Visiting Komodo National Park, my trip to see the Komodo Dragons in Indonesia
This post about visiting Komodo National Park has been updated from my backpacking trip through Asia and is all about my unforgettable trip to Komodo Island. You may have heard that they’re stopping tours to Komodo National Park in 2020 for one year to help boost the number of Komodo Dragons and to help stop poaching. I haven’t seen anything to 100% confirm this is true but it’s a ‘consideration’. As Komodo National Park is one of Indonesia’s most popular tourist destinations I think it seems unlikely but there may be some stricter restrictions in place. In my eyes, this can only be a good thing. I highly recommend a trip to the area but be aware that there may be some restrictions so do your research before embarking on a trip!
Let me start at the beginning and tell you about my trip and explain how to get to Komodo National Park and what we did during our overnight boat tour when we got there!
How to get to Komodo National Park
When booking our tour, there were a few language barriers so we weren’t exactly sure what we were getting ourselves into!
Lubuan Bajo to Komodo National Park
We were picked up from our guesthouse at 7.45am to catch our boat and I was a little dubious at first. It seemed like the two guys on the boat weren’t expecting us and they didn’t speak a word of English. They stood around for about 20 minutes trying to figure out how we were to get on the boat. They swung from the dock onto the boat like athletic and well balanced monkeys, but there was no way we could get on it the same manner! They eventually got the boat close enough to the dock and with a few helping hands for support we jumped on.
Once we were finally on, it starting raining and we huddled together under the small piece of shelter the boat had to offer while the guys busied around us preparing the boat.
It was a small fishing boat with a toilet at the back, a small area to cook, a raised area that was sheltered with tarpaulin and this was where we slept and then a bigger area at the front with a table and 3 chairs and some mats where we could sit and sunbathe.
As soon as we left the mainland the sun came out and our crew, Samuel and Jimmy, were actually really nice despite the rocky start. They spoke a few words of English but they spoke more English than I spoke Indonesian so I couldn’t complain!
Samuel and Jimmy were lovely…. but the boat was a different matter. It seemed to be desperately chugging along and making more noise than an old steam train and we were moving painfully slowly. And then after about 10 minutes we simply weren’t moving at all. I started working through my options incase we sank and began calculating the distance to the mainland and decide if I could swim. Samuel and Jimmy spent about 15 minutes chucking a worrying amount of water over the side of the boat and then we were off again.
Visiting Rinca Island
We made it to Rinca Island at about midday and a guide was ready and waiting for us.
Rinca is a small island near Komodo and Flores islands and it was exactly how I thought it would be; all dry open spaces with cracked, dusty ground and monkeys foraging for crabs in little holes.
We saw a Komodo Dragon immediately and couldn’t believe our luck! Apparently it was just a baby but we were impressed and all memories from our rocky start to the trip were forgotten. We were told that it was unusual to see such small ones out in the open because they spend their first few years in the trees to avoid being eaten by their parents.
There were places to stay on Rinca so there was a kitchen area where about 10 Komodo Dragons lazed underneath in the shade with the promise of being fed the scraps at some point. These ones were absolutely massive so I was thankful they barely moved. The guides told us that they were relatively still during the midday heat but everyone carried huge sticks ‘just in case’.
When the Komodo Dragons did move, it looked like such an unnatural movement, perhaps like they should slither like snakes rather than have these legs that they looked so awkward on as they bent to the sides in an uncomfortable looking angle.
It was their feet I loved the most; they were so human, except with big claws and thick scaly skin. Sometimes they let out the strangest noise I’ve ever heard. I actually just cheated a bit and googled how to describe it and the answer is: ‘ribbetruffroar’. This is quite accurate but I’d say it’s like a roar whilst breathing in rather than breathing out so it wasn’t very loud and was kind of raspy and ghostly and a million times scarier. I hid behind our guide’s stick every time I heard this noise.
We took a look around and went for a walk around the forest and up a few mountains to see some amazing views. We didn’t see any Komodo Dragons just walking in the wild. Apparently this was because it was rainy season – even though it was boiling hot and really dry – but there is a supply of water everywhere on the island during rainy season so all the animals can spread out a bit more. During the dry season, which must be unbearable, there is only one watering hole that all the animals gather around so the guides know exactly where to find the Komodo Dragons.
