Some people will tell you, sincerely, that the movie King Kong was inspired by an expedition to Komodo Island.
Others will tell you, with as much conviction, that the island was the basis for Jurassic Park.
Neither is necessarily wrong, neither is necessarily right.
Regardless, stepping off the boat, walking down the small wooden pier and into the forest feels like a trip back in time – to a land where the lost animals of history rule supreme.
Komodo dragon facts
The Komodo dragon exists only in this one part of the world – on four small islands in the Komodo National Park, in the southern part of Indonesia.
The animal’s isolation from the rest of the planet is what has ensured its survival for so long. It had no predators and was not discovered by the Western world until 1910.
Quarantined and indomitable, evolution largely overlooked these dragons.
And be warned… Komodo dragons are dangerous!
As I walk into the main camps of the two islands I visit – Rinca Island and Komodo Island – I can see some dragons laying on the ground.
They seem docile and slow… but with sharp teeth and large claws, I keep my distance.
A group of rangers with forked wooden sticks are there to protect us.
“We use the stick to push them away”, one tells me.
“But when they are aggressive that’s not enough. Then we have to run.”
The Komodo dragons do strike out at people occasionally and there are a few attacks each year on locals who live on the islands. I met one ranger who was attacked by a Komodo dragon and still has the scars to prove it!
Normally, these attacks are just when they feel threatened – but humans are still a potential food source.
The most common foods of the Komodo dragon, though, are deer, buffalo, goats, and birds.
Sometimes they can attack their prey and then eat it whole, right there and then. Other times they will bite and then wait patiently.
Their saliva contains bacteria that will eventually kill another animal so they will stalk it, sometimes for as long as three weeks, until it dies and can be devoured.
Visiting Komodo National Park, Indonesia
I see a demonstration of the Komodo dragon’s danger on Komodo Island, when a couple of them suddenly run across the ground at a high speed. Jaws snap and blood-tinged saliva oozes out the side.
After 20 million years, these animals know what they’re doing. They are lethal when they want to be.
As a visitor to this Komodo dragon preserve, there isn’t much danger, though. In fact, it’s less like Jurassic Park and more like a stroll in the park.
Although there are about 4,600 dragons across all the islands, I saw less than a dozen.
This is not a zoo and the animals are not always going to be in pre-designated viewing areas. They are wild and they come and go through the forests.
They are also generally well-fed and will spend their time resting and conserving their energy.
The rangers will look after you during a visit. They’ll tell you stories of living and working with dragons and they’ll show you some interesting things – such as the nest of dragon eggs and the mother guarding it.
You’ll have a chance to walk around the islands and see the animals in their natural habitat. A few days before my visit, some tourists saw a group of dragons attack and eat a water buffalo.
How to get to Komodo National Park
It’s actually relatively easy to get to Komodo National Park – mainly because it’s become so popular, there’s a fair amount of infrastructure for tourists.
You’ll need to fly to Labuan Bajo, which you can get to directly from Denpasar (Bali) or Jakarta. Flights aren’t super cheap, considering how short the trip is, but they’re reasonable enough.
Labuan Bajo is a small town and the airport is very close. You’ll be able to get a cheap taxi or even walk. If you’ve made a booking with a hotel or a tour company, they may also include a pick-up service.
Speaking of hotels, it’s likely you’ll need to stay in one for at least one night because most of the Komodo Island tours leave early in the morning and arrive back late in the afternoon. Luckily there are some decent options – and it’s worth booking in advance to secure a room.
Where should you stay in Labuan Bajo?
If you’re looking for a backpacker option, you can get a great cheap bed at the Ciao Hostel.
For a simple but comfortable hotel, I would suggest looking at Hotel Kasuwari hotels.
If you’re interested in something a bit special, Villa Domanik has stunning bungalows!
And there’s also a beautiful luxury resort in Labuan Bajo, so have a look at Plataran Komodo Beach Resort.
What to do in Komodo National Park
Komodo National Park is more than just Komodo Island. There are actually three large islands within the park and about 26 smaller ones. That means there are lots of things to do.
However, the problem is transport. You can charter a boat for the day which gives you flexibility to do whatever you want. But that’s not a very affordable option.
It means most people will go with one of the local tours (I’ve got some suggested Komodo tours below).
That’s not a bad thing because they’ll take you to many of the best places.
Obviously, the highlight is seeing the Komodo Dragons. I would recommend doing that on Komodo Island and/or Rinca Island.
There are some other islands that are fun to explore. There are great views from the top of the hills of Padar Island, for instance. And there’s a beautiful white beach at Taka Makassar Island.
One of the most picturesque spots is at the ‘Pink Beach’ on Kanawa Island, and it’s worth spending a bit of time there.
The colour on the beach (also known as Kanawa Beach) comes from coral that has been crushed and mixed with the sand.
You can snorkel here and the water is super clear. In fact, there’s lots of snorkelling in Komodo National Park and the tours will take you to the best locations.
Or for longer tours (which I would recommend – one day is too short) there are a few great options here.
Although it may be possible to find a tour once you arrive in Labuan Bajo, I would suggest booking in advance to guarantee you have a spot with a reputable operator.
Personally, it is quite a special experience to come to Komodo and Rinca Islands.
Knowing that this is the only place in the world I can see these animals in the wild…
Knowing there are only a few thousand of them…
Knowing this species has been around for 20 million years…
And knowing that only the tiniest fraction of the world’s human population has ever seen them here.
And I am now one of those people.
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.