Why you should sail the Komodo Islands
Level up your travel game by island hopping on a sailboat through Komodo National Park. This adventure is so rich in flora and fauna that it should be on every travel adventurer’s bucket list.
Home to the largest lizards to roam Earth, the Komodo dragon is the main attraction to these islands (obvs – the word is in the parks’ title).
But don’t let the sense of wanderlust stop you at dragons.
- Make basking in the sun on beautiful pink beaches a daily thing.
- Hike the island summits to breathtaking panoramic views that are worth the sweaty effort.
- Swim among the most colorful coral reef ecosystems, that make each dip in the ocean, a reward. And if that’s not enough to fill your adventure bucket.
- Witness a mass exodus of flying fox bats with a gorgeous sunset as the backdrop.
This is island hopping at its finest for every travel enthusiast.
Where is Komodo National Park
Nestled off the coast of Flores Island, Indonesia is a cluster of 26 unique islands.
The main islands are Komodo, Rinca, and Padar. These islands are accessible only by boat and mostly reached from Labuan Bajo in Flores, Indonesia.
What was once a sleepy fishing village, this launching port has become a sought after destination access point to Komodo National park.
What makes these mountainous islands unique, is their density in biodiversity and marine life. Thus, being one of the most important conservation habitats.
Its ranking status in accolades, is measurable by
- UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- A 7 NEW Wonders of Nature
- Being part of the Coral Triangle, titles this piece of paradise as one of the best diving spots in the world.
The Islands of Komodo National Park
The optimal way to see Komodo National Park is on a liveaboard sail boat.
A Liveaboard is your floating home to take you from island to island. Thus needing to book a hotel or hostel is unnecessary. On a board, it decreases wasted time traveling back and forth, to and from the main island. Which increases time in the fun factor department.
Accompanied by two girlfriends of mine, that I’ve known for 25 years. Together we ventured to Labuan Bajo to discover what an intrepid island hopping adventure is about in Flores.
We experienced the liveaboard lifestyle for 3 days and 2 nights, which afforded us to visit 5 islands.
We set sail on the a liveaboard called the Aqua Luna, a traditional Indonesian sailing boat aka a phinisi boat. These sailboats were originally built for shipping cargo and fishing.
Today, locals build these vessels to provide travelers with a temporary home and transportation around Flores’s islands.
At the helm of our boat, was our host Marilena. A spirited and generous woman who immigrated to Indonesia from Greece in the late ’80s. Her captain and crew effortlessly navigated us through the Flores waters.
Most of the sailing was done at night, which meant every morning we woke to the smell of breakfast and a new island to explore.
Snorkel and hike Kelor Island
Our first stop was Kelor Island. A perfect introduction to the islands. Even though a small plot of land, it didn’t spare any beauty.
A short but steep hike to the summit provided a fantastic view of the neighboring islands. The hike does command proper shoes as the decent back down can be slippery. The island was so steep that I held onto patches of grass while angling my feet against other patches to make my way back down slowly.
The white beach is a great area to relax after taking a dip in the crystal blue waters. The snorkeling is good albeit some of the bitey fish. I like to think the bites were fish giving me kisses.
Find dragons on Rinca island
Rinca Island is the 2nd largest island. It’s a great option to get a second dose of Komodo dragons if you didn’t get your fill on Komodo Island (or vice versa). Upon arrival, instead of a welcome sign, there’s a warning sign.
“Watch out for Crocodiles,” it says (if Komodo dragons weren’t threatening enough, there are crocodiles too). After being assigned a tour guide and paying our entrance fees (yes feeS there’s more about that below) we encountered not just 1 dragon but a thunder of them. It was spectacular.
With monkeys clearing away from a path, we followed a female dragon to her nest. We arrived at her home, where it was evident she commandeered it from maleo birds. These poor birds were still trying to tend their nest, but the dragon, of course, evicted them.
According to WWF there are about 6,000 komodo dragons and thought to be 350 breeding females. Komodo dragons are endangered, so breeding and laying eggs is crucial to their survival.
