Land. Lair. Legends. Komodo National Park
Fiery sunset descents gallantly beyond the infinite chain of weathered volcanic hills, enveloping the atmosphere with fire-like hues that exudes a dramatic rustic air as if drawn from an epic fantasy or a child’s wild imagination. Renowned for being the mighty lair to the legendary Ora or Komodo Dragons, the celebrated titleholder, Komodo Island, prides itself for its several entitlements – 7 Wonders of Nature, National Geographic’s Top 10 Destinations, UNESCO World Heritage Site, and mrthe Pride of Indonesia.
Lordly seated in the heart of the Indonesian archipelago, within a narrow channel between Flores and Sumbawa, Komodo National Park encompasses a surface area approximately 2,000 square kilometers, embracing three major islands; Komodo, Rinca, and Padar, along with several smaller islands roaring with peculiar wildlife. Beyond being the notable land of the dragons, the island also serves as a prodigious den to extraordinary earthly species like the Timor deer, endemic rat, and orange-footed scrub fowl. Despite its primordial and rugged charm, the unassuming island is decked discreetly with unique flora and fauna and holds the richest oceanic realm bursting with hypnotizing reef-building corals, prolific species of fish and sponges, and overwhelmingly regal whales, manta rays, dugong, dolphins, and sea turtles.
Ground zero for a thrilling excursion in Komodo National Park, what used to be a small fishing village now serves as the buffer zone and the maritime tourism gateway to a surreal journey back in time. A briskly carefree sail along the waters of Flores Sea, discovered at the western tip of the island of Flores, 3 hours away from Rinca island, will get you to one of the last remaining territories of the broods of the prehistoric dinosaurs, the world’s largest lizard, the vicious Komodo dragons.
A picturesque town on the island of Flores, Labuan Bajo offers more than sightings of the great Ora but also captivating panoramic views of endless roaring savannahs juxtaposed with restfully color-gradient sea and white sand coasts, a flourishing life under the surface of the ocean, and smaller off-grid towns with covert treasures. Hidden in the dark stone hills of Labuan Bajo, Batu Cermin, a name synonymous with “mirror rock”, a modest cave tunnels vivid sunlight through the narrow opening, bouncing the light on stone walls and reflecting the inner corners of the cave like a mirror. Off the center of Labuan Bajo, some 30 kilometers away, lies the restoring Cunca Wulang Waterfall streaming cool fresh waters within a lush and blossoming setting. Cancar Village will cradle guests to a marveling pleasure amidst uniquely formed paddy fields resembling a giant spider web.
Gili Lawa Laut
At the northernmost tip of the Komodo island, open to the vastness of the Flores Sea, one of the two smaller islands, Gili Lawa Laut, holds several noteworthy dive spots teeming with impressive corals and extensive marine biome. Swift currents add to the challenge when exploring its underwater realm with a risk of being swept out into the open water if swimming too far from the shadows of the island.
A narrow passage in between the two smaller islands – Gili Lawa Laut and Gili Lawa Darat, is an amusing dive site referred to as “The Passage” that is best dived when the tide is more relaxed and currents are meek. Towards the eastern tip of the island is another dive site, called the Lighthouse, with tough currents but offer a delightful swim with sweetlips, batfish, and mantas, among others. Crystal Rock, its name being a fitting description of the spot, flaunts crystal clear waters embracing a mighty rock standing proudly from beneath the ocean, home to large schools of fusiliers and adorned with flamboyant corals. Adding to the line-up is a spot that parades sharks, full-size rays, batfish, and morays, whose name best describes its immense rock formation packed with superior aquatic life – Castle Rock.
