Officially chosen as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in 2011, Komodo National Park was founded primarily to protect the endangered Komodo dragons, the world’s largest living lizards. Komodo dragons are only found on a few islands in the Indonesian national park. The park was also dedicated to protect its one of world’s richest marine environments. It is a popular destination for scuba diving. The park comprises a coastal section of western Flores that is the main island of the Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara. Komodo is only about 90-minute flight east from Bali.
This summer, six days of our vacation were allocated to discover the beauty of Komodo. We departed to Labuan Bajo from Bali after attending our best friend’s wedding. It is a small fishing town on the western tip of Flores, served as the main gateway to Komodo National Park. The town can easily be traversed on foot in only 15-20 minutes. Once a small fishing village, Labuan Bajo now has developed into a busy place for tourism since the time Komodo National Park formally became part of the world’s seven wonders. The town’s main street stretches only a few kilometers along a bay and up the hillside. Stores providing daily necessities can be found along the main road. Here, tourists can also find a range of eateries serving both local and Western dishes with very fresh seafood. The main road is also lined with lots of vendors selling lodges, diving and tours to surrounding islands. It is worth heading to the seashore to watch scenic sunset and to see ships of all shapes and sizes in the harbor against a background of lump-shaped islands.
Compared to Bali, West Flores is much less developed and less known to tourists. Hence, choices for a good hotel in Labuan Bajo are not many. Since we planned to leave our baby girl, S, with her nanny at hotel while we were diving all day, it was essential that our hotel had to be family-friendly and comfortable to stay. We selected Hotel Bintang Flores, presently the only four-star hotel in Labuan Bajo. Overall, we were pretty happy with it. The hotel combines local style with modern conveniences and international standard of service. Situated on a private stretch of beach facing Flores Strait, the hotel features a nice pool area with a beautiful tropical garden, offering a peaceful and quiet place to relax with amazing sea views. Be sure not to miss viewing the stunning sunset from the hotel beach. Our daughter, S, very much enjoyed her daily swimming in the pool. During our stay, the hotel was almost empty so we had the pool to ourselves. The sea accessible from the hotel’s beach is unfortunately not good for swimming. It is dirty with rubbish. It was heart breaking to see the pollution in such a beautiful location.
Due to lack of guests, the hotel did not offer a buffet breakfast and we were asked to order from the menu. We frequently ordered Indonesian dishes, which we thought were good. Our only complain about the menu was the unavailability of local food indigenous to Flores. It would be fascinating to taste local food that can only be found in Flores. The service was very good, quick and friendly. The hotel staffs were fantastic at keeping our child entertained. Poor my little S that she suffered from multiple mosquito bites. We found that mosquitoes in Labuan Bajo were much more voracious than those in other places in Indonesia. Thus, do not forget to bring insect repellent. Also, sitting next to smoking people in hotel’s dining area (and generally in many other places in Indonesia as well) was a nuisance to us who are accustomed to smoke-free environment like in US. Shuttle service to the town’s main street is also provided by the hotel.
To spot the indigenous Komodo dragons, we travelled by boat to Rinca Island that can be reached in 1.5 hour from the main island. The dragons also live on Komodo Island that is 3 hours away. The dragons tend to be larger on Komodo Island than Rinca, but it is easier to spot the dragons on Rinca. Arriving at Rinca, we were greeted by a park ranger who led us to enter the ranger station for registration. In the ranger camp were five Komodos lazily lying in the shade under an elevated house. Komodo dragons are cold blooded animals, so it is important for them to avoid the hot tropical sun to cool down their body temperature. Their sizes were impressive, more than three meters. Macaque monkeys can also be spotted in the camp. We opted for a shorter trekking route that took about 1.5 hour. The other alternative route is longer and takes about 3 hours. Armed with forked stick, the park ranger guided the walk through the forested island. We saw signs of nesting areas. Luckily, we located three dragons roaming in the wild. The dragons camouflaged perfectly in the bushes, looking like a stone. They are natural predators. They stalk and ambush their prey. The park ranger made sure that our walk was always within a safe distance from the most lethal dragons on earth. The ranger told us that the dragons must hunt in the wild for their food. Their prey includes water buffalo, deer, monkeys, wild boars and some exotic birds. What makes the dragons very dangerous is the infection from their toxic bites. Their saliva is loaded with a high level of bacteria, causing death after only one bite. We moved up into hills of the island to view the lush forests and the grassland dotted with palms. Rinca is a beautiful dry place that will best be appreciated by desert lovers.
While the food selection in Labuan Bajo may not be great, but the prices are. With its recent economic boom and rapid growth in popularity as a tourist destination, demands for accommodation and food are increasing quickly. Most of good restaurants in Labuan Bajo are owned and managed by Western people, who generally spent months before opening their restaurants, just for training their staff to speak better English and to provide excellent service to guests. Labuan Bajo is still in the process of becoming more and more tourist friendly. “Made In Italy” offers a special atmosphere with the best food and service so far — far better than one would expect in such a remote location. The Italian food served here is even good for European standards. Their pizzas are good, and their seafood pasta is certainly a must try. The restaurant next door is “The Lounge” where we dined in for their local seafood that was fresh and also delicious.
Because the purpose of our Komodo vacation was primarily to scuba dive, there were other tourist activities that we did not explore. This includes a trip to Kelimutu, a volcano containing three colored lakes, located in the district of Ende close to the town of Moni. The crater lakes are in the volcanic caldera and fed by volcanic gas, resulting in highly acidic water. The lakes change colors irregularly from red through green and blue, depending on the oxidation level of the lakes. Another alternative activity is a trip to Batu Cermin Cave that is only 5 km from Labuan Bajo where visitors can see beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. Tourists can also visit Cancar Village to enjoy beautiful panorama of spiderweb rice fields with lush and dry hills on the background.
See our next blog that illustrates detail of our experience on what we think is the most exciting part of Komodo: scuba diving.