The Komodo dragon! A fearsome predator that I’ve admired for so many years. Up until recently I’ve only ever been able to watch Komodo dragons on a television screen. That changed last Christmas when Zuzi and I came face to face with these huge lizards and I’ve put together this guide to Komodo Island so that we can all appreciate this magnificent creature.
There are many luxury cruises to Komodo Island, one of the New 7 Wonders Of Nature, but since we didn’t have hundreds, or even thousands of dollars (maybe in rupiah, yes!) we did everything ourselves and with a tight budget. Isn’t better to use a local fishing boat than some huge, tourist cruise liner anyway?
Update 2020 | In 2019, the Governor of Nusa Tenggara Timur province announced that Komodo Island would be closed for a limited period in 2020. This would allow local authorities time to concentrate on conservation efforts. He then announced that a premium membership program would be introduced instead. With the annual fee starting at $1000! This would not effect Rinca and other surrounding islands. Whilst this extortionate membership fee is yet to be implemented, it does mean that there’s now more of an urgency to see Komodo Island while it is affordable.
Getting To Komodo Island
The Komodo dragon is the largest living lizard. They are also only native to Indonesia. Fully grown adult males can weigh around 70kg and grow up to 3 metres long. They can also smell blood from nearly 10km away!
Getting to Komodo Island is not be as simple as you might expect. The island is part of Komodo National Park and was founded in 1980 to protect the dragons and other animals. The national park was even declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
The national park’s closest tourist hub is Labuan Bajo, in Flores. The appropriately name Komodo International Airport only serves domestic, although there are plans to open some international routes in the future. The easiest way to get there is flying from either Bali or Java. I always use Skyscanner to check for the best prices!
There is also an option to get the ferry from Bali to Labuan Bajo for the adventurous among you. Although this is the most budget-friendly option, it involves a long journey (some 36 hours.) The journey is said to be dangerous due to the shallow, rocky waters.
Read more | The Best Things To Do In Labuan Bajo | Flores
Where To Stay
Labuan Bajo is the base to explore the Komodo islands as well as the rest of Flores. It’s only a small, laid-back fishing town but there is plenty to see and do when you’re not searching for Komodo dragons.
There are plenty of accommodation options but the most budget-friendly are located just outside the main town. Our guesthouse was around a 30-minute walk to the centre of Labuan Bajo.
When To Visit Komodo Island
Komodo National Park is one of Indonesia’s driest regions. But you should still try to avoid the rainy season! Around the end of December, the rain and wind start to get heavier and last until mid-March. That didn’t stop us having a fantastic time over Christmas though (it only rained once!)
Komodo dragons can be seen all throughout the year so, apart from the rainy, there is no wrong time to visit. Like anywhere in the world, there is no guarantee on the weather. There are still some things to consider when planning your Komodo trip.
If you want to see a different island landscape, visit just after the rainy season to see the national park turn green with vegetation. Visiting off-peak between September to November would also be preferable to the peak of summer tourists. In July and August, the sea is packed with tourists and boats. It’s also more difficult to see the dragons as it’s mating season.
How To Find A Komodo Island Tour
The only way to get from Labuan Bajo to Komodo Island is by boat! You’ll find that the majority of the Komodo Island tours all have a similar program. That’s because nearly all boat follow pretty much the same route, either a Komodo Island day tour or a Rinca Island day tour. You just need to make sure you negotiate the price.
Believe it or not, the cheapest way to see Komodo Island is not by booking in advance! A lot of the local tourists agencies don’t even have websites. The high prices are because international agencies buy the tours and then sell them on in advance to make a profit. Because we were always told that booking early is best, right?
The key to getting a Komodo Island tour for a good price is by simply arriving in Labuan Bajo, a day or two before your intended tour date, and walk down the town centre! Along the main street of Labuan Bajo are dozens of tour agencies. Each one selling countless tours that can leave the very next day if you want.
Don’t believe me? We arrived in Labuan Bajo on the 23rd December. We then walked down the main street in the evening and asked around a few agencies. After realising that the tours were pretty much the same, we just went back to the guy we thought was making the most effort. We booked a Rinca Island day tour for the 24th December and a Komodo Island day tour on the 25th December. Merry Christmas!
