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If you want to find out how to visit Komodo Island to see the rare Komodo dragon or learn about other places where you can see Komodo dragons, this guide will give you everything you need to know.
You’ll learn everything you need to know about the Komodo dragon itself, where the Komodo dragon lives, and my personal recommendations for great tours to see the Komodo dragon. As well as taking a visit to Komodo Island, many of the tours offer plenty of other wonderful activities, such as snorkeling, visiting the pink beach, and hiking.
They sound like a creature you capture and train in a Japanese video game, but I can categorically confirm, right now, that Komodo Dragons are real: and my, are they awe-inspiring to be within close proximity of.
Also known as the Komodo monitor, the Komodo dragon is the world’s largest living species of lizard. They grow to a maximum of 3 meters and can weigh up to a whopping 70kg.
The species is subject to a term, which I believe is one of the greatest terms ever coined, called ‘island gigantism.’ This is a biological phenomenon where a single carnivorous species, at the top of the food chain, without predators, thrives in an isolated environment. Fossils of species directly linked to the Komodo Dragon, dating back 3.8 million years ago, means these animals have been roaming their island habitats, free of predators, for nearly 4 million years.
Put me in the cheese aisle of a permanently closed, continually re-stocked supermarket, and I guarantee you I, too, would be subject to the oh-so-wonderfully named phenomenon of ‘island gigantism.’
And speaking of humans, the Komodo Dragons’ relationship with us has not always been one of mutual respect. Dutch sailors, Westerners first accounts with the majestic animals in the 1910s, recorded sightings of giant, flying, fire-breathing beasts that burned their ships whenever they strayed too close to the shore.
Somewhat laughable, considering how passive they are; but back then, there was no Instagram, so everyone had to get creative.
Some 2000 people currently inhabit Komodo, the largest of the five Indonesian islands that can call themselves home to the Komodo Dragon. And even though many of those people who work on the island strive for a harmonious balance between respecting the animals, and generating income via tourism, over the last years the relationship between dragon and human has become somewhat strained.
Komodo Dragons fetch a high price on the black market, and the number of dragons smuggled from the island has increased since the 90s. Furthermore, even though dragon attacks on humans are rare, inhabitants of the islands have seen slight increases in dragon attacks, and living side by side with the animals, peacefully, has become more difficult.
Resultantly, Indonesian authorities have confirmed the planned closure of the island, starting from 2020, and a cash injection of $7.2mil to help aid the conservation of the Komodo dragon.
Governor Laiskodat, of the Nusa Tenggara Timur province, has also publicly come out and suggested an expensive fee, up to $500, could still be charged if wealthy people want to visit the National Park. Naturally, this has outraged both tourists, who don’t have that kind of money, and locals, who rely heavily on the money from tourism to make a living.
It’s a sad state of affairs, and hopefully, the local populations will be able to survive the hit to the economy.
So, if you are going to be in Indonesia before 2019 draws to a close, you should seriously consider penning in a weekend to see these beautiful creatures.
Update: According to the Guardian, Indonesia canceled the Komodo island closure. So there is still time to see the Komodo Dragons!
Komodo dragons live on only five islands in southeastern Indonesia: Indonesia’s four islands within Komodo National Park, consisting of Komodo, Rinca, Gili Montang, and Gili Dasami, and the island of Flores.
Here’s a map of where the Komodo dragon lives:
Sightings of the dragons in the northwest of Flores are rare, and often unconfirmed. The National Park is the only place you can, safely, see the animals, as part of a guided tour.
Labuan Bajo Komodo Airport is the airport you need to fly to (see map above) if you want to take a trip to Komodo. From there, you’re only a 10-15 drive from the harbor, where many of the tour companies operate, and the boats set sail.
You’ll need to hit one of the larger airports in Indonesia first, such as Jakarta, or Denpasar (Bali), and then take a domestic flight to Labuan Bajo, on the likes of Lion Air.
To put it simply: yes, absolutely!