Beyond the dragons on Rinca island, there’s a good amount of wildlife. Deer, boars, crocodiles, birds, and monkeys (basically dragon food – are the other inhabitants of the island). True to form like all of the islands, the trekking is good and so are the views.
- Quick tips. If you MUST use the toilets on the island (seriously, this is not a poop joke) , let your tour guide know. A tour guide will escort you to the facilities and check the area for dragons. Weeks before we arrived, a man was attacked in a toilet stall. He was flown to Bali for medical attention where he recovered. Hence, don’t go wandering off (to the toilets or elsewhere).
- Also, if you have an open wound and to the women, take note. If it’s that time of the month, let your tour guide know. Komodo dragons have a heightened sense of smell to blood. It’s in their predatory instinct that the scent of blood will trigger their aggression. If that is the case, you may be assigned 2 tour guides.
(The More You Know – rainbow-star)
Trek to the summit of Padar Island
Now back to your regularly scheduled program.
Padar Island provides one of the most stunning panoramic island views. It’s probably the poster child island for Komodo National Park.
Looking down on the island, you can see 3 beautiful beach crescents, crags, and cliffs. Each beach has its own sand color – pink, black and white sands. When hiking to the top, it’s a must to take water, a hat (there is no shade), sunnies and proper footwear. There is a path of steps leading to the top and the best times to go, is either to see the sunrise or sunset.
Fox bat watching at Kalong Island
After a day of adventuring on an island(s) and or sea, a great way to end the day is to start your evening at Kalong Island.
Watching a mass exodus of flying fox bats fly from their mangroves for a night feeding is a must do. Every evening around 5:45 pm to 6:15 pm, thousands of fox bats take to the skies.
At first, it may look as if massive birds are flying over, but with a bit of focus. You can definitely make out the bat body structure. Especially in their wings (that’s a span of 3 feet). It’s an incredible display of nature lasting about 25 minutes.
Having the sunset as the backdrop just adds to the magnificence. The best way to watch the migration is on the highest point on your boat, with a beer, friends, a camera and binoculars.
Snorkel Kawana Island
Before heading back to Labuan Bajo, we went to Kawana Island for more snorkeling (we needed more after Kelor Island).
I’ve heard there is a restaurant and a few bungalows on the island, but we were here for the marine life. We arrived at a perfect time in the morning. There were no other boats around.
There’s definitely a lot to see here in these waters. I’ve never seen so many starfish and so many different species in one small little area.
Chasing waterfalls on Flores Island
On our last day on the boat and in Flores, we said goodbye to the crew and to our sea life. Before we got on a flight, our host, Marilena organized one more excursion for us.
We went on a hike to jump off a cliff into rushing waters at Cunca Wulang Waterfall. A driver took us on a windy road that had us white-knuckling the door handles and holding our breath with each hairpin turn.
Our driver got a kick out of our screaming and laughter (weirdo). I was terrified. Not for us, but for the number of stray dogs in the road. They had no sense of urgency to get out of the way of cars. Thank goodness there were no casualties.
At the trailhead, we paid our fees and made our way to the canyon. When we arrived at the canyon, a vendor was stationed along the rocks, selling beverages and snacks.
The woman who operated the tent, saw me slip on the rocks when I was trying to traverse across. I ended up scraping the side of hand and blood quickly rushed down my arm. Even though we had a language barrier the vendor could see I needed assistance. She rushed to my aid and handed me ointment for my hand. Despite a minor slip, it didn’t take away from our little adventure.
The canyon and waterfalls were beautiful. Our tour guide, my girlfriend Laura and I made the jump off the cliff into the rapids. The current was strong and fast, so I’d advise only strong swimmers. For us, it was a great way to end our journey in Flores.
“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It is lethal.”-Paulo Coelho
How to get to Komodo National Park
To see Komodo National Park one must get to Labuan Bajo on Flores Island.
The most efficient way is to fly into Labuan Bajo Airport (aka Komodo Airport) from Bali (Denpasar Airport), Lombok, Surabaya Kupang or Jakarta. Flight time can be an hr to 2 1/2 hrs, depending on where you are flying from.