Gili Lawa Darat
One of the two best sunset viewing spots in Komodo National Park lies on the northern tip of the island, Gili Lawa Darat, right before Gili Lawa Laut. A much lesser crowded viewpoint compared to Padar Island, Gili Lawa Darat, presents an undisturbed postcard-worthy dusk panorama of the savannah-covered hills bordered by reefs in vibrant cerulean waters. Although the hike is moderately easy, the path is made up of loose gravel so a pair of sturdy runners could be of great help. Gili Lawat Darat offers two hikes; one with a lower viewpoint perfect for those who are not keen on hiking, and the other one with a longer route and higher viewpoint, in which we favor the latter as the peak presents a better view and sometimes you can have the spot all to yourself. Keep your eyes peeled for sightings of elusive and elegantly gentle deer or a herd if you are lucky.
Towards sundown, the peak stages an illusory image of the island, with colors perfectly blending like an inspired painting. Different shades of mountain green hues from fairly illuminated moss tones to a deeper and darker shade covered by the shadows that starkly contrasts with the vibrant specks of yellow from the dry grasslands. The green mountain hues are made more elaborate by the waters that transition from aquamarine to deep blue and parts that are golden, reflecting the bursting colors of the perfectly-mixed deep orange, red, and yellow sky with patches of white fluffy clouds. A sunset so perfect and eloquent, it deserves an illustrative narration.
Mt. Sangeang Island
An intimidating natural spectacle, an active volcano with a powerful topography and volcanic debris that turns into magical elements underwater, serving as a nourishing sanctuary to a flourishing marine life. Off the coast of Sumbawa, northwest of Komodo National Park, breathes Mt. Sangeang volcano that brings a paramount macro diving site discovered around volcanic reefs, undoubtedly one of the best in the world. Its fertile waters and mineral-rich substance hosts several rare and distinct aquatic organisms like nudibranch, pygmy seahorses, diverse colors of frogfish, leaf scorpionfish, seahorses, mimic octopus, and active coral growths over the volcanic black sand slope.
Out of the water and on land, a rich local cultural immersion awaits travelers at the Bonto fishing village where a traditional phinisi can be witnessed being assembled by villagers who are said to be descendants of seafaring Bugis natives from Sulawesi. A historic sailing vessel of Indonesia, measuring an expansive 30+ meters with sails and lines, built without nails or metal screws, the Phinisi is a globally recognized form of art and tradition that continues to be a celebrated legendary icon of Indonesia’s seafaring culture. Apart from the boat builders, the villagers also weave textile that speaks strongly about the local flair and craftsmanship.
In between the volcanic shores of Sangaeng Island and the protected coasts of Komodo Island is a perfect spot for a tranquil and undisturbed stroll along the extensive stretch of Gili Banta’s virgin white sand beach. An uninhabited island, the nature existence remains wild and untouched, providing a tremendously stirring experience of its environment from the life above and beneath the waters.
Delicately frolicking between the quaint reefs are astonishing and peculiar macro life that can be enjoyed through the lenses of an underwater camera or a magnifying glasses. Expect to always find unusual and never before seen macro creatures in every dive in the reefs of Gili Banta. A showcase of flamboyant nudibranchs, speckled crabs, fuzzy orangutan crab, tiny swimming cone shells, orangutan shrimp, undescribed flatworms, and various species of flabellina will make the experience unforgettable. Enormous gentle manta rays are often found hovering and gliding in the current, crafting an elegant show underwater.
The longest reef in Komodo Island that is submerged right at the center of the National Park is also known as the Manta Point as sightings of the magnificent giant manta rays can reach up to a massive size of groups of 10 to 50 and can be encountered all year round. A playground and feeding ground of the sociable and graceful mantas, Karang Makassar’s nutrient-dense plankton soup waters allow for spotting of the fascinating chain-feeding and barrel rolling characteristics of the manta rays where they create a cyclone effect that traps their food in a spiral or doing repeated somersaults for maximum intake of food.
The glorious dive site that is Karang Makassar is a must-dive in the Komodo Island and flaunts a beauty that is beyond the manta ray experience but also a refuge to large fish like giant sweetlips, giant trevally, Spanish mackerel, and unicornfish. Various types of rays like the whitetail stingray and Eagle ray also thrives in its rich waters as well as rare types of turtles from loggerhead turtle, hawksbill turtle, and green sea turtles. The shy and elusive reef sharks from Brownbanded bamboo shark, blacktip reef shark, and whitetip reef shark are also often spotted in drifting around its reefs.
