Do you crave an adventure that will make you feel like you've left this planet?
Or even this time period?
At Komodo National Park, you can experience sea life, living dragons, and human culture untouched by much of the modern world.
From the coastal town of Labuan Bajo to the remote islands filled with Komodo Dragons, Komodo National Park and the surrounding area offer experiences and natural beauty beyond your imagination.
While Komodo National Park is most famous for its large population of Komodo Dragons, this is only a small portion of what the area has to offer.
Whether you enjoy hiking, wildlife, or immersing yourself in the local culture, the park has something for every adventurer.
In 2017, over 120,000 tourists visited Komodo National Park. In 2019, the local government expects as many as 500,000 visitors. But because of its remote location and lack of all-inclusive resorts, the park is nowhere near as popular as other tropical destinations like the Seychelles or Carribean.
There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.
-- Robert Louis Stephenson
Where Is Komodo National Park?
Komodo National Park is within the Indonesian archipelago in the East Nusa Tenggara province. Indonesia is located between continental Asia and Australia and includes over 17,000 individual islands.
Originally colonized by the Dutch, Indonesia fell under Japanese rule during World War II.
After declaring independence in 1949, Indonesia remains one of the most diverse countries in the world to this day.
With human populations spread out over thousands of islands, it's no surprise that Indonesia is home to over 300 spoken languages. Indonesia does have an official language, called Bahasa Indonesia, but most residents speak their ethnic or regional language in their day-to-day lives.
But don't worry about purchasing Rosetta Stone just yet:
English is also commonplace in larger cities and tourist destinations. So, you should communicate just fine.
Komodo National Park itself includes three major islands -- Komodo, Rinca, and Padar -- as well as dozens of smaller islands. In total, Komodo National Park covers 1,817 square kilometers of land and sea.
Here's NASA's view from space:
Did you know?
There aren't any developed towns inside of Komodo National Park, but about 4,000 people live on the three major islands.
But don't give up your hope to travel just yet.
Take a three or four-hour boat ride from Komodo Island to Labuan Bajo, a large tourism destination located on the tip of Flores Island.
The town started as just a small fishing village before creators built the park, after which it grew exponentially to accommodate the tourist traffic.
Now, Labuan Bajo is the closest developed town to Komodo National Park and serves as a buffer zone to the protected area.
You need an Indonesian Visa to visit the park, so plan ahead.
Planning a Trip to Komodo National Park
Komodo National Park may seem fairly isolated. While visiting this park isn't as simple as driving into Yellowstone, the surrounding area offers tours, hotels, and other infrastructure that makes visiting the park extremely convenient.
It's important to understand:
All tourism resources are out of Labuan Bajo. So, remember to research this town's offerings when planning your trip to Komodo National Park.
Female Komodo dragons can have virgin births.
Getting to the islands
The easiest way to get to Labuan Bajo is by plane.
The town has its own airport, sometimes called Komodo Airport, and receives domestic flights from nearby airports like Bali and Jakarta. While rates will vary depending on the time of year and your chosen airline, most flights to Labuan Bajo Airport cost less than $250.
The best part?:
From the airport, the trip into town is just a short 10-minute drive or 30-minute walk.
Fear of flying? You have options:
- A ferry runs between Labuan Bajo and Sape, a town on Sumbawa Island, about twice per day.
- Speed boat trips run a couple of times per week between these two towns.
- You can also drive to Labuan Bajo from the eastern part of Flores Island, but this trip is long and not very cost-effective.
While Labuan Bajo is on the very tip of Flores Island, you are not yet in Komodo National Park. Reaching Komodo, Rinca, or Padar Island requires a several-hour boat trip from the town's marina.
Remember those Labuan Bajo resources we talked about?
Labuan Bajo is home to countless tour operations, most of which are along the town's main street. Stopping in and inquiring about available tours for the day is normally the best way to find one going to your desired destination.
Where to stay
Again, we're directing you to Labuan Bajo.
The town isn't very big, but it does feature around 50 hotels and hostels that you can book for your visit.
Low end: Shared dorm rooms costing as little as $5 per night, outdoor tents with a mattress and fan.
Mid-range: Hotels cost between $20 and $60 per night for a private room.
High end: Resort suites costing over $200 per night.
Can you camp in Komodo National Park?
Don't pack your tent just yet. Komodo National Park does not permit camping.
Some visitors will get around these restrictions by kayaking out to the islands and setting up camp. But there are reasons you should not camp with dragons, so we do not recommend this.
Before you attempt the illegal or unethical:
Reconsider because doing so is irresponsible and can put both the offending campers and delicate ecosystem at risk.
