I had pored over photos of Komodo National Park long before I was invited to see it in person. So when I received an invitation from the Indonesian Ministry for Tourism to explore Flores along with Jakarta, Bali and Bintan Island, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Since returning from the whirlwind trip around Wonderful Indonesia, it’s our Komodo National Park tour that sits with me most; for its brilliant blue water, fine sand beaches, hauntingly quiet Komodo Island and the vibrant villagers we met along the way.
Komodo National Park Tour
Labuan Bajo: The Port to Paradise
From the moment we arrived in Labuan Bajo, I knew Flores would be one of those destinations that would make an impact on me. I was glued to the window, the glass warm to the touch. Beyond it, the landscape was lush, houses popping up every few seconds as we drove past.
Dusty driveways wound their way between the palms and past satellite dishes to simple structures, surrounded by tall green grass. The homes were bungalows built from concrete blocks, fitted with wooden windows and topped with corrugated roofs. I was reminded of my time driving through the Minahasa Highlands in Sulawesi.
The harbour town of Labuan Bajo sits on the westernmost tip of the island of Flores, a short 50-minute flight east of Bali. It’s the port town where you will likely begin your Komodo National Park tour.
The town itself centres around the main road, Jalan Soekarno Hatta, sitting a block back from the waterfront. You’ll find a cute bars, cafes, guest houses, tour and dive operators, just a walk from the boat pier where you’ll push off for diving, snorkelling and boat tours.
We stayed at the Jayakarta Suites about ten minutes drive south. The hotel was nice and clean with a lovely pool area and access to the beach.
Where: Labuan Bajo is a 1-hour flight from Bali with Garuda Airlines. They fly daily.
Contact: Travel Sparks offer tours and itineraries
More information: here
Melo Village is about 45 minutes drive from Labuan Bajo on Mount Mbeliling. The village sits overlooking the valley below to the mountains beyond. The views alone are worth the visit.
This is a place visitors can come and spend half a day observing and immersing themselves in the culture and traditions of the Manggarai people. As we climbed up the dirt path, we were welcomed with smiles, music and a scarf made from traditional handmade ikat fabric.
The Manggarai are guided by rituals so it was fitting that we gathered as the chief led us through a welcome ceremony.
Soon after, a handful of our group was invited into the main house; a hut elevated on stilts. Climbing the ladder, I slid off my shoes and stepped onto the soft woven mats. We sat comfortably on either wall of the house, facing inwards, awaiting instructions. Handshakes and polite nods and we were officially welcomed into the modest space.
A small tin was then presented to the chief. He opened it and pulled out pieces of betel nut. Chewing betel nut is a popular past time in parts of Asia, dating back thousands of years.
The nut is harvested from the Areca palm and when chewed has an effect similar to drinking a strong energy drink. It can also be very addictive. We each chewed a small amount, encouraged to spit out the blood-red pulp as we went and urged not to swallow any of the plant as the effect would be much more potent.
Our mouths quickly filled with red liquid, staining our teeth. I definitely felt light-headed for about five minutes. We were then given a small amount of their home fermented alcohol made from coconuts, arak. We sipped it cautiously from a coconut shell. The whole experience was both fascinating and fun.
Another strong Manggarai tradition is the Caci dance. Danding dancers perform first to introduce the fight sequence that follows. Two men then face off with whips, jumping dramatically and attempt to whip the other. Their only protection is a shield and fabric wrapped around their faces. It was a very colourful performance set to a stunning mountain backdrop.
Where: Melo Village is 17km (about 45 minutes drive) from Labuan Bajo
More information: Contact Flores Tourism
Komodo Island Boat Tour
We could almost hear the Jurassic Park soundtrack playing as we pulled into the wharf at Loh Liang, on Komodo Island. Dark silhouettes were moving on the sand off in the distance, a small group of visitors pivoting around them. Enter the Komodo dragon.
Ora as it is called locally or the Komodo dragon stirs tales of mystery and I have to say they certainly had an effect on me prior to stepping on to the sand. Warned of their blood lust, particularly of menstruating women, their lightning speed and their ability to camouflage themselves in their surroundings. I was already imagining myself at full pace, running away from the infamous creature, mirroring the T-Rex scene in the original Jurassic Park feature.
As we met our guide Hariuno, the doubts reached a climax; we were told the Komodo could smell you 10 to 15 kilometres away, they could run at up to 20 kilometres per hour and they strangely have two penises (that’s pretty terrifying in itself). Hariuno’s answer to averting an attack? A small, forked wooden stick. A few questions on the potentiality of attacks, infections and death and tears started rolling down my face. I was tired, overwhelmed and of course, extremely embarrassed.
