for National Geographic Traveler
Picture a tropical island with three-foot-tall (one-meter-tall) locals, dolphin-size lizards, rabbit-size rats, and pygmy elephants, all coexisting in the shadows of active volcanoes. This was the island of Flores, Indonesia, thousands of years ago.
Modern-day Flores, an isle of small villages and crude infrastructure, never sought to be a major tourist attraction. But last October scientists announced a surprising discoverythe excavation of the 18,000-year-old remains of some of Flores's earliest inhabitants, a hobbit-like species of diminutive humans known as Homo floresiensis. (See pictures.) As a result, many now believe that Flores could be Indonesia's next travel hot spot.
Flores has generated headlines before, but not the kind that attract tourists: famines in the 1960s and natural disasters in the '70s and '90s. Economic crisis hit in the late '90s, followed by political problems in East Timor and Bali. By 2000 tourism had plummeted from 35,000 visitors a year to just 10,000.
This year, however, the Flores Tourist Authority reports that travel to the island has already rebounded by 21 percent, probably due to fossil-related media coverage.
Peter Paka, owner of Cita Travel Service, a Bali-based company that leads tours to Flores, noted a 1,000 percent increase in daily visits to his company's Web site immediately after the discovery was announced. "Flores" was the most searched subject on the site, he stated.
In response, Paka has peppered two of his itineraries with a day-trip to the site where the "hobbit" was unearthed.
Rates for these tours, which range from three to seven days, start from U.S. $400 to $2,250 per person. Prices cover transportation within Indonesia, accommodations, most meals, entrance fees, English-speaking guides, and drivers.
Despite Flores's newfound fame, visitors can expect to rough it once there. Poor infrastructure means a number of hotels don't offer showers. Most rooms come equipped with only a bed and a fan. And during the rainy season, the island's unpaved roads are often impassable.
A number of caves, most notably Liang Bua where the Homo floresiensis fossils were discovered, are open for tours. Liang Bua, which means "cold cave," is an impressive size100 feet (30 meters) wide and over 130 feet (40 meters) deep.
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