Komodo Island – Dragons and Diving

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With lush foliage, waterfalls and beaches, Komodo Island looks like it could be straight out of a Jurassic Park movie. A trip to Komodo is a bucket list experience because visiting Komodo Island is a chance to encounter a Komodo dragon in its natural habitat.

Komodo Island is the largest island in Komodo National Park and is home to the largest colony of Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis). These prehistoric lizards have evolved into larger animals through hunting 300 kg dwarf stegadons or pygmy elephants.

Komodo Island

About Komodo National Park

Komodo dragon island
Komodo dragon island is like something out of a Jurassic Park movie.

Komodo Island, Rinca Island and Padar Island are the three main islands within Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. And there are many other small islands within the park as well. 

Komodo National Park was created in 1980 to protect the Komodo dragon. This unique destination also has excellent diving sites as the conditions are ideal for corals and tropical fish to thrive.

Komodo Dragon Islands

komodo dragon frontal close up
Any Komodo Island tour is likely to include close encounters with Komodo dragons.

There are around 5700 Komodo dragons left on earth (yes, the Komodo dragon exists!) and because they only live in the wild in this area, they play an important role in the study of the theory of evolution.

The local people call them ‘komodos’ but it’s much more romantic to refer to them as ‘Komodo dragons’, even though there’s nothing romantic about this species.

Komodo dragons are hunters with serrated teeth, a venomous bite and long forked tongues.

Their jaws can open unusually wide because of an intramandibular hinge, allowing them to swallow their prey very quickly. And their stomachs can expand to let them eat up to 80 per cent of their body weight in a single meal.

Imagine a three-metre long giant lizard killing its prey by biting it and infecting it with venomous saliva.

Because Komodo dragons are unique and there are so few left in the world, any trip to Komodo Island is likely to include some time with the largest and heaviest lizards in the world.

Most Komodo dragons are on Komodo Island, but they also populate Rinca Island, off the western tip of Flores in eastern Indonesia.

How To Get To Komodo Island

Flights

indonesia komodo dragon island
There are only a few thousand Komodo dragons in the world and most are on Komodo Island.

Garuda Indonesia’s Explore fleet of ATR72-600 aircraft flies to lesser-known regions in eastern Indonesia, including Labuan Bajo.

From Denpasar, it’s a short domestic flight to Labuan Bajo, the gateway to the Komodo Islands.

From Labuan Bajo, the only way to get to Komodo Island is by water. You can either take a multi-day sailing trip around the islands or join an organised tour to visit Komodo Island (the largest island) in a day by speed boat or phinisi.

The trip to World Heritage-listed Komodo National Park voted as one of our planet’s “Seven New Wonders of Nature”, takes around three hours.

Komodo Island Tours

komodo island phinisi
Joining a Komodo Island tour aboard a phinisi is an experiential way to travel.

A trip to Komodo Island is a relaxing cruise with plenty of time to watch the scenery float past or sleep on a day bed.

A memorable way to discover Komodo Island is to tour on a Bugis schooner or Phinisi, a traditional two-masted Indonesia sailing ship built from teak.

If you’re travelling in a group, booking the entire vessel is an excellent option for a multi-day vacation on the water with friends. 

Phinisis comes with crew and catering, so all you have to do is sit back, relax and let yourself drift towards Komodo Island. 

Although it’s possible to book a boat tour when you arrive in Labuan Bajo, the best boats fill up quickly, and it’s a good idea to book in advance. Day tours will allow you to see the Komodo dragons on Komodo Island, but a two-day trip or longer would be better if you want to see more.

Pre-book your tour here:

  • Day Trip – includes seeing the dragons on Komodo Island, a hike on Padar Island, swimming at Long Beach, Manta Point and Kanawa Island.
  • 2-Day Tour – includes seeing Komodo dragons on Rinca Island and Komodo Island, snorkelling around Bidadari Island, Padar Island and Pink Beach plus spending a night aboard a traditional Phinisi and extra time to go diving.
  • 3-Day Tour – this is a more leisurely cruise around the national park that takes in all the sights, with plenty of time to snorkel or go scuba diving at various spots, seeing Komodo dragons at both Rinca and Komodo Islands as well as visiting the Mirror Cave and Kalong Island to see flying bats.

Komodo Island Trip Experiences

1- See Komodo Dragons

komodo island tours - a komodo dragon with a tourist in the background
Getting up close to Komodo dragons is a highlight of a visit to Komodo Island.

There are four walking tracks at Komodo Island to choose from, a short one to the water hole, a medium one, which has a few small hills, a long trail, and a rougher adventure track.

