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A snake cave – “Istana Ular” in the hinterlands of West Flores is the shared home to a large number of pythons and bats. Pythons of up to 4 to 5 meters in length are often encountered in the cave. Learn of the unique mythical relationship the people of the area share with the cave and its wild inhabitants.

python at entrance Snake Cave
 Pythons in the entrance of the cave
 Local villagers assign great mythical importance to the cave
and its wild inhabitants.
General Information: Istana Ular
Istana = Palace  Ular = Snake
  • The snake cave provides a unique opportunity to see a large population of large pythons and bats in their natural habitat. Because of its location, this excursion is only recommended to reasonably fit and adventurous visitors. Moderately challenging, this destination offers good trekking in a remote and rarely-visited area of West Flores
  • The relationship of pythons with the local population is shrouded in historical fact intermixed with mythical tales
  • Located 70 km east of Labuan Bajo, the final 40 minute hike to the cave covers challenging geography
Important Safety and Cultural Note:  Under no circumstance should visitors undertake a visit to Istana Ular  without first securing the services of an experienced local villager leading the way!

Safety Notes:
  • This is a culturally and environmentally sensitive area. Always secure an experienced guide from the local village bring you to the cave and follow all instructions he provides
  • Under no circumstance should you attempt to enter the cave on your own
  • Pythons and other snakes in the cave are potentially dangerous and should only be approached in the presence of an experienced guide
  • The snakes, bat and their cave home are held in great regard by the local villagers and, as a result, no visitor should attempt to disturb the cave or its wild inhabitants
Python recticularis 
Practical Tips for a Visit to ‘’Istana Ular’’
  • Safety:  Never go into the cave without an experienced guide from the local village
  • There are numerous large snake specimens in the cave. Within only 10 - 15 meters from the entrance you may encounter pythons of a reasonable size (4 -5 meters)
  • The cave’s ground is muddy and wet. Wash your shoes in the nearby river after your visit
  • Bring a strong flashlight
  • Because the air is extremely humid within the cave, consider bringing along a change of clothing
According to local villagers, the cave is home to many pythons of varying sizes. There are local stories of a large, very thick white snake living near the end of the cave. Villages tell of how, during the rainy season, pythons venture out of the cave coinciding with the sudden and mysterious disappearance of dogs and chickens from the village.

To lure the pythons out of the cave, villagers place chicken eggs at the cave’s entrance.

More Information about the geologyof this area

 Skin details (python recticularis)
Green tree snake at the cave entrance
snake_palace_feeding.jpg 7.jpg
Python gulping on flying fox
The river valley located below the cave.

How to get there: Directions:
Follow the main road from Labuan Bajo to Ruteng until reaching Lembor after 63 km.  Continue on the same road for another 4.7 km until you see a cobble-stone road branching off to the left: Follow that road (see map) until you arrive at the river. Because there is no bridge, non 4x4 vehicles must be parked here and the rest of the journey done on foot. Follow the road uphill until the top of the ridge. A small road branching off to the left leads to next river valley. If you’re traveling without a guide, ask the local people for the ‘’Istana Ular.’’ Cross the river and commence a short but steep climb to the cave’s entrance.

By local transport: Take a bus to Lembor and continue by Ojek (motorbike taxi) to the first river bank and the starting point of the trek to the cave.

Local villagers familiar with the caves and its pythons can be found along the footpath down to the river valley and contracted to act as guides.

 The green line shows you the route from Lambor to the snake cave.
Practical Travel Tips for ‘’Istana Ular’’
  • The area is remote and undeveloped for visitors
  • Because there are no restaurants, bring along your own food and water from Labuan Bajo
  • Bring a good flashlight
  • Seek guides and local information from the local residents in Lembor
  • The air is extremely humid making it advisable to bring a along a spare set of clothes
Visitor’s code of conduct:
The community surrounding Istana Ular has established a code of conduct to help visitors respect and sustain their delicate traditional culture and natural environment.

You are asked to please observe the following “code of good conduct” when visiting Istana Ular:
  • Please dress conservatively. Indonesian’s show respect for each other by paying careful attention to dress and grooming. Please avoid wearing short pants, short skirts, sleeveless blouses, or low-cut or transparent clothing in social settings
  • Please do not hand out sweets, money, or toys to children. No matter how well-intentioned, such behavior teaches children to beg, encourages potentially dangerous commercial relationships between children and predatory adults, and destroys the general discipline in the villages
  • If you would like to take a photo of people or their personal property, please be polite and ask permission beforehand. Local villages would be thrilled if you make the effort to send copies of the photos to them later
  • Please do not wander around local villages and lands unaccompanied. Community members are happy to act as escorts during your visit:
  • Please help to keep the villages and traditional lands clean. Place waste in appropriate containers and do not dispose of toxic chemicals into local water systems. Please take used batteries home with you, as the villages do not have a safe way to dispose of them
  • Please do not harm or destroy cultural artifacts, local facilities, or our flora & fauna.  If you would like to collect local handicrafts, or wild or cultivated plants to bring home with you, please seek permission beforehand from a local elder or your hosts
  • Do not enter the cave without being escorted by a local village guide
  • Do not deface the cave
  • Under no circumstances, are the bats and snakes in the cave to be molested or disturbed
  • We ask our visitors to behave with discretion: please refrain from public displays of affection, and use enclosed facilities for your toilet and bathing necessities
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