With our Bali adventure with friends planned for only a week, we knew we weren’t going to want to leave Indonesia so soon!
The upcoming (timely!) four-day Easter holiday weekend was a perfect excuse to extend the trip without missing too much work.
We decided on a quick jaunt over to Komodo National Park – the only place in the world komodo dragons live in a natural habitat. We booked a private, customisable boat tour with a local – and it was the most perfect day. I’m just going to preface with this – this is by far the most adventurous travel experience we’ve ever had.
Up before dawn, we met our guide Louis Komodo (yes, his ‘name’ was partly why we booked with him!) at our hotel. We then boarded our little local boat, and set sail watching the sunrise. After taking in the seemingly endless amount of beautiful green islands, we gave in to fatigue and stretched out on the boat for a nap. Three hours later, we arrived rested at our first stop!
Stop 1: Padar Island
Admittedly, this was on my list because of the photo opp from the lookout point. We took a short, yet steep hike to the top to get the most amazing views. Panoramic photos don’t even do the place justice, so we took as much time as possible making that mental image stick.
Stop 2: Komodo Island
Komodo Island was the reason we were on this trip to begin with. We had done a bit of research on the safety of walking with the dragons. We were of course a bit nervous but decided it would be okay. On the way to the island, Louis gave us a few tips (read: scared the crap out of us) to ensure our survival:
- Don’t look the dragons in the eyes. It’s threatening.
- If a dragon chases you, run in a zig zag pattern or climb a tree.
- If a dragon is getting aggressive, kick it in the nose.
With those instructions, we met our official Komodo National Park Ranger – who carried no defence except a pronged walking stick. (He maybe had a concealed taser on his belt?) We exchanged nervous looks but trustingly followed him into the forest – directly behind a small female komodo going the same way! OMG WE HAD SURVIVED OUR FIRST ENCOUNTER.
After the initial female, we saw two older males at the Watering Hole. For the fear that was instilled in us, they were surprisingly chill. We reluctantly followed the guide’s instructions for epic photo opportunities – but frankly, this freaked me out. He had us crouch down about two metres behind the dragon, and strategically hover a hand to “above its back.” But that wasn’t good enough for him… he then proceeded to poke the dragon in the nose with the pronged stick, urging it to be a bit more photogenic and look at the camera.
(Um, excuse me professional guide, but I’d rather not be bitten and die a slow death while a dragon’s spit paralyses me and then he casually eats me over three days.)
AND THEN after the tour, walking back to the boat with Louis, we saw three more active dragons! One was walking on the beach (yes, action shots!) – and Louis too was fearlessly chasing it with his GoPro…. crazy people.
Total dragon sighting count: 6
Lunch: We arrived back on the boat after dragon spotting to a fully cooked lunch. Our crew had caught fish while we were exploring, and grilled them on board! Talk about fresh.
Stop 3: Pink Beach
We exited the boat near Pink Beach with a snorkel mask, and watched the fish and coral on our swim to shore. Louis sent us some pretty amazing GoPro shots…
Stop 4: Swimming with Manta Rays
Back on the boat, all of a sudden the crew called us to the bow. There were massive mantas swimming alongside! And because the water was crystal clear, we could see every detail. We jumped out with our snorkel gear to swim with them. It was made even more amazing by the fact that we didn’t have this planned – Louis completely surprised us!
We enjoyed the rest of our sail home, with Louis telling us about his village, how he grew up, and how the rural people react to seeing white, pointy-nosed people. (They call us Boo-lays.)
Louis is a local with an entrepreneurial spirit. After attending tourism high school, he decided to become a guide and has the most amazing lifestyle – showing others his beautiful backyard.
So how did we decide on this tour? After scouring TripAdvisor reviews, we finally booked a full-day tour with Louis Komodo (I mean, that name!). We emailed through the top three places we wanted to visit in the park, and he customised an itinerary for us. I then realised we had booked a completely private tour – all for roughly $200. It sounded too good to be true!
But I still wasn’t sure if we had made the right choice. There are tons of tour options, many offering super quick trips on crowded, high-speed boats. The majority of local tours (what we wanted) lasted three days – but had mixed reviews about the onboard sleeping accommodation.
Turns out, it was a great compromise. We had an amazing boat crew and guide, and were able to see park highlights within our limited timeframe.