If you want to visit a traditional village in Indonesia, Waerebo is where you have to go. It probably doesn’t get more traditional then this. Because it is not easy to reach, not everybody visiting Flores comes here. Which is a good thing.
Wearebo is a traditional village located in the Manggarai hinterland and is the only traditional village in Maggarai that still maintains the shape of traditional houses called Mbaru Niang. Mbaru means home and Niang high and round. There are 7 houses: the biggest is the main house where 8 families live. 1 house is specially built for guest and the other 5 house about 5 to 6 families each. There are 7 houses because they are meant to honor 7 directions of mountain peaks surrounding Waerebo Village, which are believed to be the guardians of the welfare of the village. All Mbaru Niang stand on low land around an altar, which is called Compang.
Inside Mbaru Niang, the activities of families and community are mainly located on the first floor which is called Tenda. The main house, called Niang Gendang, has a diameter of 14 meters and the other houses (Niang Gena) have a diameter of 11 meters.
Before you’re allowed to take photos in the village, they have a welcome ceremonie in the mainhouse. This ceremonie is held by the 2 oldest men in the village and in this ceremonie they ask their ancestors to give power and health and they welcome you as a new member of the Waerebo community. Sitting there, and watching and listening to the old men, makes you humble. You have to pay some money as a gift (we paid 10.000 Rupiah p.p. in a group of 5, next to the 200.000 Rupiah entrance fee p.p.) and after the ceremonie you get some tea or coffee and from that moment you are allowed to take as many photos as you want. And you are going to want to take tons of photos!
We rented a motorbike in Senggigi (Lombok) and left at 8 am, took to the ferry from Lubuhan Lombak (goes every hour) to Poto Tano on the island of Sumbawe and drove as fast as possible to Dompu. We spent the night here, got up early and 5 km out of town we drove trough a hole in the road.. Not even a flat tire was the result, even the rim was ruined. But after a ‘professional' fix with a hamer at 6 in the morning we drove to Sape, got on the ferry at around 10 am to Labuan Bajo where we arrived at 4 pm. A long drive of 456 km on the road that took us 2 days in total. It is possible to take the 24 hour bus-boat combination to Flores, but that is much more expensive. These tickets cost up to 500.000 Rupiah p.p. one way, and then you still have to rent a motorbike (or use the local busses) to get around the island. We rented our motorbike for 17 days and paid 680.000 Rupiah in total. Much cheaper and it gives us much more freedom during our trip.
From Labuan Bajo it was quite difficult to get a clear route before going to Waerebo because our routeplanner Maps.me did not show a road or even cities to folow. This is the route we took: Labuan Bajo - Lembor - Todo - Dintor - Denge. After passing Lembor you will encounter a sign which says Todo Waerebo. This road should take you almost to the coast, from there follow the coastline on your left hand side and you will reach Dintor. From there it is a easy way up to Denge, your starting point to walk to Waerebo village. It also helps to ask around. The roads from Labuan Bajo till the sign to Todo are in good shape, after that to the roads to Denge are quite terrible and in total this will take about 6 hours. Take some snacks with you because we did not see a restaurant on the way.
Another option to get to Waerebo is from Ruteng. This road is better although you will find holes which cover the hole road and it takes about 4 hours. The way to Waerebo is on the signs, so it makes it easier to find. You can also go with a guide. We met a great guide during our stay in Waerebo who was accompanying a couple and helped us out as wel . If you want to go with a guide from Ruteng, we advise to contact Jeff Aquino. You can find him on Facebook or give him a call. His number is +62 823 397 36 102
The walk up takes about 2-3 hours, depending on how fit you are and where you start. The first 2 kilometers from Denge can still be done by car or motorbike, but after that you have to take some steps on small road and pass a shabby bamboo bridge before you can get to the village. Wear good shoes, especially when it has been raining because the road does get muddy. The walk is really lovely, getting accompanied by the birds that can make up to a 1.000 sounds. It’s like walking in a Nintendo game. When reaching the traditional hut you have to wait for somebody to announce your presence to the people and this is the place where you will get your first glimp of the village, which gave us a surreal feeling of going back in time. Seeing the cone shaped huts is like stepping into a Asterix and Obelix scene! From that point you can’t take photos anymore till the welcome ceremony.
As you would probably have guessed, visiting a local village in the middle of nowhere, there aren’t any restaurants to go to. Although we were wishing for a food stand along the way up because we had breakfast at 5.30 am and were craving for a snack during the walk up. So bring some snacks for the walk up!
There are 10 different plows to prepare the food for the guests. As we expected, it is a lot of rice and not much variety. However, it tastes just fine. Especially the banana with sambal. You have to try!
For the best experience in the Waerebo Village, it is probably best if you first spent the night at either Denge Homestay or the Waerebo lodge at Dintor, and get up early to start your walk up and arrive in the village early. This way, you will hopefully have some private time up there. The tourists who have spent the night, have already left or will leave shortly after you arrive, and most people start going up after 9 am. And it is best to be there without other tourists, just sit at the steps of a hut and watch the villagers in their daily life without outsiders trying to participate in that. We spent the night at Denge Homestay for 200.000 Rupiah p.p. including meals. Luckily we could team up with 3 other guests so we could share the costs for the guide. This is 200.000 Rupiah total, and you do need one. Not to find your way up, because that is easy, but for entering the village. Without a guide, you are nog allowed to enter.
There are 7 huts in the village, and one is specially built for the tourists. If you are unlucky, you spent the night here with more then 50 people and some of them snore or yell in their sleep. So earplugs might be handy. You sleep on bamboo mats and get a pillow and fleece blanket. Try to scoop 1 or 2 extra blankets because it can get cold during the night. It’s probably not your best night, but it is really special to spent the night here so we do recommend it. It’s only 125.000 Rupiah p.p. to sleep here and it includes coffee/tea/water and 3 meals.
There isn’t that much to do except to admire the beautiful village, take tons of photos, walk up to the reading house for the best pictures and just enjoy your time here. Thanks to the guide we mentioned before, we were invited into one of the homes of the families and could ask them some questions about their traditions and every day life. Great and unique experience. Another good reason to go with Jeff because you will not do this on your own and the other guides didn’t do this. At night you can enjoy the stars shining bright at the sky before going to sleep. One of the things we enjoyed most, was just sitting down and watching the children play (in the mud) and enjoying themselves. They always have friends to play with and are always outside. It almost sounds like a perfect childhood. We really recommend going here! It’s top 10 travel material and one of our highlights of our trip so far!