Komodo National Park

UNESCO World Heritage Site in Flores, Indonesia

The Komodo National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that spans the islands of Komodo, Rinca and Padar, along with several smaller islands and the western part of Flores, plus the surrounding waters. The park is the only place on the planet where the Komodo dragon is found in the wild. The largest lizard in the world, the Komodo lives on the buffalo, deer, wild horses and pigs, monkeys and other animals found here. Although they have been known to attack humans, the dragons are generally well fed; however, it is essential to have a guide with you at all times.

The national park is also renowned for its magnificent marine life that is fed by the constant underwater seismic activity resulting from its position at the junction of two continental plates. The strong tidal currents that flow through the Sape straits also carry rich nutrients back and forth between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Divers and snorkelers alike will delight in the beautiful, clear waters with their pristine coral reefs and countless species of fish, dolphins, dugong, turtles, sponges, seahorses and squid.

While there are a few hotels and guesthouses in nearby Labuanbajo on Flores, there is no tourist accommodation on land in Komodo National Park. Charter a boat and crew in Labuanbajo, and you will have transport, accommodation and meals all taken care of. Some boats are set up for scuba diving and include a crew member who serves as instructor. There are also organized boat tours that suit some travellers well. However, they tend to cost more than casual charters and give you less freedom to explore the deserted white or pink beaches, coves and other beauty spots that characterize this hidden gem in eastern Indonesia.

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The Komodo dragon was first brought to the West’s attention in 1911, when a Dutch military officer shot a “land crocodile” and sent it to a zoological museum in Java. By 1915, several Komodos had been captured and the Dutch colonial government decided to protect the species by issuing a hunting ban. Padar and part of Rinca were declared a nature reserve in 1938, with Komodo Island joining the protected area in 1965.

In 1980, the islands became a national park, which four years later was expanded to encompass the surrounding seas, as well as the western tip of Flores. In 1991 Komodo National Park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a distinction it retains to this day.

Highlights and Features

  • There are an estimated 5,700 Komodo dragons in the park, spread over three large and many smaller islands, plus a portion of Flores.
  • The world’s largest lizard, the prehistoric-looking Komodo is carnivorous and will stalk deer, water buffalo and other prey for days before attacking.
  • The visitor centre is located on Rinca, where it is relatively easy to spot Komodos as they like the savannah-like vegetation there.
  • Here you can hire guides, all of whom are very knowledgeable, speak good English and other languages, and carry forked sticks to fend off any dragons that get a bit too close. The extended tour is well worth the extra fee (IDR 50,000).
  • Komodo National Park is also known as a superb diving destination with plentiful unspoilt coral reefs and a multitude of colourful tropical fish, turtles, manta rays, small sharks, dolphins and other aquatic life.
  • Non-divers can enjoy the feeling of swimming in a private aquarium while snorkeling in the turquoise and green waters of the shallows.
  • The beaches here are also stunning, as are the ocean vistas across glass-clear water to the rugged islands rising from the sea.

Good to Know and What not to Miss

  • There is malaria in this part of Indonesia, so ask your doctor to prescribe the appropriate malaria tablets. You should also use mosquito repellent at all times.
  • The best deals on boat charters can be found in Labuanbajo, especially through the hotels and guesthouses.
  • Some boats have cabins, while on others you sleep on deck.
  • While you are in Labuanbajo, buy a West Flores tourist map to help plan your route and orient yourself as you travel.
  • Never wander around without a guide on the islands. Although they are usually quite docile, Komodo dragons are surprisingly fast movers, and they do attack humans occasionally.
  • Bring plenty of drinking water for your walking tour as it gets very hot.
  • Komodos can also swim, but rarely attack in the water.
  • In theory there are no saltwater crocodiles in Komodo National Park as the dragons tend to keep them away, however there have been occasional sightings.
  • Opening Hours: Komodo National Park has no formal opening hours, but for safety reasons land tours are generally conducted during daylight hours
  • Remarks: To enter the park you need to pay three different fees:
    - Local authority fee
    - Park entrance fee
    - Conservation fund contribution
    Make sure you keep the receipts to show each time you set foot on another island in the park
  • How to get there: Most visitors rent a boat with liveaboard facilities in Labuanbajo on Flores, or join a scheduled boat tour (bookable through a travel agency) from Lombok or Flores. There is no organised land accommodation within the park, although some travellers manage to stay with local villagers. There are daily flights to Labuanbajo from Denpasar, Bali, but the planes are small so it is essential to book ahead. In theory you can also take a local ferry that plies the route between Labuanbajo and Sape on Sumbawa, and makes a detour to Komodo Island once or twice a week. However, the service is quite unreliable, and can stop altogether for weeks at a time during bad weather
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