Why visiting the Komodo National Park?
Because this region is the foreplay to paradise. Think a swim at Pink Beach as a dive in an aquarium. Imagine the sunset at Padar Island as a red and orange aurora of the 100s islands and finally meet the Dragons of Komodo, the closest link to the dinosaur era.
I know it sounds a bit cliché. You know what I mean. Wonderful beaches. Amazing sunset. Outrageous landscape etc etc but honestly, if you read any of my past posts I never write this way. It’s just what I experienced in this trip and I will remember it forever.
It is no surprise that Komodo Island (National Park) is listed as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. That is quite remarkable considering the size and beauty of our world.
How to visit this area?
There are few possibilities and they all include one or more nights cruising in the Komodo archipelago. I will add much more on this later in the post.
Where to go?
There are many beaches, islands, villages and experiences you can do. If you are a diver, this archipelago is a gold mine. If you are after some snorkeling the reef can be as deep as 1 meter which makes it ideal for an easy swim and water exploration.
If you are just after some sailing and island hoping, the Komodo National Park is the perfect location.
Here below a list of 9 must do experiences in the trip to this area. At least try to include Padar Island and Pink Beach
I just want to start clearing some possible confusion in naming.
The Komodo National Park is an Indonesian archipelago made of three islands: Rinca, Komodo, and Padar
Obviously you can cruise there from wherever you like, and boat trips are offered even starting from Bali.
The easiest and quickest way is to fly to Flores from Bali (1 hour and 30 minutes flight) and start you trip from Labuan Bajo, seen today as the gateway to the Komodo National Park.
Flying to Flores will allow you to explore also one of the most traditional villages in this area, Melo.
Try to have a window seat on the flight. Well worth the “fight”. Amazing view of this never ending archipelago of Indonesia.
I start straight away with one of the most magnificent view I have ever had in my life. This photo of the sunset in Padar Island says more than a thousand words.
We anchored in one of the many bays of Padar Island and with a small boat we landed to the beach. From there a steep walk up to one of the few viewpoints.
It took me around 45 minuted to reach my photography spot but it could have been done in 25 minutes I reckon.
That is just because I could not stop myself to have continuous and unneeded rests to look around me. It’s definitely a one million dollar view. Although you can afford it with much less that that LOL
Mother nature delivered a great show with a red and orange aurora on the 100s of islands in front of me. All seen from Pulau Padar
Only later I found out I was actually wrong. What I thought hundreds of islands around me were only a few with a very twisted coast line. A sequence of bays. A never ending view of beaches. A unique contrast in the colours of the green of the exotic vegetation and the white, and sometime pink, of the beaches.
On that evening I met a group of local photographers invited by Fujifilm for the launch of the new XT-2 and X-Pro2. I had a quick chat with few of them on the descend, when it was already dark. They were all mostly disappointed as the sunset was not that good.
Point of views?
No, I think that it was just my first time with a sunset in Padar Island and it was amazing to my eyes. It was not the first time for them and they told me they experienced better light and colours in the past.
That was actually a great push to visit Pulau Padar for another sunset. I needed a good excuse LOL
In my rush to leave our sailing boat I did also forget my torch which made my descend a difficult one.
It is already very slippery by itself and in the full dark can be really challenging. Big tip here, take with you one head light (you can buy it in the Labuan Bajo night market for a couple of dollars if you don’t have one).
I climbed Pulau Padar with my running shoes and I had no problem at all. The descend however was not an easy one. A better grip would have helped.
I definitely don’t suggest to climb with flip flops or bare feet (as I did at Pink Beach 😮 )
Mesa Island is one of the must visit place of any trip in the Komodo National Park.
Because of the history and the people of the Mesa Village.
When I navigated in this archipelago I came to realise how many inhabited islands were around. Definitely a good area for the “Survivor” TV series I thought
I was really surprised when I saw this tiny island fully populated, around 1,500 people, with almost no spare space for new houses. Basically full capacity.
