Things to do in Komodo National Park
1. Visit the Komodo Dragons
Measuring up to ten feet long and weighing in at around 150-200 pounds (though they can weigh more than 300!), the Komodo Dragon is no ordinary monitor lizard – it’s the largest living lizard in the world. You can see these fascinating animals on five of Indonesia’s tiny Lesser Sunda Islands within the UNESCO-protected area of Komodo National Park, but the majority of visitors head for either Komodo Island or Rinca Island, both accessible by boat from the larger island of Flores.
Local guides on the islands will take you on a tour of the Komodo’s natural habitat, and you may even get to see the fork-tongued lizards feeding – they can consume up to 80 percent of their own body weight. With a running speed of up to 12 miles per hour and a nasty venomous bite, they’re also one of the deadliest reptiles, so be sure to snap your photos at a safe distance!
2. Paddle on Pink Beach
Trips to Komodo Island should definitely include a stop at the famous Pink Beach. Just as the name suggests, the colour of the coral scattered amongst the sand here gives the beach an unusual pink glow, making it one of the most beautiful stretches of shoreline in Indonesia. Visited generally by boat, if you time it right, you may find it completely deserted.
Of course, Komodo National Park spans 29 islands in total, so there are some pretty amazing beaches, wherever you choose to set down. Kanawa Beach, on the island of the same name, is renowned for its snorkelling, with shallow coral gardens that hug the shore, and an island resort with beach huts and a restaurant if you’re planning to stay put for a few days.
3. Go scuba diving or snorkelling
As soon as you arrive in Labuan Bajo, the main jumping-off point for Komodo National Park, you’ll notice it’s the self-styled diving capital of Flores, if not Indonesia, with anything from day dives to week-long liveaboard excursions and PADI courses available. Chat to a few of the diving companies and find out what’s included before you sign up, as competition along the main street is fierce. Most will at least throw in lunch, as well as beach stops if you’re going on a overnight tour and optional trips to see the Komodo dragons if you’re pushed for time. Look out for local beauty spots on the itinerary, such as Manta Point, known for sightings of huge, graceful manta rays spanning up to 5 metres in width, or ‘The Cauldron’, a sloping coral-clad rock home to glassfish, parrotfish, tuna, barracuda and the occasional sea turtle. Diving operators particularly worth a look are Uber Scuba and Wicked Diving.
How to get to Indonesia and Komodo National Park
Most flights to Indonesia from the UK will stop at either Jakarta or Bali’s Denpasar airport. As a popular holiday destination, you’re more likely to find cheap flight deals to Bali and it has the bonus of being relatively close to Flores; short flights to Labuan Bajo or ‘Komodo Airport’ will take no more than an hour and usually cost less than £100*. For the cheapest results, set up Skyscanner’s price alert for your chosen route, and you’ll get an email when the price goes up or down.
Once arrived, you should be able to make all your arrangements to visit Komodo National Park from the port of Labuan Bajo, about 2km or a short taxi ride from the airport. Most tour companies offer Rinca as a day trip as it’s closer, and you still have a good chance of seeing the dragons. If you’re keen on seeing Komodos on their eponymous island or doing more intensive trekking, you may have to join an overnight trip or charter a boat down at the harbour. Day trips start from around £18 per person if you go with a group, and the park entrance fee is 55,000 rupiah (just over £3).
The good news is that UK passport-holders don’t need a visa to travel in Indonesia for up to 30 days, so it may be tempting to explore this diverse archipelago even further…
Where to stay near Komodo National Park
Labuan Bajo is well kitted out with accommodation for divers and dragon-hunters alike, depending on whether you want no-frills dorms or a more comfortable hotel. About the cheapest option is Cool Corner Backpackers on Jl. Soekarno Hatta, with 10-bed dorms and free morning donuts, but basic means basic here so if you want anything more than cheap digs, look elsewhere. At the other end of the scale, try Green Hill Boutique Hotel up the road, with its chic terrace bar and restaurant overlooking the harbour, and rooms from £79. Perched in an enviable position on the hillside, Bayview Gardens Hotel is a tranquil haven surrounded by colourful gardens if you prefer to be out of the dusty centre – and when you miss the hubbub, just stroll down into town.
If you’re a serious scuba fiend or just fancy a spot more luxury, there are a number of resorts out in the park itself. Located on the private island of Sebayur Besar, Komodo Resort & Diving Club is naturally focused on the action below the waves, but with air-conditioned beach bungalows, onsite spa and free airport and Labuan Bajo transfers, it does pretty well on the little luxuries for non-divers too (rooms from £270 a night for two people sharing a bungalow, all-inclusive; ask about diving packages).
Travelling Indonesia and beyond? Here are some fantastic hints and tips if you’re in the area:
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*Published September 2016. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.