Komodo Island Tour Price
This is the where your negotiation skills come in. The agencies in Labuan Bajo may sell exactly the same tour as the agency next door but at a slightly price. This will depend on what kind of commission they’re on.
A typical Komodo Island day tour on a slowboat will cost around Rp 400,000 to Rp 700,000 ($25-$40.) A tour will include several stops, lunch, snacks and coffee, and snorkelling gear. They also have an ice box on board if you want to keep a few beers cool. If you want to take things slow, and fancy sleeping on the deck of the boat, there is also the option of doing a 2 day tour.
The slowboat option can be fairly… slow! It takes a few hours to reach the first stop, that’s why a lot of people choose the 2 day 1 night option. So that they can have more time snorkelling or watching the dragons. For around Rp 1,000,000 (yes, 1 million) you can join a speedboat tour. You can visit all the places on the overnight tour but in once day.
Trips to neighbouring Rinca Island is also a great option. The tours are normally a few hundred thousand Rupiah less than to Komodo Island. Both islands have a similar number of dragons but there are less tourists visiting Rinca. Tours also include lunch and snorkelling equipment but will take a different route to the Komodo Island tour.
National Park Fee
Most of the tours booked in Labuan Bajo will not include the national park fee. You need to make sure you have this extra payment in cash! Your agency will tell you exactly how much you will need to take. To give you an idea of the costs, here’s an up to date list from Dec 2019:
Komodo National Park Entrance Fee – Monday to Saturday – Rp 150,000 ($11/£8)
Komodo National Park Entrance Fee – Sundays and holidays – Rp 250,000 ($18/£13)
Guide Fee (per guide, up to 5 people) – Rp 80,000 ($5.50/£4)
Komodo National Park Entrance Fee For Indonesians – Rp 5,000
You may be required to pay for activities such as snorkelling or hiking. Your agency will tell you if you are required to pay for these.
Komodo Travel Tips
On a typical tour to Komodo Island, you’ll see some of the most spectacular sites that the national park has to offer. Here are some tips that will help enjoy the experience even more!
- Always ask for a picture of the boat before booking your tour. If you feel the boat is not safe, or up to standard, ask for a different tour or go to another agency.
- Lunch is usually provided on the tours, with dinner and breakfast included on overnight boats. If you have any allergies, please tell the agency beforehand.
- If you suffer from motion sickness then you should take some medicine with you. Remember, you’ll be on that boat for most of the day.
- Pack lightly and bring your swimming gear and a towel. You can bring a change of clothes if you think you will be cold on the boat.
- One of the first stops is usually Padar Island. The hike to the top for the spectacular views is a real highlight. Just make sure you wear sturdy shoes and take sunscreen. Also, try to pick a tour that sets off early so you can avoid the mid-day sun (if doing the one day tour.)
- When you arrive at the Taka Makassar be aware that a lot of boats cannot get too close this sandbar. Make sure you don’t have anything valuable in your pockets as you will be wait-deep, or more, when you get off the boat.
- On the Rinca Island tour, you will visit Kelor Island (as the tour goes on a separate route) where you should also wear sturdy shoes.
- You will have a chance to snorkel at Pink Beach and Kanawa Island (Menjerite Bay on the Rinca Island tour.) Please make sure that your equipment is included and fits properly. Tip | Spit prevents your snorkel mask from steaming up!
An Incredible Experience On A Backpacker’s Budget!
Meeting the awesome Komodo dragon was a real bucket list experience, even on a backpacker’s budget!
Seeing these amazing creatures was something I’ve wanted to do for so long. You don’t have to break the bank to be able to enjoy this incredible experience. Not only that, you’ll get to enjoy the beautiful views over Padar Island, swim with manta rays and chill on the famous Pink Beach too.
We weren’t sure how things were going to play out when we arrived in Labuan Bajo. We knew we wanted to do a Komodo Island trip and the prices that the agencies wanted in advance were extortionate when compared to how much we paid the day before our trip. Luckily we trusted our backpacker instincts and everything worked out perfectly!
I hope that you guys enjoyed this backpackers guide to Komodo Island. As you can see, a trip to see Komodo dragons isn’t just an experience of a lifetime, there’s also so much to enjoy in the national park itself. If you liked this post, or want to know anything else, please leave a comment. Thanks.