Astonishing Komodo dragon 2-day trip on a budget

We took a Komodo dragon trip in Indonesia to see cold-blooded carnivores living on some islands for millions of years. It was an epic trip: adventurous, astonishing, affordable.

Our two-day, one-night trip was on an old wooden Indonesian tour boat. It made six stops in the Komodo National Park. The park includes several islands and reefs in the Flores Sea.

It’s not possible to see the Komodo dragons without a park ranger. It’s too dangerous. These creatures are capable of killing people – it happens every few years.

The largest lizards in the world truly are amazing creatures. There is some more information about them in the Komodo Island section.

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Komodo dragon trip experience

Day 1

Stop 1: Rinca Island

Four islands have Komodo dragons in the park, and Rinca Island is one. This was our first stop. It took 2.5 hours to reach it on the old boat from our starting point at the port in the city of Labuan Bajo.

First, we saw monkeys. They were everywhere between the dock and the path that leads into the forest. We saw our first dragon around the welcome center, hanging out under a tree. It looked like tree roots.

We kept walking on the path and eventually saw a few more dragons. Honestly, sometimes I was startled by them. They blended in so well with their environment that sometimes they were tough to spot.

a man kneels behind a komodo dragon in Indonesia.
Tedly with a Komodo dragon at Komodo National Park, Indonesia.

We also came to a large hill with a pretty overlook of a bay. Everything was brown on Rinca – and other islands – because it was the end of dry season in early November. Rainy season starts in this area in December.

dry brown grass on top of a hill facing a bay that opens up to the flores sea
Rinca Island overlook spot in Komodo National Park. The grass is brown at the end of dry season in early November.

Stop 2: Pink Beach

Our second stop was Pink Beach, with snorkeling right offshore.

We have been snorkeling (and diving) all over the world. And it was here – at this little spot in Indonesia – at Pink Beach – where I saw the most colorful coral on my travels so far. It was breathtaking. Sky blue, neon green, bright orange — it was amazing. Beautiful doesn’t even describe it. Otherworldly, alien, elegant, all rolled into one word might come close.

This was the only time I seriously missed our Go-Pro. The waterproof case broke a few years ago and we never replaced it.

pink beach and blue water at komodo national park in indonesia
Pink Beach in Indonesia has some of the most colorful coral I’ve ever seen.

There were stupid tourists standing on the coral with their flippered-feet. I wanted to shove them off and punch them in the face. But I suspect there are many more reefs in this area that tourists will never see, and I feel better – hopeful even – that tourism won’t ruin everything.

Stop 3: Komodo Island

This was the most dramatic stop of the entire trip – because of the dragon fight we witnessed. In hindsight, we probably were a tad too close.

But I had an escape plan in mind, just in case, and it was the stairway into the bar area. (Can Komodo dragons climb stairs, I wonder?)

Tourists generally don’t see dragon fights. I was lucky to be rolling video when I sensed something was about to happen.

We saw other dragons on this island, too.

By the way, at no time did any of the guides let anyone get too close. And the guides carry forked sticks as protection or deterrents. I asked a guide what good a stick will do when a Komodo dragon is coming at you. The answer was: dragons usually don’t attack humans. But if one did, the stick would immobilize the head like a snake, and render it helpless.

I’m not sure a stick would stop them. Some of the dragons weigh more than 100 kilos. But, I guess they would know more than me. There were several guides around our group – all with sticks. If they had any other weaponry, I didn’t see it.

a man kneels behind a komodo dragon in a forest
Tedly kneels behind a Komodo dragon in Indonesia.

There are around 1,700 dragons on Komodo Island, and 1,000 on Rinca Island. Komodo dragons also can be found on two other islands we did not visit. (I’m not sure if tourists are allowed on those other islands.)

They are fascinating beasts, really. They have a venomous bite and have been known to follow prey for miles and days after a bite, waiting for it to die. Then the dragons rip flesh from the fallen while they hold the prey with their front claws. These carnivores also are cannibalistic, and yet they also can hunt together. Males have two penises.

The Komodo dragon has a “vulnerable” status, and the Indonesian government has worked to stabilize their environment by passing protection laws. (More on park changes in the last section.)

Day 2

Stop 1: Padar Island

What a beautiful way to start the day! After sleeping on the boat in a dorm-style area on the second floor of the old, slow, wooden boat, our first stop the next day was Padar Island.

