Taking a tour to Komodo National Park to see the famous Komodo dragons is a truly incredible experience. The national park, which was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, is most easily accessible from the small port town of Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores, Indonesia. Tours to Komodo and the surrounding islands can easily be arranged in Labuan Bajo, and although many travel bloggers recommend waiting until you reach the town to book a tour, doing so is actually a big mistake. The locally operated tours are poorly run, with a distinct lack of regard for safety. On top of that, the tours are rushed, the boats often break down, and they don’t even follow the scheduled itinerary – meaning you may miss out on some of the best spots of the national park. To make sure you have the best possible trip, it’s best to book your Komodo tour online in advance through a more reliable operator. That way you can ensure your boat tour definitely includes the best spots in Komodo National Park, such as Komodo Island, Rinca, Padar, Manta Point and Pink Beach. Unfortunately we made the mistake of booking a day trip through a local operator having been misled by information on other travel blogs, but this did help us to realise the best way to see the national park. We wanted to share our experience to tell you why you shouldn’t take a day trip in Komodo National Park and why you should instead opt for a multi-day trip or liveaboard to make it the trip of a lifetime!
Wondering where else to visit before or after Komodo? We recommend following this Bali itinerary before making your way to see the famous Komodo Dragons!
Table of Contents
Why you shouldn’t do a day trip to Komodo National Park
Lack of quality operators
Before we arrived to Labuan Bajo we did a lot of research regarding the best tours to the Komodo Islands. Almost everything we read told us to wait until we arrived to book a tour as the ones available online are overpriced. Considering multiple travel bloggers recommended doing this, we decided to wait until we got to Labuan Bajo to book a tour.
As soon as we arrived to Labuan Bajo we made it our mission to find the best possible tour to Komodo National Park. There are plenty of tour operators along the main street, all offering slightly different things. As you walk down the main street the workers at these tour companies will try to convince you to sign up for their tour. We had already done some research and knew that we wanted our tour itinerary to include Padar Island, Manta Point and either Rinca or Komodo Island in order to see the famous Komodo dragons. As we knew exactly where we wanted to go this helped us narrow it down to a list of tours that were suitable to us.
Having spoken to a number of operators we decided to check their reviews on TripAdvisor. At this point, our initial optimism began to fade. Half of the tour companies had a number of very bad reviews, whereas the other half didn’t have any online presence – which was a bit of a red flag considering the bad reviews for the other local operators.
One of the common themes of the bad reviews was that local operators generally have old and unreliable boats. We experienced this first hand as our boat actually broke down during our tour of Komodo National Park. Not only are the boats unreliable, many of them are unclean and have rat infestations.
Other bad reviews were more serious, with some mentioning customers being sexually harassed by staff and boats not having enough life jackets on board. The more we read up about the operators on the street, the more we regretted waiting until we arrived in Labuan Bajo to arrange a tour.
We decided to look up the best operators online to contact them to try and arrange a tour. Unfortunately, tours with these operators were sold out or were overnight trips that meant we would miss our flight back to Bali.
As we didn’t book a tour in advance, we ended up having to settle for a tour with a local operator called Tours to Komodo. Although we weren’t fully convinced, the reviews online were generally positive and we didn’t really have any other option at this point. Even though the reviews were positive, we ended up having a bad experience with them. We can only imagine how bad the tours are with companies that have negative reviews!
No matter how many times you read that you should wait until you arrive into Labuan Bajo to arrange your Komodo tour, do not trust it. Although the tours you can book online are more expensive, this is because they are of a far superior quality and so the price difference is completely justifiable. Alternatively, if you’re happy sharing a boat with rats and aren’t worried about your boat breaking down at sea then take a risk with a local operator!
They lie to you to get you to ook a tour
It’s fairly common for tour operators in Labuan Bajo to mislead you in order to get you to book a tour with them. We met a number of people who had been lied to about their itinerary. Their tour company said the itinerary included a stop at Padar Island, but on the day of the tour they were told they wouldn’t be going there as they didn’t have the time. They were understandably pretty devastated about missing out Padar as it’s one of the most beautiful spots in Komodo National Park. By lying to them, their operator took away potentially their only chance of ever visiting Padar.
We had a similar experience ourselves on our tour of Komodo Island. There are 3 treks you can do on Komodo Island – a short trek, a medium trek and a long trek. Knowing that we were unlikely to be visiting again any time soon we made sure to book a tour that included either the medium or long trek. We were promised that the tour included the medium trek, but when we arrived our operator tried to convince us that we would only have time for the short trek and that we must have been confused. Everyone else on the tour was adamant that they had also been promised the medium trek, so eventually our guide agreed to us doing the longer option. Despite this, our walk wasn’t as long as it should have been, so we think they just took us on the short trek anyway. Considering how far people come to visit Komodo National Park, operators shouldn’t be ruining part of their trip and lying to them just to make extra money.
