Komodo Boat Tour – The Islands of Rinca and Flores

Indonesia is a hugely varied and intriguing continent and a one time visit is difficult to plan as there are too many captivating places to visit in one trip, unless your trip is an extended one. The island of Komodo, home to the infamous Komodo dragon should certainly be on the travel list.

Komodo National Park (Komodo and Rinca) has virtually no accommodation, you need to decide where to stay and how to get there. We chose to stay on the Island of Flores and then take a boat to Komodo National Park. Flores is the closest island to the Park and has a wide choice of accommodation. We eliminated islands further away as our research indicated that weather patterns in the area were unpredictable. Our choice was not without consequences.

Calm water does not mean there are no crocodiles – Indonesian proverb

Komodo National Park, located in the center of the Indonesian archipelago is situated between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores, it is composed of three major islands (Rinca, Komodo, and Padar) and numerous smaller ones, all of them of volcanic origin. They are inhabited by a population of between 3,000 to 5,700 giant lizards (Komodo dragons) that exist nowhere else in the world. These lizards are of great interest to scientists studying the theory of evolution. 

Flores Island – Indonesia

The area of Labuan (Labuhan) Bajo in Flores is filled with tour operators and hotels. The Ayana Hotel, which opened in 2018, is the first 5 star hotel on the island. The resort is beautifully laid out with spectacular views of Flores Sea. It also provides daily excursions to Komodo Island.

You can take a boat or plane from Bali to Labuan Bajo and then take a boat to Komodo Island or Rinca. See our post on Bali. There are also a series of ferries you can take from Sumba Island to Komodo Island (a ferry from Waingapu to Pelabuhan Bima, then a ferry from Pelabuhan Bima to Labuhan Bajo and then a boat from Labuan Bajo to Komodo Island). See our post on Sumba.

Boat tour to Komodo Island National Park – Rinca Island

Flores, Komodo map

We booked Ayana’s luxury boat excursion to Komodo Island complete with champagne and lunch, well in advance. Upon booking, the hotel made it clear that the trip was dependent on the weather. Our research indicated that the weather in the area can change pretty quickly and pretty dramatically. For this reason, we had given ourselves three days on the Island of Flores. If the boat to Komodo was canceled on the first day, Ayana would have two more days to get us there.

As we had feared, the morning of our boat trip to Komodo Island, the front desk called to tell us that, due to anticipated bad weather, the coast guard was prohibiting all water vessels from leaving shore. Moreover, they could not assure us that the boat would be allowed to make the trip the following day. It would depend on what the coast guard determined that morning. Having come to this point and not able to visit Komodo National Park was not an option. We decided to make alternate plans.

We asked our taxi driver and make-do guide (a hotel contact) if he had any suggestions. He called around and informed us that the Island of Rinca would be open for sure the following day (not sure how he knew this). Rinca is closer to Flores and is part of the Komodo National Park. It also has a huge number of Komodo dragons (1000), greater than Komodo Island on a per square foot basis. Our guide also suggested we visit his uncle in town, who had boats for hire, complete with captain and crew. He volunteered to take us to his uncle.

The “uncle” did not speak English, had several questionable boats but we were able to find a small, comfortable one that looked newer and cleaner than the rest. We paid a cash deposit and booked for the next day. Normally, we don’t take such risks on our travels, not with our money nor our safety. I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive as the hotel had not endorsed any of this and the uncle was not a recognized tour operator.

The next day, everything started as planned, our guide picked us up at the hotel and took us to the docks. The boat was clean, ready to go, equipped with water, a captain and one crew (our guide, who spoke English). We traveled at a pretty fast speed for about 30 minutes and then the boat engine suddenly stopped. After about 20 minutes (but seemed like hours) of teeth gnashing and terse discussion between the helmsman and our guide, and after many attempts, the boat engine finally re-started. The motor stopped another couple of times like this, but eventually we continued underway without problems to Rinca Island.

From Labuan Bajo to Rinca Island, it took approximately 2.5 hours, add another 30 mins for engine problems. From Rinca Island we went to Badadari Island to snorkel and to experience one of the famous pink beaches. On our way back to Labuan Bajo we stopped at the small fishing village of Papagarang.

Komodo Island National Park – The Komodo dragon

Komodo Dragons only live on five islands in the Flores Sea: Flores, Gili Montang, Gili Dasami, Rinca and Komodo. Although their populations were once more widespread in the region, a combination of hunting and lack of food has made Komodo Dragons extinct on the other smaller islands such as Padar.