I was even more surprised when I discovered that Mesa Island does not have any water spring and they need to carry all the fresh water from Labuan Bajo (I later found out they have to pay up to $10/month per family, as of statistics from over 10 years ago, which is big money in Indonesia)
Why people would like to live in a place like that?
Because the water around the island is very very (yes twice) reach in fish and food is therefore not a problem.
Interesting that the word “Mesa” can be translated as “table” in Spanish and Portuguese. I really wonder if there is any connection there.
As soon as I landed in this island, tens of children were around me in no time. Everyone wanted to speak English. It’s quite amazing how much we laughed with 5 words of my Indonesian and 10 words of their English.
I than adventured into the village to find a full maze of small lanes and mostly stilt houses spaced out by big old style satellite dishes.
As I usually do in these cases, I turned left on the first occasion to explore some of the side streets, leaving the main walking path behind me.
I initially had my all round lens on my camera, a 24-120mm focal length. I soon realised it was the wrong one. The best part of this village is its inhabitants. I mounted my 50mm instead, perfect for any portrait, close-up and life documentation.
I just had a long walk. I met people of all ages and I had a great time just observing the local life, so far away from what I am used to…and probably what most of the Australians, Europeans and Americans are used to.
I did not see any kid playing with video games, mobiles or tablets. I saw instead children playing with balls, self-constructed cars and any kind of street games.
I was really happy that people would ask me to take a photo of them, children and elderly included. They just wanted to see themselves into the camera LCD.
The only pity was that time just flow away and I had to go back to my boat.
I felt I scratched only the surface of this unique village and a new visit is well deserved.
I guess the Komodo Dragon was my main first motivation for the trip to this archipelago.
I say “was” because after my experience in Padar Island I had to re-arrange my Komodo NP bucket list.
Pulau Padar is now on top, however my experience with the Komodo dragons is not that far off, it’s a big fight…and talking about fights, well, this prehistoric gigantic lizard is a big fighter.
It does not look like that, it seems sleepy and slow, it does not give you any sign of aggression but you can’t trust its brain which may take its own time but ultimately it may attack you.
This is to say that you should not get too close and listen to what the guides say. Keep in mind that the biggest Komodo Dragon is around 3 metres which is a remarkable size
We were said that usually visitors are organised in bunches of 4-6 people with a guide. It’s more about security and being sure there is always an experienced person around.
So we started our walk through Komodo Island in small groups. We followed a 2km path through the forest that eventually took us to a resting point where we had lunch.
We did not see any dragon. I was a bit surprised and somehow disappointed. Although you can’t push nature. Animals are around, they may have just a rest somewhere. We indeed see the entrance to the dragon shelters, basically long caves (we did not get too close though).
Lucky, just behind the resting point, we spotted 2 sleeping dragons (it was already midday, siesta time).
The Komodo Dragon is not that scaring and we all got as close as just 2-3 meters away. We trusted our guides and their magic stick.
As I said before, these can be seriously dangerous animals, they are carnivorous. I found this interesting article on BBC news that give more of an idea.
What is the Komodo Dragon eating?
They love the deer meat and you can spot few alive deer around. They also love buffalo, chickens and pigs.
And yes, they killed humans in the past. The guide told us a very tragic story which hopefully it was only to impressed us.
But the guides have a magic stick. I call it like that but it’s nothing special. It’s just a 2 meter stick which splits in a V shape at the end. I am not sure what could they do with that, if the Komodo Drangons decides to have a meal. But it seems working fine.
I was happy to experience the couple of dragons ….but not fully happy with my photography. That’s when I decided with another 3 travellers to engage one of our guides to walk up the beach.
I was more imagining of a nice shot with the blue water on the background to contrast the green/brown skin.
We walked along the beach for 20 minutes and……here it is, a big dragon, around 2.5 meters long. Of course we were all very happy and the guide offered even to stimulate the Komodo Dragon to walk, with his stick. So we could have some more interesting and dynamic photos instead of some static shots.
It was indeed an awesome experience. Always far away from the animal, security distance.