Hariuno assured me we would be fine and when in doubt, we could always run (I didn’t want to tell him I knew exactly how fast 20 kilometres an hour was and no one in our group was hitting that pace anytime soon). Just like Jurassic Park, we pushed on, regardless of the imminent danger. My fears were quickly allayed as we made our way along the dusty track in search of the dragons and well, no one was home. We saw one in the distance. He caught our gaze and meandered away.
As we rounded the final stretch to the main beach, we were actually excited to meet two, laying in the shade and shadows of the tree line. Not the prettiest of creatures, they reminded me of the goanna, native to Australia; another species in the monitor family.
While standing about a metre from the dragons, I recalled reading that even if you are bitten and escape the dragon, the bacteria it leaves with its bite infects you soon takes hold and slowly poisons your blood. I also thought about that as we passed a number of deer, calmly seated or feeding in the dry grassed areas around the island. Knowing that the Komodo can eat about 80 per cent of its body weight, those deer seemed to be on a countdown to becoming dinner. Sorry Bambi, better you than me.
Despite my initial trepidation, we were in good hands while visiting the dragons. Each guide is responsible for five visitors and Hariuno did a great job at keeping us both entertained and safe.
Where: The island is about 1.5 hours Komodo boat trip from Labuan Bajo. You will need to book and pay a fee to visit Komodo. Most Komodo National Park tour companies will do it for you on your booking (ensure the entry fee is included in your boat hire day rate quote)
What to pack/wear: Closed-toe shoes, sunscreen, hat, insect repellant, comfortable pants and top for the hike (there are easy to more difficult hikes up to 2 hours long), sunglasses, hand sanitiser, toilet paper and a camera.
Getting there: Grand Komodo, Plataran, Sea Safari Cruises and The Seven Seas have come recommended as reputable boat companies. Our advice is to inspect the boat and negotiate on price (inclusive of park fees), before booking.
Komodo: More than a Close Encounter with a Dragon
Although images of the Komodo Dragon are generally what come up when researching your Komodo National Park tour, this part of Indonesia has so much more to offer than a close encounter with a dragon. So if Komodo National Park isn’t on your bucket list just yet, just wait, it soon will be.
The Komodo National Park comprises three major islands; Komodo, Rinca and Padar. Covering a total of 1817 square kilometres, the park is UNESCO listed as a ‘global conservation priority area‘ for its Komodo population and unique terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
The landscape around the islands was diverse and very unique. Footsteps from the dusty paths and rough terrain on Komodo were the calm aquamarine waters at its fringes. It was that water that won us over instantly us as we pulled in to Pink Beach.
Pink Beach was a sweet surprise. I almost forgot where we were as we joined the other boats in the bay. The protected bay, dry hills and crystal clear water brought back memories of Mykonos and Mallorca. Splashes could be heard at all sides as members of our group began launching themselves into the water. Others jumped straight into the dingy to hit the sand. I did both, in that order. When we pulled into the beach, I rolled out a towel and sunk into the sun while other waded in to snorkel.
One of just seven pink beaches around the world, the subtle colour is created by the breakdown of red coral into particles that blend in with the white sand flushing it will a pink shimmer. It was at the water’s edge that the pink was most prominent as it caught the light. For a great vantage point and a quick workout, climb the hill on the southern end of the beach. It takes about 20-30 minutes to reach the top.
Pink Beach is small and very clean. You won’t find shops or a bar here so you will need to bring your own lunch, plenty of water and if you are planning to stay for a couple of hours, pack an umbrella or something to shade yourself from the sun as there isn’t too much cover near the sand.
Where: Pink Beach is on Komodo Island, about 1.5 hours by boat from Labuan Bajo
What to pack/wear: Sunscreen, hat, drinking water, towel, snacks, change of clothes, sunglasses, hand sanitiser, toilet paper, waterproof sandals or thongs and some comfortable shoes if you are hiking up to the point. A GoPro with waterproof housing, selfie stick, a camera and snorkelling gear (if you are part of a bigger tour they should supply what you need). A dry bag is also a clever idea to protect all of your valuables in the dingy and pack a couple of plastic bags to carry out your rubbish.
Getting there: see recommended companies above
More information: here
The Fit Traveller was a guest of the Indonesian Ministry for Tourism for this Komodo National Park tour. As always, the opinions, imagery and words are authentically our own.
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Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller. She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health. As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Skye created The Fit Traveller as a beautiful online space and community where people feel inspired to escape the desk to move and explore more.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her insatiable appetite for adventure.