Komodo National Park Guide 2024: How to visit and what to expect

komodo dragon on top of another image courtesy of ivan uriarte

This article may contain links to products and services we use and recommend. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For more information, see our Disclosure Policy.

Visiting Komodo National Park has been on my travel bucket list since I watched David Attenborough documentaries as a child. So when we started to plan our two-month trip around Indonesia, there was no question: we would somehow manage to incorporate Komodo National Park into our itinerary. Less easy was finding information about how to organise a trip into the park as independent travellers, especially in a way that is ethical and sustainable. If you landed here because you also found the information out there lacking depth, here is everything we’ve learned when we visited the park.

Planning your trip to Komodo National Park last minute?

Book your flights to/from Labuan Bajo (nearest town to the Komodo National Park), keeping your carbon footprint in mind. We don’t recomment hiring a car in Labuan Bajo or Flores.

 

 

Find your perfect accommodation in Labuan Bajo (nearest town to Komodo National Park) with Booking.com. We recommend these centrally located options:

Purchase travel insurance for peace of mind but read the fineprint to make sure it suits your needs. We’ve had positive experience with travel insurance underwritten by Allianz – from Tower to Worldcare.

 

Explore the wonders of Labuan Bajo and beyond with the best tours and activities powered by Viator and GetYourGuide. We recommend these sustainable options:

Where is Komodo National Park and what makes it so unique?

Established in 1980, Komodo National Park is located between the main islands of Flores and Sumbawa in Indonesia. Measuring about 2,000 square kilometres in size, the park comprises 29 volcanic islands and the marine environment surrounding them. The park experiences one of the driest climates in Indonesia. The vegetation on the islands is therefore mostly semi-arid savannah.

Komodo National Park (and a few pockets in coastal West and North Flores) are the only places on earth where you can observe Komodo Dragons (Varanus komodoensis) – the world’s largest living lizards – in their natural habitat. Furthermore, the park’s nutrient-rich waters attract an incredible marine biodiversity – from whale sharks, manta and eagle rays, dugongs and sea turtles to more than 1,000 species of tropical fish and 260 species of coral. To protect these unique eco-systems, Komodo National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991.

Map of Accommodation, Points of Interest, Eateries and Transport

Below is a map of the recommended accommodation, points of interest, eateries and transport terminals/stops mentioned in this article.

What’s so special about Komodo Dragons?

Growing up to 3 metres/10 feet in size, Komodo Dragons are not only the largest extant species of lizard. They are also truly prehistoric creatures, having roamed the planet for (at least) 4 million years.

Komodo Dragons have venom glands which release toxins that prevent blood clotting, lower blood pressure and induce shock, enabling these lizards to prey on animals that outsize them (for example, buffalos).

minimalist journeys with komodo dragon

He may look close, but we (and the photographer) kept our distance from this big boy on Komodo Island

Female Komodo Dragons have both male and female chromosomes, enabling them to reproduce even without a mate, through an asexual reproduction process called parthenogenesis. Not much bigger than a human hand at birth, Komodo Dragon hatchlings spend their first few years in trees to have a greater chance of survival (they are even preyed on by their own kind).

Komodo Dragons are an endangered species. Starting with over 5,000 lizards at the park’s UNESCO Heritage designation, there are now fewer than 3,500 left in the wild. Their decline is caused by human encroachment, uncontrolled tourism, poaching of the lizards and their prey (especially deer) and climate change (causing aridification, more wide-spread wild fires and rising sea levels).

juvenile komodo dragon on komodo island

Komodo Dragons are cannibals - that's why the hatchlings spend their first few years in trees.

How to get to/from Komodo National Park?

The main gateway for Komodo National Park is Labuan Bajo, a town on the West Coast of Flores, Indonesia. Labuan Bajo is connected by air and sea to other Indonesian islands.

By Air

Labuan Bajo’s airport was aptly (re)named Komodo International Airport [IATA code LBJ] when the new terminal was opened in 2015. While labelled international, flights to and from Labuan Bajo are currently only domestic, with the main international connection points being Jakarta (CGK) and Denpasar (DPS). From there, you can book a flight with:

to travel to Komodo International Airport.

From the airport, it’s best to take a Gojek to your accommodation or walk – the city centre is only about 1.5km away, although the shortest route is via a hill.

rinca padar and komodo islands from the air

Planes from/to Denpasar or Jakarta fly over Komodo National Park, so make sure you've got a window seat (right/to, left/from LBJ)

By Sea

(Passenger) Ferries from Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, South Sulawesi, Maluku, West-Papua or West-Timor to Labuan Bajo (and vice versa) are operated by state-owned ferry operator PELNI. These (multi-storey) ferries run relatively infrequently (usually twice a month), so ensure you check the schedule.

