Have you heard of the famous (or infamous…) Komodo Dragon? Komodo dragons are the largest lizards on the planet. These prehistoric beasts are badass mofos that you do not want to mess around with BUT there is an opportunity to see them in real life in Indonesia. You can briefly pretend to be the Mother of Dragons!
Visiting Komodo is a popular destination in Indonesia especially if one is looking for some great diving spots. Komodo is also one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature and a UNESCO World Heritage Site if you needed more reasons to make this trip!
So there’s two main islands where you can see the Komodo dragons – Komodo Island or Rinca Island. These two islands plus Padar Island and smaller neighboring islands make up Komodo National Park. Komodo Island has bigger dragons while Rinca Island has smaller ones but you are more likely see the dragons on Rinca. Rinca is also closer to Labuan Bajo so there’s less time spent on a boat to get there.
Komodo or Finca is actually just one stop out of many if you do a tour through one of the many boat tour operators operating from Labuan Bajo on Flores Island. I ended up on a tour that went to Komodo Island and not Finca Island. The tour is not really guided as in no one on the boat explains much. It’s really just a captain and his assistant who drove us along this specific route with stops along the way. My dream bucket list item was to see the Komodo dragons but I surprisingly ended up getting so much more out of the tour.
Highlights of the Komodo Tour
My day started with seeing sunrise from the boat as we “sailed” (more like motored) from Labuan Bajo harbor to Padar Island.
Padar Island was an incredible delightful surprise that ended up being one of the biggest highlights for me! You must hike up to the top to get a stunning view of the entire island. We had about 2 hours to spend on the island, which was enough time to hike up to the top and back. The path is very clearly marked although the paved path ended at one point and you needed to climb a little bit near the top. It is sandy with loose rocks once the path ends. It was brutally hot so hiking in the hot morning sun was tiring but the views are totally worth it. Definitely should not attempt to do this in flip flops so bring a pair of sneakers!
The main reason why I ended up on the tour to begin with! So Komodo Island is actually quite a large island and there are lots of hiking trails. But you must follow and stay with a ranger to guide you on the hiking trek since they knew where to find the Komodo dragons in the wild. Unfortunately when we went, it was super hot and midday so the dragons were hiding from the heat. So we only saw two Komodos dragons, a very large adult male and a small juvenile. These are wild animals so no guaranteed sightings!
The small juveniles run away because Komodo dragons are actually cannibalistic so the younger ones usually hide in trees until they grow big enough to be on the ground. The adults are massive and definitely scary looking. They can weigh up to 200 lbs and grow up to 8.5 ft in length. We couldn’t get too close since they are deadly and wild animals. The adults feed on deer, boars, horses, water buffalos, and other Komodo dragons. The rangers carried large sticks as protection and made sure we stayed a safe distance away from the large adult male we encountered as well as taking photos for us.
Pink Beach is a small pristine beach on Komodo Island. But it is not quite as pink as you’d think or expect based on the name. However when the waves washed ashore, you could see some of the pinkness shine through. It was a little difficult to capture the fleeting pinkness on camera though. The pink comes from small broken up pieces of red coral mixed in with the white sand. You could also spend the time snorkelling around the boat here too. The water was really shallow and very clear so you could see all the colorful coral and fish.
Last stop before heading back to Labuan Bajo was Manta Point. Huge manta rays swam around this area. When the captain gave the green light, you could jump into the water to snorkel and swim with the manta rays! Note that one should be a good strong swimmer because the current can be really strong here. I didn’t realize that manta rays could swim so close to the surface. You could still enjoy glimpses of these massive creatures gliding through the water even if you didn’t go into the water. You could see their flips come up and break the surface similar to dolphin fins. The water was also so clear and blue that you could see really deep far down to the coral underneath. It was amazing to see how huge the manta rays were whenever they swam under the boat!
By the time we got back to Labuan Bajo, it was after dark so we got see the sunset from the boat. It was absolutely stunning! The colors are unbelievable and it was beautiful to watch them change as the sun sank below the horizon.
I love being out on the water on a boat! There’s something about the smell of salt and the sea in the air with a light ocean breeze. Even though we had a really full day of activities, it was also entirely relaxing and soothing to just sit on a boat and watch the horizon without really thinking about anything. Visiting Komodo is a must if not for the Komodo dragons at least for the spectacular ocean island landscapes!
We spent a lot of time motoring/driving around from island to island so not true sailing. However, it was so calm and peaceful to watch the waves and islands pass by. There weren’t that many big waves so I wasn’t too worried about getting seasick. There were a few times where the waves were splashing up onto the boat so you could get wet from some ocean spray in your face as the boat cruised along. I felt like I discovered a hidden gem since there weren’t that many other boats and tourists around. Padar Island was the only spot where we saw a number of other tourists.
