Walking Among Komodo Dragons- How to Make the Most of a Short Trip to Komodo National Park Indonesia
Komodo National Park is a series of volcanic islands located in Indonesia’s archipelago and is home to some of the most diverse wildlife on earth. It’s famous for the Komodo dragons (actually large lizards) which live on 3 islands, Rinca, Komodo, and Padar.
Just the name Komodo dragons brings to mind a modern day Jurassic Park, a land where time has stood still. The park was founded in 1980, and was designated a World Heritage Site in 1991.
For me this trip was a bucket list item, and truly one of the most special things I have ever done. Small word of warning- this is a trip for those in pretty good physical shape.
If you are traveling from Bali, you should plan on flying in to Labuan Bajo airport. The Bali airport is nice, but they change the gates and times pretty liberally so you really have to pay attention. Apparently, flight times are more suggestions. Interesting fact** in Indonesia, you are apparently allowed to smoke on some flights. We flew Wings air, which is a budget airline owned by Lion air. It was fine for a no frills budget airline, I think we paid the equivalent of $60.00 US for our flights. Our experience was great, however I will say they have a bit of a spotty safety record. Apparently in 2016 a pilot ran into a sign on the tarmac, but no one was hurt. ?
For a small island, the airport fairly new and modern. We were greeted by local dancers performing in the terminal at baggage claim. There is a coffee shop and gift shop in the terminal when you are waiting for your flight but really not much else.
When I began reasearching things to do in Komodo National Park, there are two basic ways to see it. On a live aboard style boat, which is great for those who want to do a lot of diving, or staying at a resort and then going on day trips with boats for hire.
We chose the latter, and had an executive beachfront villa at Plataran Komodo Resort and Spa.
They offer a series of beautiful villas, a pristine private beach, an infinity pool looking out to the ocean, and a 45 minute massage included! Breakfast was included in our rate as well, and there are two restaurants on property. The staff was amazing, friendly, and spoke excellent English. They had a complimentary car service for us as needed, picking us up from the airport, dropping us at the Marina for our boat in the morning, and picking us up in the evening when the boat returned. Check out the pictures, I can’t enough good things about this resort. If you are coming to Komodo National Park for all their incredible things to do and looking for a great place to stay, this is it.
We chose to go looking for Komodo dragons with the Salacia and her crew, which was a large cruiser with a bathroom, a crew that cooks (?), and lots of spots to relax and lounge. This trip to Komodo was an adventure right from the beginning, in the best way. We walked down a small dock (watch your step, it’s a little rickety) to our boat. The dock is too small to hold the number of boats that are there, so the way it works is the first person ties up to the dock, then the next boat ties up to the first boat, the third boat ties to the second boat and so on. We arrived and were told that our boat was the third one from the dock and we must climb through the first two. ? I looked at the crew to see if they were playing a joke on the blonde American, and indeed they were serious. I am in pretty good shape, but kind of clumsy. I threw my tote into the next boat and began the obstacle course of climbing the sides and straddling boats, which was actually pretty fun. Again, this a trip and destination for people in good shape, not recommended for elderly or disabled. After we made the climb, we quickly found a spot in the shade (it was 8am and sweltering, bring lots of water!!) The crew made us coffee, brought muffins, water, and cokes for us.
The first stop of the day was Manta Point, about an hour and a half boat ride away. Manta Point is a destination famed for it snorkeling and diving, where people come from all over the world to swim with Manta Rays. The Point is what is known as a “cleaning station” where the Mantas swim slowly through and small fish come and eat the parasites from their bodies. It’s like a Manta Ray car wash.
There are two main kinds of Manta Rays, giant and reef. The ocean mantas are the larger variety reaching up to 9 meters. Reef mantas are slightly smaller as reach up to about 6 meters (about 18 feet!!) They are filter feeders that eat plankton and actually have the largest brain of all fish! It’s pretty rare to see either variety as they are shy, and are currently classified as vulnerable.
Our boat arrived at Manta Point and slowly cruised in so as not to scare the fish, and we could already see Mantas swimming in the crystal clear water. I eagerly jumped in with my equipment and tried to contain my excitement and go very slowly. This is key a) to not scare all the fish away, and b) Mantas here are actually kind of curious and might come closer for a better look at what you actually are if you are still. Rule Number One: DONT TOUCH OR HARASS THE MANTAS!!!
As I drifted through the reef, I couldn’t get over how blue and clear the water was. There is no way that any picture could come close to the beauty of the reefs in Komodo National Park. I saw many others types of fish, ocean life, and even a very cute reef shark!
