Visiting Komodo National Park in Indonesia should be at the top of your bucket-list!
This has to be one of the best trips we have ever done – and we don’t throw statements like that around lightly. We had our minds blown at every location – beautiful beaches, wild animals, epic snorkelling and a once in a life time boat journey – how could we not?!
Komodo National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprised of the three main islands (Komodo, Rinca and Padar) as well as numerous smaller islands just off the west coast of Flores Island in Indonesia. It was established in 1980 to help protect the Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard. The national park also includes one of the richest marine environments in the world. Turtles, sharks, whales, dugongs and manta rays can all be found in the waters surrounding Komodo National Park.
Getting to Komodo National Park
The most popular launching point for Komodo National Park is from the town of Labuan Bajo, on the western tip of Flores Island. Flores is located approximately an hour away from Bali by plane and return flights shouldn’t cost more than $200 AUD ($145 USD). I would advise giving yourself at least 7-8 days to make the most of your time in Flores and Komodo. This will give you the chance to complete an overland tour of Flores as well.
Once you arrive in Labuan Bajo, exploring Komodo is an easy boat ride away. You can either do a day-trip boat excursion, or an overnight liveaboard boat tour. I would highly recommend going for at least a one-night trip. There is so much to see that a single day tour would leave you rushed and missing out on some of the amazing sites. Plus, who doesn’t want to spend the night out on the water surrounded by some of nature’s best work?
Booking a boat tour
There is no shortage of tour operators and options when deciding which tour to take. The main road in Labuan Bajo is filled with different tour companies and dive shops offering day trips and overnight boat tours. I would recommend popping your head into a couple of shops and comparing the different options and prices. The main differences and things to keep in mind are, the number of days, the look/quality of the boat, the price, and whether or not you are wanting to scuba dive.
Most of the boat tours take similar routes depending on the number of days you choose. That being said, make sure you check out the Key Highlights of Komodo National Park and ensure your boat tour incorporates as many as possible.
In the end, we settled on a boat tour booked through our hostel in Labuan Bajo. They were offering a 2-day tour to all the places we wanted to visit, provided us with transportation to and from the docks and were able to keep our bags safely stored while we were away. They did all of this for the same price as many of the other tour operators so it was an easy decision based on cost and simplicity.
Tours of Komodo National Park fill up fast. As there were three of us traveling together, we had to wait 5 days before we could get a space for our chosen tour. This is the case with a lot of the more popular tour operators so be prepared to wait a few days if you haven’t booked anything in advance. Fear not, as this gives you the perfect opportunity to take an overland tour and explore the island of Flores.
Boat Trip Prices
As mentioned, there are a wide range of boat trips to choose from. Day trips start from around 500,000 – 1,000,000 IDR ($35 – $70 USD). The standard price for a 2-day, 1-night boat trip on a more budget friendly boat trip is approximately 1,200,000 IDR ($83 USD). This will include all your meals and snorkelling equipment, however, other expenses such as alcohol and park entry are not included.
Although we settled on a more budget friendly option, there are more luxurious options as well – anywhere from all inclusive 4-day boat trips ranging from 3,000,000 to 6,000,000 IDR ($207 – $415 USD), depending on the level of comfort you are looking for.
Entrance to Komodo National Park is not included in most boat trips and will cost you approximately 280,000 IDR ($19 USD) depending on what activities you participate in.
It is important to keep in mind that you will be sharing the boat with 6-10 other people, so pack light as you will be limited for space. For us, the most important things to pack were:
· Ultra light Dry Sack for your electronics and valuables
· Portable charger as you may not have access to charging ports and you’ll want to make sure your camera is ready to go for the full trip!
· Bug spray – as beautiful as open air sleeping can be, it also means you are more prone to bug bites.
· Comfortable shoes/sneakers – expect to do a little bit of trekking to appreciate the national park and see some Komodo dragons.
· Drone – We couldn’t imagine taking this trip without documenting it from the air
· Travel Insurance – between the scooter rides, poisonous lizards and adventurous activities, it is an important consideration.
Things to do in Komodo
The brilliant white sand of the region is mixed with tiny pieces of red coral to create this magnificent pink beach. We had heard about this beach before but couldn’t quite believe our eyes when we saw it the first time. The surrounding reef is also home to some amazing wildlife and is a hotspot for turtles so keep an eye out for them.
The beaches are pastel pink in colour and will make for some pretty special photos, especially from the air.
Manta Point gives you a chance to swim with some gentle giants of the ocean. The manta rays come to this spot to feed and will swim in and around you as if you aren’t even there. The mantas often have a wingspan of over 2 metres so it’s a pretty exciting experience to share the water with them.
Mantas can be spotted year round in Komodo, however the wet season can often attract hundreds of mantas to Manta Point. The colder water brings an increase in food, and as a result, December to March is the best time to come and see them. They are usually only there at certain times of the day so make sure your boat tour will take you at the right time of day.
