The Komodo Islands in Indonesia holds a strange grasp over people. Indeed it had the same effect on me.
Perhaps it is visions of an untouched cluster of islands, home to the intimidating Komodo dragon. More likely, it is clips of these fearsome creatures from nature documentaries over the years, often devouring a deer or monkey that was unlucky enough to have crossed paths with the largest lizards on earth.
Let’s be honest here. The majority of people that visit these islands are there for a chance to see these prehistoric reptiles. The scenery, pink beaches and snorkelling come second.
I’ll be covering the logistics, costs and my own personal experience of a 2 day, 1 night boat trip to the Komodo Islands. If you just want the final verdict then scroll to the bottom.
Travelling to the Komodo Islands
First things first. Where are the Komodo islands and how do you get there?
Flying to Labuan Bajo
Whilst there is a primary ‘Komodo island’ the Komodo National Park is actually made up of 29 islands covering 1,733 square kilometres. The primary way to access the park is to fly into Labuan Bajo in western Flores, the port of which is where a lot of the boats leave from.
I flew from Denpasar, Bali to Labuan Bajo in September which cost me $150. Flights are likely to fluctuate between $100 and $170 USD depending on how far in advance you book. I booked a couple of days before so would likely have paid a premium.
It’s a remarkably easy flight from Denpasar. The flight itself takes and hour and once you reach Labuan Bajo airport, you’re only a few minutes drive into town.
There are obviously flights from places other than Bali, though if you’re flying from Jakarta they’ll often make a stop in Denpasar.
Remember that boat trips leave early in the morning so you won’t be able to fly in and leave the same day, you’ll need to arrive the day before and stay a night in Labuan Bajo.
Slow boat from Lombok
This is a sort of hybrid option because it also includes all of the stops in the Komodo National Park. It’s a 4 day, 3 night trip and will cost in the region of $125.
We saw a few of these boats on our trip and they are substantially bigger than the cheaper boats that leave from Labuan Bajo, though they also had substantially more people on them.
It’s a tricky one because if you luck out and have a boat full of good people then the trip could be great, though if it’s the opposite, you’re stuck on a small amount of real estate for 4 days.
Clearly the total cost if substantially lower if you’re already on Lombok, though in my opinion it’s not a great option. The engines on these boats are incredibly loud – it was very hard to sleep even with ear plugs if the boat was moving places through the night.
Buses and boats
You can always add the Komodo Islands into a trip east from Bali. Perhaps you’re making your way through the Gili Islands, Lombok and the Nusa Tenggara islands. However, this is going to take days of travel so if you’re just going for the Komodo Islands there are probably less painful options.
Having said that, you’ll see places that other travellers like myself may miss out by simply flying to the main attractions.
Unfortunately I can’t comment on the cost of taking boats and buses. It’s a long way though so I doubt it would come in cheaper when you take into account accommodation, food, boats and land transport.
Boat Options for the Komodo Islands
As with most places, you have a wide range of boat options from cheap and cheerful to super lux.
There are also multiple options regarding the amount of days you spend exploring the national park.
I won’t cover the costs of the luxury options, mainly because I have no idea. However, we did see large diving boats with hot tubs on deck, big glass walls to the cabins and staff dressed in all white. I believe you’re looking at $400+ a night for those sorts of experiences.
That’s certainly not my preferred budget range.
Instead, let’s look at more ‘traveller’ friendly boat options. Note that all prices include meals and water.
1 Day Speedboat
This is best for those time poor individuals, or for those that do not fancy sleeping on a boat.
Clearly you’re going to have shorter transit times between locations and you can fit in the best bits of the National Park: Padar Island, Pink Beach, Komodo Island and Manta Point.
There are three issues though. Firstly, you’re not going to be at Padar Island for sunrise which was one of the highlights of the trip. Secondly, you run the risk of feeling a bit rushed. Thirdly, and this depends on your plans but if you’re flying in and out of Labuan Bajo, it feels like a lot of travel for a single day.
It costs about the same as the 2 day trip (around $100) so it does depend on your preference.
2 Day, 1 Night ‘Slow’ boat.
This seems to be the most popular option and was the one that I went for. Again in my opinion, it’s the most popular for a reason.
My boat cost 1,600,000 IDR ($100 USD) and had 12 people on it. It was a little more basic than I was expecting, but for the price it’s very hard to beat.
Interestingly, the second day is where you see the places that you see on the one day speedboat. I wouldn’t say that the first day was a dud, but it’s not far off. You visit a small viewpoint and do some fairly average snorkelling. Having said that, you do stop off to see a nightly migration of thousands of flying fox bats which took me by surprise. I was expecting a reasonably boring view of bats. Instead, it’s an Indian Jones level of bats flying over the boat for their nightly feed. Hard to explain, except to say that the quantity of these large bats is hard to get your head around.
The only real complaint I would have is that this boat is slow and loud. Really loud. I’m not a car nerd but I think they call it straight pipe exhaust. No muffler, no nothing. Just an engine that reverberates throughout the boat. Good luck sleeping, though it’s only one night so it was manageable.
3 Day, 2 Night
A slower pace and more stops on the itinerary, including a trek on Rinca island to find Komodo dragons. I’ve seen luxury options at nearly $1000 USD for this trip, as well as options that were only slightly more expensive than the 2 day, 1 night trip.
