Inside the dragons’ lair: Komodo Island

Up close with the amazing Komodo dragons on Komodo Island in Indonesia. The only place they live! They look slow and lethargic but watch out: they can kill!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Komodo National Park, Indonesia

See the Komodo dragons on Komodo Island, a preserve that’s the only place they live in the world. I’ve got tips on how to get to Komodo Island, where to stay, and what to do in Komodo National Park.

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.

Seeing the Komodo Dragons at Komodo Island National Park, Indonesia

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!

Seeing the Komodo Dragons at Komodo Island National Park, Indonesia

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.”

Seeing the Komodo Dragons at Komodo Island National Park, Indonesia

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.

Seeing the Komodo Dragons at Komodo Island National Park, Indonesia
Seeing the Komodo Dragons at Komodo Island National Park, Indonesia

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.

Seeing the Komodo Dragons at Komodo Island National Park, Indonesia

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.

Seeing the Komodo Dragons at Komodo Island National Park, Indonesia
Seeing the Komodo Dragons at Komodo Island National Park, Indonesia

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.

Seeing the Komodo Dragons at Komodo Island National Park, Indonesia

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.

Seeing the Komodo Dragons at Komodo Island National Park, Indonesia

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.

Pink Beach, Kanawa Beach, Komodo National Park, Indonesia

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.

Pink Beach, Kanawa Beach, Komodo National Park, Indonesia

If you’re short of time, then you could do a one day tour to Komodo Island. I would suggest either this one-day tour or this one-day tour.

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.

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54 thoughts on “Inside the dragons’ lair: Komodo Island”

  1. Nicely written, Mr. T! ARE THEY CUTE OR WHAT!! In the last picture it looks a bit like the little Komodo boo boo dragon is pooing while guiltily realising that he’s being photographed as doing so. But seriously, animals pooing (and I’m talking about the ones that actually need to stop to do it) have a very concentrated and thoughtful facial expression that makes for the most fascinating contrast to the action they’re engaged in. I like watching. Actually, I’d rather watch them poo than kill their prey. But that’s just me. Slightly off-topic once again. Anyway, loved your article (“…blood-tinged saliva oozes out the side” – very twiglighty. Rowr.) and will not try to shake dragon hands when going to dragon island. Mission “Educate & stimulate” accomplished once again, Michael. You’re the man.

    Reply
    • Ha ha ha… wow. I feel like there’s the potential for a whole post about animals going to the toilet here. The Komodo dragons also vomit, I’ve read. once they’ve eaten a goat, for instance, they throw up all the hair and bones and horns and stuff they can’t digest. I don’t imagine that would be a particularly ‘thoughtful’ experience, though 🙂

      Reply
  2. Hi Michael

    You are a legend! How do you get around? I’ve never had much money, and probably never will, but my boyfriend and I enjoy living on the wild side. We’d love to know how you got around.

    Reply
    • Hi Cindy,
      There are lots of ways to travel quite cheaply. And the good thing is that the wild off-the-path adventures are often the cheapest because you’re not dealing with the ‘tourist dollars’. I think they keys are to move slowly (because then you’re not spending too much on transport), live local (because then you’ll get the cheapest food) and look for experiences rather than sights (because often they’re free and are the most rewarding).
      For people who want to travel and live on the wild side, there’s always a way! Good luck!

      Reply
  3. I once had a dream where I was attacked by a Komodo dragon. It didn’t end very well…LOL Honestly, I’d love to visit these islands. I had a chance back in 2008 but didn’t act on it. I won’t make that mistake again.

    Reply
  4. I don’t know much about Komodo dragons but your posts about them are fascinating me. I suspect before too long I’ll be planning a trip to see them myself in person!

    What great photos you captured of the ones that you saw. And you’re absolutely right; it is very special to be one of just a few people that have seen them in their natural habitat.

    Reply
  5. Great post Michael, I remember watching a documentary not long ago, it was partly about the film crew and partly about the dragons. It was a brilliant insight to the feeding habits of the dragons, one of the dragons bit a buffalo which took several days to succumb to the effect of the poison, when it finally did the dragons were waiting, they actually followed the whole time and waited patiently for it to drop.

    The film crew were actually quite emotional about watching the drama play out before their eyes.

    Reply
    • Yeah, I find it really scary the way they stalk their prey for days (sometimes weeks) waiting for them to die from the bacteria in their mouths. It’s quite a lazy way of hunting really, isn’t it? But fascinating. The Komodo dragon only has to eat about once a month so I guess they’ve got some spare time.

      Reply
  6. Hi Michael, i would like to ask you some questions since we plan to visit Komodo island. Is it possible to go there with a kid of 5 years old and a little kid of 20 months? Do you know good trip organizer that do this? Thanks in advance. Btw great pictures of Komodo.

    Reply
    • Hi there. Yes, it would be possible to go with small children. The rangers are very good at looking out for you (you can’t walk alone) and they’ll let you know if you need to do anything different with kids. Most of the time the dragons aren’t too near so it’s not too scary.
      With regards to organisers, I’m not really in a position to recommend one particular one. If you search online, you’ll find people in forums recommending some. You can also just book it once you get to Labuan Bajo, and decide in person if you like a particular operator.

      Reply
    • Thanks Christina – and I’m so glad you got to see them for yourself! They’re incredible animals, aren’t they?
      There aren’t many left, that’s true, but what I find really incredible is that there are any left at all!!

      Reply
  7. Great article thank you for wrote the article “INSIDE THE DRAGONS’ LAIR” from your article you introducing Komodo island to the world. So let’s came to Komodo Island and make your holidays fun and memorable

    Reply
  8. Thank you so much for your informative article on Indonesia tour with awesome pictures which inspire any one at list once visit your visited all places.

    The Komodo Island is a magical place!! We are so happy to have the opportunity to see those huge dragons!

    Reply
  9. Wow! You are on point with the facts! I’m working on a essay about the dragons for school, and your article is a HUGE help!

    Reply

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