Komodo National Park

Dragon - Komodo National ParkLocation: (near) Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

Visited: July 30-Aug 1, 2013

Site Type: Natural Site

Special Notes:  To properly evaluate this site, I have decided to judge it based on its beauty on the land, in the sea, and through the air. I saw it by land by visiting both Rinca and Komodo Islands on a 2 day 1 night live-aboard boat. The water portion consisted of four snorkeling sites along the way, and a separate scuba diving tour. Finally, the air evaluation is based on the amazing views on our fly over into and exiting Labuan Bajo airport.

Background and Opinion:

Wow…. period. I seriously considered ending my 2 cents on Komodo National Park there and letting the pictures speak for themselves. I must admit that living in South Korea, the country with no nature (ouch, well that’s not entirely true), might have  over hyped this natural wonder for me. Komodo National Park is the antithesis of my wonderful concrete megalopolis that I call my home, and it was everything it was cracked up to be.

Komodo Sign

Considering how long I had been dreaming about coming to Komodo NP, it is surprising that I actually had no definite expectations. Sometimes, I thought it would be extremely untraveled, with just me and a guy with a stick in the entire island fending off thousands of blood thirsty Komodo dragons. Other times, I expected there to be extensive trails and even quite a few places to stay within the National Park itself. I am satisfied that it was a happy middle, with enough development to make it comfortable, but not too much as to make it feel fake.

 

1) Komodo National Park by Land:

The land section of the National Park consists mainly of the islands of Rinca and Komodo. There are lots of interesting animals in these islands, including ….. okay, lets be honest, we all came here to see some Komodo dragons!

Dragon - Komodo National Park

This is not to scoff at the other animals, but no one on earth has ever said “well you know what, I really want to go see those water buffalo on Komodo.” Here are some more Komodo dragons for your viewing pleasure.

Dragon - Komodo National Park

 

a) Rinca Island [Dragon count: 2200]

Rinca was our favorite island because it consisted of more densely packed wildlife. We saw a grand total of 8 dragons here, including an injured one on the trail:

And seven more near ‘the kitchen’ (where rangers cook their food).

Komodo Dragons 6
This guy tried to jump in through the window. I opted to video tape it instead of snapping pictures, so look out for that video soon.

We also saw two water buffalo, one on each of the two main water holes:

More monkeys than I can remember, digging birds, and some deer.

Our guide Agusti was fantastic. He seemed to be very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about nature, which made the experience that much better. These guides might not have the training of the ones in Machu Picchu, but they know what they are talking about:

I felt very safe knowing he had the latest anti-dragon technology.
I felt very safe knowing he had the latest anti-dragon technology.

Last but not least, the views were breath taking:

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.

With views like this and animals running around, you would swear we were in…. well… Komodo National Park!

Nest - Komodo National Park
Let’s not forget the dragon’s nest!

 

b) Komodo Island [Dragon count:  2800]

The larger of the two islands has more Komodo dragons in total, but they are spread out over a larger area, so are less likely to be spotted. Also, while they are attracted to the smell of the kitchen on Rinca Island, Komodo Island has a village on the island, so the dragons have more options as to where to push their luck.

Here, our first dragon was a baby that stuck its head out on a tree:

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

Another one on the path:

Dragons - Komodo National Park

And a final one near Komodo Island’s kitchen.

We also saw a number of deer, including a group of about 10 individuals very close to the Komodo dragon in the kitchen.

They didn’t seem to be scared of the dragon at all, which I found kind of odd. I felt like someone should tell them, “Are you aware that there is an enormous and very deadly 3 meter lizard a couple of feet from you!!!”

Like Rinca, Komodo also has a good spot to appreciate the view. If you have ever seen BBC Life’s series. The episode on Komodo (episode 2) shows this very scene overlooking the Komodo Island beach.

 

As seen on BBC Life
As seen on BBC Life

Komodo Island had more options for treks on paper, but in reality, most of them overlap. There is an “adventure trek” which crosses the entire island, and your boat is supposed to meet you on the other side. Agusti recommended it as the ultimate Komodo trek!

SONY DSC

 

2) Komodo National Park in the Sea

While, of course, you have to take a boat to get to Komodo, the beauty doesn’t stop there and you will miss out on one of the best snorkeling and diving spots in the world if you don’t look below. The amount of wildlife in the ocean floor is, like a friend put it, “National Geographic down there.” Let’s start with the surface though:

 

One of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.
One of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.

a) Islands in Komodo [Over the water]:

Komodo has lots of little islands within its domain. Most of them are just beautiful to look at, as they are mostly untouched and uninhabited.

The sea near these islands is also covered with coral, and at some points, you can actually see the bottom of the ocean from the boat.

