Once you’ve arrived in Bali, completely relaxed, and broken away from the stress of the world, you might start hankering for a spot of adventure. After all, you’re in the most beautiful archipelago in the region. There’ so much more to see and experience beyond Bali and it’s only a stone’s throw away.
The most common trail for a weekend break from Bali is Lombok and Gili. But assuming you’ve already been and want to witness something truly special, then you must visit Labuhan Bajo, a picturesque fishing village and gateway to the Flores archipelago and untouched islands of Komodo National Park.
The Flores archipelago is viewed by many as the most scenic cluster of uninhabited islands.
With its pristine headlands and untouched coral reefs, it’s as mesmerizing under water as it is on land.
Dutch sailors stumbled upon the Komodo islands in 1910, and since then, the endangered creatures have been extensively studied and protected in their native habitat. You’ve probably already seen them on nature programs, but seeing this giant lizard in real life is an incredible experience for both young and old.
The best time to visit Komodo National Park is during the dry season from April to December. However spotting the Komodo dragon during their mating and nesting seasons (July to August, and September to November) is not as easy, so timing your visit is a wise thing to do.
Journey to Komodo: Getting there
Three flights on Merpati Airlines, Wings and Lion Air depart daily from Bali to Labuhan Bajo. Book these through a travel agent or at Denpasar airport and you should get a better rate than booking online. A return flight shouldn’t cost more than USD$300 during high season, and around USD$200 – 250 when it’s less busy.
The short one and a half hour flight passes over clusters of tiny islands, mountains and headlands, but don’t expect to get a good picture from the dusty window of the old planes. When you arrive at Labuhan Bajo airport you get the sense you’re now in “real Indonesia” as you walk onto the tarmac.
Taxis from the airport to your hotel are small minivans that carry up to six people. The driver will usually fill the taxi with other passengers before taking off and the journey costs about US$7 per person to get to the south of the town, 10 minutes away from the main hub.
Even though plenty of tourists pass through this charming fishing town and there’s evidence of halted construction and jerky development, the town remains relatively untouched. The tourist shops and hotels don’t encroach on the town, instead they’re set back from the daily life of the town and its people. Nothing here is over developed or overly packaged to cater for tourists. Not even the shabby restaurant shacks that squat on the side of the hill overlooking the harbour.
Journey to Komodo: Where to stay
Accommodation in Labuhan Bajo is a no frills affair. Many of the inns and hotels look rather run down, so look for something rustic with charm or a new-ish resort. It doesn’t cost much more than staying in a hostel or a homestay and besides, you need a comfortable room to get a good rest after spending your days on the sea.
The Waecicu Eden Beach Hotel, located 15 minutes from the harbour in a gorgeous bay, is a great option. You’ll have brilliant views of the setting sun and be close to trekking trails in the surrounding hills. The wooden thatched roof bungalows perched on the hill above the beach stay cool in the day and let in the gentle song of ocean at night.
If you prefer beach hotels, then Puri Sari Beach Hotel is a great option that offers great rates (USD$70 during low season and USD$80 at high season). The rooms are spacious, with modern bathrooms and reliable water heaters.
The reefs around Komodo National Park are outstanding dive spots for sharks, massive rays, giant squid, tiny pygmy seahorse and occassionaly, the Blue Whale.
Liveaboard expedition boats dot the Labuhan Bajo harbour, however trips are scheduled in advance to fill the cabins, so if you’re an avid diver, this is definitely worth looking into.
The Seven Seas sails regularly around Komodo and to the East of Flores and Raja Ampat.
Rates are fixed at US$450 per person per night or US$900 per cabin per night until 2015. There are eight staterooms onboard which can be booked individually, or as a group with a good discount. Visit The Seven Seas website for more information or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Journey to Komodo: What to do
Being the sort of tourist town that it is, the taxi driver from the airport might have already presented you with a range of activity options and prices. But it’s often worth waiting to organise a day trip directly with a local tour operator. You can either share a small boat with other groups of tourists or rent one to yourself at USD$80 for the day. This doesn’t include the island fees of about IDR25,000 per person for admission and a guide.
Komodo Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. The Pink Sand beach on the island is also only one of seven found in the world, made of white and red sand and the Foraminifera amoeba. The giant lizards are usually quite easy to spot, however there’s also more of them on Rinca Island along a shorter and less challenging trail.
You get to learn a lot about the Komodo dragons and the history of the islands from the guides.
The giant beasts are scattered throughout the trail and it’s unnerving walking past them when they flick their bright blue tongues in the air, but the guides assure they are well fed and pose no threat.
Snorkeling in one of the dynamic reefs teaming with ocean life after trekking on foot is a welcome treat in the afternoon. The array of colours and species in the shallow waters is amongst the most vibrant snorkeling in the world.
In the late afternoon, the sun burns low in the sky toward Seraya Island, where traditional fishermen trapped their prey in bamboo structures as the tide washed out. The perfect site for sailing home.
If you’ve still got some steam left in you in the evening, get a boat out to Kalong Island at dusk when screeching swarms of giant flying fox bats rush from the mangrove island in search of food.
Journey to Komodo: Where to take a great photo
In the evenings, the main road in Labuhan Bajo comes alive with local hawkers and evening moped traffic. Set above the harbour, you can capture the view of the main cove and collection of shops, houses, hotels and restaurants that line the steep hill.
You’ll need to find an unobstructed view to capture a good panoramic photo away from tangled power lines and solitary poles that pierce the horizon.
Finally, don’t forget to snap a picture of the town as your boat moors into the harbour after a day at sea. The multi coloured shacks and houses stacked on top of each other make for a great travel shot for the photo album.