However, to put your mind at ease, as mentioned earlier, attacks on humans are rare. Due to the laws surrounding the National Park, you will be accompanied by park rangers, and professional handlers, as part of your guided tour, at all times.
It is illegal to enter the park on your own accord; which is how smugglers get their hands-on baby Komodo dragons.
What is pretty amazing is how close the rangers will bring you to the animals. Often, you’ll be mere several feet away, trying to position your camera to get the Komodo dragons in your selfie!
The rangers hold long sticks and point them directly at the dragons if they start to stir. To be brutally honest, after reading up about the power of the dragons, and how one venomous bite will leave you hours from death without medical assistance, I was banking on more than an elderly Indonesian with a big stick to protect me!
Komodo dragons, however, will only attack if provoked, or if they’re hungry, which brings us to a very important point.
IMPORTANT POINT FOR WOMEN: If you are menstruating during the time of your visit, you’ll be advised, even prevented, from entering the park by your tour guide. This is because Komodo dragons can smell blood up to an incredible 18km away. Being a carnivore, the smell of blood, to the animals, signals signs of food.
If possible, be sure to try to arrange your trip at a time that doesn’t coincide with your cycle. Also speak to your tour operator, who will have useful advice for you.
All-in-all, even though these are powerful animals not to be messed with, you will be in the hands of professionals with years of experience. So don’t worry!
Komodo dragons largely remain quiet. However, the noises they make are very distinctive. The first noise they make is a long hissing sound. They make this noise when they scent food, and it is a warning to other dragons to back away. They will also make this noise at humans if they feel agitated or threatened.
The other noise they make sounds like a high-pitched wail. This is a noise the Komodo dragon makes when they’re in a calmer situation. This would include communicating with other dragons, or when selecting a suitable mate. As I mentioned, however, they are remarkably quiet lizards. Being called dragons, you’d expect them to be high-energy, roaring, and asserting their dominance at any given opportunity. Unless the Komodo dragon can smell food, or feels threatened, it is a very passive animal.
When you travel, knowing locals is one of, if not the most, beneficial thing you can do. Not only will a local give you a whole new insight into a place, beyond what Trip Advisor says, they can also craft bespoke experiences, as they know the right people and speak the local language.
My party of ten’s diamond was a Balinese woman, whom we met at a coworking event in Ubud. She became an integral, much-loved member of our group, and was the reason we were able to spend a glorious weekend in January sailing the coral waters of the Flores Sea on our own private boat tour.
Our journey took us from the bustle of the Luwansa harbor in the early hours of Saturday, across the waters, to Komodo National Park, and back again the following day.
The boat itself was a beautiful, two-leveled sailing boat, known as a Pinisi. It was manned by a team of four local Indonesians, one of whom was an excellent chef. On the lower deck, we found our sleeping quarters, where we split into rooms of four, four, and two, and slept in small, air-conditioned cabins. On the upper deck, a solitary cabin, where the captain steered the ship and the generator was stored, overlooked the vastness of the seas ahead of us. Behind the cabin, we had the length of the upper deck to watch the water, relax, and enjoy the tour.
In addition to three traditional meals, all prepared by our excellent chef, we were allowed to bring our own food and drink on to the boat. This we picked up before reaching the harbor, with our taxis from the airport taking us to a local supermarket.
The 4 am start was, naturally, a little rough, but by 9 am, our boat was chugging along nicely through the cerulean waters.
All-in-all, we made four stops. The first was at the island of Pasir Putih. Here, we spent a couple of hours snorkeling in the crystal waters, and relaxing on the shore, around two hundred meters away from the boat. The sands, untouched by man, were sparkling pink beneath the roaring sun. It was a truly breath-taking encounter with nature.
Back on the boat, and we hit the waters for another couple of hours, where the shores of Komodo National Park awaited us.
Our guided tour of the park was with See Komodo Tours, who come highly recommended. Their team of Komodo enthusiasts took us for a not-overly-strenuous hike along the eastern side of the island. All the while, they gave us some fascinating insight into the animals.
