by Kyle Dougherty
Have you ever wanted to go somewhere where you can see beautiful views, unique local culture, and real-life dragons (yes, you read that right!) all in one place? Then the Komodo National Park, spread across nearly thirty separate islands between East and West Nusa Tenggara, is the place for you.
But how to explore a national park that’s separated by, uh, a lot of water?? A fun (and adventurous) way to solve this problem is to take a “liveaboard” boat tour. Lasting between three and four days, a liveaboard tour will take you to all the main attractions of Komodo national park while, in the meantime, you’ll be living on the boat (just as the name suggests)!
We’re here to help you learn what to expect, what to prepare, and how to best enjoy your own liveaboard trip through Komodo.
Book Your Tour
A standard liveaboard trip will run you around IDR2,5 million per-person for a private 2-person cabin, or IDR1.8 million to sleep on-deck with about twenty other passengers. This includes food and tickets to the attractions you’ll be stopping at.
Begin by flying from Jakarta to Lombok. Most tour-companies will provide a pick-up from the Lombok airport and take you to the harbor, which is about a two-hour car ride.
Liveaboard boats in this price range are fairly rustic, but they have what you need. Private cabins are recommended if you want somewhere comfortable (albeit small) to go to escape from the crowd and get a break from the rest of your tour group. The majority of passengers will be sleeping on thin mattresses on the floor of your boat’s main deck. This option is cheaper, and you get beautiful surrounding views of the Flores landscape at all hours of the day and night. However, being this close to nature has its negative side too, as at night-time the boats are buffeted by strong winds and waves that can make sleeping on-deck even harder than in the cabins.
A standard tour-group is 20-30 people, including the boat crew. Komodo Park attracts a lot of international tourists from all over the world, as well as local Indonesians. The tour companies tend to group all the foreign tourists and all the local tourists together on separate boats.
The bathrooms onboard are generally small, with both Western and squat styles. Most boats don’t have real showers, except for a bucket with a scoop to pour saltwater over your head. You can bring some soap and clean yourself off with a swim in the ocean! The bathrooms also serve as changing rooms for those staying on-deck.
Over the course of the four days, the boat will stop at a variety of scenic places on different islands. The focus is on beaches, hikes, hills, photo-spots, swimming, snorkeling, and finally Komodo island itself. The hikes are scenic and never too long or tiring. Most can be done in sandals, but don’t try barefoot as the dirt can get too hot to step on.
Some of the spots also have disclaimers. Manta Point is a gathering spot for giant mantas (often a meter long), but there’s no guarantee you’ll see any. There’s also a chance you won’t see any dragons on your hike through Komodo Island. Though you probably will see the animals at both areas, keep these possibilities in mind.
There’s also “Kolong island,” an island next to the boat’s anchor point on the last night of the tour that’s said to shelter thousands of bats (or flying squirrels, depending who you ask). Whatever they are, they’re said to all take off at sunset to go hunt and give the tourists a spectacular and somewhat unnerving show. However, the creatures have actually abandoned this island for some time because locals kept antagonizing them to make them fly (in exchange for money from tourists). Instead, you can choose to walk around a local village located on the shore of Komodo island, or just enjoy hanging out on the boat with a bottle of Bintang purchased from local floating merchants.
If you set your expectations too high for the stops that are most heavily advertised, you’ll likely be disappointed- the Pink Beach isn’t all that pink, the bat island has no bats, the dragons aren’t as big as you hoped, etc. Keep your expectations for these things low, and you’ll be impressed, appreciating them for what they are and not what they’ve been marketed as. In general, instead of relying on thrills like these, keep your eyes open to the incredible overall experience and you won’t be let down.
Read reviews and blogs about different tour companies before you book, as the quality and quantity of food varies from tour to tour. Let your tour company know if you’re vegan before-hand: most tours are more than happy to accommodate! You’ll also be allotted a ration of water for your journey, probably about six large liter bottles. As long as you’re not dumping your water around for no reason or using it to shower, it should be plenty!
Tourism is still rough and new in Komodo, which has a lot of benefits; namely, it’s quite an adventure to go there and it’s very much “natural.” However, the guides might not have the same level of training as they do in more tourist-saturated areas. Expect to have to press your guide for information if you want to know specifics of what to do, what to see, and when to be back from each attraction. The guide’s English level may not be wonderful either. But they will always be nice, friendly, and fun people, and striking up a friendship with your guide is sure to pay off! Also, if you’re feeling seasick or having issues, let your guide know and they’ll be happy to help with medicine and assistance.
What to Bring?
This brings us to the subject of what to bring on the trip. We most highly recommend two things: sunscreen and seasickness medicine. Even if you don’t choose to intentionally sunbathe on deck with many of the foreign passengers, many of your hikes and activities will be taking place under the sun’s beating glow. So use sunscreen generously, preferably multiple times per day.
Another common ailment on Liveaboards is seasickness. Even if you don’t generally get motion sick, bring some medicine along. The nights can be intense and unrelentingly wavy. Being trapped with seasickness in this situation, with no escape possible, can be very miserable indeed. The medicine can also give a sleeping effect, which is also helpful when you’re afraid your boat is going to be split to shreds by the forces of nature at any moment. Look for the common Indonesian brand, “Antimo,” in any pharmacy. Asking for western brands like Dramamine will get you only blank looks. There’s also a non-sleeping variation for the daytime.
Other things to bring are anti-mosquito lotion and a few long-sleeved shirts. The shirts can be helpful for warding off the sun once you’ve had enough. It can also be chilly at the top of some the iconic hill-hikes. And if you have access to one, a quality camera is also a good bet to document the unique scenery.
The Liveaboard tours generally complete their journey at Labuan Bajo, the main harbor town on the western end of Flores island. We recommend booking your accommodation (if staying) before you arrive: there is limited accommodation in the city and it can fill up without warning, leaving only sub-par and/or expensive options, and sometimes very few even of these. For a good balance of price and quality, we recommend “The Palm,” hostel: it’s clean, comfortable, has a good view of the bay, and a nice pool to relax by. A dorm bed here will run you 250,000 RP. Another unique place is Ciao hostel, situated up high above the city with a great view right from the dorms.
You’ll be grateful to have a comfortable refuge from the streets of Labuan Bajo; the city is hot, dusty, and underdeveloped. It’s also surprisingly expensive, which may be due to the large amount of foreign tourists who show up to experience the world-class diving the area offers. Also, many amenities such as construction materials and consumables do not grow naturally in the Flores climate and have to be shipped in. Even fresh water is a big issue for them.
There’s not a lot to see nearby- the closest attraction is a cave that’s four hours away by motorbike. Most of the people staying in the town are doing so as a hub to experience the diving. Flores, of course, has a lot to see, but most of it is in the central or eastern areas of the island. Look into this beforehand and plan so that you don’t end up stuck in Labuan Bajo with nothing to do.
There are two main ways to get back to Jakarta from Labuan Bajo; the simplest is by plane. Book your flight in advance, as last-minute prices often climb steeply. The average price back to Jakarta is usually around 2 million RP. The other option is to go overland back to Lombok, and fly from there- you can take a ferry to Sumbawa island, followed by an 18 hour bus ride, followed by another ferry. The total cost of this is only around 250,000, but whether we can recommend it or not depends on your ability to endure this kind of “long and rough” travel.
Overall, the trip through Komodo can certainly be described as an “adventure.” While the tourism industry in the area is still fairly rugged, as long as you’re prepared it can all add up to an unforgettable journey through this gorgeous and unique corner of the world.