Watch the night sky fill with bats
For overnight trips, the boat will anchor near to Kalong Island for sunset and for you to stay the night. Tens of thousands of bats leave the mangroves of Kalong Island and head over to Flores to feed for the night. It’s a pretty special experience to see the bats fill the sky with such a spectacular backdrop.
A short hike up Padar Island will take you to one of the most insane views you will EVER see. The point you hike up to gives incredible 360 degree views and a chance to take in the 3 main spectacular beaches of Padar and the fourth one off in the distance.
This is the place we were most excited about, which can often lead to disappointment when you finally arrive. There will be zero disappointment here as you sit and marvel at how one place can be so damn beautiful.
Try and get on a boat that will get you here as early as possible because shortly after sunrise Padar Island can become very busy with tourists, hindering that perfect Instagram picture you have been dreaming of.
See Komodo Dragons
Although present on both Komodo and Rinca islands, on Rinca you have a better chance of spotting Komodo dragons – the largest lizards on the planet. It is required that you hire a ranger when touring the Islands as the Komodo dragon’s bite is extremely venomous and can be fatal. The rangers will guide you through the park and keep you at a safe distance from the Komodo dragons. They usually spend their days basking in the sun and remain fairly inactive due to the heat so there isn’t much to worry about.
Upon arrival at Rinca island, you have the choice between a short 1 hour walk, medium 1.5-hour hike or a longer 2.5-hour hike around the island. This decision is usually voted on as a group. We did the most popular medium hike and felt that this was perfect as we got great views of the island and saw plenty of Komodo dragons. The heat can be draining so bear that in mind when making your decision.
Make sure to keep an eye out for other wildlife as well. On our tour around Komodo Island we were lucky enough to see a King Cobra on the walking trail. This was the point in our tour that we sure were glad to have the ranger with us, even though all he had for protection was a big stick. He ensured we got a good view of the King Cobra before he casually moved it on its way.
A little slice of paradise. Kanawa Island is a small island surrounded by stunning reef. Your boat will pull up to the pier to dock but forget about walking down the pier – grab your snorkel and swim to shore. The reef starts just metres out from the beach making it a great spot to snorkel for those who are less comfortable in deeper water.
Once you’ve tired yourself out swimming and snorkelling, chill out underneath the trees and relax on the glorious white sand. We found this to be one of the quietest spots on our trip and was the best place to take a couple of hours to just relax.
Snorkelling and diving
It doesn’t really matter where you jump in to have a snorkel, in Komodo National Park pretty much everywhere is spectacular. It has amazing, colourful coral reefs, manta rays, turtles, dolphins and so much more. You will have loads of chances to jump off the side of the boat to go snorkelling so make sure you take every chance you get. The underwater world here is almost as impressive as the islands themselves.
If you are a scuba diver or wish to obtain your scuba certification, there are lots of options for live aboard diving trips or day trips from Labuan Bajo. These will obviously be much more expensive, but will be dive-focused. Komodo National Park is lucky to have so many amazing dive spots that are completely unspoiled.
Where to Stay
We stayed in Ciao Hostel, which is located just outside of the town centre, about a 10-15 minute walk. As the hostel is set up on the hillside overlooking the harbour and the surrounding islands, the rooftop terrace, restaurant and common area all offer spectacular views. Not bad considering the rate was only $15 AUD ($11 USD) a night for a 6-bed mixed dorm at the time. A quick look at updated prices, and it appears the price has increased slightly to approximately $20 AUD ($15 USD).
The hostel offers a semi-frequent shuttle into town, or if you are feeling active, it is a short walk down the hill, or you can jump on the back of one of the local’s scooters for $1. Ciao was very convenient for us as they arranged scooter rentals as well as our overnight Komodo boat tour. As a budget location, this hostel was clean, well-kept, organised and easy to meet other travellers.
Le Pirate Hotel
If you are looking for fancier accommodation with great eats and stylish décor, then Le Pirate Hotel would be a great fit. It is perfect for the flashpacker crowd, who value comfort and style but still aren’t ready for expensive hotels and resorts. Although this hotel didn’t fit into our backpacker budget, we did manage to visit for a couple of meals and drinks (delicious!) and to take advantage of their rooftop pool.
We ended up going to Flores with little to no knowledge of what was in store for us. We had a friend we really wanted to meet up with who was heading there, so we thought, why not? Little did we know that we would be in for one of the best trips of our lives. It’s such an amazing place that has so much to offer.
The great thing about this trip is that while it is one of the best tours we have ever done, it was also relatively cheap. Flights, accommodation and the cost of the boat tour will not break the bank and I’m not sure where else you could find the same value for money. So next time you plan a trip to Indonesia, make sure to put Flores and Komodo National Park on your itinerary!