In all our travels, nothing has blown our minds quite like Komodo National Park. From the dragons to the diving, we were awe-struck by the beauty, the truly unique natural wonders, and the astounding plethora of life in Komodo’s waters.
It’s not the easiest place to get to, and given how rustic it is and how physically challenging the dives are, it’s definitely not for everyone. But for intrepid nature lovers, this place is one of the last pieces of paradise on earth. I’ll list some tips to help you work around some of the trickier aspects of getting to Komodo, and share some suggestions about how to get the most out of your trip. But first, let’s talk about what there is to see and do so you can decide if a visit to Komodo should be added to your bucket list.
If you don’t scuba dive, I wouldn’t recommend visiting Komodo. There’s just not much else to do. But if you do dive, and you’re an advanced diver in good shape, a fairytale underwater world awaits you. We did six dives, each more eye-popping than the last, and were astounded by the incredible biodiversity and health of the marine ecosystem. Every square centimeter of rock and reef is covered with a dazzling array of life. We saw graceful manta rays, countless green sea turtles and hawksbills, black-tip and bamboo sharks, huge sweet lip fish, barracuda, schools of giant trevally, swimming eels, giant puffers, an incredibly colorful assortment of soft and hard coral, big nudibranchs, and high density clouds of tropical fish in every hue of the rainbow. So you can get a feel for what it’s like, I put together a highlight reel for you of the sites we dove, which include: The Channel (including The Cauldron and Aquarium), Crystal Rock, Siaba Besar, Makassar Reef, Batu Bolong and Tatawa Besar:
It makes you feel hopeful – and a bit overwhelmed – to see such an incredibly high concentration of life in such a healthy marine ecosystem. There’s just so much to see, you don’t know where to focus your attention.
Note that there can be very strong currents at certain sites, which is where you see the big critters, so these dives are for confident, advanced divers only. You’ve got to be comfortable doing fast negative entries without a down line, diving in up to 6-knot currents, dealing with eddies and being sucked up by current chutes, which feels a bit like being shot out of a cannon. And you don’t want to be a douchebag who sucks up all your air in 30 minutes on a 65 minute dive, cutting the dive short for others in your group. My husband and I are pretty experienced, fit and calm divers, and these dives pushed us a little beyond the limits of our abilities. And it was simply amazing.
Okay, so I’m posting this photo of me for two reasons: 1. It’s a public service announcement – proof that there’s FINALLY an effective treatment to prevent sea sickness. 2. I’m commemorating the first time in my life that I’m not projectile vomiting on a damned bobbing cork of a boat, which is a minor miracle worthy of fireworks and a parade. (Plus, I’m about 150 years old, and I can do whatever the hell I want. So if you’re grossed out by me in a bikini, well, suck it!)
To my fellow sufferers of seasickness, there is finally a cure: “Scopatch,” a prescription anti-seasickness patch featuring the medication Scopolamine. You stick a tiny patch behind your ear and the treatment lasts for three days. For me, it WORKED LIKE MAGIC! I highly recommend it for those who love to dive but hate to hurl. There’s A LOT of boat time on Komodo dive trips (about 7-10 hours/day), so Scopatch may be a good investment for you. It certainly was for me – nothing else I’ve tried has ever worked, such as Dramamine, acupuncture, those weird magnetic bracelet thingies, and “just getting over it” (but it did help punching the person who gave me that shitty, sanctimonious piece of advice). I did experience a few side effects from Scopatch, but I looked at the mild hallucinations like they were really more of a free bonus than a side effect. 🙂
Who doesn’t want to see dragons?! These big guys (and girls) are massive! They only live on 5 islands in the whole world, and their highest concentrations can be found on Komodo and Rinca islands, both of which are within the boundaries of Komodo National Park. There, the guides will get you up close and person with these cool monsters. Like, really close. As in, so close that you’ll start to wonder if the wimpy stick that the guide uses to protect you is really all that effective.
On your tour, your guide – most of whom have lived on the island among the dragons all their lives – will tell you all kinds of fascinating facts about them. Like, did you know that they only need to eat once per month? And that they can kill their prey – including giant water buffalo – with a single bite since the bacteria in their saliva is so powerful that it will make their victims drop dead within a week. And that these bad boys can sprint up to 20km/hour. (Just so long as you can run faster than the others in your tour group, you’re safe. 🙂 )
If you go during mating season, which starts around June, you might just get to see some randy big guys brawling to show off for the lady dragons. We got to see a pretty dramatic dragon fight, and as you can see, the girl dragon was unimpressed. But we were!
It’s a pretty fascinating day trip. From Labuan Bajo, where most people stay, it’s about a 2-hour boat ride to Rinca, and 2.5 hours to Komodo. You can easily do the short-track hike in flip-flops, but there are also much longer and more strenuous hikes available. Just be sure to bring water and watch out for cobras, scorpions, and wayward dragons. Also note: komodo dragons are attracted to the scent of blood and will come running from miles away, so if you’ve got an open wound, it’s safest not to do any hiking.
Getting to Komodo
To get to Komodo, you’ll need to fly to Labuan Bajo on Flores Island. The majority of flights to LBJ airport originate in Bali. It can be a pain in the neck making flight arrangements to Komodo since the most popular airline that flies there – Wings Air – doesn’t allow you to purchase tickets online without an Indonesian credit card. But there’s a workaround. You can book your ticket on Nusatrip.com, and they accept credit cards from around the world.
Where to stay
There are only a handful of accommodation options, which fall into four categories:
Private island rustic luxury
At the time of writing this, there are only three exclusive rustic-luxury resorts on the islands off Flores. Each have a very small number of private bungalows and are quite expensive. Having splurged and stayed at one – Angel Island Eco Resort – it was worth every penny to us since it created a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime dream vacation for us.
The reefs around these private islands are simply stunning, and make for fantastic snorkeling when you’re not scuba diving. (See the photo on the top of this post, the one that looks like a fantasy underwater village for fairies? I took shot that snorkeling right off the beach of Angel Island. Crazy, right?) These resorts also offer their own dive and dragon tours, which are on their private boats with small, intimate groups, which makes the dives and tours really special. Plus, staying on these islands gets you closer to the National Park dive sites, which are a minimum of 2 hours boat ride from Labuan Bajo.
Affordable, comfortable and basic (in Labuan Bajo)
There are a few pretty basic and comfortable hotels in Labuan Bajo, ranging from about $20-70USD/night. But note that Labuan Bajo is pretty much a dump. It’s a port town, so the water is gross and not for swimming, and the streets are dirty. But since it takes 4 hours roundtrip to get to most of the dive sites, and you’ll be spending a good amount of time diving and doing your surface interval, it’s not like you’ll have much time to spend bumming around town anyway. So staying in town is an affordable, workable option for those on a budget.
Liveaboard dive boat
For serious divers who don’t get seasick, consider one of the many reputable liveaboard dive boats. You’ll get to do up to 4 dives per day, you’ll have night dive options, and see far more of Komodo’s underwater world than anyone doing day trips. Some good options are:
Adelaar (which has the added bonus of looking like a pirate ship)
Backpackers (in Labuan Bajo)
By far, the highest concentration of travelers to Komodo are backpackers, and there are lots of hostel options. There are decent options starting at $10USD/night.
If you think Komodo is right for you and book a trip, I hope it’s an experience of a lifetime for you, just like it was for us. 🙂 Enjoy, my friends!