My big tip here is to try to engage a guide after the routine walk they offer you and go along the beach. You may be lucky, you may be not. But it’s definitely worthwhile. We gave a $10 tip at the end, also considering the risk he took.
I have added more practical information at the end of the post about getting to Komodo Island and Komodo Dragon tours.
And here is my favourite beach in the Komodo National Park, Pink Beach.
I was born in Italy and, although I moved abroad 20 years ago, I still have so many Italian friends that tell me how beautiful are the Sardinia beaches. I was last year in Mauritius and, honestly, I made probably my best ever photos with beaches as the main subject.
I could keep going on with other examples.
Komodo Island Pink Beach was as beautiful as the other just mentioned, especially considering the marvellous colour, coming from a mixture of white sand and red sand, formed from pieces of Foraminifera.
What to me stood out was the unique snorkelling.
I could not believe I was just 10 meters from the beach and, still, I felt like in an aquarium! Usually fish don’t come so close to land.
My tip here is not to spend all the time at the beach and instead climb up to the view point on the left side of the beach, the highest point around. Magnificent view to the horizon.
Just don’t be as unprepared as I was. I climbed bare feet. I thought to go up just 5-10 metres, but than I said, well maybe another 5…till I reached the top. Let’s just say I had a challenging descent.
In Kanawa Island I had probably one of my best snorkeling ever.
The reef is about 500m from land (but it could be more) and you can access only with a small boat. Swimming from the beach may be an option, definitely not with my skills LOL
Imagine turquoise water, clown fish as you have watched on “Nemo”, Moorish Idols, Angel fish, Butterfly fish, Trumpet fish, all there just centimetres from you.
The reef can be as shallow as half a meter, therefore always pay attention to how you use your fins otherwise you may break the coral.
Really like swimming in an aquarium.
The good thing is that there is still no mass tourism, therefore you will most probably experience it by yourself or with the group you joined. The coral has no sign of any damage, which is great. Hopefully it will continue that way.
This photo was taken by my friend and travel photographer Juno Kim of RunAwayJuno.
Pulau Kalong, also called Bat Island, is located near Flores and it’s more likely that you will visit it on the way back to Labuan Bajo.
Make sure sure it is included in your package (more on this later) because otherwise you will miss an amazing show of mother nature.
The time I visited it I was tired. I had a long day. I started it very early and I spent it mostly under the sun. I visited the Komodo Dragon Island and certainly I was never relaxed with these big lizards around me.
When we arrived to Pulau Kalong the sun was just setting and the colours were amazing.
I thought, well, beautiful but ok can we go back to the hotel?
I was so tired.
Suddenly I heard something, a loud screeching and scratching.
We were on our boat facing Pulau Kalong. a small island made uniquely of mangroves, an impenetrable spaghetti forest.
Unexpectedly I saw thousands of big birds flying from the centre of the island, direction Flores.
After a few questions to the local sailors I understood they were not birds, they were actually a special mammals family….they were huge bats!
I was really open mouth, not only for the size of these bats but also the quantity.
It was a never ending swarm. It lasted forever.
It was quite interesting how they all waited in the cavern in the centre of the island till sunset. They were all getting ready for the night hunting.
I reckon we stayed there for at least 20 minutes and by the time we left I could still see bats flying to Flores. All screeching and scratching
And guess what….after that mother nature show I was not anymore tired 🙂
The Melo village is one of the easiest excursions when in Flores, especially if you are staying around Labuan Bajo.
It is a 1 hour drive through a winding road; I can’t remember more than 200 metres without a bend!!
Melo is a traditional village of Flores.
It is based on just few houses and used by the locals to show how the traditional life was….. probably not too long ago.
I was there with a group of people and we received a lovely welcome with a traditional ceremony.
Why should you visit the Melo village?
Because you may want to experience few of the traditional ceremonies, you want to taste the local cuisine, you like to see the original houses or you just prefer to have a talk with some of the locals, with the help of the guide translating for you.
