You have seen the footage on BBC’s series ‘Life,’ read my evaluation article telling you how awesome it is, and have convinced yourself that this is a place you just HAVE TO SEE with your own eyes… hmm… now what?
Finding information on the logistics of how to get to Komodo National Park wasn’t easy, and I must say that some of the information I read was outdated. As Komodo’s popularity is continuously increasing, the logistics are ever changing and the latest news is necessary. These are the steps to take if you want to visit Komodo National Park the fastest way possible, without breaking the bank:
[Visited July 30 – August 1, 2013]
Getting to Komodo by AIR
Step 1) Get to Indonesia
The national park itself has no airport of any kind. The closest town with an airport is Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores and it is NOT an international airport. This means that unless you are living in Indonesia, you have to get there through one of their other airports. Most international tourists (80%) arrive to Indonesia via Denpasar, Bali, which is what we did. This is by far the most convenient airport as it has many international connections, and is only about an hour flight from Labuan Bajo.
View larger map Note 1: While it officially changed its name to Komodo Labuan Bajo Airport, no one seems to call it that yet. Be advised that “Labuan Bajo” is the correct airport.
Step 2) Fly to Labuan Bajo
Unfortunately, only three local airlines regularly fly to Komodo Labuan Bajo Airport: Wings Air, Merpati Nusantara Airlines, and TransNusa Air. However, only the first two have updated websites in English (click on the airline name to link to their websites). The airport in Labuan Bajo has a single runway in which only 100-person propeller airplanes can land, meaning that seating is limited, and seats do sell out. I decided to wait until I arrived to see what the weather was like, but many key dates I wanted to go on were booked.
Note 1: The airport is scheduled to accommodate Boeing 737 airplanes in late Sept, 2013 when the runway is expanded. This will definitely mean more accessibility, so expect more airlines to fly there in the near future.
Note 2: The earliest airplane to leave Bali bound for Labuan Bajo leaves at 8am. However, pretty much every tour to Komodo from Labuan Bajo starts at the crack of dawn, around 7:30am. Don’t expect to set off to Komodo the same day you fly as it is logistically not possible. The islands of Rinca and Komodo are far enough away (1.5 hours and 4 hours respectively), and you should use the day you arrive to shop around for the perfect tour for you and get settled in.
Step 3) Finding a Boat that fits YOUR needs
To get to Komodo National Park, you need to take a boat from Labuan Bajo (they are islands after all). Here, you have a couple of options. You either go on a one day trip to Rinca Island (a bit rushed), a 1 night 2 day trip to Rinca and Komodo Islands (happy middle), or a 2 night 3 day trip to the two islands with the same itinerary, but at a more relaxed pace. All trips usually include snorkeling, but the gear may or may not be included, so you should ask. These are just the most common trips, but if you have the money, negotiation savy, time, and patience, you can always work something else out with either the boat captains directly, or the tour companies. Personally, I took the 2 day 1 night trip. The town of Labuan Bajo has one main street near main dock, and it mainly accommodates the tourism industry exclusively. People who seem to be in the know-how suggest that instead of going through these shops, you should go directly to the boat captains on the dock and negotiate with them. Apparently, you will get a much better deal by cutting out the middle man. However, the boat captains often don’t speak much English, so you run the risk of communication issues.
Note 1: It is important to know that most captains charge PER BOAT and not PER PERSON. This means that if you get more people to go along, you should be able to split the cost evenly. This is something that the tour companies in the shops seem to conveniently forget at times. I noticed some tour companies would split the cost evenly and some would just offer a discount per person. Play hardball! I weighed the pros and cons of both situations, so you decide which one is best for you:
Dealing with the boat captains:
1) Cheaper price
2) You can actually see the boat you will be riding
1) Possible language barriers
2) Less shopping around
3) More difficult to ask specific questions
4) More difficult to bargain
5) Hard to know what is exactly included
6) Difficult to make any special requests
Dealing with tour shops:
1) Easier to see many options in a short time
2) Easy to see exactly what is included
3) All shops have English speakers
4) Can ask as many questions as you may have
1) More expensive
2) The shops don’t always have pictures of the boat
3) They are interested in their profit, and as the middle man, this isn’t very big so they will try to take you for as much as they can
It is really up to you, but we opted to take the shops since the price difference wasn’t that much. They say to expect to pay around 2 million Rupiah (200 USD) if you deal directly with the captains. To me, the possibility of not getting what I expected in a place that I have dreamed of visiting for the last 3 years was not worth saving 40 dollars.