The majority of tours leave Labuan Bajo at around 6am, and so breakfast is often provided. We were told not to worry about breakfast as they had breakfast for us on the boat. Just after we departed we found out that this ‘breakfast’ was a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter for everyone on the boat to share. There wasn’t even enough bread for a slice each, which is just ridiculous considering breakfast was supposed to be included. Although this isn’t as big a deal as missing out a stop or being lied to about the length of a trek, it’s another good example of how the tour operators mislead tourists.
Old crappy boats
We’ve already briefly mentioned that local tour operators in Labuan Bajo have unreliable boats. Unfortunately for us, we had to experience this first hand. Everything was running smoothly early on and we made it to our first stop, Padar, without any issues.
After we had enjoyed the incredible scenery from Padar viewpoint we set off for Komodo Island. We had no reason to suspect any problems until our boat suddenly broke down around half an hour away from Komodo. The crew seemed relatively unfazed, but it still took them over half an hour to get the boat working again. Although it wasn’t ideal, we didn’t mind too much as it wasn’t too big of a delay.
After visiting Komodo our boat seemed to be working well again, and we visited both Pink Beach and Manta Point without any more issues. We began making the long journey back to Labuan Bajo, but after a little while our boat started to have issues again. It didn’t completely cut out, but the speed was reduced significantly and we started to move very slowly. At this point we were over 2 hours away from Labuan Bajo, and it was going to take even longer if they were unable to fix the boat.
Fortunately, another boat passed nearby and our crew convinced them to tow us back to Labuan Bajo. They tied the boats together side by side in order to help us make our way back. Although it didn’t look or feel convincing, it all seemed to be going ok at this point.
After a short while of being towed, the sea began to get very wavy. The boat that was towing us was getting the brunt of these waves, making both boats rock back and forth viciously. At this point it started to seem like capsizing was a real possibility as the boats were becoming increasingly unstable. The crew realised that being towed wasn’t going to work and so untied the boats.
Whilst this was happening, things were falling from the other boat into the sea. The crew from both boats had to then spend time fishing out these items from the sea. Once this had been done the other boat went off, and we slowly made our way back to Labuan Bajo. Our engine improved slightly so we weren’t going as slow, but it was still a lot slower than we had been going earlier!
Although in the end no real damage was done, it could have been a very different outcome. The boat we were on was clearly not fit to be used for a tour, and we could easily have been left stranded at sea if the other boat hadn’t helped out. Although it can be tempting to save money by going with a local operator, it certainly doesn’t feel worth it when you’re in a situation like that!
Tours are rushed
Although visiting Komodo National Park is a once in a lifetime experience for most people, the tour operators don’t seem to care at all. They will rush you to try and finish the tour as quickly as possible with no real regard for customer satisfaction.
As we’ve already mentioned, they tried to trick us into doing the short trek on Komodo Island. When our group argued with them they reluctantly ‘agreed’ to take us on a longer trek, but in reality we only did the short trek anyway. Personally, we think they tried to trick us into doing the shorter trek because the boat broke down and they needed to make up time. Considering it wasn’t our fault the boat broke down they shouldn’t have cheated us out of this experience.
As we arrived to Komodo Island around midday, the Komodo dragons were very inactive. We were told they are more active earlier and later in the day as they conserve energy during the midday heat. As we walked around we saw a number of dragons sitting perfectly still, with seemingly no interest in our tour group. The dragons were so still that members of our tour group were able to pose behind them for pictures almost within touching distance. Considering that they are supposed to be vicious, carnivorous animals, we were very surprised by this. For all we know the Komodo Dragons could have been drugged as they were so inactive. We didn’t see a single one moving about during our walk.
After finishing up the trek we were waiting to board the boat once more to head to our next stop. At this point a Komodo Dragon suddenly appeared and started making its way along the beach. It was the moment we’d all been hoping for, especially after we’d been told we probably wouldn’t see any dragons moving. We watched in awe for around 5-10 minutes as the enormous lizard walked along the beach. Although the trek was interesting, watching this felt a lot more special. Or at least it did feel more special until our tour guide told us we had to leave immediately or we wouldn’t have time to visit Pink Beach or Manta Point. Considering we’d come all this way to see the Komodo Dragons, no one was in a rush to leave.