Komodo dragon populations are found on four other nature reserves on the North coast of Flores, Longos Island and the West coast of Flores.  The total number of dragons in these reserves is estimated at 300, a far larger number exist on Rinca (1000) and Komodo Islands (1500).

Flores, Komodo, Rinca map of dragons
Map of Komodo Dragon – orange shaded areas indicates where Komodo dragons can be found.

This Komodo lizard, the largest living species of lizard grows to an average length of 2 to 3 meters. The species is the last representative of a relic population of large lizards that once lived across Indonesia and Australia. 

The dragons’ hunting technique means it can attack very large prey and this has assured its survival over time. Dragon saliva teems with over 50 strains of bacteria, and within 24 hours, its stricken prey usually dies of blood poisoning.

Unlike other animal species, the Komodo dragon will also eat its newborn babies. Luckily, infant dragons are very agile, and quickly learn to escape the hungry adults by climbing trees.

Komodo dragons are one of the only animals able to reproduce without male fertilization. This is due to a process of asexual reproduction known as parthenogenesis. This was only discovered in 2006, when a dragon called Flora mothered five baby dragons at Chester Zoo in Cheshire, England, despite never having been kept with a male. However, this self-fertilization yields offspring that are healthy but every one is male.

Komodo dragons have been a stable species for 90 million years. 

From Rinca or Komodo to see the dragons?

When in Flores, the question is always, which island do you visit in order to sea the Komodo dragon, Rinca or Komodo? Rinca is closer to Flores, and during bad weather conditions Rinca may stay open whereas Komodo may have to close. It is also claimed by locals that you’re more likely to spot dragons on Rinca. This is because the population is denser and there is less cover for the dragons to hide. The dragons are bigger on Komodo, but sightings on Rinca are pretty much guaranteed. We saw dragons almost five minutes after we set foot on Rinca. It was pouring rain but that did not stop us from touring the island, our ranger was very considerate and informative.

Besides the Komodo dragon, the islands are home to the Timor rusa deer, the main prey of the Komodo dragon, horses, water buffalo, wild boar, crab-eating macaque, Asian palm civet, the endemic Rinca rat, and fruit bats.

There are strict environmental and ecological restrictions on both islands, as part of the Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are professional ranger guides on both islands who are employed to guide tourists around the islands in search of the dragons.

Bidadari Island and Pink Beach

Although the official “pink beach” is situated on the south shore of Komodo Island, there are actually many ‘pink beaches’. There is a pink beach on the Island of Padar, Tangsi Beach in Lombok Island, Lambu Beach in Bima Island, Namong Beach and a pink beach on Bidadari Island. I call it the ‘secret’ beach that also offers great snorkeling. “Secret” because there was absolutely nobody there when we arrived and nobody came while we were there. We had the whole beach to ourselves. The snorkeling was magical.

The beach sand gets its hue from thousands of broken coral pieces, shells, and calcium carbonate materials left behind by foraminifera (tiny marine creatures with red and pink shells) that live in the coral reefs that surround the beach. Although the colour is certainly pink, many of the photos showing a very deep pink colour have probably been retouched.

Fishing Village of Papagaran

The fishing village of Papagaran is small, approx. 1200 people, mostly Muslim population. The villagers survive primarily from fishing activities, including the drying and selling of the local fish products.

Indonesia produces salted fish using different methods of curing. Drying or salting, either using edible salt or brine, is one of the oldest methods of preserving food. Salt inhibits the growth of microorganisms by drawing water out of microbial cells through osmosis. The variety of fish, methods of curing, types of salt used, and environment also determine the flavour of Indonesian salted fish products. 

The Indonesian anchovy fish called teri nasi is exported within Indonesia and also to developed countries such as Japan, where this fish is extremely popular. The fish is first boiled in salted water and then dried in open air. It is left outside for 4 to 5 hours depending on the water content.

Mondisti Flores Island – Komodo National Park Trip Tips

  1. The Island of Flores is the best place to stay when visiting Komodo National Park.
  2. The Ayana Resort has wonderful accommodation as well as private boat charters to Komodo Island.
  3. Rinca Island has an abundance of Komodo Dragons and easier to get to than Komodo Island. It is a good option of the weather is bad or you want for a shorter trip.
  4. Komodo National Park is one of the most unique places on earth.
  5. Allow yourself at least 3 days in order to experience the many sites in the area.
  6. There are many pink beaches and snorkeling is great.