If you’ve got a good boat and the time, this could be a relaxing trip with additional time to explore the islands and snorkelling spots. However, I don’t think it’s a good choice if you’re cheap (like me). You’re going to want a more comfortable bed and A/C if you spend 2 nights on the boat. Maybe I’m just being a princess. The choice is yours.
Komodo National Park Entry Fee
In mid 2022, there was a plan to limit the capacity of the National Park by raising the entry fee price to $250.
Needless to say, that didn’t go down so well. I believe that the intention behind was that the park needed time to regenerate due to high numbers of tourists. However, there was legitimate concern that businesses who had already suffered throughout the pandemic would not survive the drop in demand brought on by this increase.
After considerable backlash, this has been postponed and by all accounts this postponement will likely be indefinite.
Therefore, most entry fees are covered by the cost of the boat so you don’t need to worry about that. You will need to bring an extra 500,000 IDR ($50 USD) for entry to Komodo Island and guides but other than that, you really don’t need much cash.
Booking Trips and Staying in Labuan Bajo
A quick note on booking trips and staying in Labuan Bajo.
There are loads of boat operators/travel agents in Labuan Bajo so you definitely don’t need to book in advance. Just arrive, walk in to town and you can be booked on a boat within an hour. However, if it is super busy or if you are one of those annoying people that manage to actually plan ahead, it’s really easy to organise trips via WhatsApp once you’ve done a bit of Googling.
I stayed at a place called Seaesta in Labuan Bajo. It’s a hipster hostel/hotel with dorms and private rooms and pretty darn good rates. I rarely stay in dorms but for a single night, I’d rather save the money. The dorms were comfortable with privacy curtains and whilst they are shared bathrooms, they are some of the best I’ve seen. Plus, you can’ argue with £11 ($13.5 USD) for the night!
The boat trip
On to the meat and potatoes: is the Komodo Islands a good trip?
Yes and no.
The scenery is great, the water is clear and looking back on it, I’m glad I went.
Let’s start off with why you should go:
Padar Island for sunrise is something else. The viewpoint shows the unique shape of the island with ridges that seems to expand outwards and form multiple bays of varying sand colours. It’s hard to explain but the pictures go someway to doing it justice. The sun rises to cast shadows across the ridge lines and illuminate the beaches below…..a pretty great way to start the day.
The only place you can see Komodo dragons. It’s the main attraction of the area and its namesake (or the other way round). I don’t think I need to say much more about that.
Nature. Crystal clear water and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Sure, the snorkelling was hardly awe inspiring but the flying foxes were something that I think you’ll struggle to find elsewhere. In addition, we got lucky at Manta point and say upwards of 15 manta rays. It feels like a remote region of the world where the humans and just visitors.
On to the stuff in the middle. The things where you think “I can take it or leave it”:
Pink Beaches aren’t that pink. Oh the deceptive nature of colour grading. The super pink colours that you see on Instagram are a lie. The pink beaches are nice, don’t get me wrong. Especially when you can see one of the pink beaches at sunrise on Padar Island. However, they have a pinkish hue. They’re not out and out pink. It’s the sort of colour that looks better out of the corner of your eyes. Are they worth seeing? Sure, but they’re not worth travelling to see if that’s your main attraction.
Komodo dragons aren’t that big. Well, they are big, but they’re not as big as you think they would be. It’s especially true if you arrive in the middle of the day and they are just lying there, like we did. They’re much more intimidating when they’re walking towards you and I can imagine that seeing them eating something or two males fighting would be quite the spectacle. The long and the short of it is that they eat once or twice a month and the main Komodo Island is crowded with tourists wanting to take pictures. As one of the people on our boat said, “it wasn’t that special”. That might be hard to hear and trust me, it was hard to take when I was there. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I certainly wasn’t overly impressed. Do they fall into the ‘take it or leave it’ category? I’ve probably miscategorised. They were cool and I love the fact that I’ve seen one in the wild, I just wasn’t blown away.
Now the dislikes:
The boat was crazy loud. It seemed to be a theme, unfiltered engine noise. It’s fine during the day but the one night we spent on the boat was intense. As I said, it was hard to sleep even with ear plugs.
The first day was a filler day. All of the best things were on the second day. The first day was spent at a fairly average viewpoint and and even more average snorkelling site. It might just be a result of being on a slow boat, they have to travel for longer but we did go to sleep (or try to sleep) on the first night wondering if the next day would be any better.
The final verdict: are the Komodo Islands worth it?
If you go solely for the Komodo dragons, prepare to be disappointed.
When I got off the boat I did feel like the manta ray sightings had sort of saved the trip. However, on reflection, you really can’t beat the attractions vs the price. You can fly there and back, including a 2 day boat trip for under $300 USD within which you will see Padar Island, Flying Foxes, Komodo dragons, pink beaches and hopefully manta rays.
That’s pretty tough to beat.
If you don’t take price into account, it’s still good. Padar Island and Manta point were exceptional, truly an experience. I guess that’s the point I’m trying to make – it’s a 2 day trip with 2 or 3 really good things but then interspersed with ‘filler’ items which tend to leave a strange taste in your mouth.
Would I do it again or recommend it? Yes, if you’re in the area then you should go. It’s a really easy trip to make and you are missing out if it’s not in your Indonesia itinerary. If you’re thinking about flying internationally for the sole purpose of seeing to the Komodo Islands, I’d think again.