Out of the blue, a manta ray started swimming towards me, and I could hardly breathe it was so beautiful. I totally forgot to take photo at first, all I could do was stare. Soon they were swimming all around us, maybe 30 of them. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The crew had snorkel and scuba equipment available for our use, however, if you have a good mask, bring it. I struggled a bit seeing out of mine and wish I had thought to bring my own equipment. I did bring a GoPro Hero 4 with the waterproof case and floaty handle, and the Olympus TG-5 waterproof camera. I honestly never even used the Go Pro, and took all my photos and video with the Olympus (and some on my IPhone while on the boat).
A short cruise later and the boat arrived at the Mawan Island, famed for its pink sands. This is one of the things everyone should do when coming to Komodo National Park. The Salacita pulled up within sight of Mawan Island, which was completely deserted. Boats cannot dock without damaging the fragile coral reefs so you will need to actually swim to the Island. It’s a very manageable swim with a mild current (at least on the day I went). I didn’t even use flippers, and it was fine. As I swam to shore for pink sands excited to be a mermaid ?♀️ for a day, I was mesmerized by the beautiful coral reef. It seemed like every color of the rainbow was represented, either in the fish or the coral. The water was a great temperature, about 80-85 degrees, not cold at all.
This pink sand beach is one of 7 in the world (another being Horseshoe Bay in Bermuda, which I honestly didn’t think was that pink) and is located where the Indian and Pacific Oceans meet. The sands truly are bright pink. The pink comes from the coral, and you can see the bits of the coral in the sand, and broken pieces from waves on the beach. This is a gorgeous spot and very Instagrammable- bring your camera, but dont forget to stop and enjoy the peace and beauty around you. ?
The number one thing to Komodo National Park is to see the Komodo dragons. It’s about a 45 minute boat ride from the pink beach to Rinca Island. We went in November and it was still incredibly hot- 100 degrees with equally high humidity. I asked our captain if I could jump in the water to cool off at Rinca, and was politely informed that it was far too dangerous as there were saltwater crocodiles (and it was mating season) in the water all around. ? We never saw any however, nor did we see any spitting cobras that also live on the island. We did see many Komodo dragons of all sizes.
From the dock, its about a 5 minute easy walk to the park entrance. The park fee is approximately 200-250,000. This is the equivalent of approximately $20 US. The Komodo National Park Website can give you a price guide. Guides cost a nominal fee, but trust me- get the guide. They carry large sticks for protection in case you happen to look delicious to a Komodo dragon, and they know the preferred hangout spots of the animals. While you are of course not guaranteed to see Komodo dragons, there are always a few lounging under the ranger station. The rangers cook for themselves there and the Komodo dragons are attracted to the smell. We saw probably 9 Komodo dragons of varying ages and sizes around the ranger area. They wander around completely unconcerned with the human spectators. On the island, there are deer, pig, and even buffalo for them to eat- even other dragons can be on the menu.
It was nesting season, so we were fortunate enough after a short and easy (but very hot) hike to view one of the nests. The female Komodo dragon makes multiple fake nests to confuse predators of the eggs, as well as her main one. She will then guard it constantly, going for several months without eating.
The conditions are very basic there, there is a restroom, and a small area to buy some drinks and possibly a snack or t shirt. Again bring plenty of water because you will sweat it out incredibly quickly. As we purchased a bottle of water at the stand and stood around to gulp it down, a Komodo dragon wandered over to check us out. They apparently can climb stairs. One of the guides happened to mention that a Komodo dragon killed a tourist about 5 months before our arrival. Apparently, he went off in the woods without a guide and happened upon a group of them feeding, and waded in to take photos. One of the Komodo dragons snuck up behind him, attacked him, and he died on the way to the hospital. Lesson- get a guide and super glue yourself to him. You’ll have a great time, and they will even help you get amazing photos.
If you have time, hang out on the other side of Rinca (on your boat), for sunset. The sunsets are stunning with beautiful colors that are definitely insta-worthy. The best part though, is minutes after sunset, thousands and thousands of flying foxes (actually bats) leave the trees and head to the neighboring island. It is quite a spectacle and very beautiful. When the sky fully darkens, you can appreciate the sheer number of stars in the sky. This city girl never knew so many existed.
As I said before, I cannot say enough good things about this crew. They went over and above in every way. They were constantly cooking, and making food and drinks for us. The most wonderful thing I witnessed was how they treated a disabled girl on our charter (we were on the boat with a couple of other people), she was unable to make the climb on board in the beginning, and they carried her like baby the entire way. She wasn’t going to swim, but they told her they would put her in a life jacket and and they would swim for her. They made sure she experienced everything. They stayed by her side helping her while hiking with dragons as well. When my friend got tired in the water, they grabbed her arm and swam her in so she wouldn’t have to struggle. They were just amazing.
Things to pack for this trip:
-sunscreen (I put on 70 and still got burned)
-twice as much water as you think you will drink (in a reusable bottle)
-money for park fee or something at Komodo, tip for crew
– your own mask/snorkel/ other equipment
You can book this tour Here