However, if you have your heart set on spending the night inside the park, you do have one option:
Some boat tours, known as liveaboards, offer private on-board lodgings and will stay within the park for several days.
Travelers go ashore during the day to see Komodo Dragons, hike, and more. At nightfall, everyone returns to the boat and spends the night on the water until the next day.
Komodo dragons can run 12 miles per hour and the average human can sprint at 15 miles per hour.
Places to eat
Even if you don't consider yourself a foodie, partaking in local cuisine is essential to understanding a given culture.
And if you love seafood, you're in luck.
In Labuan Bajo, the reigning cuisine is fresh-caught seafood. But with the town's close proximity to the water and rich history as a fishing village, this should come as no surprise.
But this might surprise you:
You'll also find authentic Italian pizza, Mexican dishes, and coffee shops throughout the town.
"Cooking is about imbibing different cultures and putting them in a plate on the table." - Johnny Iuzzini
Despite its small size, there are almost 50 restaurants within Labuan Bajo. You can also visit the daily fresh market to purchase local fruit, vegetables, and fish from the harbor.
Bring the right currency with you. In Labuan Bajo, you will probably see prices in Rupiah, or RP. The equivalent of $1 USD is about 13,000 to 15,000 RP. However, the exact exchange rate will vary depending on the time of your visit.
Entering the Home of Dragons
The Komodo Dragons that call Komodo National Park home are easily one of the biggest tourism draws in the area. These animals only live on five islands in Indonesia, four of which are within the park, and were undiscovered by Western culture until around 1910.
Because these creatures were largely undisturbed and isolated for so long, they serve as a unique evolutionary specimen for biologists and other researchers.
Today, the islands are home to around about 6,000 Komodo Dragons, though this number changes each year.
Of this population, around 2,000 live on Flores Island outside of the park.
Inside Komodo National Park, though, the Komodo Dragon population is heavily protected.
Around 1,700 individuals live on Komodo Island.
The rest of the islands have many fewer of these veritable dinosaurs:
What is a Komodo Dragon?
The Komodo Dragon is the largest species of lizard currently living on Earth.
While the Komodo Dragon is a type of monitor lizard, albeit a very large one, it gets its name from its long, forked tongue that resembles a mythical dragon's.
These creatures can reach up to 10 feet in length and live to be 30 years old.
Here's what you're looking for:
Komodo Dragons have a scaley body that ranges from green-yellow to black in color. Although they can have blue and orange on them, as well.
At over 300 pounds, these lizards regularly take down large prey like wild pigs, water buffalo, and deer. Komodo Dragons have no natural predators on the islands, making them the top of their respective food chain.
But those prey animals are fast...
so the dragons have a secret weapon:
Komodo Dragons have a venomous bite that slowly kills their prey.
Even if a deer or boar escapes from the lizard's grip, a Komodo Dragon will follow its prey for several days until the venom takes over and the animal succumbs to its wounds.
They are eerily patient.
Where can you see Komodo Dragons?
Most visitors to Komodo National Park encounter Komodo Dragons by hiking around Komodo or Rinca Island during the day. The park tours that depart from Labuan Bajo often stop at one of the islands to see these creatures.
These stops can last anywhere from one to five hours. Tour guides will lead visitors to the most likely resting spots of these creatures with the hope of catching a group sunbathing.
But like all things in life:
While Komodo Dragons are fairly common on Komodo and Rinca Island, there is technically no guarantee that you will see one on your trip.
If you are visiting the park with the sole purpose of seeing these creatures, then Rinca Island is probably the best option.
However, if you are planning on trekking across the islands over the course of several days, you are likely to see a variety of Komodo Dragons throughout Komodo and Rinca Island.
Are Komodo Dragons dangerous?
As you hike across the islands in search of Komodo Dragons, you will see park rangers and guides with long sticks at the ready. These are meant to defend against a lunging Komodo Dragon, but are these creatures really dangerous to humans?
In a word: yes.
While cases of Komodo Dragons attacking, and even killing, humans are a rare occurrence, they do happen.
A Komodo Dragon attack is extremely unlikely, but it is important to remember that you are entering their natural environment. Komodo National Park is not a zoo where barriers keep you and the animals apart.
Come not between the dragon and its wrath. -- William Shakespeare
You should always defer to your tour guide or park ranger and maintain an appropriate distance from the Komodo Dragons. If you respect these creatures and their habitat, then you can enjoy a safe encounter with these incredible animals.
Other Things to Do at Komodo National Park
While the park's namesake creature is one of the main draws for tourists, Komodo National Park offers countless experiences throughout the islands.
Whether you choose to hop aboard a structured tour or invest in a personal chartered boat, seeing everything the park has to offer can easily take several days or more.