 

Snorkel prepared

b) Snorkeling [On the water surface]:

The snorkeling in Pink Beach was hands down, the brightest coral I have ever seen (snorkeling). It was just so colorful and so pretty. The currents were strong, but the coral was unmatched anywhere else.

Kanawa Beach was also a great place to snorkel. This island actually has a handful of cabins to stay the night (very basic, usually meaning no hot water/electricity). We saw enormous sea urchins, huge sea stars, a pretty large blow fish, and even a blue spotted sting ray trying to burrow himself in the sand. This was an amazing sight as stingrays can be rare to see for even scuba divers!

We also snorkeled in Sbayur Beach, but the first two were definitely the highlight.

 

Diver Alex

c) Scuba Diving [Going deeper below]:

I am not an experienced diver, but this was one amazing place to dive. I recommend a professional shop that will put your safety first. Some dives can be dangerous for rookies, and it is not something you want to roll the dice with. I went with Komodo Dive Center and highly recommend it. When I return to Komodo, I will probably use them again.

We first did a drift dive of Siaba Kecil. Since I am not a strong swimmer, this was a difficult dive for me, but totally worth it. It looked like the whole coral reef was moving in front of me and every few seconds, I could see something new, whether I liked it or not. I saw a single turtle, but others in our group saw more, and a couple of reef sharks.

The second dive on Batu Bolong was fantastic. You have to be careful not to stray too far off to the side of the wall as there are very strong currents around the corner of this tiny pinnacle. Here, I saw many more turtles, a lion fish, and a reef shark.

My final dive on Tatawa Basar was the best as I was able to stay underwater for almost an hour. We saw turtles again, but never grew tired of them. The coolest things we saw on this dive, besides the very bright purple coral, were two huge cuttlefish. These guys look like squid, and are related to them, but have far shorter tentacles. Think of them as short chubby Humboldt squid.

Unfortunately, manta rays had not been spotted in Manta Point for a few days, so we didn’t go there. Castle Rock, which is thought by many to be the best dive spot (some claim… in the world), was deemed too advanced for my skill set. People say that you could see dozens of sharks circling at the same time, so rest assured, I will return!

If you love diving, the Komodo National Park official site has almost every dive spot in the park tagged with a detailed explanation. I also took a picture of my dive shop’s map on the wall.

 

3) Komodo National Park by Air

I know it seems kind of silly to consider what the site looks like from the air, but it is seriously majestic. We flew into Labuan Bajo, but I didn’t have my camera at hand. I just wished we had good weather on the way back, and luckily we did. Simply incredible….

 

They call Bali the ‘Island of the Gods, ‘ I guess Komodo is where the gods go on vacation.

 

Evaluation:

1) Completeness / Preservation (15/15): I just wish it was a little more…nothing. Perfection, with no signs of over development. On the land, the dragons rule and it is more likely that they will drive the humans away than the other way around. On the sea, the reefs were undamaged and pristine.

2) Extensiveness of the Site (15/15): I wish I had 2 weeks here. A day trip simply isn’t enough. For the true dive and trekking fanatic, you could be here for a month and not get bored.

3) Natural Significance (21/25): The Komodo dragon is unique to the islands of Rinca and Komodo. They cannot be found anywhere else on Earth, even in captivity. Furthermore, they are an excellent example of ‘island giant-ism,’ the continuous growth of a species when it has no natural predators. Komodo National Park was added as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature… it’s hard to compete with that.

4) Personal Impact (13/15): I will say that I expected the dragons to be a little bigger and a little more active. In every video I have ever seen, they are doing something. The reality is that they mostly lay around to conserve their energy, just like iguanas.

5) Logistics (2.5/10) (5.5/10): I am not saying that it is not worth it, but the system to figure out how to get here could use an upgrade. First off, there is no online ticket sells that I could find for flights from Bali to Labuan Bajo that cost a reasonable amount. Most sells were through brokers who jacked up the price two-fold. In addition, we were lucky to have come with no reservations for hotels and no set plans as the flight tickets were mostly sold out and required us to be very flexible. It is possible that you could come on a one-week vacation and not be able to visit Komodo due to sold out tickets and such. That just shouldn’t be the case for such a world famous site.

I don’t know if it is new or I just wasn’t looking hard enough, but both Meripari Airlines and Wings Airlines have English websites to book your flights. The place is still out of the way, but I would now say it is slightly easier to get to than Machu Picchu.

6) Uniqueness (14.5/20): While it is island giant-ism at work, has amazing coral reefs, and unreal sea-life, I wouldn’t say it is like nothing on earth. However, while I much expect the Amazon forest to be similar in respect to animal abundance, and the Great Barrier Reef to have an equal amount of sea life, good luck finding another enormous lizard anywhere on earth.

 

Combined Score: 84/100

Is this a good score? Find out how it compares in our rankings.

 

**Yeah, I could have made 5 posts out of this huge one… but I hope you enjoyed**

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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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