If it’s a steamy day or during the dry season, you’ll have a good chance of seeing Komodo dragons on the short track as they often laze around the water hole.

You’ll need to stay in a group as the dragons look deceptively sluggish, but they are wild animals and can run fast when they are motivated, up to 20 kph (13 mph) an hour, and are capable of eating small children.

They are also wily predators and, when threatened, can vomit up the contents of their stomachs to reduce their weight to flee.

A few attacks have happened over the years, so it’s important to follow the rules laid out by the rangers.

Several years ago, a young village boy who wandered off a jungle path died from a dragon bite, and a Swiss tourist who became separated from a cruise ship excursion in 1974 vanished, presumably devoured by a dragon.

Only his sunglasses and camera was found.

The Komodo dragons do look rather frightening as they are pretty large (about the size of crocodiles), and they can be curious.

2- Visit Komodo Island’s Pink Beaches

a woman sitting on pink beach Komodo Island
Pink Beach, Komodo Island, is famous for its coloured sand.
Pink Beach

Most organised tours include a visit to Pink Beach, famous for its pink sand, which is a mixture of sand from white calcium carbonate and organ pipe corals.

The water looks inviting is invitingly refreshing, and snorkelling over coral gardens is a chance to spot colourful fish and turtles.

The beach is picturesque and has hills in the background.

Long Beach

Long Beach is another pink beach, and the sand here is more vividly pink than Pink Beach.

This beach is on Padar Island and is the longest pink-sand beach in Komodo National Park.

It has a row of warungs that sells snacks, drinks and souvenirs.

3- Cruise Around In A Phinisi

Cruising around in a traditional Phinisi is a romantic way to explore the islands and just being on board feels like a relaxing holiday.

Phinisis come with a crew to serve meals and drinks and take you to popular snorkelling and diving sites.

The “wow factor” arrives at dusk as the setting sun polishes the glassy water with a golden glow that will touch your soul.

4- Go Hiking

woman sitting at the top of the hill on padar island
A stunning view of Padar Island can be seen on a hike.

Padar Island, the third-largest island in Komodo National Park is a fantasy landscape of mountains, bays and three different types of sand.

There’s a white-sand beach, a black-sand beach (of volcanic origin) and the famous pink beach.

The island has a diversity of reptiles, and in the past, three kinds of Komodo dragons called it home.

The ocean around Padar Island is brimming with different species of sharks, manta rays, dolphins and turtles.

The island is an excellent place to hike to the top of a hill for a scenic view and then cool off in one of its bays. This 3-day tour includes a hike on Padar Island. 

5- Visit Taka Makassar Island

It is home to a famous and beautiful white-sand beach called Kanawa Beach.

The sand was created from crushed coral mixed with the sand and is a fabulous snorkelling spot.

6- Explore Mirror Cave and Rangko Cave

Mirror Cave (or Goa Batu Cermin) was brought to the world’s attention by Theodor Verhoeven, a Dutch archaeologist who believed Labuan Bajo was once underwater.

The sun streams through an opening in the cave and bounces on its stone walls to reflect within the cave, creating a shimmering mirror-like effect.

The cave is in a forest setting, and there’s a chance you will see local wildlife like wild boar and long-tailed monkeys.

Rangko Cave is a picturesque cave with stalactites, stalagmites and a lovely underground lake.

Mirror Cave is 4 km from Labuan Bajo. Rangko Village is 45 minutes from Labuan Bajo, and access to the cave on Gusung Island is by boat from the village. 

Here’s a 4-day tour that includes a visit to Mirror Cave. 

7- Visit A Cultural Village

komodo island (amelia sunset point view)
Enjoying the view at Amelia Sunset Point is one of the things to do on your Komodo Island trip.

Labuan Bajo is the gateway to Komodo National Park and has several vantage points where you can admire views of the island from Puncak Amelia, Bukit Cinta or Puncak Silvia.

It’s also a melting pot of three local ethnic groups – the Bugis, Bima and Manggarai people, and other tribes who have migrated here, such as the Maumere, Ngada and Ende people of Flores.

A visit to Melo Village is a chance to explore Manggarai culture and local traditions, such as the bamboo pole jumping game (Tetek Alu), dances like the Ndundu Dake dance, a Caci performance, and to try Flores coffee and sopi, which is a local palm liquor.

7- Komodo Island Diving

Komodo National Park diving: a scuba diver and reef shark
Diving in Komodo National Park offers opportunities to see reef sharks.

By Tony Isaacson

Komodo National Park is part of the Coral Triangle and has the highest concentration of marine life found in the Indian and Pacific oceans. The diversity of sea life around Komodo Island is, in fact, much higher than even Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Close encounters with moray eels, turtles and sharks are what you can expect on a Komodo diving adventure. This area is renowned for its fantastic biodiversity, a drawcard from a diving point of view.

