Visiting the Komodo Dragons has been a long-time dream of mine. There’s something so interesting about seeing the deadly world’s largest lizard. They have a poisonous venom that kills large prey slowly and then the dragon can eat the animal, bones and all. Komodos typically eat once a month and will eat 80% of their body weight, so it’s common for them to eat deer, water buffalo, or even young komodos. Only 20 days before my visit, a visitor from Singapore had ventured on his own and been bitten by a komodo so there is some danger in visiting. They can also smell blood from miles away. Little did I know that I would have a run in with these deadly animals when I was on my tour that involved camping in Komodo Park, off the coast of Flores Island.
In February, when I booked my 3 day/2 night trip to camp near Komodo National Park and do some trekking with komodo dragons in May, I looked at the calendar and noticed there’d be a chance it’d be “that time of the month”. But, there was a chance one might be early or late so I predicted the chances at 50%. Nevertheless, I started researching if I’d be allowed to trek in that condition and found no definitive answers via Google – some sites said I wouldn’t be allowed to tour, and others said the guides would ask every woman before the tour and protect any as needed.
The first night in camp, the night before the visit to Komodo Island, it happened. I was debating if I should tell our guide and ultimately told him the next morning. He said I should not go in the forest in Komodo Island, but after seeing the disappointed look on my face, just said “stay close to the rangers”.
We arrived to Komodo Park and immediately saw some juvenile komodo dragons walking about but minding their own business. There were 4 large adult dragons hanging outside the “Kitchen”, where the rangers have their meals. Komodos are attracted by the cooking smell but the rangers said they do not feed them. So we set off in our group of 10, with one ranger in the front and one in the back. I stayed close to the front ranger for awhile but we didn’t see any komodos on the walk. Back near the ranger station we visited the Kitchen again. One of the dragons that was just laying about decided he wanted to start running in our direction. The guides leapt to action with their two pronged sticks and cornered the large komodo dragon. It still tried to run but eventually it realized it couldn’t get past the rangers and just ran off to an open field nearby. I can’t say for sure if it was running after me or if it was just a coincidence but I definitely was happy to have extra protection.
Besides Komodo Island, there was so much to do in and around the park of islands. Wild komodo dragons can only be found on 5 islands in the world, and they are all in Komodo National Park. Only 2 of the islands – Komodo and Rinca take visitors. As a part of taking a 1 day trip and a 3-day camping trip, I was able to visit both, along with many other islands and snorkeling spots.
The 3-day Flores XP camping tour visits all the spots I wanted to visit except for one – Padar Island for the viewpoint. Since I had two full days after arrival until the Flores XP trip, I decided to book one of the cheap day tours in Labuanbajo town. For 400,000 IDR ($30) I got a 12 hour boat trip that visited Padar Island, Komodo Island, Pink Beach, and Manta Point, plus a 1.5 liter water and a box lunch. It was a hot, gravel filled hike up the hill but Padar viewpoint was amazing – the view of a rocky mountain and 3 bays and beaches.
At Komodo park, we saw a young, smaller komodo immediately and then saw a couple huge ones near the “Kitchen”. The komodos are attracted by the smell but we were told they are not fed here. We took a short trek and saw another large komodo by the watering hole. Komodo Island is very dry so there is a hose to attract deer and other animals in the forest for the dragons to hunt.
The third stop was Pink Beach, a beach on the south side of Komodo Island that is pink in color due to red coral that breaks up into small pieces of red sand and when mixed with the white sand looks quite pink. The soft corals at this beach are colorful… like multicolor carpet.
We drove around Manta Point for nearly an hour but didn’t find a manta ray to swim with. In all, we were in the loud, slightly smoky boat for over 9 hours of a 12 hour tour, with a 5:30 am start. I’m not sure if I’d do it again, but the view of Padar is one of the best.
Flores XP 3-day camping, or “Glamping” tour was a totally different experience. The motor was quite a bit quieter so we could actually talk. There were moments of gas smells, but not nearly as bad as the cheap tour.
Day one of Flores XP trip started by pick up at 7:30 at my hostel. We boarded the boat and everyone had arrived by 8:30 – a Mexican family from Singapore, a stem cell researcher from San Francisco, a couple from Belgium, and an accountant and physician from Toronto. This would be our traveling companions for the next 3 days. A diverse bunch, but we got along really well. The day was pretty relaxed, we snorkeled off a private island resort and then snorkeled another spot before going to check out the camp, where we had a couple hours of daylight to explore the beach and see an amazing sunset. After dinner, we had a small bonfire on the beach as we watched the stars above.
Day two started by a trip to Komodo Island (see the story above) followed by snorkeling on Pink Beach and a short snorkel with Mantas at Manta Point. Then it got even more exciting. Due to winds and currents, we got back to camp at 7pm, just as the sky had gone totally dark. The wind was blowing, the waves were crashing, and it was low tide. We first had to transfer from the big boat to the dingy. Then we took the dingy until we got caught up in the dead coral rocks. Getting 15 people to short with 2 flashlights was a challenge. Nearly everyone let out a big sigh when we finally reached the beach.
Day three was the highlight of the trip, despite the gray skies. We snorkeled off of a small volcanic island called Batu Balong. There must have been a million fish here. We swam with a few manta rays at Manta Point and another at a small pink beach at Mawan. This Manta just kept swimming in circles, perhaps because some scuba divers had it partially cornered. We had a bit of time to visit the komodo dragons and Rinca Island. I highly preferred this island to Komodo…much wilder and natural with great viewpoints. Our last stop of the day was Kalong Island. We stayed on the boat and watch 1000’s of bats rise up from the mangrove island to cross the sea to search out fruit on Flores Island. These bats are also called “Flying Foxes” due to their large size and look.
If you visit Komodo Park, make sure you do the other Things to do on Flores Island.