A two hour flight on a prop plane landed us in Labuan Bajo, on the island of Flores, the launching point for Komodo and Rinca islands trips. Unlike Bali, this island is still relatively unspoiled by tourism though it is quickly becoming a top destination for diving as the waters around Flores including Komodo & Rinca are building quite a reputation. Let’s just hope the dragons don’t join you in the water.
After checking in we walked into town visiting some of the many tour operators to get a sense of trip availability and cost to Komodo & Rinca island. We dropped into three shops: Kencana, Flores Komodo Expedition and Perama, the latter being the more established tour company for Indo. We narrowed it down to those three as they had decent reviews on tripadvisor etc.
We finally booked an overnight trip with Kencana Adventures who had the major advantage of actually having a boat going out with other passengers. Otherwise we would have had to pay for a private boat which costs about three times as much. Being low season it was hard to find boats that were already going out.
The plan would be to snorkel at four locations on day one (Kanawa and Sabayur islands, Manta Point and Pink Beach), spend the night anchored next to Kalong (flying fox) island, and then visit Komodo and Rinca Islands with a stop at Kelor island for a quick swim on day two. That’s the reverse order of a normal trip due to day one falling on a Sunday and the admission price to the national park being double on Sundays.
The next morning we boarded the boat, a wooden dive-type boat with enough bench space on the front deck to seat 6 people, the supposed maximum. Our fellow boat mates for the next 32 hours were an Irish couple who were traveling for 4 months, an Italian and Indo couple and a mysterious seventh passenger who lurked in the rear section and whom the Irish couple started referring to as our stowaway.
The first two snorkel sites were pretty nice if small. With the crew’s call of “swim there, pretty fish” we all jumped in. The water clarity was excellent and warm as bath water. The coral was plentiful and healthy looking, but there weren’t as many fish as we would expect.
The next site, Manta Point, was no misnomer! The boat cruised around for a few minutes until the crew spotted the first mantas. We jumped in and spent what seemed like an eternity swimming with rays. There were six mantas in the same spot at one point. We also had the good fortune of seeing a spotted eagle ray.
We then headed to Pink Beach on the island of Komodo, and snorkeled and walked the beach. The snorkeling there was sublime with crystal clear water and loads of beautiful soft corals. We were baffled when a boat full of Chinese tourists showed up to practice their breast stroke over the coral without ever looking down at it.
As the sun set at Kalong island the screeching fruit bats on the island began to take off. They didn’t quite fill the sky but I was amazed at how many there were on such a small island.
Evening and morning around Kalong
We also finally met our stowaway: a wacky, chain smoking, Basque woman who spent most of the trip muttering to herself in Spanish and English. She started by announcing that she could only sleep next to other people. If she was forced to sleep by herself, which was the crew’s original plan, she promised to come up to us as we slept and scream in our ears. She offered to pay one of the other couples to let her join them. So what happened? The other two couples had paid the higher price for private cabins, while D and I, being adventurous travelers, opted to sleep in the open air on the deck in what promised to be a lovely cool night. In other words, we were stuck with a bed partner. Luckily she only muttered while awake, and we had a quiet evening.
Our sleeping quarters
Next morning we went on ranger led tours of both Komodo and Rinca islands. We estimated we saw eight dragons on Komodo and at least fifteen on Rinca. We also visited a dragon nesting site and got a lesson on how to read dragon poop. It was interesting how close we could approach the animals given that they can outrun us at full speed. The rangers carried forked poles just in case, but the dragons on both islands were happy just lying around or scampering away from us. The big treat was seeing a one month old, 7 inch long baby dragon up in a tree, which is apparently uncommon, as they spend most of their time hidden. Of course just as the ranger on Rinca island was done telling us about how they stopped feeding the dragons for entertainment in 1988, one of the locals at the ranger station threw food to the 8-9 dragons lying in the shade of the hut.
Dragons, tourists and poop
The baby. Cute and soon to be deadly
The non-dragon pics
Next we headed to Kelor island. It was a nice spot but crowded with other groups. On the way there our stowaway became highly agitated. She spent the rest of the time holding a rock and muttering about defending herself from the captain. We all casually distanced ourselves and prepared our gear for arrival. When the boat docked it was like a starter’s pistol went off as we all hurried on our separate ways.
Overall, it was a fun trip with delicious, freshly prepared Indonesian meals and plenty of snacks. Don’t expect a lot of safety procedures, entertainment or first rate gear. The snorkeling gear needs to be retired since most of the masks leaked, but they were usable. And the crew weren’t naturalists or tour guides and didn’t pretend to be. They were local boatmen who smoked a lot and did their jobs and made sure we were comfortable, stayed out of trouble in the water and had a good time.