in as we got closer to there.
When we arrived, we were invited into the Chief’s home for the welcome ceremony. He said that we were now part of their family which was really beautiful. The tone of the locals continued throughout our stay with sincere authenticity and kindness.
What is it like sleeping there? I have heard it gets cold in the dry season but as we visited at Christmas during the wet season, it wasn’t that cold at all. They supply blankets and pillows so you don’t need to worry about bringing any linen with you.
We were shown the bed to sleep in and when we went to bed, I opened my eye mask about 20 minutes later to find a big spider near my head. I tried to get Steve to put it outside which I think was unsuccessful but as Steve returned, he noticed a massive leech in my bed.
We quickly moved to another couple of beds, but I think it’s fair to say we didn’t sleep much in the end. I wasn’t too bothered about not getting a lot of sleep because we were so pleased we didn’t turn back to Labuan Bajo. The experience of just being at the traditional village of Wae Rebo itself was rewarding enough.
12. What to pack
Wondering what to bring on the overnight stay to the traditional houses in the village of Wae Rebo? We both carried our own rucksack and packed the following:
Flip Flops – you’ll need these as no shoes are allowed in the houses so you’ll want to slip them on when going in and out to the bathroom (they actually have a western toilet there)
Water – we carried about three litres of water each which was enough for us.
Trousers – I wouldn’t wear shorts because there are leeches on this trek. I was constantly looking at my shoes trying to spot them before they made their way up to my leggins (they can bite through them)
Change of clothes – you will get sweaty on this hike. Bring change of tshirt, waterproof jacket (I also bought a big jacket the locals wear from the mini-mart to try and cover my legs too).
A torch – you’ll need one for if you have to hike in the dark. They only have electricity from 6pm-10pm.
Power bank – I brought my power bank to charge up my phone but they do have power points in the tourist house to charge your things up.
Hiking boots – trainers won’t cut this hike because it is steep and slippery.
Eye mask and ear plugs – You’ll be staying in a room with a lot of tourists. Bring an eye mask and ear plugs to block out light and snorers.
13. Is visiting Wae Rebo village worth it?
Visiting the traditional houses in Wae Rebo village is an adventure within itself. It’s not suitable for young children and it’s an experience you won’t forget in a hurry. While the entire village is super welcoming and friendly, I wonder if our experience would have been different if there was 200 tourists there when we went?
If you can accept that this is a village for tourists and you won’t be the only people visiting, then it’s pretty hard to feel like it’s not worth two days of your trip to Flores island. You know, you won’t be the only tourists there staying with a local family in their home and feel like they have never had contact with tourists before.
For me, this was easily the best thing we did in Flores by a mile. I loved this amazing place and even though we visited in low season in torrential rain, I feel like the experience was even more of an adventure than I ever imagined it to be.