If you like watching nature documentaries, you’ve probably seen segments about Indonesia’s resident lizard from the era of the dinosaurs – the Komodo dragon. Since they live in remote Komodo National Park, it’s been difficult for travelers to visit and see these wild animals themselves. In the past decade, officials in Indonesia have bolstered the infrastructure of Komodo National Park, making it more accessible. Additionally, more frequent flights to and from Labuan Bajo, the gateway to the Komodo islands, have opened the region up for domestic and international tourists alike.
Stunning island vistas and the opportunity to see Komodo dragons make Komodo National Park a highlight of a trip to Indonesia.
How to Visit:
You should fly into Labuan Bajo airport on the island of Flores, east of Bali. This is the hub for trips heading into Komodo National Park. While you can take day tours into the islands, I recommend opting for a 3 day liveaboard boat trip to get a deeper experience in the park.
There are many companies that offer these tours with a range of accommodation levels from budget to more luxurious. We took a mid-range option and booked with Discover Your Indonesia for about $500 USD per person for a boat with AC. Luxury options start at $750 and budget (no AC) is available for about $400.
What to Expect:
The tours include accommodation on the boat, meals, guide and snorkeling gear.
On the midrange boat, we had a cabin for me and Tim with an AC unit and another for captain and crew. There was a small room in the back for a bucket-flush toilet. In the front was a table where we had our meals and generally hung out during the day. There was a ladder to climb up to the roof of the boat where you could lay out in the sun as well.
Snorkeling equipment was available for us to use (fins and mask), as well as beach towels.
We also had meals on the boat each day. Every meal was a delicious mix of seafood or chicken, veggies and fruit. Water and coffee/tea were always accessible.
What to Pack:
- Casual hot-weather clothes (shorts, tanks, tees)
- Flip flops
- Comfortable sneakers or hikers
- Mosquito repellant
- Something to read or watch (you definitely won’t have internet!)
Where You’ll Stop:
Every tour is different, but these are the hotspots that most companies will visit on their tours.
This island a snorkeling spot where you can see tropical fish and vibrant coral.
This small island has a fantastic lookout at the top of a very steep hill. It’s a tough climb on the soft dirt, but it only takes a few minutes and the views are well worth it! Afterwards you can cool off with a snorkel around the island.
This is my favorite island for seeing Komodo dragons! When you arrive, a park ranger will greet you. Visitors must be with a ranger at all times for safety.
You will almost certainly see dragons sleeping near the park ranger kitchen. They say they don’t feed them, but the dragons must have access to scraps. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense that so many would hang out there.
You will then head out on a nature trail with the ranger. With some luck, you will spot some dragons during your walk. The rangers are experts on where they like to hang out and are very eager to help you enjoy your visit.
This is a great sunset spot thanks to the hundreds of small bats (flying foxes) that fly out of the mangroves in droves every evening.
A steep half hour climb brings you to amazing views over three bays, each with different sand color (black, white and pink)
The snorkeling around this island is really nice, and you can actually see the pink color of the sand better under water. The beach itself is not as pink as some hyper-saturated photos would have you believe, but there is definitely a discernible pink hue right along the line where the water meets the sand.
This is the second place you have an opportunity to spot Komodo dragons. Again you will be paired with a ranger who will take you on a walk of your choice around the island. The ranger will explain the hiking options when you arrive, but there are basically short, medium and long options. I recommend just going with their recommendation, since the rangers know where you are likely to see dragons that day.
This island offers both sunset and sunrise views, and your guide will likely give you the option to hike both if you stay overnight here. The sunset hike is short and easy up a small hill. The sunrise hike is much longer and much steeper. Expect to hike 45 minutes in the dark uphill.
Like its name suggests, this area is a great spot to spot mantas and other rays. There is also great snorkeling over a reef near here where we saw several sea turtles.
This tiny island is a little oasis of sand in the middle of the ocean and is a nice spot to just relax on the sand for a bit.
About Komodo Dragons:
The Komodo dragon is a monitor lizard, but a very extraordinarily big one. Growing up to 3m in length and weighing up to 100kg, they are omnivorous, emphasis on the omni. They will hunt mammals weighing up to 100kg and even eat their young. Juvenile dragons hide in trees to avoid becoming a meal for adults.
They can stand on their back legs and knock over prey with one whack of their powerful tails.
On top of that, they are venomous. Just one bite will cause septic infections that inevitably kill the victim. The lizard will follow its victim until it dies, which can take up to two weeks.
Thankfully, they only need to eat once a month, which means it is relatively safe to observe them in the company of a park ranger.
As if they could be any scarier, female dragons kept isolated from other dragons their entire lives have recently been observed in zoos giving birth to fertilised eggs.
A Note on Ethical Tourism:
Don’t encourage anyone to engage in any intrusive or harmful behavior towards the animals. Some rangers will poke the sleeping dragons to make them walk away, thinking that you want to see them moving. Try to discourage this behavior so that Komodo National Park stays in the realm of ethical wildlife spotting and not dodgy animal tourism.