Few of the people in the Melo village were also dressed with warriors clothes and they initiated a traditional whip fight. In the past it was part of a “championship” involving the different villages in this area of Flores.
Definitely lots of adrenaline. The warriors were not certainly going easy when we were there. I can’t imagine when the competition is on.
This is the only beach of Labuan Bajo, around 2 km from town.
I was there in the late afternoon for some sunset photography.
The beach as such was not that great. Unfortunately it was a bit dirty as well. I guess it can be quite nice with high tide. We always need to remember that any plastic bottle in the sea, sooner or later, will arrive to a beach. I live in Melbourne and it’s exactly the same in winter, when the council does not organise a regular cleaning.
But, if you have the photography bug, than I would definitely suggest a visit to the Pantai Pede beach. Walk a bit along the beach and you will encounter a few traditional fishing boats, mostly with kids playing around. A great subject for some travel photography. Silhouettes work great as the sun will set in front of you.
Labuan Bajo is the gateway to the Komodo National Park.
From this town you can organise any type of trip, from diving to snorkeling, from trekking to climbing the interior of Flores, without forgetting the world famous Komodo Dragon tours.
You can go for a small boat or a full traditional wood made Phinisi boat or even a powerful motor boat. Really the choice is wide, as well as the price you are willing to pay (more on this later in the post)
The town by itself is quite interesting. It’s based on a main street running along the coast. There are two harbours. The one for small boats, at Pantai Kampung Ujung, and the one for the more organised cruising tours, the Kantor UPP Kelas III, also used by the ferries coming to Flores.
Most of the travellers head down to the Pantai Kampung Ujung night market where you can find some street food as well. Obviously all based on fresh fish 😀
During the day you can also visit the TPI Kampung Ujung, just 100 metre from the small harbour. This is a fish market that sells, based on few comments from the locals, the freshest fish in town. I may also add how good is this place for some travel photography.
On the main street there is a multitude of restaurants, bars and diving centres.
To get to Komodo Island you will have to navigate through the Komodo National Park archipelago. This can be done in a few ways. Let’s start with the easiest option.
This is by far the easiest way: start and organise your trip from Labuan Bajo.
There are a few agencies that organise these kind of trips.
I had a multi-day trip with a Phinisi boat, the old wood made traditional sailing boat you may have seen in few of the pirates movies.
I had a fantastic experience with the operator called Plataran. If you have a big group of people it makes sense to book this or a similar one. We were in 20 of us. Most of the cabins were en-suite.
These are luxury trips that may look expensive however if you think what they deliver, a dream cruise, suddenly they become affordable.
I spent most of the night on the deck watching stars. The view was extended down to the horizon. I experienced something similar only in the desert. Really unique
Alternatively you can book day trips with :
Beside Plataran, the Phinisi boat I used, the other cruises were suggested by few travellers I met.
The cost is similar for most of the operators. The difference may be in the visited sites. In the multiday trips I would definitely check that Pulau Padar is in the cruise. That sunset was my highlight.
If you are in Singapore or Jakarta and you are planning to spend a few days in Komodo Island, be prepared to fly first to Bali.
I can only suggest that, if you need to stay overnight in Bali, as I did, try to book the Novotel Bali Ngurah Rai Airport Hotel. The price is absolutely a bargain.
The traffic in that part of Bali, around the airport and Kuta, can be really heavy. Sleeping at the airport will allow you to take the first flight in the morning without stress.
I have slept in a few airport hotels, and the Novotel Bali Ngurah Rai is by far the best I have ever experienced. I felt like in a resort with a beautiful swimming pool that I used straight before dinner. Very well insulated, absolutely no noise from the flights, and great breakfast too.
The easiest way is to fly to Flores and organise a trip from Labuan Bajo. The flight is only one and half hour and the Flores airport is very close to town.
There are however another two ways.
