“Where are my dragons?!”
I couldn’t resist uttering that line with my best Daenerys Targaryen impersonation when we finally stepped foot in Komodo National Park, Flores, Indonesia. Like Khaleesi eager to be reunited with her dragon babies, I was very excited to finally see real life dragons. Too bad these dragons are not like the mythical fire-breathing ones but could be just as deadly. Couple that with the Jurassic-esque landscape that made us feel like Nat Geo explorers for two days. Wonderful Indonesia indeed!
Komodo National Park
Right in the heart of the coral triangle, Komodo National Park was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1991. It was later declared as a Man and Biosphere Reserve in 1997 because of the rich and diverse terrestrial and marine species found in the area. It was also recently included in the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
Located in East Nusa Tenggara province, it is comprised of three big islands (Komodo, Rinca, and Padar) and smaller islands. The park, of course, was named after the Komodo Dragons/Lizard (Varanus komodoensis) that exist only in these islands and have lived here for millions of years.
These lizards, known to be as the largest and heaviest in the world, can grow up to 3 meters (10 feet) and weigh up to 330 lbs (150 kg) in its adult state. They can live up to around 30 years in the wild. (Reference: National Geographic)
They are very patient in waiting for its prey but are also very aggressive when it finally captured its meal. These carnivorous creatures are also prone to eating its young. And have also been known to attack humans albeit this is rare. Be sure to ask your guides about stories when you finally get here!
Komodo Lizards are also very infamous for their deadly bites. You may not be killed by their serrated teeth, but you’ll definitely be killed from the venom and multitude of bacteria from its lower jaw. As per our guide, the antidote is in a hospital in Bali. So if a human gets bitten, he will need to be transported to Bali, or else die because of the anticoagulant in the lizard’s venom.
Komodo National Park: Komodo Island
After an hour and a half of speedboat ride from Labuan Bajo’s port, we finally reached Jurassic Park. Oh wait, Komodo Island I mean. The landscape looks otherworldly, with the brown rugged hills contrasting with the different shades of blue of Flores Sea.
I admit I was a little bit disappointed that there were no Komodo dragons waiting for us by the shore. I was ready for the action. And too pumped up with all the stories on how vicious these ancient species are. But that’s just my alter-ego talking.
A week before this, I was low-key freaking out that I didn’t have my period yet. You see, komodos can smell blood from around 6 miles away. So we were advised by our coordinators beforehand that we should let them know in case we were menstruating on our days in KNP. I certainly didn’t want to end up as komodo dragon feed so thankfully everything came up on schedule. I’m no Usain Bolt so I certainly couldn’t outrun them if they chased me because of my period. 😀
We were all ears as our Ranger guides explained to us what we need to expect and what’s going to happen. We were warned not to leave the group or the trail, make too much noise, or be deceived by the seemingly languid or sleeping Komodos.
There are four trails you can choose from in the Loh Liang Walking Trails. Thank God we took the shortest one possible. With excitement mixing with my nervousness, we set off on the trail. Fregata Hill was the first stopover. A viewpoint overlooking the sea and the other islands in the UNESCO world Heritage Site.
Passing by resting deers and crows circling above, we headed towards the Rangers station. There we finally met our dragon.
Holding our breath, we quietly inched toward the magnificent but deadly creature. It was sandwiched between two trees, with its stubby arms and legs outstretched. Each taking our turns having our photo taken while it seemingly rested. You can feel its underlying power though when it suddenly raised its head and looked as if it was waiting for its prey to move.
Komodo National Park: Rinca Island
While the Komodo Lizards in Komodo Island appeared to behave, it was altogether another matter in Rinca Island.
Our speedboat docked in Loh Buaya and had us walking a mangrove-lined road that led us into an arch guarded by two standing komodo dragons. The path was in the middle of an open, dry and rugged landscape with the hills in the background. I darted my head around while walking, watching for any sign of a komodo dragon lurking nearby. It was like entering Jurassic Park!
Interestingly, there were monkeys outside while we were having lunch at the main building. Probably lured by the smell of food and waiting for scraps.
“There could even be Komodo dragons under this building”, said Vesta. I raised my eyebrows in reply. “Yes, they are attracted to the smell of food.” Now, that got me more intrigued. Soon enough, she was regaling us with stories of komodo attacks on humans.
So when the guides finally called us for the trek, I was once again excitedly nervous. Our short trek led us to the Rangers’ quarters and kitchen. Three male Komodo dragons were lying in wait for us. Unlike the languid demeanor of the one in Komodo Island, these three seemed poised to attack. They were constantly alert, raising their heads and flicking their tongues.
While we were aptly listening to the guide, two female komodos suddenly attacked each other on the other side of the house. It was all too fast to video any action. The one who lost scampered away, while the triumphant komodo walked to the three males and acted as if she’s showing off for us. It was definitely enough action for me!
The rest of the trek took us deeper into the forest, with the guide showing us holes in the ground. One of these holes is where the komodo mother laid its eggs. We even got a chance to see a baby komodo lounging on one tree.
How to get there
From Lombok (Praya), we took a flight to Bali (Denpasar) via Garuda Airlines. Travel time: 45 minutes. We then took a Kalstar flight from Denpasar to Labuan Bajo. Travel time: 50 minutes.
Make sure to choose a window seat. Landing in Labuan Bajo is one of the most scenic I had so far in my years of traveling.
Garuda Airlines has flights everyday from Lombok to Denpasar. Kalstar Aviation also has flights everyday from Denpasar (DPS) to Labuan Bajo (LBJ).
Labuan Bajo (west Flores), a small fishing town, is the jump off point if you want to explore the islands in Komodo National Park. You can also reach Komodo National Park via Bima in Eastern Sumbawa.
How to get around
You can rent speedboat, local boat, or shared boat from Labuan Bajo pier to get you around the islands. The main street is filled with tour operators to choose from. You can also arrange your transportation to Komodo National Park via your hotel or guesthouse.
You can choose to have a day tour, or you can choose to sleep onboard for 2d1n/3d2n. Food and drinks are usually included.
WHERE TO STAY IN LABUAN BAJO, FLORES
Watch the highlights of our two days in Komodo National Park below:
Where else to go in Indonesia? Check out the other destinations here:
Disclosure: I was invited to join the Trip of Wonders in September for Wonderful Indonesia. Thank you to the Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia. Although this is a sponsored trip, all opinions and biases are my own.
Have you seen a Komodo Dragon? How was your experience?