Our trip to the Komodo Islands was pretty much a no brainer. We were already in Bali, Indonesia, which is less than an hour by air from the only place on earth where Komodo dragons – the world’s largest lizards – live naturally in the wild. It would have been regrettable to miss the chance to see these living dinosaurs.
We found some sale-priced round-trip airfare ($118 per person) from Bali to Labuan Bajo – the Indonesian town (an old Portuguese settlement) where visitors can book a Komodo dragon tour. After checking into an Airbnb, we headed down to the Labuan Bajo port to see what kind of deal we could get to visit the dragons.
We settled on a two day, one night ‘slow’ boat which can accommodate up to 25 people.
The itinerary included visits to both Komodo and Rinca islands (where thousands of dragons live) and four other stops for hikes or snorkeling.
Part 1 of our Komodo dragon tour details all stops on the overnight tour.
We negotiated a price of 700,000 Indonesian Rupiah ($50) per person with one of the many tour agencies in town; 500,000 Rupiah ($35) national park fees were NOT included and had to be paid on the boat.
Part 2 of our Komodo dragon tour lists all costs to take this trip.
Incidentally, in early November (low season) all the Komodo dragon tour agents seemed to be selling tickets (at various prices) for the exact same tour – funneling all passengers to two very similar boats which then ‘shadowed’ each other throughout the excursion. During busier periods there are apparently more operators, options, itineraries, and prices.
Details on the Komodo dragon tour boat
The morning of our departure we arrived at the port just after 8:00 a.m. and found about 10 other people already on board. We stowed our small backpacks and grabbed seats in two of the 10 well-worn beanbag chairs on the open front part of the upper deck.
As we waited to cast off at 9:00 a.m., more passengers boarded. The final number of tourists on our boat was 21 – plus one, English-speaking tour guide and four no-English crew.
The boat itself was a decades-old, sturdy, wooden vessel about 50-feet long with a 12-foot beam. A multipurpose kind of craft, usable for ferrying goods or people or even fishing. I’d say it was in decent condition; painted white, reasonably clean, smooth running, diesel powered, quiet, with underwater exhaust, odor free.
Behind the upper, front beanbag area, there was a large, covered, upper deck piled with sleeping mats. At four feet, the ceiling was too low to stand up, but the space was completely shaded and breezy and good for lounging and watching the passing island scenery.
On the lower deck, here was an open bow with two large wooden seating benches, ladder to the upper deck, barrel of clean water for ‘bathing’, and a giant basket where all shoes were kept.
An open-windowed galley with seating for 12 along the sides and a big serving table in the center took up the whole middle-lower section of the boat. A hutch with serving dishes and a self-serve, hot water heater with coffee and tea bags was at the rear of the galley. There were several electrical outlets where cell phones could be charged above the hutch. There was no WiFi on our Komodo dragon tour – but so what?
Advertised as a ‘slow boat’, we never went even 10 miles-an-hour. But we didn’t want to either. The six scheduled stops were each spaced for a couple hours of slow cruising followed by an hour to two of nature trekking or beach snorkeling. Our Komodo dragon tour was well-paced on an enjoyable schedule.
There were only two tiny cabins which were pre-rented by two groups of passengers. Everyone else slept dorm-style on the covered upper deck. The crew had their own tiny quarters somewhere in the aft area. A small kitchen was also far to the rear, behind the inboard motor.
Each passenger had a comfortable, thick, vinyl covered 6-foot-long sleeping mat with a fitted sheet, full-sized pillow and case, and a loose top-sheet. Surprisingly, all the linens were clean, fresh, folded – nearly new.
At night, canvas side curtains were lowered to enclose the sleeping area – although we wished they were left open. A few people did take their mats to the open bow area of the boat to sleep under the stars. I slept well overnight and even napped for an hour the first afternoon as the slow boat hummed and swayed along.
One major bummer…
The one major downside was the bathroom. It was a tiny closet-sized room at the back of the boat. There was no toilet seat. Paper and collection basket; yes. A drum of water with big floating cup was squeezed in for flushing. There was a primitive shower head which soaked everything in the space whenever anyone decided to take a ‘shower’. I’m not sure who was showering, but the room was always wet. Changing out of wet swimwear was unpleasant.
Included in the $50 price were four meals; lunch, dinner, breakfast, lunch. Each meal was served buffet-style on the galley table. Passengers could sit and eat anywhere they wanted onboard. Rice was always served as a base with choices of mixed vegetables, chicken, and tofu or tempe. Sliced watermelon and bananas were desert.
Personally, I found the food very acceptable in taste and quantity. Still, I tend to eat very lightly in that kind of setting. I also took loperamide the morning we set out.
Finally, our Komod dragon tour guide, Bagus, was a very personable, friendly, cheerful individual – perfect for the part. He outlined the trip at the beginning and loudly updated everyone regarding passing sights and when it was time to prepare for each outing. The other crew members were also efficient and helpful, especially using the small towed dinghy to ferry people to and from the beaches and keeping close watch over snorkel activities.
The crew also awoke at 3:00 a.m after we spent most of the night sleeping off Komodo island, and drove 2 hours in the dark, while we all slept, so that we could get to the top of incredible Padar island for sunrise on day two. It was breathtaking!
Looking back, the overnight cruise we took was exactly what we wanted. And it was a steal for $50 – and even adding the mandatory $35 park fees. The real key was that we got to visit both islands where the dragons live and we saw the beasts at both – even a dragon fight!
Of course, this isn’t the only Komodo drag tour – other options are offered. The most common seem to be: a one day, four-stop slow boat (only visiting one dragon island), for about 400k Rupiah ($30) plus 275k Rupiah ($20) park fees; the one day high-speed boat which makes six stops for about 1.2 million Rupiah ($85) plus $20 park fees. Those are what was most prominently advertised at each tour agency in November 2019.
We also noticed longer-duration tours and tours adding diving were available, but only on certain departure days. And it is always possible to hire a boat and create your own itinerary for your group – and substantially more money.
Our advice for anyone considering a Komodo dragon tour is to do some online research to get a feel for availability and cost for your dates. Seriously consider booking online with a well-reviewed operator if you have specific requirements or are short on time or if price isn’t a big concern. Those wanting a more refined experience with better amenities – including a nice bathroom – can find those options online too.
For those more like us slow travel vagabonds, we’d recommend planning at least a 4-5 day visit and seeing what kind of adventures you can arrange on site – including the cheap overnight tour that we took.
As always, happy trails & more beer. Life is now!
This post was updated on November 16, 2019, with a few new pictures, once we stopped traveling and found great WiFi.