There is also a daily (vehicle and passenger) ferry from Sape on Sumbawa to Labuan Bajo (and vice versa). The ferry is scheduled to leave Sape at 0900h and arrive in Labuan Bajo around 1600h (the scheduled departure and arrival times are the same from Labuan Bajo). We recommend turning up at the port (of Sape or Labuan Bajo, depending on which direction you want to travel) at least an hour before departure to purchase your ticket. The port of Labuan Bajo is located in the city centre.

ferry at labuan bajo port2

PELNI passenger ferries connect Labuan Bajo with other islands around the Indonesian archipelago (usually) twice a month

Overland

If you travel from Maumere or Ende, you can also reach Labuan Bajo by bus, via Bajawa and Ruteng. We have used and can recommend Gunung Mas. From Ruteng, you can buy tickets at the Gunung Mas office on Jl. Diponegro [Google Maps location]. The buses leave from there too. Buy your tickets at least a day or two ahead of time, as they get booked out.

Upon arrival in Labuan Bajo, our bus driver asked us where we needed to go and dropped us off within walking distance of our accommodation (outside Seaesta Komodo).

gunung mas minibus on flores

If you travel from Maumere, Moni, Ende, Bajawa or Ruteng, you can also reach Labuan Bajo by (mini)bus

When is the best time to visit Komodo National Park?

The best time to visit Komodo National Park is just after the wet season, from April to June, when the island vegetation is at its greenest, the climate feels less oppressive, and the sea is calm. If you are more interested in the park’s treasures under water than on land, September to November are good too. These are the best months to observe manta rays, the tourist crowds have gone home, and the climate feels more comfortable again.

July and August are best avoided as those are the hottest, busiest and most expensive months. It’s also the dragons’ mating season, which means they can be more difficult to spot and/or may be a bit more aggressive. Likewise, we also don’t recommend visiting the park during the wet season (December to March), as these months bring wild weather (high winds/waves and lots of rain).

For further information about the park’s climate year-round check out Weatherspark.

views from padar island by denissa devy on unsplash

Just after the rainy season, from April to June when the vegetation is greenest, is the best time to visit Komodo National Park

Subscription Form - Sustainable Travel Checklist

Download your Sustainable Travel Checklist and show the world you care

As travellers, we should all be aware of our travel behaviour and its environmental, economic and social impact; and make conscious decisions about it. Too often, we hear negative stories in the media about tourists behaving badly.

Here is your chance to tick some boxes and check out what it really takes to travel with a sustainable mindset.

How to visit Komodo National Park?

What options exist and how do they compare?

Most people visit Komodo National Park either on

  • a multi-day cruise on a phinisi (traditional wooden schooner) – often called liveaboard; or
  • a day excursion on a phinisi or motorboat.

Phinisi cruises from/to Labuan Bajo come in different comfort levels/price points – from basic (small bedroom below deck with bunk beds and shared bathroom) to luxury (upper deck hotel-style bedroom with ensuite). Phinisis can accommodate between 12 and 24 guests.

If you are travelling in a big group, you can hire the whole phinisi (including crew) as a private charter. Otherwise, you can join a shared/group/open trip which leaves on set days. Most common are

  • 3 Days/2 Nights – usually Friday-Sunday or Monday-Wednesday, and
  • 2 Days/1 Night – which are only available on weekdays.
phinisi at komodo island

Multi-day liveaboards on wooden phinisis are a unique but not the only way to explore Komodo National Park

There are also phinisis that take you from Bali, Lombok or Sumbawa to Labuan Bajo (and vice versa). These tend to be at the most basic/cheapest end: everyone sleeps on deck (simple mattresses are usually provided), any bathroom is shared (if they work at all), and safety is not their strong point.

As the name suggests, day excursions leave Labuan Bajo early in the morning and return in the late afternoon/early evening. Phinisis (as they travel slower even when they use their engine/s) tend to not venture as deeply into the park as motorboats (it takes about an hour by motorboat from Labuan Bajo to Padar/Komodo Islands, phinisis take about 2 hours to the Komodo Dragon viewing spots on Rinca Island).

boats at pink beach padar island

If you don't have the time or money, you can also join a day tour around Komodo National Park (best by motorboat)

What activities/sites in the park do the different tours cover?

Whether liveaboard or day excursion, some trips/operators focus solely on diving (and don’t visit the islands of the park/Komodo Dragons at all), others provide a mix of activities on land (including an encounter with the Komodo Dragons) and in the water.

