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Ruteng is the first town of any size you'll reach once you head inland from Labuan Bajo. Save a fair-sized church, Ruteng has few points of interest downtown, but it serves as a convenient base to explore some of the surrounds.
A small town, you can walk around the heart of it in about 30 minutes. Most of the restaurants and warungs are found around the southern part of town. Somewhat inconveniently, two of the three decent hotels are some way out of town, around a 15-minute walk from the centre of the action. This presents a problem after nightfall, when ojeks become almost impossible to flag down and a long dark walk back to your lodging becomes all but inevitable -- it's a good thing Flores is relatively safe. Some ojek drivers may hang around Agape restaurant downtown if you're in dire straits.
Arguably the biggest highlight near Ruteng is the "hobbit cave", a 30-minute motorbike ride or car drive to the north of town. It was here that archaeologists discovered exceptionally small humanoid remains that have shattered some notions of the lineage of humankind. Set within a well-sized cave, and attached to an interesting museum, this is worth visiting for the cave alone, but as an added bonus, the scenery along the way is just gorgeous.
Ruteng is also famous for "spider-web" ricefields located to the west of town (again easily reachable by motorbike or car). Best viewed from a hillock beside a telecommunications tower (any driver or rider worth their mettle will know where it is), the fields are both impressive, expansive and very photogenic. It's well worth the time to reach from Ruteng. If you're arriving by car from Labuan Bajo, be sure to ask to see them on the way to avoid needing to backtrack to see them.
Other points of interest include a large waterfall to the west of town, which time allowing can be combined with a visit to the hobbit cave.
To the east, about 20 kilometres along the way to Bajawa, is Ranamese Lake -- a large crater lake, which again is worth a look if you have your own transport, though it isn't worth getting off the bus for.
The centre of Ruteng is quite small – it's easy to walk around in half an hour -- but two of the three of our recommended lodgings are out to the east of centre on Jalan Ahmed Yani. A gaggle of eateries (excepting Cha-cha) is at the northern end of town near the ATMs.
International access ATMs are scattered across the northern end of town, including a branch of BNI. Telkomsel offer a 3G connection and Agape restaurant offers free WiFi. The Rima Hotel offers passable WiFi in its upstairs lounge area.
If you're looking for a guide, try Rima Hotel or Rikard Magur on (0812) 374 08484 -- we used him to visit the hobbit cave and found him very helpful. For a dependable ojek driver to some of the sights near Ruteng, try Fery, who can be contacted on (0852) 5351 8334. He doesn't speak much English, but is a good driver and is happy to squire tourists around -- and offer impromptu Indonesian lessons.
By Stuart McDonald.