We stopped twice, to observe two families of Komodo Dragons. As mentioned earlier, they really are awe-inspiring, while also being slightly terrifying, creatures. We posed for pictures and watched the family of dragons chilling in the sun.
Eat. Sleep. Procreate. Repeat. What a life, right?
We hiked to one of the highest points in the park. Again, I use the word ‘hike’ liberally, as none of the terrain was particularly strenuous, and many of us did it in sandals and flip-flops. Altogether, we spent around three hours on the island before returning to the boat. With the evening drawing in, we sailed out to a neighboring island, ready to drop anchor for the evening.
Under darkness, we all ate a delicious spread of Nasi goreng, plantains, and grilled chicken, courtesy of the team. We had aspirations to stay up all night, chatting and drinking, but the early wake-up and the long day of activities had us all passed out in our cozy little bunks by midnight.
The following morning, we set sail early. Our morning stop was at a remote little island, nestled in the Komodo region. We hiked to its peak and marveled at the glorious sunrise view of the Flores Sea. A couple of us decided to swim back to the boat, while the rest took the rowing boat.
Back on the boat, following a hearty breakfast of sweet plantain and various fruit, we ventured through the waters, back toward Luwansa and the mainland.
Our final stop was at another remote island, where the water was some of the clearest, I have ever seen in my life. We spent a long while here snorkeling, as the coral along the seabed was sprawling and vibrant.
There was a long boardwalk that reached out toward us from the beach. The crew told us not to venture on to the shore, as apparently the island was infested with snakes!
I’ve seen Snakes On A Plane, so I duly obliged.
By the time the afternoon sun was high in the sky, we had revved up the motor for the final stretch, back to the harbor. It had been an intense, non-stop-action-packed couple of days, and a weekend I will never forget.
Indonesians, and particularly Balinese, who work in the tourism industry, are some of the friendliest, most beautiful people you will ever meet. From start to finish, they made our adventure what it was with their energy, smiles, and vast knowledge of the area.
Flying home, that night, back to Denpasar, it struck me how lucky I’d been to be a part of such a unique, intimate experience. I urge you, wherever you are, to try and escape the bubble of the expat community and get acquainted with local people. They’ll be able to show you all of a city or island’s hidden gems, with pleasure.
While, as mentioned, our private weekend tour was down to our friend’s connections, there are several tours to and around Komodo on Trip Advisor:
Courtesy of Bintang Tours, their one-day trip is a whirlwind of activity. By boat, you’ll make a whopping six stops altogether. You’ll set sail early morning, firstly visiting the breath-taking landscape of Padar Island. Next, you’ll head to Komodo, to see the magnificent animals in their natural habitat.
After Komodo, the journey continues to the beautiful Pink Beach. Then, if you opt to do so, you’ll snorkel in the waters circling Taka Makassar and see the beautiful coral sprawled across the sea bed. Manta Point will be your penultimate stop, to see majestic manta rays in the water, before finally passing through Kanawa Island and its huge garden of coral, back to Labuan Bajo.
Courtesy of Wandernesia, if you’d like to do all of the above, but at a much more leisurely pace, then the three-day, two-night sail trip could be your best bet.
Wandernesia put a huge emphasis on time spent snorkeling, as you’ll make several stops at several well-known snorkeling spots. Instead of Komodo island, you’ll see Komodo Dragons on Rinca Island. The rest of your trip will take you to the islands of Kelor, Kalong, Padar, Long Beach, Manta Point, Gili Lawa, Siaba and, lastly, Kanawa.
Also, with two and a half days to play with, you’ll spend far more time in each location. The boat isn’t too luxurious, but as long as you’re fine sleeping on board for two nights, you’ll have an incredible time visiting some of Indonesia’s most beautiful small islands.
Komodo dragons are magnificent creatures. If you’re going to be Indonesia, you simply have to go.
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