For those that have more time on their hands, one can choose to take a Pelini ferry boat from Bali. When I say more time, I mean 36 hours. They operate 3 times a month and schedules can shift depending on the time of the season. So planning and flexibility with a plan B, C and sometimes D maybe if needed.
If living on a boat for a few days is not your fancy, booking day trips are an option.
Either hotel, hostels, home stays, etc. can provide or suggest tour companies for day trips. On Jl.Soekarno Hatta (the main) road there are tour companies offering different day tour options. Along with solely scuba diving options as well.
Top 7 Tips to know before you go
After booking flights, accommodations, tour companies, etc. It’s always a good cushion to know some insider travel hacks about your destination.
Here are 7 Tips on what know, before you go (besides the obvious like how to dress for humidity).
1) Bring cash BEFORE getting to Flores Island.
- There are ATM’s in Labuan Bajo, but at times the systems can be down. Cash will mostly be used for drivers, motorbike rentals, tourism fees for the islands, some restaurants and cafes, markets and street vendors. We did encounter a cash-only policy at the airport to pay for our overweight luggage (I’m still a little skeptical that we were scammed – I mean what airport & airline only takes cash & claims not to have credit card machines ?!?! Hmmmm ?!
2) Komodo National Park does charge fees.
- Yup, I said fee-sssuhh. Plural. And it’s a cash payment (see tip 1). When booking your excursions double check with your tour company if and or what fees are included. If they are, find out which fee they exactly cover. The fees differ on a lot of factors. Which could be why pricing listed on the Internets can seem all over the place. Let’s break it down in detail.
First, the prices are separated by 2 segments.
- The price for the locals or for the foreigner. A local is going to pay a significantly lower amount. The fees are priced out per person.
- The fees charges are by island, then what day of the week (weekday, weekend & holiday), which excursion (diving, snorkeling, canoeing, hiking). You will pay a fee for each.
- Then, the park fees: wildlife observation fee, local government fee, and a boat entrance fee
- You will be assigned a tour guide – Additional tour guide and a big group fee (mostly of 5+ or more).
Expect to pay around 395,000-550,000 RP or $25-$36 USD per person. The fee is per island, per person and per day.
3) Bring binoculars, they come in handy, especially when visiting Kalong island for the flying fox bats.
4) Bring sunscreen (duh), but not sunscreen that has oxybenzone and octinoxate. These chemicals stop coral growth and reproduction that can lead to coral bleaching. Here’s a link listing the best reef safe sunscreens
5) The 2 seasons in Indonesia are wet and dry. Plan your trip accordingly.
Dry season: April- October
The wet season: November – March
- High: July to August (and the weather is at its hottest) Drop off: September to November.
- Low: December to March (some tour companies will be closed)
- Beginning to high: April to June – also marks the start to the diving season.
I went in January and the islands were incredibly lush and green. It did rain, but mostly during the evening. The days had random rain sprinkles but for the most part, it was clear and sunny.
6) Always bring an extra carrying tote (for the markets), a reusable water bottle and a reusable straw for coconuts.
- YAS Coconuts! They can be found in the markets, on the main road and at the harbor where you will most likely be boarding your boat. Coconuts are great for re-hydration and a great alternative to plastic water bottles. Ask if the boat is equipped with a knife to cut the coconut. If not ask the vendor to cut it at the time of purchase.
7) To all the ladies.
- Choose the right time of the month to come here. 2 reasons. As mentioned in the Rinca island section. Komodo dragons have a heightened sense of smell to blood and the scent is a direct button to their aggression. If you decide to come during Aunt Flow’s visit (or she does a surprise visit) pack feminine hygiene products before arriving in Labuan Bajo. This part of Indonesia is rather conservative, which means you will not find your hygiene products sold here, in brief, plan accordingly. If you don’t plan to be on your period, bring extra anyways, you never know if a fellow traveler wasn’t as prepared.
What I love about this journey is that you truly can make it your own.
If diving is your jam and you want to solely dive. It’s an option! Picking the right time of year to see mantas, whales, sharks and dolphins will be in your favor. If trekking is your desire, by all means, do just that. Or if you want to sprinkle a little of everything. Komodo National Park can provide.
Happy sailing adventuring!