If you are planning a trip to Indonesia then you really should make the effort to visit Komodo Island. Most famous for the native Komodo Dragons it also showcases beautiful reefs for snorkelling and world class SCUBA.
Komodo Island is part of the Lesser Sunda Islands, within the East Nusa Tengarra province about 300 miles east of Bali. Labuan Bajo is the access point the surrounding islands. A dirty and dusty town, albeit backpacker friendly, you will be encouraged to fill your days outside of the town.
There are only 2 ways to get to Labuan Bajo in this more remote part of Indonesia. Firstly there are direct flights from Bali with the national carrier Garuda, as well as with budget airlines such as Nam Air and Wings Air. If like myself you are flying from somewhere other than Bali you will be able to take an indirect flight easy enough. However with the lower cost airlines expect difficulties in booking, poor communication and an almost guaranteed schedule change. The second, much longer and only slightly cheaper option is to organise a boat trip from the Senggigi area of Lombok. These can be easily arranged through tour operators on Lombok and the Gili Islands. However these boat ‘tours’ are scheduled to take 4 days/3 nights, sleeping is often on deck and meals basic. In addition to this I have read reports many of the boats are not seaworthy and are prone to sinking!
So not the easiest place to get to and upon arriving in the busy and noisy town of Labuan Bajo you may wonder why you bothered coming to this remote destination. However believe me it is totally worth it.
In order to visit Komodo Island and the other nearby sights you will need to organise a boat trip. In Labuan Bajo tour operators will try entice you into a conversation followed by a sales pitch for their company. Their price starts at roughly double to three times what you should pay, so be willing to negotiate, as is standard in Indonesia. We had actually pre-booked our tour with a company called Komodo Floresia Tour, as this gave us time to research the various options beforehand. We chose their slow boat option visiting 4 destinations (Padar Island, Komodo Island, Pink Beach and Manta Point), costing around £25/$32 per person. The fast boat option was double the price but did allow time to visit 5 destinations (all the above plus Taka Makassar – another amazing beach island), it also includes a tour guide rather than just travelling with the boat crew. This proved important as with the crew’s limited English it meant we were often waiting for the slower more ignorant members of our group who seemingly thought the sun must never set.
First stop was Padar Island where you can do an easy 30 minute hike to the top for spectacular views of the islands. The geography here is unique and the vistas truly special. Back on the boat we slowly cruised over to the famous Komodo Island, home to the world’s largest lizard. Again lacking a guide our group were left to organise our own ranger walk and pay the hefty entrance fee of around £15/$20. We went in late July, which coincides with mating season on Komodo meaning the females are in hiding while the males are prowling but still difficult to find. Unfortunately because of this we only saw two of these magnificent beasts.
We continued on to our next stop of Pink beach. We excitedly jumped off the boat to enjoy some snorkelling where the marine life was impressive. Battling the current we made it ashore and were pleased to see the beach lived up to its name. It’s striking pink colour comes from microscopic animals called Foraminifera, which produce a red pigment on the coral reefs. When the tiny fragments of red coral combine with the white sands, this produces the soft pink color that is visible along the shoreline.
Our final stop on the boat trip was largely a disappointment. Manta Point as the name suggests is an area of the sea which is typically prolific in Manta Rays, a giant of the ocean that can reach up to 7 metres in width! Unfortunately for us despite searching for 30 minutes we were unable to see any so began the slow journey back to the mainland.
Overall the tour was good, despite the lack of wildlife, the spectacular scenery and good snorkelling made up for it. The boat journey was long and we worked out out of the 12 hours from port to port we were on the boat for 9 hours. Fortunately we had a good group of people to chat with, apart from the tardy couple who kept us waiting at every stop!
Top tips for visiting Komodo Island:
- Do your research and pre-book your tour online. The best way I found to communicate with local agents is through Whatsapp
- If you can afford it take the fast boat as you get longer at each destination and are back to Labuan Bajo sooner. The fast boat wth Floresia also includes a guide to keep a tighter schedule.
- Try visit between September to December where both sexes of Komodo Dragons are out and about.