Flores: Here Be Dragons

Labuan Bajo is a town completely geared to one thing – Komodo. Sitting in between the islands of Flores and Sumbawa, Komodo National Park is famed for its scenic islands, beautiful marine life and, of course, the iconic komodo dragons that make their home here. The only realistic way to explore this national park is through a tour which range from 1 day to 4 and with varying comfort levels. It’s quite overwhelming when you arrive in Labuan Bajo, particularly after travelling through untouristic Flores, to find dozens of tour operators. I opted for a one day tour to see the main sights, many of which follow the same sort of route.

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A Komodo Dragon on the move…

For ease, I just booked through my hostel who in turn went through a tour company, Kayana, which can be found on the main street. I think It cost a little more to go through the hostel but in my mind it was worth it since they sorted everything and if anything went wrong (which it didn’t) then it would be easier to get sorted. The most popular day trip to Komodo involves visiting Padar Island for the stunning views, followed by either Komodo or Rinca island for the dragons and then a stop or two at a beach and snorkelling spot. Within the tour fee, you should be getting lunch, water and your snorkelling equipment but most tours tend to exclude the national park entrance fee (though check first obviously).

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Insanely early starts = insanely beautiful sunrises.

For me, the tour cost 500,000 IDR for Padar, Rinca and a couple of other stops. It included the things listed above except the entrance fee (which gets you a compulsory guide when visiting the dragons) which cost our group 230,000 IDR each, bringing my total cost for Komodo to 730,000 IDR (just under ₤40). I might have got it slightly cheaper elsewhere but I thought that was reasonable and it was hassle-free to organise so I was happy.

The difference between Komodo and Rinca is that Rinca is a lot closer to Labuan Bajo. My hostel originally told me I’d be going to Komodo but then said because of unpredictable weather, I’d be heading to Rinca instead. From what I can gather, Komodo is a bit more of a exploratory trek to find the komodo dragons, whereas it’s much easier to spot them on Rinca. This is particularly important in July/August (when I visited) because it’s mating season for the dragons and so there are far fewer of them. As a result, Rinca was the preferred choice for me anyway.

The tour involved a 4.45am start(!) as I was picked up around 5.20 by a motorbike which took me to the ferry pier. I was taken to my simple boat, given my lacklustre lunch (seriously, don’t expect much – bring snacks) and snorkelling gear and joined by around 10 others before we set off, enjoying tea and bananas as the sun came up over Labuan Bajo. It took around 2 hours to reach Padar – the sea was quite choppy in places and it got a little chilly so it’s good to take a jacket. On the way there, we skirted past beautifully dusty islands which glowed with the rising sun. By the time we reached Padar, it had clouded over a bit but I don’t think there’s a weather condition out there that could prevent Padar from being anything other than utterly spectacular.

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Padar Island

The island is almost a starfish shape, making it uniquely stunning, particularly from the vantage point at the top of the island. The hike up is relatively easy – it is almost all steps, by which point you’ve got a very good view already. If you want bragging rights, to get to the top is a little more steep and slippery but nothing too bad – I’d definitely advise trainers rather than flip flops. Most people stopped at the steps so it was really nice to get all the way up to the top. The only shame was, because it’s a tour, I couldn’t stay too long and soak it up. I could have stayed there all day – it’s one of the most stunning viewpoints I’ve seen and I would really recommend including it on your tour.

From here, it was another hour or so over to Rinca to see the darlings of the national park. This is where we paid our entrance fee. We were given a ranger who took us round in our boat group to spot the dragons. We saw around 7 or 8 – I’m not sure if that’s good but it certainly satisfied me! They are truly huge and slightly unnerving creatures. Our ranger was great, armed with a pointy stick which didn’t look like it would do a great deal, he gave us lots of information about the komodo dragon including what to do if they attack (basically run… or climb a tree) and how they face a fight for survival from birth with everyone, including their mother, trying to eat them until they are grown up.

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Stuffed.

We almost got to witness a fight between two females when one decided to attack the nest of another, bigger one. However, when she got a look at how big the other one, she wussed out and ran off in front of a whole crowd of foreign tourists. How embarrassing.

By the time we left Rinca it was around 2pm so we eagerly tucked into our lunches… and then eagerly stopped tucking in once we realised how awful they were. I once again reiterate the need for snacks on this trip. Following this, we headed to two snorkelling points, including the tiny Kelor Island which had a tiny beach we could explore. The weather had turned quite a bit now and rain was in the air so nobody quite fancied stripping off and getting cold to snorkel so we all just decided to chill. Snorkellers in the water already said it was pretty ‘meh’ anyway. The water was so clear that just from the boat/pier we could see a few starfish and another, bizarre fish. Because of the inclement weather, we didn’t stop at the famed Manta Point.

After chilling for a while we headed back – of course, lo and behold! As we pulled into Labuan Bajo, the sun came out. It didn’t matter too much though, the trip had still been incredible. Knackered and excited, I had a chilled evening before sleeping very, very well. My jaunt across Flores had concluded in the best possible way and I was very happy indeed.

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