Shopping for these boats is much like shopping for a computer. There are many small differences that are mildly significant by themselves, but together, make a big difference. However, like computers, unless you know and understand what those options are, it really will not make a difference to you. Here are the options that are offered, and their importance.
1) Snorkeling: Pretty much every trip I was offered included some snorkeling. They offer either 3 or 4 places to snorkel. Our boat was one of the few that offered 4, but to be honest, I felt like the 4th was just offered to make the deal sound better. In reality, there was almost nothing to see in the ‘bonus’ spot. I would say that Pink Beach and Kanawa Beach were the best places we stopped in. The third (Sbayur) was alright, and the last one was forgettable. Ask if there will be snorkeling and if the equipment is included in the price. We had to pay for the fins, which were an additional 15,000 IDR / 1.5 USD (per person per day), but the masks were included.
2) Food: Every boat seemed to include the food at part of the price. It doesn’t hurt to ask though, just to make sure. The boat captain and the crew we went with were amazing cooks, and definitely the best food we had in Indonesia.
3) Komodo National Park Fees: There were a few shops that included a guide as part of the package. I also heard of a boat that included the fees to the park. The overwhelming majority, though, do not include this. Make sure to make the appropriate calculations to see what is the true value of what is offered. You are required to pay a National Park entrance fee (20,000 IDR / 2 USD per person), a camera fee (50,000 IDR / 5 USD per camera), conservation fee (50,000 IDR / 5 USD per person) and a required tour guide (80,000 IDR / 8 USD total, not per person). Just be advised of the value of freebies they might offer. You will also be required to pay another 80,000 IDR / 8 USD for another guide if you visit both islands (all other fees only have to be paid once).
4) Flying Bats: Every shop offered a trip to see the ‘flying foxes,’ which are giant fruit bats indigenous to the area. However, I didn’t see them, nor did I meet a single person who actually saw them, but they kept being promoted at every shop day after day. These bats don’t always appear, and it is just the nature of things. In the wild, you can’t always control what you can see. I think that the boat captains knew that they wouldn’t appear though, as it was never announced that we were headed to see them, and seemed surprised when I asked about it. Here is a video of people who DID see them, so my theory is that while they do exist, they might be seasonal, and the tour companies conveniently don’t stop advertising it to entice people to go.
5) A Closed Cabin Room:** In a warm, tropical place like Komodo, I would not mind sleeping on the deck of a ship if it was warm enough. Looking for a boat with a closed cabin was not something I would have looked for is Sidney wasn’t prone to seasickness. It proved to be the most valuable perk.
I heard horror stories of people who had to sleep on the deck. The seas can get rough in this area, and the people on the deck feel the worse of it. One guy I met detailed how his mattress kept sliding from side to side on the deck, ramming against the side of the boat. He said that if he wasn’t awake the whole night grabbing the railing, his whole mattress could have slipped into the ocean. He couldn’t sleep anyways though, as the seas were so rough, water splashed on his face all night. Yeah, I am glad we bargained for that cabin. That story, together with Sidney’s seasickness were enough to make us look for a boat with a cabin where you can sleep in a closed-in space.
Most non-luxury boats that had a cabin were in the 3.5 million IDR / 350 USD range. Across the board, it seemed that the inclusion of a cabin drove the price up by about 50%. Fortunately, we were able to find a shop that offered a cabin boat for 2.4 million, the same price the other shops were offering the non-cabin boats. The seas are unpredictable and the last thing you want is to be up all night, and then go hiking with deadly Komodo dragons the next morning at the crack of dawn.
We went to about 10 shops (at least) and got quoted as high as 5 million Rupiah (luxury boat) to as low as 2.3 million Rupiah (230 USD). We took a 2.4 million Rupiah (240 USD) that promised meals, 4 snorkeling sites, and a cabin to sleep in. We decided not to team up with other people so that we could hike and snorkel at our own pace. At 120 USD a person for everything that was offered, I do not regret the decision at all.
Step 4) Set off the Next Morning and Have a Blast!
Komodo National Park is truly a natural gem. Try to enjoy it as much as possible by sleeping early so you have energy for it the next day. Don’t forget to bring a camera.
Final Note: Diving is available in Komodo National Park and is considered one of the best places in the world to go down below. I advise that you take a separate diving trip before or after trekking the islands as you will have far more options on dive spots, and you won’t be as tired. For more info, check out my “Sea Section” of my Komodo National Park Review.
Now that you know how to get to Komodo National Park, what are you waiting for? GO NOW!