Piling on to a cramped boat, 8 of us settled in as we left the port and Labuan Bajo behind. My thoughts with it, my mind began to drift watching the sun bleached, rugged islands drift by. A rough savannah like terrain with stunted trees and shrubs dotted sporadically around the dull, dry brown landscape. Even the constant roar of the motor was faded, almost nonexistent. Dolphins appeared ahead of us seemingly surfacing in synchronicity with the bob of our boat. The sea a strong sapphire gleaming in the sunlight, an illustrious gem. This was a portal, an entrance to a new land… a land of dragons.
Our vessel approached Rinca, the first of two islands inhabited by these prehistoric beings. The bank of the calm bay was bordered with lush narrow mangroves. Allegedly the home of crocodiles, although rarely seen the long tailed macaques still frolicked in the low branches carelessly. I stepped into the Jurassic period as I set foot on land. Following a boardwalk, muddy earth to either side as crabs scuttled this way and that, we were lead to the ranger’s station. Our guide armed with a long, forked stick to defend against potential charges gave the expected, but necessary speech he must be sick of telling people about the dangers, the safe proximity allowed and that there is no guarantee to see anything while hiking the dusty plains and parched bush.
Guaranteed are the handful of komodo that are claimed not to be fed, yet lethargically lay with a bloated look seemingly in a state of paralysis underneath the buildings in the presence of humans. I understand it’s the heat of the day they are trying to escape, but there is natural shade I’m sure they would prefer without the promise of some easy grub. But, who am I to say what goes on behind closed doors. Anyways, this isn’t what I came for. I tend to have somewhat decent luck when it comes to wildlife viewing so I was hopeful for what lay in camouflage along the trails.
It wasn’t a long hike, but not far in one relaxed in the shade of a larger tree. Despite their potential speed, it moved as if a sloth. To really see activity, potential hunting or brawling, dawn or dusk were the best viewing hours when the coolness of night lingered. A little further along a young 5 month old dragon stared down at us from the trees where it would remain for the first three years of its life avoiding its potentially cannibalistic own kind. The colours of youth remained on its rough skin, the bacteria in the saliva that makes the bite toxic not yet developed it was actually cute as it yawned. Of course the claws still looked as if some damage could be caused.
A mother was spotted on the way back to the boat, resting in the shade not far from the nest in case there was any opportunistic thieves. Not wanting to entice her we carried on back to the boat for lunch while we made our way to the peaked spine island of Komodo. Where I came to walk with dragons. The landscape differed greatly and surprisingly from Rinca. Instead of dry rolling plains, a lushness coated the jagged look of the island. Clouds loomed above giving off an aura of mystery and solitude. Fitting I thought.
A long pier to the beach, the island closing in around, I had a brief movie feeling. ‘A storm was going to sweep in, sinking the boat and all methods off the island, disconnecting us from outside world. Havoc ensues’ A cheesy, not familiar plot, I know.
Hiking into the more dense forest our sightings were less. Spotting one large male by the watering hole, he looked confidently deadly. The longer we stayed the more he seemed agitated by our presence. Not concerned, just annoyed as he took a couple steps flicking his tongue before settling back down with his sardonic stare. After our paparazzi was finished we left him in peace. Although the komodos from then on remained hidden from our eyes, the wild deer were plentiful and boar ran around chaotically. Making our way back to the beach a couple more lounged around while we became hounded by locals selling us ‘memories’ as they put it. I didn’t need tacky magnets and necklaces. My memories were made stored in my mind and camera of a dream fulfilled.
For me this trip was all about the Komodo Dragons, but the wonders of the Flores Sea are no less extravagant than that of the land. As this is a two day trip we pulled into a calm bay and anchored for the night. When I woke I noticed the main downfall to tourism in the area. Multiple boats spent the night here which sadly in turn littered the water with beer cans and plastics.
Home to some of Indonesia’s best snorkeling and diving, the day was spent snorkeling at three different sites. The first of which was a morning swim at Pink Beach, a coral garden off of Komodo. Second was the highlight of the day, Manta Point. Watching these manta rays majestically glide through the water beneath you is magical. Despite my ever growing sunburn, I would have spent all day in these waters. The third stop was the small island of Kanawa. Another coral garden and one of the most beautiful I’ve personally seen. Just before sunset, the port of Labuan Bajo was back in sight bringing us back to civilization. If I return, I would like to find a way to spend more time exploring the island off the beaten tracks laid out for the masses.
Getting here and cost: There are numerous options from the more backpacker budget option to more luxurious boats costings hundreds into the $1000 – $2000 range. Shop around and find what suits you or if you’re in a big enough group or money isn’t a factor simply charter a boat. This way you make the plans. If that’s not an option and for most it’s not, these are the three most common tours I came across.
- A 2D/1N trip that includes a stop at both Rinca and Komodo along with 3-4 snorkeling spots. A night on the boat with thin pads to sleep on head to toelike sardines in a can. Food and water provided as well as snorkeling gear. This is the trip I took for 800,000 IDR. Shop around some diffre, but most are very similar ranging from 800,000 – 1,200,000 IDR. The park/guide fees totalling 250,000 – 300000 depending on group size for the guides.
- A 1D diving trip consisting of 3 dives or 2 dives + Rinca costs around 1,500,000. There are also multiple day liveaboard diving packages available.
- The Liveaboard 4D/3N from Lombok/Gili Islands to Labaun Bajo (or vice versa) is a commonly taken tour. Stopping at multiple snorkeling spots along the northern coast of Sumbawa as well as Rinca and Komodo. The cheapest is about 150$, but can range much higher depending on the luxuriousness of your boat and the amenities included.
Where to Stay in Labuan Bajo: Gardena is a nice place perched up on the hill overlooking the port costing 200,000 IDR and up. For a budget place, Cool Corner Backpackers is only 60,000 for a dorm bed in an a/c room. Perfect for a cheap place to simply lay your head on either side of your Komodo trip.
Have you ever seen the dragons roam? Which tour did you choose? Thoughts? Let me know below.