I almost felt like I could have been sailing in Greece. The water was so crystal clear and all shades of pretty blue from aquamarine to teal. There were also hardly any animals in sight. Sometimes you would see a few birds but it was rare. We did get to see a pack of dolphins jumping through the water once though.
I was also pleasantly surprised at how clean the water was – there was no trash in the water! I only saw some trash in the Labuan Bajo harbor which is always sad to see. I hope the locals and tourists can continue maintain the eco-friendliness and cleanliness. Komodo is supposed to be a popular tourist destination but I didn’t find it to be super touristy when I was there!
How to Get to Komodo
Komodo is easily accessible via a quick 1-1.5 hour flight from Bali (DPS) to Labuan Bajo (LBJ) on Flores Island. Garuda Indonesia (the national airline of Indonesia and a member of SkyTeam Alliance) and the local budget airlines, NAM Air (subsidiary of Sriwijaya Air) and Wings (subsidiary or Lion Air), all fly this route. A return trip ranges from $130-$200 USD depending on how far in advance you book and when you’re travelling, if it’s during a national holiday for example. I went in early September. I think the high season is from May-July.
Note you can also fly from Jakarta (CGK), the capital of Indonesia. There are a few nonstop flights on Garuda Indonesia, Batik Air, and Citilink Indonesia. Otherwise, you’ll most likely have a layover in Bali.
Labuan Bajo is a small coastal town that mainly serves as the base for all the diving and boat tour excursions to Komodo. There’s not too much to do on the main street by the harbor or town itself. The airport is super close by, only about 10 min to the harborfront. The taxis are all controlled and run by the local taxi mafia. So a taxi cost a fixed price of 50,000 IDR ($3 USD) from the airport to the harbor.
Where to Stay and Eat
I stayed at Le Pirate Hotel, which is a cute pirate themed hotel right by the harbor on the main street. Pretty much all the bars and restaurants are in walking distance. So you don’t need to worry about getting a taxi even though there’ll be tons of drivers constantly asking you if you need one. The hotel is advertised as eco-friendly and had cute signs everywhere that constantly referred to the pirate theme. Le Pirate also offers a few other experiences such as their own boat tours, their own island resort, and a boatel (a hotel on a boat) where you could stay too.
On the rooftop, you can find a small pool and lounge bar offering food and drinks while enjoying a tranquil view of the harbor especially at sunset. The hotel also had a good restaurant with lots of food options including both Indonesian and Western dishes. The bar or restaurant would host events every night whether it was happy hours, movie night, live music, or food/drink specials. I ended up eating at the restaurant both nights I was there since the food and cocktails were delicious. I found the whole pirate tiki theme entertaining, which gave the place a fun cool vibe!
All the water in town is imported so water conservation is important – note the pirate theme!
Booking Your Tour
I ended up only staying 2 days and 2 nights so only did a 1 single day tour because so much is covered in a one day tour. I don’t scuba dive but most people I met stayed a few additional days to enjoy the diving. There are also options to spend nights on liveaboard boats for longer trips such as longer treks on Komodo Island or visiting both Finca and Komodo. There’s also overland tours available to explore inland on Flores Island itself for stunning waterfall and summit hikes. And of course, there’s always the option to do a private tour as well. In all honesty if you are not going diving, a group day tour is probably enough since it was a jam packed full day but totally worth it!
You can easily book a spot from a tour operator in person unless it happens to be high season where you may want to book online instead in order to secure a spot. I booked my tour with the first tour agency I walked into right next to the hotel. At the end of the day, they are all the same. I learned and figured out afterwards from talking to my fellow boat tourmates that there’s only one boat that will go a certain route. All the tour agencies put all their guests on that one boat. Maybe more boats operate during the high season. You do need to book the tour at the latest the night before because the day starts really early at 5-6am.
I negotiated the price down to 500,000 IDR ($33 USD) for my day tour and this included so many unexpected stops that had actually made the trip better. Also note you need to pay 320,000 IDR ($21 USD) for the entrance fee to Komodo National Park when you get to Komodo Island. I think the park may have raised the price of the entrance fee since then.
My tour did not include breakfast but included lunch, snorkeling gear, and stops at Padar Island, Komodo Island, Pink Beach, and Manta Point. How much time we spent at each stop was dictated by the weather and water currents.
Lunch was a packed boxed lunch that was nothing exciting to write home about and we didn’t eat until early afternoon around 1-2pm. The night before, the tour agency had asked if I was vegetarian so that was an option. Make sure to bring your own breakfast and snacks, especially if you’re a picky eater in case you don’t like the lunch that’s provided. Also hiking in the sweltering heat was a little taxing and exhausting so definitely bring and drink lots of water for the Padar and Komodo Island treks!