Mixed activity tours (whether one or multi-day) visit (largely) the same spots:

  • Rinca or Komodo Island (to observe the giant lizards),
  • (a hike up to the viewing point on) Padar Island,
  • a Pink Beach (on either Padar Island or Komodo Island),
  • Manta Point (a cleaning station for manta rays and great place to encounter these majestic creatures),
  • Taka Makassar (a sandbank near Manta Point) and
  • Turtle Bay (a great spot to observe sea turtles with a beautiful coral garden).
Komodo Island,Komodo Island National Park,komodo island national park entrance fee,komodo dragon national park indonesia,komodo dragon national park tour,padar island komodo national park indonesia,pink beach padar island komodo national park indonesia,angel island resort komodo national park,is komodo island open to tourists,komodo national park and flores island

Manta Point (a cleaning station for manta rays) is a stop on most (multi)day tours around Komodo National Park

In addition, multi-day liveaboards may also visit Kelor Island (usually a hike) as well as snorkelling at Manjarite Beach, Sebayur Island and/or Kanawa Island. Phinisis by their very nature travel slower (even when the engine is in use), so multi-day liveaboards are great for those who like being out on the water and want to experience a night or two on board/in the park. Staying in the park also allows liveaboard operators to include activities at sunset (for example, Kalong/Bat Island where you can observe flying foxes take off for their nightly feed) and sunrise (for example, a sunrise hike on Padar Island) – something day trippers miss out on.

Komodo National Park entrance fees vary based on the number of days you stay in the park and the activities chosen. Your operator will tell you how much (and collect the fees – cash only – accordingly).

phinisi at sunset by rohim ari on unsplash

Liveaboards include additional sunset/sunrise activities, like watching flying foxes take off from Kalong Island for their nightly feed | Photo by Rohim Ari on Unsplash

Do you need to book in advance?

If you want to join a liveaboard, and you only have a specific window of time, we recommend to organise your trip in advance. Likewise, if you’re after a certain standard of boat/accommodation/budget, you’re advised to book ahead (as the best value-for-money options go first). Liveaboard is a great website to find a liveaboard for your dates/budget.

If you’re keen to book in advance, you may also want to check out these options:

If you are flexible (both in time and standard/budget), you can just turn up in Labuan Bajo and see what (last minute) liveaboards are available. Day excursions can easily be booked in person a day in advance. Most operators have shops on the main street (Jl. Soekarno Hatta), and you can just walk in and chat with them.

What we did

We looked into the multi-day options, but couldn’t justify the price compared to day excursions. I get seasick very easily and wasn’t sure I would enjoy myself being on a boat for 2-3 days.

Given we had settled on doing a day excursion, we arrived in Labuan Bajo without a booking. That said, we had looked up a few operators with good reviews and contacted some ahead of time to understand what the availability would be like at the time of our visit. Upon arrival in Labuan Bajo, we visited the operators on our short list (and a few others) at their shops, talked to the staff and then decided to book with Red Whale Dive Center.

We paid IDR1,450,000 (plus National Park entrance fees of IDR300,000) per person at the beginning of September 2023.

The Komodo Island National Park entry fees are to be paid in cash and may be different at the time of your visit as a (further) increase has been in discussion for a while. Your tour operator will confirm the fees upon booking.

Google reviews talked about the company’s sustainability approach, which was one of our key criteria. If you want to learn more about our experience with Red Whale Dive Center, you can read our in-depth review here.

dive shops in labuan bajo

Labuan Bajo's main street (Jl. Soekarno Hatta) is lined with operators for dive and mixed activity tours into Komodo National Park

What else did we learn?

Expectations vs Reality

If you’re expecting a David Attenborough-style experience when observing the Komodo Dragons in their natural habitat, you may be disappointed. On Komodo Island, guides/rangers stick to the well-trodden medium trail where the dragons’ behaviour is impacted by the presence of humans (villagers, park staff and tourists) and food (there are food stalls dotted along the foreshore). For a chance encounter with the giant lizards away from the (partially populated) coastal areas, you’d have to organise guides/rangers who take you on the inland trails (at an additional fee).

visitors at trail map komodo island

When visiting Komodo Island, tours usually stick to the medium trail

If you’re a keen diver (and don’t care about seeing Komodo Dragons), you’re better off joining a (multi)day tour organised specifically for divers. We were recommended:

dcim100goprogopr0046.jpg

What many don't know: Komodo National Park is much more biodiverse under water than on land

Be sun-wise

As mentioned, the climate at Komodo National Park is hot all year around (day time temperatures hover around 31-34 degrees Celsius / 89-93 degrees Fahrenheit). With the savannah-like vegetation on the islands, there is not much shade, so apply (reef-safe) sunscreen regularly and wear a hat.

vegetation at komodo island

Wear a hat and sun-screen when visiting Komodo National Park - the islands are hot and dry with limited shade

It gets choppy

The sea between Labuan Bajo and the islands of the Komodo National Park can get surprisingly choppy, even during the dry/calm season.

