When I was a child, I loved the movie “The Land Before Time” and later when I was a bit more grown up “Jurassic Park” and yes, I will admit “How to Train Your Dragon.” While I know that a dragon is not the same as a dinosaur (thank you for the lesson, little nephew!) both have always had an undeniable appeal to me. Adventure, a time long lost, a secluded island, and oh yes, have I mentioned adventure?!
With that said, I was incredibly excited when I realized the itinerary for the Trip of Wonders I went on with Wonderful Indonesia included a stay in Komodo. Finally, I would get to see real dragons!
However, to my surprise and delight, Komodo was so much more than that, and the dragons turned out to be only one of many highlights. Komodo dragons live not only on Komodo island but also in the Komodo National Park made up of Komodo, Padar, and Rinca island as well as parts of Flores and 26 smaller islands.
To explore the islands, you can fly from Jakarta to Labuan Bajo on Flores with Garuda Indonesia. From here it is easy to explore the surrounding islands by wooden sailing boat or for those with less time, speedboat. What’s there to do and see? Here are my 5 highlights of the Komodo National Park:
1. Train a Dragon
Okay, so technically we know that a Komodo dragon is not a real dragon as it doesn’t spit fire. But calling it a dragon makes it so much more exciting than calling it a lizard or a monitor. They are also quite scary looking, have poisonous saliva and yes, have attacked humans before. In addition, they also chase their young and little Komodos basically live on trees until they are 3-4 years old to be safe from their very own parents. So it comes as no surprise that you will get your own guide once you set foot in the park. And girls, you will need to let them know if you are on your period – dragons smell blood from a far distance and you will need extra protection from a ranger.
We went to see the Komodos on both Rinca and Komodo Island. While the hike on Rinca was absolutely stunning, the dragons were quite sleepy and hard to find. Only in front of the staff kitchen did we find a little group, underwhelming if you consider that for each of the 1500 people who live on Rinca there is also one dragon.
On Komodo, we got a lot luckier: it was dragon feeding time on the beach. While I am honestly not sure how the feeding interrupts their natural behavior, it was exciting and I finally got my very own dragon selfie.
*That dragon is not dead, he is just very, very old!!*
2. Sunset Date with Batman
How exciting can bat watching be, you may ask? Honestly, that was a question we all asked ourselves when we came back from Rinca. After a day of dragon taming/hiking and sweating, all we wanted was a cold beer and an even colder shower. Instead, we stopped out in the ocean in front of Pulau Kalong (kalong meaning bat) and waited for half an hour. Surrounded by various other ships and boats, we watched the sun go down and while pretty it was still no good substitute for that beer and shower.
Patience is needed for this event, but once the sun is down, you will get your reward when hundreds of bats make their way out of the mangroves surrounding Kalong and go off into the night.
Batman Returns has nothing on that view, which is well worth the wait. For those who are scared of bats – don’t worry, they are pretty far above you and even catching Batman on camera is not easy. I recommend you just sit back and enjoy a sunset view like no other.
3. Peak at Padar
While it looks like a movie set between “Lost” and “Lord of the Rings”, Padar Island comes without any mystical creatures. However, nothing can beat the views once you’ve made your way up to the top. Here you will overlook the three bays and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back – this is what it feels like to be on top of the world!
While the hike up is not long, it is quite steep and slippery, so I recommend hiking shoes (though some of our group actually made it in flipflops). On the way up and on top you will have plenty of Instagram-worthy settings so do take your selfie stick as well.
Don’t forget your bathing suit, once you’ve made it back down nothing will beat a dip into the crystal clear water.
4. Life’s a (pink) Beach
While Indonesia is not short of stunning beaches everywhere, Komodo has a trump card, and it is pink! Its pink beach is one of only seven pink beaches in the world and well worth a visit. Red coral pieces mixed with the white sand gives it a pinkish hue, more visible, depending on the light, tide and Instagram filter.
While you are still on Komodo, the dragons don’t come to this part of the island so you can roam freely on land and in water. The pink beach is an excellent spot to go snorkeling straight from the shore, so bring your goggles – the underwater world here is amazing!
5. Underwater Love
As soon as I heard the word ‘manta ray’ I knew I wasn’t going to be content with staying on the pink beach or just snorkel. After all, I hadn’t brought my dive gear all the way from Germany for nothing. And so I was first in the boat when we set out towards Manta Point, a dive site 20 minutes off Komodo, known of course for its manta rays. Our divemaster, Mr. Miyagi as we called him, was hopeful – just that morning he had seen a lot of mantas right at the spot we would go down.
We didn’t get so lucky again, it was still one of my favorite dives. Instead of mantas we saw turtles, a little reef shark and an abundance of coral fields, colorful even though it was already getting quite dark. While many don’t know it, Komodo as a diver’s paradise. I can highly recommend it for its amazing visibility and marine life abundance. And while you may miss the mantas if you go too late in the day, you will be able to enjoy yet another sunset of a lifetime once you get back to the surface.
By now you should be in the mood to look for dragons, mantas, and bats yourself. If you are, you might just get lucky because Wonderful Indonesia is hosting their Quiz of Wonders and you can win a trip to Komodo! In order to play, follow the link here.