We saw where they lay their eggs and were told about the hatching process, but apart from the great views there wasn’t much else to see on the island. Don’t get me wrong, it was a gorgeous place for a hike though!
We got back on the boat and it took a few hours to get to near Komodo Island where we spent the night. The boat chugged along slowly and rocked us to sleep during the journey. When we arrived at the mooring, there were about 5 of 6 guys in tiny wooden canoes who immediately clung to our boat and tried to sell us the usual tat and some wooden Komodo Dragon figures. It was so strange because we were out in the middle of the sea in Komodo National Park and we still couldn’t get away from people selling us rubbish!
A much posher tour boat pulled up alongside us for the night and we were very jealous to see their cold beers. Jimmy must have seen our envious faces and, with a little help from the translator from the posh boat, he told us he could take us to the village in Komodo to buy some. We could see the village from where we were and could see a row of about 30 wooden houses on stilts, so I wasn’t really convinced that they would sell beer but we went for it anyway.
It was only about 10 minutes away and was unlike any village I’ve ever seen. Once we’d scrambled onto the jetty we were met by a huge crowd of people. Some of them were wanting to sell us stuff but most of them just wanted a look or wanted to practice their English. It was such a lovely welcome and we felt like celebrities!
All the houses were high off the ground on skinny wooden stilts and squeezed together so they were basically touching and we walked along the well trodden paths below the houses. They were all made up of one, small square room, about the size of my bedroom, and were packed with family life. We could hear people chatting and babies crying and occasionally we’d see a head popping out of a window to look down on us. The houses probably ran 3 deep for about 100 meters so it was like a massive maze once we were inside and there was a mosque in the middle. It was strange that some of the houses seemed to be nailed together with any old piece of wood and didn’t have windows but they did have really fancy, ornate front doors.
The supermarket was a small, wooden room crammed with goods and as soon as the three of us squeezed inside about six young guys piled in from a back room. One of them was a family friend visiting from Java and spoke reasonable English so we had a little chat while half the village gathered around to stare at us.
We bought two bottles of warm Bintang each which cost twice as much as it usually should but it was worth it, especially when Jimmy and Samuel’s faces lit up when they realised we’d bought a bottle each for them. We also got to see a side to Komodo that most tourists don’t see.
All of our meals on the boat were the same but they were delicious so we didn’t mind. Jimmy cooked sticky rice, boiled veggies in butter, fish in a kind of sweet and sour sauce and noodles. We had banana pancakes for breakfast and there was tea and coffee all day. The boiled water had a worrying amount of floaty things in it, but we’d been backpacking for almost two years at this point so I’m pretty sure our stomachs were hardened to such things!
After dinner the posh boat next to us invited us aboard where they had a guitar and they were all singing. Their guide had a bottle of arak wine (homemade wine that is usually ridiculously strong) and he was force feeding it to everyone. They were all lovely and they also had a proper toilet on their boat so we were grateful for the invitation.
We slept on the deck of our boat on squidgy mats and under our sarongs. I thought it would be awful, especially with all the cockroaches scurrying around, but with the gentle swaying and a few too many arak wines I was sleeping like a baby and awoke to a gorgeous sunrise over perfectly still water.
The next day, after a brief stopover at the village on Komodo to buy parts for our sinking boat, we headed to the Komodo National Park area of the island. It was pretty much the same as the previous day at Rinca Island, but this time we saw a lot more deer’s and wild pigs and our guide showed us a lot of the fruit and plants that grew in the area. There were Komodo Dragons around the area where people stayed but we didn’t see any others.
Snorkelling at Red Beach, Komodo National Park
Back on the boat and we stopped at Red Beach for some snorkelling. The current was really strong and we were pleased we’d packed our own fins. We managed to swim to a perfect little white beach where we could rest for a while.
The snorkelling was amazing, probably some of the best I’ve ever done. The coral seemed to go on for miles and was so colourful and all unique and around just one bit of coral there would be so many different kinds of fish. I was gutted that the current was so strong because I felt like I could have snorkelled for hours but I was worried about tiring myself out and not making it back to the boat.
We snoozed and read on the journey back to Lubuan Bajo after an amazing two days.