If you have some spare time and you are on a budget you can take the 36-hours ferry from Bali to Labuan Bajo. The inter-island ferry is run by PELNI, the national public service and it departs from the Benoa port twice a month. Check and enquiry directly as time may change based on seasons
Another option is a long cruise from Bali straight to Komodo Island. Three years ago I took a cruise with Perama to the Gili islands and I was absolutely satisfied with the service and punctuality.
They do offer also a longer cruise to the Komodo Island.
Wisata Bahari just launched three new cruises with the collaboration of PELNI. This may be an option too.
There are again different ways to make it. When I was in Lombok I saw many trips on offer.
You can do a bus & ferry trip to Labuan Bajo but be ready with some spare time. It will take around 36 hours.
The alternative is to take a boat from Senggigi, one of the main backpackers villages in Lombok, and in 3-4 nights you will be able to experience the Komodo National Park.
I do not have any cruise to suggest as I did not do this trip. I flew instead to Flores.
The only thing I can say is to really verify how many people will be on the boat. I read and heard of a few operators that overbooked the boat and in case of problems you are literally on your own, without maybe a life jacket.
When I was in Senggigi I had a look to the many possibilities and they all look very similar. It’s an hard choice, I must be honest. My 2c here is to spend a bit more if the offered cruise looks safer.
Pulau Padar is a dream destination for any travel photographer and, honestly, anyone that just want to shoot the beauty of these islands.
I start straight away with a big statement. You do not need to have a big camera to make beautiful photos. Although it does help.
One of my best photo in Padar Island was actually made with a mobile. I usually start with the camera phone to see what a good composition could be. Even before setting a tripod, which can be a lot of effort.
Here is the end result after some post-processing with Snapseed (more info here on the Best Travel Photography Apps)
What gear did I have with me?
I used a Nikon D610, probably the lightest full frame DSLR in the market. I used mostly two lenses:
The 24-120mm is an heavy lens to carry around however it always delivers great photos. It can be used as a wide angle lens, mostly for landscape photography, and it can be used at 120mm as a good size zoom.
When I visited the Komodo Island I used the 120mm focus length for some close-up of the Komodo Dragons, otherwise impossible to do. If you have a zoom up to 80-110mm it will also do.
In the Padar Island I used mostly the wide angle range. Sometime I even did multiple photos to stitch later together. Have a try. It’s more work however the end result is a super high quality photo that could be printed in big format.
I also used the zoom side of my lens during the whip fights in the Melo village.
The 50mm f/1.8G was essential in my exploration of the Mesa village. I was so happy with few of my portraits. It’s not just about the quality of the lens. It’s also about the size of this lens, small and unpretentious. Definitely my favourite lens.
You will make some photos from the boat, as at Pulau Kalong on sunset. Try to work in shutter priority mode using an ISO value of 1600 or even more and shutter speed of 1/200s (assuming your focal length, the zoom, is less than 100mm). That’s the best start to have sharp photos. If you can use 1/400s it is even better.
In Padar Island I met a group of Fujifilm guys testing the new Fuji XT-2. I was blown away by the quality. Great camera, no question about. I am really looking forward to review it, as soon as possible.
I was a bit envious too. My bag was quite heavy and seeing the size and weight of the Fuji gear made me thinking once again. Should I move to the mirror less world?
I spent two nights in Labuan Bajo and I stayed at the Jayakarta Suite.
Book the beach front rooms for the majestic view at sunset! Lovely swimming pool and a good breakfast too. The beach side is not the best I have seen but that’s ok for a few nights stay.
The price is a bargain. It’s around 2-3km from Labuan Bajo, on the beach side of town.
If you want to stay in town there are other few good options in this list.
The Komodo National Park is definitely super hot. One of my best trip ever.
I was also lucky I did the cruise on a marvellous traditional Phinisi boat, however the main subject was really the nature and the villages around me, more than the way to reach the destination.
My final suggestions:
….and enjoy this beautiful archipelago, one of the 7 wonders of nature
Because of the importance to have first-hand experience, I accepted in this trip the assistance of Tourism Indonesia, however I never promised a positive coverage, just my honest experience.