Komodo National Park serves as a protected area for countless plants and animals. But the islands themselves are home to only a handful of native animals outside of the impressive Komodo Dragon.
Instead of looking on the islands:
Much of the area's biodiversity lives underneath the sea's surface. Sea turtles, dugongs, and coral reefs teeming with over 1,000 species of tropical fish surround the islands. And a visit to Komodo National Park is a great way to encounter this unique sea life out in the wild.
If you want to expand your visit to the Indonesian islands, then an island-hopping boat tour might be right up your alley. These tours still visit one or more of the major islands within Komodo National Park.
But you will also be taken to a range of other islands in the archipelago. Depending on your chosen tour, you might encounter small villages, wildlife preserves, and more. These tours typically leave from a larger port like Bali, rather than from Labuan Bajo.
And that's not all:
Boat tours are undeniably the bread and butter of Komodo National Park's tourism. But aside from traditional boats that shuttle visitors to and from the park's islands, Indonesia also hosts several glass-bottom boat tours throughout the islands.
On one of these tours, you're not just limited to the beautiful scenery above the waves. You can also see coral reefs, sea turtles, fish, and other sea life in their natural habitats underneath the boat.
Scuba diving and snorkeling
Under the water, scuba diving and snorkeling are some of the most popular activities in Komodo National Park. Because of the diverse underwater life and fishing ban within the park, this region is a great spot for diving.
Scuba diving offers the most freedom for those wanting to explore the underwater habitat around the islands. But the area is also suitable for snorkeling if you are inexperienced at diving.
Generally, the waters in Komodo National Park are fairly safe for divers and swimmers alike. But scuba diving and snorkeling conditions are highly dependent on the weather and season during your visit.
Keep your eye on the calendar.
Komodo National Park is subject to monsoon season during November through March. This extreme weather, combined with ocean currents, can mean that ideal diving spots change from one day to the next.
How will you know where to go?
Consult with your tour guide. While some areas are well-known for their beauty or likelihood of seeing turtles or dugongs, your tour guide knows best. They will know the best diving spots based on the current conditions and season.
"The best way to observe a fish is to become a fish." – Jacques Yves Cousteau
The Manta Points serve as some of the most famous diving spots in Komodo National Park. The park is home to thousands of fish species, including a variety of rays, but the Manta Ray is one of the most impressive specimens.
Depending on who you talk to, there are a couple of different Manta Points in the park area.
But the best spot is:
The Manta Point, located west of Komodo Island and south of Gili Banta (one of the park's smaller islands).
However, if you aren't interested in going out that far, there are several smaller Manta Points between the east side of Komodo Island and Rinca or Flores Island. This cluster of spots is sometimes called Manta Alley.
The main Manta Point, located west of Komodo Island, is generally only recommended for experienced scuba divers. While some tours may permit snorkeling in the region, the water here is subject to swelling and can cause a problem for less skilled swimmers. If your tour guide advises against snorkeling because of the water conditions, it's important that you heed these warnings. Manta Alley can also pose a problem for divers because of its strong current, but it offers easy access from the shore and in calmer seasons is more accommodating of snorkelers.
Exploring the natural beauty
Above the water's surface, Komodo National Park offers countless trekking opportunities and breathtaking views. These spots are popular destinations for nature and travel photographers but should be in any Komodo National Park itinerary. While you can find stunning scenery pretty much anywhere you look within the park, there are a couple of spots that stand out from the rest.
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
-- Albert Einstein
Since Komodo National Park is a tropical region with a distinct wet and dry season, proper hiking safety will largely depend on the time of year:
November through March
April through October
During the wet season, the islands can receive dozens of inches of rain per day. But most of this rainfall concentrates in the northern part of the park.
During the dry season, though, water becomes extremely scarce. The ocean breeze does cool the islands considerably during the warmer months.
However, make sure you pack enough water before heading out. Also, take note of and respect water restrictions during the dryer months.
Padar Island might be the third largest island within Komodo National Park, but it is considerably smaller than Komodo to the west and Rinca to the east. In fact, you can see the entire island from the topmost peak:
While Padar Island is stunning, and the trek is absolutely worth it, the entire hike is uphill. This volcanic island consists of a cluster of small mountaintops peaking out of the ocean's surface, and as a result, the climb is extremely steep.
But here's the good news:
This island is small and the hikes are relatively short. For most visitors in average-to-good shape, the trip up to the peak should take about 20 minutes.
And for you photographers out there, it is the spot to bring out your camera. The view from Padar Island is iconic (you probably recognize the incredible view in the photo above) and is 100-percent worth the time and effort required to get to the top.
But here's the bad news:
After the short hike up and back down the peak of Padar Island, there is not much else to do here.
