Travelling to Komodo National Park to see the legendary Komodo Dragons up close and in their natural habitat is the ultimate bucket list adventure on many backpackers gap year itineraries, but how exactly do you do it? How do you get to Komodo Island? Where do you stay? This article will help you plan your trip to Komodo Island and the surrounding area.
Komodo National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site located in the centre of the Indonesian archipelago between Sumbawa and Flores, the most popular jumping off point for the park itself.
The park itself consists of three volcanic islands, Rinca, Komodo and Padar, and is designated as a global conservation priority area with a staggeringly unique array of terrestrial and marine ecosystems in a relatively small area.
When to go.
You can technically visit any time and trek and dive all year round, so there really is no ‘bad’ time to go, but the dragons themselves have mating and nesting seasons between July to August and September to November so are less active, but still visible. The best time to visit is arguably in the dry season between April and December.
Flores is the primary jumping off point for Komodo National Park, specifically the small fishing town of Labuan Bajo.
There are daily flights from Ngurah Rai International Airport (also known as Denpasar) in Bali to Komodo Airport near Labuan Bajo and this is your best option. Flights are usually on smaller planes so be careful with your luggage allowance.
Once in Labuan Bajo you can charter a diving liveaboard or charter a simple boat to take you on a cruise of the islands.
Alternatively there is also a public ferry from Padangbai in Bali to Lombok, where you can get a bus to Labuan Bajo. Obviously being a Ferry the schedule and prices may change based on the conditions and cancellations are possible. This option takes a couple of days, and is an adventure in and of itself so may be worth it for those backpackers who have the time and fortitude.
Labuan Bajo is a charming little fishing town that for backpackers is a place that is very easy to fall in love with. Despite the fact that it is the jumping off point for the Komodo National Park and it does have some high end resorts and hotels, it is far less touristy than Bali and still retains a small town feel. Although it is uncertain how long this will last as development is ongoing and often happens pretty fast.
There are decent food options in Labuan Bajo, and as usual the street food is often the best, cheapest and the most tasty, but there are some really good local restaurants to choose from too, all serving locally caught seafood. There are even a few Western options popping up as well as the town caters to more tourists.
There are a good range of accommodation options in Labuan Bajo too, from the ultra basic hostel to the high end resort and tons of options in between. There are some really good budget hostels starting from just $5 USD and many of them are generally great options for a night or two, but this is one place where I recommend that backpackers – even those on a tight budget – upgrade a little and look for a midrange option. The prices really aren’t all that much different and for the sake of a pound or two you can go from a basic shared dorm to a clean and comfortable private room.
Choosing a tour.
Komodo National Park is surprisingly governed by an extremely responsible tourism programme, and it is a requirement that you can only visit with an official guide and park ranger. This is why you will have to book a tour with an operator who will take you there, organise that for you and bring you back.
There are a lot of options to choose from when it comes to picking a tour operator to take you to and from Komodo National Park, so it won’t be too difficult to find one that suits your needs and budget. The best advice here is to shop around.
Remember whichever option you choose, from a private speedboat costing up to a thousand USD to a diving liveaboard, or even a shared tour on a wooden boat for a hundred USD or so, you will also have to factor in other costs such as the wages for the guide, the entrance fee to the park itself and any other external factors such as diving or snorkelling equipment.
It can all add up but you can get a tour with a reasonable budget and it is more than worth every penny.
What you need to bring with you.
- A strong sunscreen, hat and sunglasses are a must. The sun can get brutal when you are trekking inland and you may not always have cover when on the decks of the boats.
- A good mosquito repellent. The risk of malaria rises once you get to Flores and Labuan Bajo compared to the rest of Indonesia. Good mosquito bite prevention should always be practiced regardless due to the risk of dengue and other insect borne diseases.
- Trekking shoes or trainers are also a necessity. You don’t need a lot of trekking gear or specific clothing for the islands but protecting your feet is a must.
Where to go and what to do in Komodo National Park.
The second biggest island in the national park and usually the first stop on most tours, Rinca island is astounding, and you would be easily forgiven for thinking you had reached the end of the world and found a lost prehistoric island.
Guides at the ranger station work hard to instill in each and every visitor the safety measures that should be followed as well as the efforts they are making toward conservation. They make it very clear that the dragons welfare comes first, and then enjoy telling tales of the times tourists have been eaten! I’m guessing they were joking at that last part.
But you won’t have to wait long for your introduction to these amazing animals, as there are a large number of them that roam the island freely, as well as a number of deer and monkeys, which often end up as part of the Dragon’s diet.
Spotting Komodo dragons is obviously the reason most travellers come here, but there are some decent trekking options too.
There are a few trekking routes that you can follow, with a ranger of course. They all start from the ranger station and ticket office at Loh Buaya, near to where the boat will drop you off.
The shortest trek only takes 30 minutes and is an easy walk past an artificial waterhole. The medium trek takes about an hour, and the longer trek takes around two hours, dependent on your pace. Make sure to look out for the Dragon nesting sites, which your guide will point out! The highlight here though is probably the stunning view of the coastline and the island itself!
If you didn’t get your fill of dragons on Rinca Island, you will on the eponymous Komodo Island itself! It is larger than Rinca Island and somehow feels even more wild and isolated.
Again there are countless opportunities to spot the native wildlife here, especially if you do a spot of lunch, where they will be attracted by the smell.
And again if you have the time and energy, there are even more trekking routes on Komodo Island. The easiest and shortest route takes around an hour and is suitable for families or those short on time, with the longest route taking four hours or more. It isn’t overly strenuous fitness wise but does take in a larger sightseeing aspect of the island and has the added benefit of leaving most of the tourists behind too.
Padar Island is usually the last stop on most tours and allows travellers to experience some of the world class snorkelling on the islands, as well as the famous pink beach.
The pink beach is a natural phenomenon caused by red coral fragments, and it does fluctuate in colour from time to time which is normal. It wasn’t very pink on my visit but it was still a stunning beach nonetheless, and you don’t notice that anyway once you get in the water!
Diving and snorkelling liveaboards.
Flores and Komodo National Park, as well as some of the smaller islands in the area, has some of the best diving and snorkelling in the world, and apart from the usual tours around the islands themselves from Labuan Bajo, there are also a lot of options for PADI lessons, diving excursions and liveaboard diving trips of varying lengths. Many of the liveaboard options include trips to the islands as well, so whatever you want to do you have a variety of choices.
And that is all you need to know to plan the ultimate adventure of a lifetime to Komodo National Park and see these amazing animals up close! So what are you waiting for?
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