Diving in Indonesia is cost-effective, and drift dives are a local specialty. There is excellent visibility and a vast diversity of marine life, which is fantastic for both macro and wide-angle photography.

A diving adventure around the waters of this World Heritage site is a memorable experience as Komodo Island diving is some of the best diving in the world. 

The best way to experience it is to join a Komodo liveaboard vessel which you can find at Bajo Dive Club in Labuan Bajo, Flores.

The weather is perfect most of the time, with blue skies and high twenties temperatures. And the warm water means you only need a 3 mm wetsuit.

Visibility is usually high, between 10 to 50 m, and you can expect to do two to three dives each day and some night dives.

The abundance of sea life is overwhelming, from colourful soft and hard corals and sponges to huge anemones and green feather stars (crinoids) waving in the current.

The underwater kaleidoscope is hypnotic and the state of the reef here is so healthy you might even find the diving better than around Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Komodo Diving Experiences
Fish
Komodo Island diving - lion fish
Komodo Island National Park is an underwater world that attracts scuba divers but look out for the lionfish.

A diving trip around Komodo National park reveals an amazing technicolour world.

The fish life includes graceful but venomous lionfish with 13 hypodermic needle-like dorsal spines.

Be careful not to get stung while photographing one close up as the pain is excruciating and far worse than coral cuts, blue bottle stings or stingray barbs. If you do have the misfortune to get stung, try holding your finger in a cup of hot coffee to denature the stinging protein. 

This is one of the incredible creatures you might encounter on a dive trip in Komodo National Park.

Bright monochrome black and white sergeant majors are often desperate for a free feed.

There are too many angelfish to count, including blue and yellow six-banded angels, lemon peel, koran, and regal angels.

Clown triggerfish will try to photobomb the scene as red, and white-banded cleaner shrimps wait in anticipation under a coral ledge.

The territorial and aggressive triton triggerfish is beautiful to look at but, in mating season, if you ever get close to one defending its nest, make sure you avoid its ‘cone’ of territory above their nest as they have been known to take a bite out of divers wetsuits, snorkels and masks.

Moray Eels  
Komodo National Park diving trip highlight - feeding a moray eel
A curious Moray eel in Komodo Island National Park.

Look out for shy and retiring green moray eels hiding among the coral. 

They are about two metres long, with a head as big as a football. When breathing, moray eels display a show of teeth, which gives them the impression of aggression.

They have a full mouth of backward-facing teeth, so if you are ever silly enough to have your hand grabbed, beware, there will be a lot of blood and raw flesh as you try to pull your hand or fingers out. 

White Tip Reef Sharks
Komodo National Park diving: sharks under a rock.
Look for sharks hiding among the coral when you go on a dive in Komodo.

White tip reef sharks only grow to 1.6m, and they are the guardians or ‘top dogs’ of the reef, as most of the larger open water sharks have disappeared due to shark finning practices.

White tips are nocturnal hunters and rest during the day, often in shark crèches. Around Komodo Island, it’s not uncommon to see a dozen sharks hiding under an enormous plate coral.

You can be almost guaranteed to see them there year after year, but you need to go with an experienced dive guide as they are hard to find.

While they usually swim past and ignore divers during the day, they can become aggressive coral-busting feeders at night.

They will smash coral heads to get at a sleeping fish.

Green and Hawksbill Turtles

Green and hawksbill turtles are common here and are only protected in marine reserves.

On Gili Island, off Lombok Island, west of Komodo Island, turtle hatcheries increase their numbers locally.

While usually skittish near divers, you might be lucky enough to come across a turtle that will swim and interact with your group.  

Komodo Island Diving Operators
vieiw of the harbour and islands from labuan bajo
Labuan Bajo is the gateway to Komodo National Park’s islands.

The island of Komodo is a few hours by boat from Flores. There is no accommodation on Komodo Island.

Several diving charter businesses conduct tours to Komodo Island and around the region, including some run by international operators such as Bajo Dive Club, run by a German operator. 

Photographic Equipment 
  • GoPro Hero 2 camera with a red filter.
  • Two mounted 1400 lumen led i-Torch Video Pro 4 lights. 

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Christina Pfeiffer is a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia. She has lived in three continents and her career as a travel journalist has taken her to all seven continents. Since 2003, she has contributed travel stories and photographs to mainstream media in Australia and around the world such as the Sydney Morning Herald, CNN Traveller, The Australian and the South China Morning Post. She has won many travel writing awards and is a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.