Further down Manta’s Point or Karang Makassar, in between Komodo Island and Rinca is a quaint island dreamscape known for its pink sand beach and stunning summit view. While Padar Island is relatively small in size, it is still considered the 3rd largest island of the Komodo National Park. Once home to the ferocious Komodo dragons, the savannah-covered isle is now one of the most visited destinations in the reserve. Its dramatically-shaped mountains are fringed with sprightly green foliage that makes for its surreal landscape bordered by three bays with each having unique and distinctly colored sand – virgin white, charcoal black, and soft pink. The eccentrically-colored sand says a lot about its rich life force; black sand from its volcanic source that is a mix of several dark minerals while the pink sand is formed from a mixture of pulverized red corals perfectly combined with white sand to make a soft pink hue.
Straight out of a Jurassic Park scene, the rough and rugged island of Rinca hosts the second largest population of the mighty Ora or Komodo dragons in the boundaries of the Komodo National Park. Closest to Labuan Bajo, the tourism gateway of the park, Rinca island is one of the most visited islands and the second largest in the reserve. The spot allows visitors to witness the enormous lizards in their wild nature and habitat while being immersed in the rustic charm of the landscape.
Apart from viewing the wild dragons, the island of Rinca is also one of the best dive sites in the region, acquiring some of the most intriguing and vibrant corals in the country that serves as a sanctuary to attractive nudibranch, timid turtles, sea snakes, and frogfish.
Related Article: Stunning and Unspoiled Rinca Island, An Intrepid’s Encounter With The Wildlifes of Rinca Island
As the name suggests, this dive site is the best place to swim with the outgoing gentle giant gliders, the manta rays. Visited by various types of mantas, both reef and oceanic mantas with some detections of the rare Black Morph Mantas, for feeding and cleaning all year round. Said to be one of the most iconic sites in the reserve, located at the southern end of the Komodo Island and open to the vastness of the Indian Ocean, Manta Alley is pouring with rich invertebrate life from sharks slumbering at the bottom of the ocean to giant trevally and groupers, wrasse cleaning the mantas to large groups of mantis shrimp, moray eels to emperors and sweetlips. A fine white beach 15 minutes away allows for some time to lounge after a productive diving session.
Hidden in an unassuming isle is a quaint wooden boutique resort with cozy beachside bungalows and eco-sustainable facilities from beachside bar to a soothing spa, top-notch diving center to a gym, and a breezy bamboo-built restaurant with a relaxing ambiance. The character is perfected by a stunning backdrop of verdant green hills, making the view picture-postcard perfect.
Found on the western side of Labuan Bajo and further north of Rinca Island, Sebuyar Island is a smooth 1-hour yacht ride from Komodo Island or Labuan Bajo. The tiny island highlights its pearly-white sand beach held within a picturesque scenery of lush green and shaded hills surrounded by crystal clear waters. Like all other spots within the region, the underwater scene in Sebayur Island is divine, providing for a gratifying snorkeling and diving experience. Adding on to its charm are some short and easy treks with peaks that provide million-dollar views. The beach is also perfect for just lounging around after days of dynamic movements and activities within Komodo National Park.
A small island paradise off the north coast of Labuan Bajo, easily accessible through a relaxed 1-hour boat ride, unpopulated and unspoiled, Sabolon Island offers an experience that is perfect for some relaxation and recreation. Upon approaching the island, visitors are welcomed by the flawless white sand coastline and clear glassy waters that reflect colorful coral reefs beneath as if sailing through an enormous aquarium. The natural scenery of dreamily-contoured hills draped with plush forest greens and steep cliffs make it worth plenty of visits. The uncrowded island is inviting for water sports like jet ski or canoeing, perfect spot to set sail up, and enjoyed with some well-earned sunset cocktails by the beach.