Indonesia Itinerary: Visiting Komodo Dragons

“The island of Komodo in Indonesia. Remote and Barren. Few people live here. It is ruled by a giant reptile. It looks like a survivor from the age of the dinosaurs. The Komodo dragon. Nine feet long. A top predator. Only one thing can challenge a dragon’s dominance. Another dragon.” -David Attenborough

He smells something.

Some people remember the lines of their favorite movie. Others memorize the touching lyrics of a song that speaks to their heart. I recall these words, the introduction to a place that has fascinated me for the last couple of years. After first learning about Komodo Island from BBC’s Life series on the animal kingdom, I was hooked, intrigued, maybe even a little obsessed. After three years of “I’ll go next year,” I have finally stopped being so cheap and coughed up the money for a trip to Indonesia to see these legendary beasts.

This Komodo dragon has an injury on its stomach.
This Komodo dragon has an injury on its stomach.

This is the third itinerary I have written for this blog. The first was on my three-week Italy trip in July of 2012 and the second was my two-week trip to Peru and Machu Picchu a few weeks ago. The purpose of these is to give you an idea of what to do with a limited amount of time in a certain place. I know I mentioned this before, but the inspiration for this series was this article I read on Tofugu, one of my favorite travel (and entertainment) resource sites.

This is my Indonesia itinerary:


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[Note: Since I originally planned to post this Indonesia itinerary before I went, I decided not to delete all that typing and instead let you compare the plan, and what really happened.]

 

July 28

[The Plan]

*Layover in Shanghai – I have 9 hours in Shanghai on my way to Indonesia. While most people hate long layovers, I have said it time and again that it is like a bonus vacation within the vacation to me. While I will attempt to visit the Suzhou Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, my chances look grim. Likely, I will walk around the Bund, see the world financial center, and visit Yunnan Street recommended by the Nomadic Chick blog. I love Chinese food and am excited for what Shanghai has to offer.

Gorgeous Pagoda

[What Really Happened]

*We arrived as expected, but our 9 hour layover turned into a 12 hour stay in Shanghai because of delays (damn you China Eastern!) Shanghai turned out to have one of the best restaurants I have ever visited. The food was unreal, and turned out to be the best meal of the entire trip. Unfortunately, it was 101 degrees F, and Sidney was having a hard time staying conscious. We did have some great views of the Bund in between our visits to air conditioned convenience stores and walked from there to the People’s Square. I must shamefully admit that for the first time in my life, I used an umbrella to block the sun. The highlights, I will say, were the food, and the wonderful water village of Qibao.

Qibao Village in Shanghai
Qibao Village in Shanghai

 

July 29

[The Plan]

* Arriving in Bali, Flying to Labuan Bajo – I am still being flexible with this, but weather permitting, I will fly straight to Labuan Bajo (the airport nearest Komodo) the same day I land in Indonesia. Komodo is the highlight of the trip and while I like laying in the beach as much (read: considerably less) as your average Joe, Bali will have to take a backseat for this one.

Wings - Indonesia Itinerary
These propeller planes have a 100 passenger capacity.

* Labuan Bajo – Since we will arrive around 10-11am, we will spend most of the day negotiating prices for a two day live-aboard boat for our Komodo National Park adventure. I hope to not only trek both main islands (Rinca and Komodo) of the National Park, but to also scuba dive around Komodo Island. This is said to be one of the best diving spots in the world.

Komodo NP - Indonesia Itinerary
Komodo National Park is as beautiful from the air than it is in the ground.

 

[What Really Happened]

*Arriving in Bali – Like expected, we bought our tickets to Labuan Bajo right away. However, this decision was not due to the weather. The plane tickets were mostly sold out and a 4 day trip (July 30-August 2) was the only option that guaranteed a visit to Komodo. Sidney was exhausted but was a good sport and bared through it. I promised her a hotel with hot water, I know, what a baller.

Luwansa - Indonesia Itinerary
This was the Luwansa Hotel’s view from the reception desk.

* Labuan Bajo – The airplane arrived around 12 noon, and our options for accommodation were either a no hot water and no electricity spot for 25 USD/night, or a fantastic 4-star hotel with a private beach, free shuttles, and an amazing view for 45 USD/night (the Luwansa Hotel). There was nothing in between. While I have criticized high end hotels in the past, I am no fool either. The hotel was discounted from 100 a night, and I really wanted that hot water! Sidney was also a trooper that pushed through the pain even though she hadn’t slept since a 5 hour nap on Saturday night, so she deserved it. Everything else went according to plan as we booked a two day live aboard, and a separate diving trip for August 1st.

Luwansa 2 - Indonesia Itinerary
The hotel came with its own private beach!

 

July 30-August 1

[The Plan]

* Komodo – We should be in the Komodo area for at least a few days. It also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, my 51st one. It doesn’t matter though as I would have gone with or without UNESCO’s approval.

 

[What Really Happened]

Boat - Indonesia Itinerary
This was our live aboard boat. It was one of the few cheap ones with a cabin.

