There’s a lot more to Komodo National Park than giant lizards. But who are we kidding? You’ll definitely want to see the Komodo dragons while you’re at this bucket-list travel destination.
Traveling to Komodo National Park will take you off the beaten track, but it’s well worth the effort. The protected region is both a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve, designations that come with a seal of approval from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
But Komodo National Park is also a vacationer’s paradise, with gorgeous hills, pearly beaches, and miles of crystal-clear ocean, packed with unique flora and fauna. And then, of course, there are the Komodo dragons.
The National Park comprises three major Indonesian islands (Komodo, Rinca, and Padar), as well as a handful of smaller volcanic land masses--and they’re all beautiful. The park is located within the Lesser Sunda island group, which also includes the Indonesian province of Bali.
In fact, U.S. visitors often fly into nearby Bali, then take a plane to Labuan Bajo on the Indonesian Island of Flores. From there, it’s easy to book passage or join a tour of the park. Note that you can’t reach the islands of Komodo National Park by road; it’s all small flights and ferries for the final leg of your journey.
Once you reach this distant paradise, though, one question remains: Besides watching Komodo dragons cavort (from a safe distance, of course), what exactly can you do at Komodo National Park? Maybe the better question is: What can’t you do? Komodo National Park is a must-visit location for active, curious travelers with a soft spot for natural wonders.
Here are just a few of our favorite activities you can only enjoy at Komodo National Park.
Remember how Komodo National Park encompasses a whole cluster of islands? Perhaps the most beautiful of them all is Padar, a land of otherworldly hills, secret beaches, and unbelievable sunsets.
Plenty of boats and organized tours are available to ensure you make the most of your day trip to Padar. While you're there, be sure to hike to the summit of Padar Kecil, the island's tallest hill. From this vantage point, you can see Komodo National Park's islands stretching out toward the horizon.
It's not the easiest hike in the world, so be sure to bring good hiking shoes and your best trekking pole. Sunscreen and plenty of water are necessary, too--and this trip can get pretty dusty, so you might want to bring a mask or bandana to keep the sand out of your mouth. But at only 20 minutes to an hour to the top, climbing Padar is well worth the effort.
Take your once-in-a-lifetime selfie atop Padar Kecil, then head down to any of the three colorful beaches on the island. Tiny flecks of coral tinge the sands of Padar a delicate pink (although, to really enjoy the out-of-this-world quality of Komodo National Park's beaches, head to Pink Beach itself, on the island of Komodo).
Komodo National Park is more than half ocean, and what an ocean it is! The park occupies part of the Coral Triangle, a nutrient-rich chunk of the Pacific Ocean that makes an ideal ecosystem for coral reefs and other sea life, including more than 1,000 species of tropical fish.
Why do we mention this? Because you can experience it firsthand! Book your spot on any one of the area’s safe, comfortable sea vessels and enjoy guided dives, snorkeling, and other pleasures of the deep.
The national park designation protects the waters around Komodo Island from poachers and illegal fishing. Regular patrols by park rangers and the Indonesian Navy continue to protect these precious ecosystems. The result are diving and swimming experiences of unequaled purity and natural beauty.
LiveAboard.com is a sort of Airbnb for diving vessels, many of which will take guests out on multi-day adventures complete with air-conditioned personal cabins and plenty of tasty, Western-style food. Pick your ship here, and get ready to enjoy some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world.
Only seven pink beaches exist on the entire Earth, and the finest of them all is appropriately called Pink Beach. It’s tucked into the eastern edge of Komodo Island, and, as you might have guessed, the sand is an incredible sight to behold.
Like the pink sands that ring the shores of Padar Island, Komodo Island’s Pink Beach gets its fairy-tale hue from coral shell ground down and mixed among the white grains of sand. And unlike the commercialized white-sand beaches of, say, Florida, Pink Beach retains enough of its natural wildness to cast an enchanting spell on visitors.
This is also the place for beginner snorkelers to get their feet wet, literally. Clear, shallow water covers a thriving garden of red coral. In turn, those coral reefs provide a habitat for an astounding variety of fish and other ocean creatures.
Oh, and schedule your visit to ensure you’re on Pink Beach at dusk. Watching the sun set behind the beautiful pink sands is an experience everyone should have at least once.
The waters of Komodo National Park harbor at least four areas known as Manta Points. These watery environments provide the perfect habitat for one of the ocean’s most magnificent creatures, the manta ray.
During manta season--roughly December through February--these graceful animals gather to feed on the blooming plankton. If you’ve never tried diving, don’t worry. Plenty of local operators like Manta Rhei Dive Center offer beginning courses and SCUBA certification. There’s no more beautiful place to learn about diving, either.
If, on the other hand, you’d rather watch the ocean life from the safety of a vessel, you can always charter a boat or join one of many sea tours. Again, browsing through LiveAboard.com’s offerings is the perfect way to plan your dream trip to Komodo National Park. You might find even better deals, though, by talking to your favorite travel agent.
Even if you miss the mantas, the waters of Indonesia are full of splendor. We can promise you this much, at least: You won’t get tired of the view.
Speaking of touring the islands by boat, one of the best ways to experience the islands is to zoom from one to the next via speed boat. One all-inclusive island-hopping tour sends you out on your adventure with an experienced local guide for a full day. (It also includes lunch and all the mineral water you can drink.)
Stop at some of Komodo National Park’s finest attractions, including Padar Island, Pink Beach, and a top Manta Point. This tour even veers outside of the park proper, stopping at the nearby islands of Flores, Makassar, and Kanawa.
There’s no shortage of natural beauty in and around Komodo National Park. Pack it all into a single day by climbing onboard a speed boat and zipping to all its finest features.
When Indonesia set aside Komodo National Park, the entire goal was to protect the Varanus komodoensis lizard, which we most commonly call Komodo dragons. These not-so-gentle giants (they can grow to nearly 10 feet long) depend on the islands’ ecosystems to survive and reproduce.
There are lots of reasons to avoid Komodo dragons. Their main diet consists of deer, but there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t settle for a person. And their predatory technique sounds uniquely horrible. They bite their prey, then wait for the deadly bacteria in their saliva to give the victim blood poisoning.
On the other hand, nothing beats the thrill of encountering the world’s largest reptile up close. It’s like a trip to a real-life Jurassic Park. If you agree, we’ve got good news for you: There are safe ways to encounter Komodo dragons in their natural habitat.
Most tour packages include trips across Komodo Island to see these lizards in the wild. Guards reportedly carry giant forked sticks to keep the beasts at bay if they happen to get hungry, but according to all the accounts we could find, Komodo dragons mostly lie around digesting the deer they take down in between visits from tourists.
Experienced tour guides have even figured out the safest ways for their guests to take selfies near--but not too near--the animals. If you’ve been dreaming of a face-to-face meeting with this ancient reptile since you were a kid, there’s no time like the present to book a trip to Indonesia.
Photo Credit: Sarinee58 / Shutterstock