Two girls on our day excursion, headed upstairs to spend the one hour ride to Padang Island on the sun deck (lulled be the calm waters when we left the port in Labuan Bajo). Not long after though, it got really choppy. The girls got absolutely drenched and had to be helped back down and inside the boat for safety reasons.

If you’re concerned you might get seasick, make sure to bring (and take) tablets.

rwdc crew steering boat

It can get choppy on the water, even on a calm day - take tablets if you're prone to seasickness

Bring your own go-pro/underwater camera

The underwater world of Komodo National Park is spectacular (and much more versatile than on land). But (at least our tour) didn’t include any underwater photos. While we rented a GoPro for the day, the person we borrowed it from charged us an arm and a leg – IDR400,000/USD26. So, bring your camera to document your encounters with the park’s underwater creatures.

Komodo Island,Komodo Island National Park,komodo island national park entrance fee,komodo dragon national park indonesia,komodo dragon national park tour,padar island komodo national park indonesia,pink beach padar island komodo national park indonesia,angel island resort komodo national park,is komodo island open to tourists,komodo national park and flores island

Unless your tour includes a photographer, bring a GoPro/underwater camera - hiring one in Labuan Bajo is difficult and costly

What to pack for your trip to Komodo National Park?

Those who book their trip with Red Whale Dive Center will find a packing list included in the information brochure. For everyone else, here is a convenient packing list for your trip to Komodo National Park:

  • Hiking shoes
  • Flip flops or Sandals
  • Swimsuit
  • Swimshirt
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect Repellent
  • Dry sack
  • Cash (for the National Park Fee)
  • Phone/Camera
  • Go-Pro or equivalent (for underwater use)
  • If not provided by your tour operator: food/snacks and water (in a reusable bottle)

Where to stay in Labuan Bajo?

With (multi)day trips starting in the morning, we recommend staying at least the night before the start of your trip in Labuan Bajo. If you book a day excursion, you will also want to stay a second night in Labuan Bajo. Multi-day liveaboards tend to finish around lunchtime (another reason why we didn’t book one), thus you could book a flight out later that afternoon/evening.

While more touristy than the rest of Flores, Labuan Bajo is far smaller and quieter than any of the tourist hotspots on Bali it is sometimes compared with. As such, it also has nowhere near as many (quality) accommodation options. That said, there are some nice hostels, hotels and apartments available right in town:

NameProperty FeaturesTypePrice IndicatorBook Now
Bajo BunkhouseShared loungeHostel$Book Now
Komodo Suites Downtown24-hour front desk
Airport transfers
Hotel$$Book Now
Mehara Hotel Clean rooms
Central yet quiet location
Hotel$Book Now
Puu Pau HotelCoffee Shop
Certain documented environmental practices implemented at property
Hotel$$Book Now
Seaesta Komodo Hostel and HotelOutdoor Swimming Pool
Certain documented environmental practices implemented at property
Hotel$$Book Now
Sustainability Certification included as appropriate, but not validated. $ is USD50 and below. $$$$ is USD150 and above. A marks where we stayed and would highly recommend to our friends and family.
views over labuan bajo

There are accommodation options right in the centre of Labuan Bajo (but the quality is very mixed)

Is a visit to Komodo National Park now firmly on your travel bucket list too?

Do you have any other questions I haven’t answered? Don’t hesitate to reach out. I’ll try my best to help. And if you want to know what a day tour around the park is like, read our in-depth review of the one we did here.

And before you go: If you liked my article and found it helpful, I would appreciate it if you could share it with your friends and family via the Share buttons below. Even better: Leave a short review on Trustpilot or Google, which would help us further build our online reputation as a (trustworthy and helpful) travel and lifestyle blog.

Feature image courtesy of Ivan URIARTE.

Komodo National Park Guide 2024: How to visit and what to expect
Author: <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandrarosenau/" target="_blank">Sandra Rosenau</a>

Author: Sandra Rosenau

Sandra Rosenau is a Gen X gal from Germany, born and raised behind the Iron Curtain, with an unquenchable thirst to learn. Self-starter. Multi-lingual. Minimalist. Environmentally conscious. Financially and location independent. Energised by connecting with others and helping people succeed.