This place is famous for its view of a black beach, a white beach, and a pink beach from the top of it’s small mountain. I forgot to check the elevation, but it was something like 800 steps to get there. To see the sunrise light the island and bays was yet another breathtaking moment on this trip.

Sunrise view atop Padar Island at Komodo National Park, Indonesia.
Sunrise view atop Padar Island at Komodo National Park, Indonesia.

Apparently, in 2018, the park had concrete and stone steps built to the top, so it’s no longer a rocky, dirt trail.

Stop 2: Manta Ray hole

This was just okay. I saw three manta rays, but Tedly didn’t see any. Several people in our group didn’t see any, either.

One of the mantas I saw was about six feet long. And while that was cool to see, it was a murky view because the current had all kinds of stuff churned up in the water.

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In fact, the current that day was too strong for most people, including me. I hate flippers, and I’m recovering from broken ribs, so it was a struggle for me to move my arms. I had to hold Tedly’s shirt as we both kicked back to the boat. Luckily, he wore flippers.

a choppy sea with an island in the background at komodo national park
Manta ray sightings were rare in our group on the day and time we went to the location were they are known to spend time.

There is a dinghy towed by the old wooden boat in case people get too tired to make it back to the big boat.

Stop 3: Kanawa Island

Kanawa Island was the last stop of our Komodo dragon trip. No dragons live here, but it’s another pretty spot to snorkel, and there is a beach with a bar and a few cabins tourists can rent.

What stood out here to me: large numbers of curious fish, and starfish! Starfish were everywhere. I’ve never seen so many in one spot.

a man holds up a starfish big enough to cover his head
Tedly holds up a starfish at Kanawa Island in Komodo National Park, Indonesia.

Also, tropical fish eagerly explored my personal space. Dozens and dozens of them – different types, too. There were gorgeous tropical fish at Pink Beach, but there were many more at Kanawa Island.

Cost of the Komodo dragon trip

Tourists hit these same six stops on “fast boats” and can do this same tour in one day, but you’ll pay more. Also, the faster you go… the less you see. There are also tours for three days, two nights, and they also cost more.

Boat tour price, 2 days, 1 night

Our trip cost 700,000 rupiah each. That’s $50. That included the boat rides and all meals: lunch, dinner, breakfast, lunch, coffee and tea and water anytime.

We got that price by waiting until late afternoon when tour operators become more willing to make a deal to set a plan in motion for the next day. Our first quote a few hours earlier was for 800,000 rupiah.

At this price, I would describe the accommodations as primitive dorm-style. This is not the trip for you if you expect to privacy or solitude on the boat. There were 21 people in our group! But, this is the perfect trip if you want to see spectacular sights at a super price.

We booked through Revolusi — a tour and travel reseller and art store in Labuan Bajo. I could not find a web site. I know nothing about its history or reputation, because we walked in off the street and I liked the guys.

The boat itself was operated by Altaf, which has an office in town.

Komodo National Park entrance fee

Everyone on the boat paid 500,000 rupiah ($36) for park entry, guide fee and snorkeling fee to the boat captain when we first boarded.

That brought our total Komodo dragon trip cost to $86 per person, tip not included. I think that’s an incredible deal! Especially since on this tour, we hit both islands tourists can visit to see the dragons (as of this writing).

Well, now for the bad news is: it ain’t gonna last.

Visits to Komodo Island are about to be only for tourists willing and able to drop serious cash to see the famous Komodo dragon.

Future visits: rich people only

three komodo dragons sit in the sand on komodo island in indonesia

There is much confusion over the future of the park for average tourists.

Authorities had said they would close Komodo Island to protect the dragons from poaching, and to protect the dragons’ environment. Rinca Island would remain open.

But in a reversal, government officials declared Komodo Island would stay open, but only for tourists with “membership” that would cost $1,000 a year.

The date for this tentative transition has changed a few times, but as of this writing, it appears set for early 2020.

That pending change was part of the reason we decided to go while we were in that part of the world.

Parts 2 & 3 of our Komodo dragon trip

Our trip to get to that part of Indonesia had other costs, of course, such as airfare and housing. Part two of this series covers the extra costs, in addition to this cheap, cool tour!

And part three of this series covers more about exactly what to expect on this overnight boat tour with strangers.

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This post was updated with two new pictures on November 16, 2019, when we finally stopped traveling and got to good WiFi.

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