Some visitors will lounge on the beach or snorkel off of the shore, but there are better places to enjoy both of these activities within the park.
Pink Sand Beaches
There are seven pink-hued beaches on planet Earth. One of which lies along the south coast of Komodo Island.
How is this possible?
These stunning beaches get their color from deeply pigmented red coral living underneath the water's surface. As the coral breaks apart and washes ashore, it mixes with the beach's pure white sand.
As a result, you get soft, pink sand that puts other beaches to shame.
Up close, though, you can see the individual crimson red grains contrasted against the white sand.
The water in this small inlet is so clear that you can even see the blushing hue several yards out into the sea. Snorkeling is a popular activity off of Komodo's Pink Sand Beach, as well as recreational swimming and lounging on the beach.
If you like crowds...
You might want to keep this visit short. Despite how picturesque this location is, its remote spot means that the crowds are normally pretty thin. You may see a handful of other tourists enjoying this natural beauty. But the beach often feels secluded from nearby civilization.
Best times to visit:
September through November. That's when you may see schools of Manta Rays and whales off of the coast here.
Check out the Surrounding Area
While you could spend days exploring the area inside Komodo National Park, there is also plenty to see just outside of the park's boundaries.
Of course, Labuan Bajo offers opportunities to immerse yourself within the local Indonesian culture. But there are countless other places to see and people to meet on Flores and its neighboring islands.
Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.
-- Gustav Flaubert
Cunca Wulang Waterfall (there is also a Cunca Rami Waterfall a little further south, so don't get the two confused) is about 1.5 hours away from Labuan Bajo by vehicle. While this is a bit of a trek, the waterfall and surrounding scenery are an iconic representation of Indonesia's natural beauty.
The hike to the waterfall also includes a charming, but slightly daunting, bright yellow rope bridge across the Cunca Wulang Canyon. If you're brave enough to cross, you'll find plenty of photogenic scenes on the other side.
Kelimutu National Park
Kelimutu National Park is a stunning volcanic region with three tri-colored crater lakes atop a dormant volcano.
However, this park is on the opposite end of Flores Island from Komodo National Park and Labuan Bajo.
If you're going to be traveling through the east end of Flores, Kelimutu is a must-see.
The three lakes in Kelimutu are impressive no matter when you visit, but the most magical quality of these lakes is that they change color. No one really knows what causes the lakes to change color.
But you can expect to see bright blue, black, green, and sometimes even white or red:
While Kelimutu National Park is the smallest park in Indonesia, it still offers plenty of natural beauty to its visitors. Surrounding the three lakes are breathtaking forests containing pine, redwood, and other towering trees.
And you won't see much of the flora and wildlife within the park anywhere else on Flores Island.
Mesa Island is about 9.5 miles from Labuan Bajo. The island is home to about 1,500 people known as Bajau, Baju, or Bajo.
Traditionally, these people travel around on boats, often tethering to each other to form small communities.
Colloquially, the Bajau are often called Indonesia's Sea Gypsies. However, Mesa Island is a unique settlement where the Bajau live on land surrounded by salt water. The residents here survive off of only two months of fresh water rain per year.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. -- Mark Twain
The village is extremely colorful and welcoming to most visitors who make a short stop at the island on their way through Komodo National Park. The island does not feature any modern infrastructure.
But it offers a great opportunity to meet with another culture that lives very differently from the average tourist.
You can find another incredible cultural experience at Melo Village, located about 10.5 miles inland from Labuan Bajo.
Here, you can experience a taste of the Mangarral culture with performances, locally grown coffee, and cooking demonstrations. Since the village relies on farming to sustain themselves, you will also be able to catch an up-close look at their planting and harvesting practices.
And that's not all.
Melo Village is located on the side of Mt. Mbeliling, so if you're up for a bit of a hike, you can also explore the surrounding area and enjoy the panoramic view of Flores' coast and Komodo National Park in the distance.
Whether you are staying in Labuan Bajo or are just traveling through, Melo and its people are well worth making a short pit stop.
Watch a Caci dance, have lunch with villagers, learn cultural traditions, and visit rustic villages.
Start Planning Your Own Visit to Komodo National Park
As you can see, Komodo National Park offers endless opportunities to witness stunning views, meet unique people, and come face-to-face with incredible creatures you won't see anywhere else. Your trip to Komodo National Park will truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Unless, of course, you love it so much that you come back.
Although a trip to Komodo National Park from the United States or a similar part of the world isn't cheap, it's doable through planning.
Plus, once you are actually in Indonesia, most expenses are fair.
If you're looking for a tropical retreat without the all-inclusive resort and endless swimming pools, then Komodo National Park might be just the place for you.