We managed to stay a short while longer before our guide insisted we all return to the boat. Although we felt incredibly lucky to see an active Komodo Dragon, we were also extremely disappointed that the experience was ruined by our guide rushing us. Once again, had the boat not broken down we wouldn’t have been so short on time. It felt incredibly unfair that we didn’t get longer to enjoy what we came all that way to see.
Although we were frustrated, we stayed positive for the remainder of the day. Our next stop was Pink Beach, which we had both been looking forward to. We’d seen pictures online of the unique pink sand, and so we were excited to see it for ourselves. When we actually arrived our boat stopped a long distance from the beach. They told us we had half an hour to go snorkelling and that we wouldn’t actually get to go to the beach itself. We were too far away to appreciate the beach at all, and we could only make out a slight hint of pink in the sand. Considering Pink Beach was advertised as a stop, we feel like we didn’t get a proper chance to visit. Instead, we just saw it from a distance and couldn’t appreciate the special nature. It was another real let down!
Unprofessionally run with no care for safety
The most worrying thing about the locally operated Komodo National Park tours is that they have no real care for safety. We’ve already mentioned that some boats don’t have enough life jackets, but it doesn’t stop there.
Although Pink Beach is supposed to be a nice and calm snorkelling spot, when we arrived it was very choppy. The visibility was bad and there was a strong current, which made it dangerous for anyone who wasn’t a confident swimmer. We tried our best to enjoy the snorkelling but we really couldn’t see anything.
After realising we wouldn’t have any luck with the snorkelling we decided we’d just get back on the boat. The problem was there were so many boats about, and the strong current had carried us away from ours. It wasn’t that easy to tell the difference between the boats, so it took us a little while to figure out which one was ours.
We eventually found our boat, but when we did the crew told us to hang on to some tyres dangling from the side of the boat as they needed to move. As there were only 3 tyres it meant there were about 3-4 people holding on to each tyre – which was a struggle as there wasn’t much room! They moved the boat multiple times, pulling us along as we held onto the tyres, which didn’t feel safe at all. One member of our tour was having a panic attack because of the uncomfortable situation they’d put us in. Although the guides can’t predict the currents, they could have done more to help people back onto the boat and to safety as quickly as possible. Eventually they stopped and we were able to finally get back on the boat.
Another issue we had was on our way back to Labuan Bajo. As our boat was struggling, we were well behind schedule. By the time we should have been back we still had over an hour and a half to go. At this point the sun had started to set, and it wasn’t long before it was completely dark. There was no light for us to be able to see, and the crew also didn’t have a light to make other boats aware of our presence. It stayed this way for the remainder of our journey, as our tour group sat in darkness. We were all concerned for our safety at this point, as another boat could easily have crashed into us without knowing we were there.
Finally we could see Labuan Bajo and so we could breathe easily once more. Just before we reached the port, one of the crew members turned a light on so that we could make our way off the boat. Considering we’d all been sat in darkness concerned for our safety, it was irresponsible of them not to have turned this on earlier. This light alone would have been enough to make other boats aware of our presence but instead the crew didn’t seem to care for our wellbeing and safety.
Not only that, but when we were being towed by a boat earlier in the day we could have easily capsized. The locally operated Komodo tours do not have boats fit for purpose, and safety is a big concern. We didn’t expect the tour to be perfectly run, but we were shocked at the complete disregard for our safety on a number of different occasions. In our opinion it’s only a matter of time before there is a serious incident with one of the locally operated tours, so we’d recommend paying extra for a more reliable operator.
Local operators combine tours
Another thing to be wary of is that many operators combine their tours if they don’t have enough bookings to fill a boat. Instead of 2 operators sending out a half full boat each, they will combine the tours and only send out one full boat to save on costs. The problem with this is that if you’ve selected to go with a specific operator that you can end up being on a completely different tour or boat to what you were promised. This can become a real problem if different people have been promised different itineraries and it could end up ruining your day.
Rebranding to hide negative reviews
On top of everything above, one tactic employed by local operators is rebranding so that tourists can’t find negative reviews online. By simply changing the name of their company it makes it virtually impossible to find out any information regarding their tours.
The best way to avoid booking with a company that hides its reviews in this way is by choosing an operator that has had positive reviews over the course of many years. Companies that have rebranded will generally won’t have reviews from over a year ago on TripAdvisor. If a company has mainly positive feedback for more than a year then they’re more likely to be reliable than an operator that has only started receiving feedback in the last 3 months.
The best way to see Komodo National Park on a tour
If you want a hassle-free trip it just isn’t worth taking the risk of booking a day trip with a local operator once you get to Labuan Bajo. As you can tell from our experience, things seem to go wrong all too often and it isn’t worth saving a bit of extra cash when it could potentially ruin a once in a lifetime trip.
