Our journey along the Flores coast from Labuan Bajo into Komodo National Park was one of the best boat trips we have encountered, only Raja Ampat could rival its beauty. Whilst passing lush green, hilly islands, dolphins playfully jumped alongside our boat, teasing us with a flash of their dorsal fins in the turquoise and deep blue water.
It felt like we were entering a special paradise, one which should be kept secret from everyone else.
But we weren’t here just to see the Komodo Dragons … we were here to dive with manta rays!
Flores is an unspoilt paradise east of Lombok, and was given its name by 16th century Portuguese colonists due to the flowering Deloix regia trees found here. Flores means flowers in Portuguese. The people of Flores are almost all Roman Catholic Christians, unlike the majority of Indonesia which are Muslim.
Most tourists visit Flores for Komodo National Park, but there is more to this island than just diving. Labuan Bajo is the main fishing port and the gateway to the national park, so this town sees the most visitors. Island tours and day trips can be arranged with one of the many tour operators here who offer different experiences, depending on your taste. For a nice viewpoint, head to Blue Marlin dive centre and restaurant. The food is good and you can watch the sun set over the National Park whilst sipping a cold Bintang.
The 10km trek along winding, rocky pathways will take you through jungles, over cliffs and pass cascading waterfalls which could be considered challenging for some. If you want to stay overnight in Wae Rebo to see how the locals live, first you will meet the leader of the village for a simple ceremony which will pronounce you a citizen of Wae Rebo giving you permission to stay. You will sleep in a communal round hut called a Mbaru Niang which can accommodate up to 40 people.
Cost: A day visit is 200,000 IDR. To stay overnight is 325,000 IDR including all meals
Note: The car park is 3km away from the trek start point, you can either walk up the asphalt road to begin the 10km trek, or hire a scooter (pangkalan ojek) for 20k-30k per person.
Komodo National Park was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. At first it was a Terrestrial Park to protect the 2,500 wild Komodo Dragons around the islands of Rinca and Komodo. Later, as conservation goals expanded to protect the entire biodiversity for both marine and terrestrial life, it was made into a National Park.
It’s a diver’s paradise and a top scuba diving destination. For some, Komodo is on their bucket-list, for others it’s their favourite place to dive. Sy actually preferred Komodo to Raja Ampat.
If you are a muck diving/macro lover, you can find frogfish, moray eels, seahorses and colourful nudibranch. If you like your general “aquarium” type fish, they are here in abundance. If “the big stuff” is your thing, you will find sharks, devil rays, and of course, manta rays. Komodo is one of the best places in the world for manta encounters. For current/drift dive adrenaline junkies, this destination must also be added to the top of your list!
Most people come here for the mantas, as did we! I have heard stories first hand from diving friends who had amazing manta encounters, but would we be so lucky?
We wanted mantas, thankfully our prayers were answered, and mantas we got! There are a number of dive sites for viewing these graceful creatures depending on the time of year you visit. During the month of February, we dived Mawan on three occasions which provided three amazing encounters!
We had heard of a Kalong Island which is mostly covered with mangrove trees; the place where thousands of fruit bats live. The fruit bats, also known as flying foxes, can be seen leaving their trees at dusk … not to turn into vampires, but to hunt for the evening.
As we were already in Komodo National Park, we didn’t have to travel too far to wait for our day to end, the sun to set, and for the bats’ evening to begin. The sunset was pretty; the sky turned pink then a few birds started flying into the air followed by a bat. Naturally this started the “bat or bird” game where we would guess what it was flying above us. We are easily amused.
The bats were silent, there was the odd squeaky noise but generally, considering how many were filling the air, I would have thought we would have heard a lot more.
I would say, if you are in the National Park already then it’s worth a detour, but I’m not sure if it’s worth a trip from Labuan Bajo. Reviews on Trip Advisor would disagree.
Komodo Dragons can be found on the islands of Komodo and Rinca (pronounced Rincha) in Komodo National Park, and I had wanted to see them for years!
There is something prehistoric about them which I find fascinating, plus there is a sense of danger at the idea of being near one… after all, they have dragon as part of their name! They may not be the fire breathing dragons made famous from Game of Thrones, but they are still dragons.
It was a hot and humid day and they are cold blooded creatures, so like all reptiles, they lay around not doing a lot. They were chilling outside the kitchen where the rangers’ food is prepared, we were told the Komodos like the smell of food which is why they are here. We were surprised to find them very quickly and, despite assurances they weren’t fed, we saw a ranger with food hidden behind his back.
The guide was right, they are fast. He wasn’t necessarily walking quickly, but was covering a lot of ground with each giant step. Like a snake, his forked tongue flicked in and out sampling the air, and his long heavy tail swished from side to side.
If you want to know more about Komodo Dragon including fascinating facts, read our post Komodo Dragon Hike in Rinca
Komodo National Park is situated within the coral triangle where the cold water from the Indian Ocean meets the warm Pacific, and this creates a tidal shift. The tidal shift means there are strong currents, and in Komodo, they do what they want, when they want, and are very unpredictable.
The conditions at some dives sites can be, shall we say “interesting” at times. One dive site is named The Cauldron because the current has carved out a large bowl before narrowing between two islands, just like a witch’s cauldron, this makes for a very fun time for seasoned/confident divers. At one point in the dive, we hooked into a rock and held onto a line, I was flying like a flag in the current watching marine life pass by. Now I am not a confident diver (despite 150+ logged dives), but I knew this current wasn’t going to drag me anywhere deep so I actually enjoyed hanging there. As I let go, the current swept me away and I felt as though I was literally flying like Superman. It was so much fun, I really enjoyed myself.
Komodo is known for its wild currents, there is even a dive operation called Current Junkies – the name speaks for itself. If you choose to dive here, ensure you know how to deal with currents and trust your dive guide. I won’t lie, sometimes it made my heart rate shoot right up, but other times they were just a lot of fun.
Flying: There are direct flights with Air Asia from Bali to Labuan Bajo, the closest town to Komodo National Park. Flight time: 1 hour
Recommended dive centres:
Uber Scuba are No. 1 on Trip Advisor. They run day trips from Labuan Bajo but also have a liveaboard.
Scuba Junkie are who we stayed and dived with. They are located on the outskirts of the National Park, have dive and accommodation packages, and are leaders in conservation. We have stayed with Scuba Junkie in Mabul and Sangalaki, and have booked to dive with them for my birthday in Penida.
Where to stay in Labuan Bajo, Flores
I won’t lie or dress it up, Labuan Bajo is a bit of an armpit. Most people stay here as it is the gateway to Komodo, to reassess their next destination either elsewhere in Flores, or catch their onward trip in Indonesia. There are many places to choose from to suit your budget. I would advise you look at booking.com for something you like, and cross-reference against Trip Advisor reviews. I cannot recommend the two cheap places we stayed at … so I won’t!
- Currency: Indonesian Rupiah’s (IDR), £1 = 18,000 IDR
- Language: Bahasa Indonesia which is similar to Bahasa Malaysian, and throughout Indonesia in general
- A 30 day free visa is given upon arrival (not for all countries, check with your embassy). If you want to stay longer in Indonesia, you can obtain a 60 day visa in advance at consulates and embassies, or at the airport in Bali, Jakarta and Lombok.
- WI-fi is available in some restaurants in Flores but it’s not always fast or reliable.
- There are plenty of ATM’s in Flores.
- If you can use just a couple of Indonesian words, this will give you big smile in return. If you simply use “Pagi” (morning) and “Terima Kasih” (thank you), it will be hugely appreciated.
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