From Flores to Sulawesi with a Pelni ferry, a trip I will never do again!

In 2014 when David and I were in Flores in Indonesia we wanted to go to Sulawesi the cheapest and quickest way.

  • We have heard that we could take Pelni ferry that comes every two weeks to Labuan Bajo in Flores and it would take around 10 hours to arrive to Makassar in Sulawesi.

  • We have heard that sometime the ferry is a few days late, or sometimes it doesn’t come at all!

  • We have heard that you can book a cabin for around 45$.

  • And we have heard that this is not a cruise ship with swimming pool and jacuzzi.

    But nobody ever told us that it was going to be packed!

We decided pretty quickly to take this ferry  and we decided not to book a cabin. David went to buy our tickets at Pelni head office in Labuan Bajo. With a lot of problems at the office David came back empty-handed!

 They did not know if the ferry is coming!

Finally on the third day of trying we finally got our tickets.

On the departure day, very early in the morning from our hotel balcony I saw hundreds and hundreds of people by the pier. I was wondering what they were doing there.

Of course all these people were waiting for the ferry. And much more people were coming. Some hours later we walked to the pier as the ferry was leaving soon. I got shocked of how crowded it really was!

Everybody seems to be moving because they were carrying so much stuff!

It took us more then two hours to get on board on the ship. It was chaotic and a few times I even panicked because of the pressure from behind and beside. People were pushing and shoving to get on board.

Once on board it was very hard to walk because people were everywhere on the floor. My first thought was will everybody get a lifevest if something happen?  We tried to find a good spot to stay but it was literally occupied everywhere. But when we did find a place people were smoking so much that we was running out for air. We went up on deck and decided to stay there.

Pelni ferry Sulawesi

I knew that this was not a luxury cruise ship but I never expected that it would be this bad. And I have been travelling on a low-budget a lot! It was so dirty on the floor, animals (cockroach and rats) were running around and the lines to the stinky flooded toilets were long! I have this problem that I really often need to go to toilet and I was trying to hold as long as I could.

What a nightmare!

Pelni ferry Sulawasi

Pelni ferry Sulawesi Indonesia

Pelni ferry Sulawesi Indonesia

I don’t know how but I managed to get us mattress to sleep on. And we started to relax when we got installed at our little corner. I was looking and walking around and everywhere people were laughing, eating, singing, talking and just having fun.

Pelni ferry Sulawesi Indonesia

Pelni ferry Sulawesi Indonesia

People were curious about us and asked us a lot of questions. And we were happy to have company!

For a moment I even forgot of how bad I needed to go to toilet and about the cockroaches crawling on my legs.David on the early morning.

Belive it or not but we survived the night and actually did not sleep that bad. But I would be lying if I say that it was like sleeping on a cloud! We were happy to arrive to Makassar in time and we both agreed that this was an experience we are happy to have done but an experience we wish not to experience again.

But it was worth it because Sulawesi was amazing! 



Family Earth Trek


  1. Oh my that really does look really crowded. The fact that the ferry took three days to come should have beenyour first warning. I think I am going to find other options to go to Sulawesi than this ferry. Clean bathrooms are something I cannot compromise. Even though we find our share of stinky bathrooms when traveling in India.

  2. Oh dear, it does look very crowded and messy. Judging by these photos I don’t think I would take the Pelni ferry either… I can’t beleive that lady in the pic was even barefoot on the unclean floor! Sometimes it really does pay to splurge sometimes, especially if you’ll be staying the night.

  3. Wow, not only does it look crowded and dirty, but that doesn’t look safe at all! I’ve read terrible stories on ferries being overcrowded, causing boats to collapse. I really hope that doesn’t happen but they should really address that and get some more ferries.

  4. ooh no! What a shocker for you. It definitely seems crowded and not so comfortable. However, I heart Sulawesi is one amazing place. Hopefully that made up for the mess.

  5. Parnashree Devi Reply

    I can never imagine myself in this situation. The ship (not a cruise ship) looks as bad as a crowded local bus. More power to you as you survived the night. The kind of descriptions u have given, I still feel it like a nightmare.

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