How to get to Komodo National Park?
Think…not easy. Boat is the only option. There are no public ferries currently operating between Sumbawa and Flores that stop at either Komodo Island or Rinca Island. Rinca receives a few more visitors than Komodo because it’s nearest to the port of Labuan Bajo in Flores. Labuan Bajo is the main jumping-off point for trips to Komodo National Park, and I recommend chartering a boat from here rather than Sape; Sape has a reputation for not very sea-worthy boats. You can even do a day trip to Rinca. Your boat will leave Labuan Bajo around 8:00a, sail for two hours to Rinca, and then return via snorkeling spots. The boats hold up to 10 passengers. A day-trip to Komodo Island takes four hours each way, harder to do in one day but still doable. Another option is to take a 7-day cruise from Bali that stops at these islands. Whatever you do, make sure your boat has a radio and lifejackets! These isolated islands are surrounded by some of the worst seas in Indonesia with rip-tides, whirlpools and horrendous storms.
This information is deadly serious. A Bali-based Perama tour boat went down March 28, 2011 near Komodo Island during a big storm; seventeen tourists were aboard along with eight crew. Everyone did survive reporting that, “Most of the lifejackets could not be used. They were knotted, tied together and stuck underneath a mesh cloth that was difficult to open,” and the vessel’s lifeboat was not operational. Let’s talk shades of Titanic minus an ice berg.
A chance to experience a private chartered boat ride through the Komodo archipelago is considered to be a highlight by most tourists. Steve and I would spend one night on board the boat and have all 10 bunk beds to ourselves. A bathroom with western toilet is located on the main deck; there was a cook who would prepare meals; and we were assured that, yes, there were life jackets on the boat and a radio. The captain co-ordinates with the harbor officer at all times for permission to boat. If the harbor officer says the weather is too bad, the trip must be postponed. That would be a real bummer since this trip was specifically arranged to visit the Komodo Dragons in its natural habitat.
We chose April for this visit based on advice from Happy Trails who said dragons mate in May and disappear at this time into the bushes making them harder to locate. (They like to do their mating in private.) Both Komodo and Rinca are hilly and desolate islands, sandwiched between Flores and Sumbawa. This is the only place where one can see the legendary Komodo dragons, the world’s largest lizard.
Komodo National Park includes three major islands: Komodo, Rinca, Padar, and numerous smaller islands. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you must have a local guide (ranger) accompany you (unless you have a death wish) while trekking on both Komodo and Rinca Islands; guides are available on both islands. It cost 50,000 IDR ($5.00 U.S.) for a ranger, conservation fee of $15.00 U.S./person, entrance fees and camera fees, for a total of $25 U.S. per person a day.
Pray for good weather, non-mating Komodo dragons and let’s go…