* Komodo – According to plan, we went to Komodo National Park from July 30 – Aug 1. The first two days were on a live-aboard ship with just Sidney and I and of course, the crew. We were able to snorkel 4 times in some of the most amazing coral I have ever seen. However, I must say that without proper guidance, it was not the best place to snorkel for beginners. The current took us pretty far away on Pink Beach, and we needed rescue from a nearby boat :(. They tried to sell us stuff after that, but I told them I didn’t want to buy anything and tipped them for the rescue instead. They seemed quite satisfied with that.

Rinca - Indonesia Itinerary
Rinca Island has quite a few fantastic look out points. It is amazing to think that in this place, reptiles still rule the land.

We were able to trek Rinca Island on the first day and Komodo Island on the second day. Rinca was definitely the best one as we saw 8 Komodo dragons, about a dozen deer, dozens of monkeys, and 2 water buffalo. Some of the dragons even had battle damage as it is their mating season. Our guide was locked and loaded with a stick to push the dragons away if they got feisty.

Our guide, Agusti, was very passionate about nature. It was amazing the things he had seen in Komodo. His stories would make BBC Life foam at the mouth.
Our guide, Agusti, was very passionate about nature. It was amazing the things he had seen in Komodo. His stories would make BBC Life foam at the mouth.

Since the wind picked up, our boat scrambled suddenly and moved to Komodo village to anchor for the night. Here, we met Asdar, who became our tour guide the next day on Komodo Island.

Asdar - Indonesia Itinerary
Asdar was a great photographer, but I wish I had a picture of him.

Komodo Island was also cool, but had less dragons as it is a bigger island. It also does not have any monkeys as they tend to live in the mangroves on Rinca Island. We did see a baby komodo on a tree, another dragon near the waterhole area, and a third near the kitchen where the rangers prepare their food. We did two different treks to make the most of our stay and I must say that it was totally worth it.

Baby Komodo - Indonesia Itinerary
I didn’t believe it was real either until I saw it move.

Diving and trekking on the same day would have been suicide, so instead, we booked a separate diving trip within the park for August 1st. This is the best diving I have done so far, and Sidney really loved the snorkeling too. I saw about 10 turtles in all, a lion fish, a shark, and two huge cuttle fish! The coral was also amazing and had an unreal amount of fish. For animal lovers, this is the place to go.

 

[The Plan (which crumbles beyond this point)]

Aug 1 – Aug 2

* Bali, Amed – Head over the Amed beach to snorkel a Japanese ship wreck

* Bali, Tulamben – Tulamben has a USAT Navy shipwreck which can also be reached from the shore. It was destroyed during WW2 and is said to be crystal clear, without the need of any scuba gear. I’ve never seen a ship wreck so I’m pretty stoked.

Aug 3

* Terraces and Traditional Bali Architecture (UNESCO World Heritage Site) – Balinese architecture is famous for its harmonious positions. Hopefully I will learn a thing or two about traditional and modern Balinese culture.

Taman Ayun - Indonesia Itinerary
I expected the Taman Ayun temple to be bigger, but it was still quite something.

* Bali, Blue Lagoon – This area is said to have some pretty cool snorkeling right on the shore and perfect for beginners. Seeing how I am not a strong swimmer and neither is Sidney, this should be a perfect, relaxing end to our stay in Indonesia.

 

[What Really Happened]

Aug 2

* Bali – We arrived in Bali on August 2nd instead of the 1st as we had no choice with flights being sold out. However, I am glad we spent more time in Komodo as it was the highlight of the trip. Despite that very ambitious plan above, we only had time to see the Royal Water Temple of Taman Ayun.

Taman - Indonesia Itinerary
Taman Ayun had quite a few interesting sculptures.

It was pretty nice, but it was under heavy restoration.

I underestimated how large Bali was and how much traffic there would be! Seriously, the traffic in the Kuta region was unreal for a supposed “Island of the Gods.” We only had time for the temple, and a ride to Tulamben for the night.

 

Aug 3

* Since this was towards the end of our trip, we decided to just snorkel the shipwreck we planned, and get some massages. Very few tourists were here beyond the divers, making for a very peaceful ending to our trip.

The USAT Liberty was torpedoed by the Japanese and beached. Later, a volcano moved it to the water.
The USAT Liberty was torpedoed and destroyed by the Japanese during WW2. Coral tends to really like shipwrecks.

 

Aug 4

[The Plan]

* Shanghai pt. Deux –  Another 10 hour layover will allow us to get through any unfinished business. I actually had the choice of refusing this layover but thought it would be fun to check out Shanghai some more.

 

[What Really Happened]

* Shanghai – I was really looking forward to this layover as I liked Shanghai more than I expected. Unfortunately, they our flight was delayed coming out of Bali another three hours, cutting an expected 6 hour layover into 3. We didn’t bother leaving the airport and called it a trip. Annoyingly enough, there was a two hour layover INSIDE the airplane! Nevertheless, we had an amazing trip, so I wasn’t about to make a big deal about this minor bump.

I hope you enjoyed this Indonesia itinerary, and feel free to browse around other itineraries on this blog.

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Julio Moreno

Julio is a California native who has lived abroad since 2009 as an expat in South Korea and New Zealand. He is especially passionate about experiencing other cultures and visiting as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible.
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