It’s sad but it’s happening. Due to conservative efforts, Indonesia’s Komodo Island is closing temporarily for about a year starting from January 2020. “The meeting concluded that Komodo Island will be closed in January 2020,” said Marius Jelamu, East Nusa Tenggara administration spokesperson. This closure and conservation effort was started from an attempt to smuggle 41 komodo dragons, allegedly to be sold abroad for around thirty five thousand dollars each.
“Our hopes are of course the same as all other tourism actors, namely that in the future Komodo Island can better accommodate and serve tourists through overall better infrastructure, as well as of the Komodo dragons’ habitat, which should continue to be well-maintained,” said the head of The Association of Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies’ (ASITA) NTT branch, Abed Frans.
Now that the clock is ticking, while you can still have an upclose meeting with these giant lizards and enjoy other kinds of tourist attractions around Komodo Island, you should definitely go there. Here’s how you can start experiencing Komodo Island.
When you’ve arrived
The small town of Labuanbajo on the large island of Flores isn’t actually part of the park but functions as the gateway where all boats depart from, making it one of the most scenic transport hubs in the world; a fishing village staving off development and offering epic Indo sunsets and a ramshackle, tropical vibe to those passing through.
Highlights here include eating fresh lobster (for a few rupiah) at the night market, a selection of lovely snorkelling and swimming spots and – if the bright, burnt yellow coastal landscape starts to make your eyes ache – a placating trek through rural villages and farmland to the pale blue pools of Cunca Waterfall, hidden in the island’s interior.
You can only enter Komodo National Park on an organised boat trip from Labuanbajo. Some tours will tell you it’s possible to whip around ‘everything’ in a day, but it’s far more rewarding, relaxing and responsible to stretch the adventure out to at least a few nights on a weather-beaten but sturdy liveaboard boat. A voyage around the Unesco-protected reserve with an experienced local crew not only gives a sense of authenticity to the adventure, but also directly benefits the local community and economy.
Entering the dragon’s lair
Komodo Island is a juggernaut when it comes to wildlife destinations. The isle is home to some 25 endangered species, plus thousands of migratory birds that nest in the dense foliage scattered beneath Mount Satalibo.
Then, of course, there are the dragons. Spotting one is a bucket-list experience for many nature enthusiasts and there’s an added romance to seeing these beasts in their eponymous homeland.
The dragons on Komodo Island are not as easy to spot as Rinca, even though they are larger and more plentiful. But it shouldn’t take long on a guided hike – and you must visit with a guide – to come across these scaly monsters, especially in the early morning when they move about their natural habitat with a quiet confidence. By noon, the dragons tend to rest in small groups in the forest shade or in their burrow. You don’t need to be closer than 10m or so to get a sense of the animal’s prehistoric origins, with their thick scaly skin and powerful whipping tails.
A word of warning though: the dragons can smell blood for miles, so be careful what’s in your rucksack and to clean any wounds before venturing out. The dragons have a fierce bite and have been known to startle and even attack some wayward travellers. Keep your wits about you.
Other things to do
Of course, Komodo isn’t the only thing you can enjoy while you’re there. There are lots of other things you can do. In fact, you can go to the places listed below instead when Komodo Island closes its doors temporarily.
Climb Padar Island
On the south coast of Padar, one of the three larger islands in Komodo National Park, a rocky summit offers a unique view of three differently colored sandy coves—volcanic black, coral pink, and powdery white. The climb to the top is short but steep, but the effort is worth it. The panorama of land, sea, and sky is spectacular; not surprisingly, it’s a favored spot for envy-inducing sunset selfies.
Cruise the islands in a luxe phinisi
The best way to explore Komodo National Park is by water, whether on a chartered day boat, a liveaboard dive boat, or a luxe version of the traditional two-masted phinisi, such as the Ombak Putih or the Ayana Lako Di’a. On the water, travelers find a wild marine menagerie to rival the fantastic beasts on land. Most cruises can be booked on Flores Island.
Enjoy the view of the Crystal Rock
The tip of this pinnacle is visible from the surface; we descend with the current into the blue to find this stunning rock formation and stay into the split of current waiting for grey reefs and white tips to join us at 22 m. The action here is incredible, big schools of bat fish and the chance to see dolphins or eagle rays. The rock is encrusted with barrel sponges and colorful corals, which made the topography just as exciting as the marine life.
Once we reach the end of the dive we drift around to the protected lee of the rock at 12 m, where we can find juvenile white tips, octopus and maybe even a pygmy seahorse. Enjoyed with or without current but, more current, more action!
Go to the Secret Garden
From the shallows to the depths, this soft coral garden is home to cuttlefishes, frogfishes, seahorses and much more macro. Enormous stingrays frequent the sandy bottom and mobula rays are often seen passing by, sometimes in large numbers.
There is a small wall that stretches from 14 m to 28 m, here we can look for white tips and enjoy the reef fishes hunting the huge numbers of glass fishes that seek protection in the large tree like coral formations. This site is not known for strong current and can be a photographers dream.
Swim with the rays
At Manta Point, northeast of Komodo Island, manta rays gather along a lengthy reef with a sand bank down the middle. Cleaner wrasse, butterfly fish, and other small fish that live here provide “cleaning stations” for the mantas, grooming them of dead skin and parasites.
Snorkelers and divers can spot these graceful sea creatures gliding through the water at depths of a few feet to more than 30 feet. Mantas may move like ballerinas—but they can grow to be up to 16 feet wide. A quiet swim with these gentle giants, whose tails are barbless, can feel like a gift from the sea.
Take a stroll in the Komodo Village
In addition to enjoying the natural charms of Komodo National Park, you can also mingle with and get to know the natives of Komodo Island who populate Komodo Village. Located in the outer part of West Manggarai Regency, it is inhabited by more than 1,700 people.
During your visit, you can see the locals conducting their day-to-day. The locals are also skilled craftsmen who are apt at carving dragon statues which they sell to tourists for an income. Visitors are encouraged to buy the statues as a gesture for visiting the village.
All in all, you should always remember to be mindful of how you can impact the environment as well as the local economy. Therefore, don’t forget to be a responsible tourist in wherever you go and enjoy your holiday!