Thankfully there are 2 good alternatives. If you only have time for a day trip you can find a number of reliable operators online to arrange either a shared or private tour. Make sure to only use companies with positive reviews over the course of at least a year, but preferably even longer!
In reality though, the best way to see Komodo National Park is by booking a multi-day trip or liveaboard in advance of your arrival to Labuan Bajo.
Multi-day trips and Liveaboards
Multi-day trips and liveaboards are overnight tours that allow you to explore Komodo National Park over the course of several days. Both kinds of trip involve exploring the national park during the day and staying in a cabin on a boat overnight. The main difference between multi-day trips and liveaboards is that the latter focuses mainly on scuba diving, giving qualified divers the opportunity to explore the incredible marine life of the national park. These tours vary in length from 2 days and 1 night to week long trips, so there are plenty of options depending on your budget and how much time you plan to spend in the area.
Itineraries for multi-day trips and liveaboards vary substantially. Generally multi-day tours will visit either Rinca or Komodo Island (or in some cases both) to see the Komodo Dragons, as well as Padar Island, Pink Beach, Manta Point and Kalong Island. Other stops may include the islands of Kelor, Taka Makassar, Gili Lawa Darat, Mawan and Sabalon. Many of these spots involve the chance to go snorkelling, but if you’re looking to go diving then you’re probably better off booking a liveaboard. With so many incredible spots to visit within Komodo National Park the itineraries differ between operators, so make sure to research exactly where you want to go and pick the best fit for you! Click here to get an idea of what a multi-day Komodo tour itinerary looks like!
As liveaboards generally focus on diving, the itineraries are very different to the multi-day trips. For qualified divers, liveaboards are a great option to discover the magical underwater world in the Komodo National Park. As the focus is mainly on diving, not all liveaboards actually visit Komodo Island or Rinca to hike and see the Komodo Dragons. Considering it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to see these unique creatures, we recommend that if you’re going to book a liveaboard that you make sure this is included on the itinerary.
There are a number of brilliant dive sites in Komodo National Park, with some of the most popular being Manta Point, Batu Bolong, Siaba Besar, Siaba Kecil and Castle Rock. The itinerary tends to vary depending on the currents and your level of qualification, so it’s not always possible to know exactly what sites you will visit in advance. Wherever you end up diving though, you’re sure to experience some of the best dive sites in the world. Click here to find out about some of the best dive sites in Komodo National Park!
How to find a reliable operator
We can’t overstate the importance of finding a reliable operator, especially if you’re opting for a multi-day trip or liveaboard. Although it will end up costing more, it’s completely worth it. The first step to finding a reliable operator is searching TripAdvisor. Click here for a list of TripAdvisor’s best rated Komodo tours from Labuan Bajo. Before searching through operators make sure that the tours are sorted by ‘best reviewed’. Look through the TripAdvisor pages for the top operators and read through reviews to ensure the majority of feedback is positive and there are no recurring issues with their trips. Once you are satisfied an operator seems reliable, click the website link on their TripAdvisor page to see exactly what kind of tours they operate and if they offer an itinerary suitable for your wants and needs. It isn’t always possible to book immediately, so you will probably need to send a booking request to the operator directly to ensure they have availability on your desired dates. We recommend booking as far in advance as possible to give yourself the best chance of finding the tour you want with a quality operator.
It’s worth noting that multi-day Komodo tours and liveaboards can also be booked through local operators in Labuan Bajo. Generally speaking, many of these have similar problems to the ones we experienced. As a result, we strongly recommend finding your operator the way we have suggested above!
What’s the cost and why pay more?
The cost of a multi-day tour or liveaboard in Komodo National Park does vary depending on the operator and exact itinerary. Multi-day tours can be booked from around 1,800,000 Rupiah ($130 USD) per person if you sleep on the deck or around 2,500,000 ($180 USD) per person for a private cabin. Budget liveaboards with good operators can be found from as little as 2,400,000 Rupiah ($170 USD) per day if you stay in a dorm.
All multi-day trips generally include meals, drinking water and snorkelling equipment alongside various other amenities. Liveaboards generally include the same as multi-day trips but also include the rental of diving equipment as well as the cost of diving. Exactly what is included depends on the specific tour and operator, so make sure you know what you’re paying for before you book. Many tours don’t include the cost of the Komodo National Park entrance fee as well as the tourism taxes and snorkelling/diving fees. These fees need to be paid daily and can add a significant amount to the overall cost of the tour.
Komodo National Park entrance fees
If the national park fees aren’t included in your tour it can be hard to figure out exactly what the additional cost of these fees will be. Your operator should be able to confirm what fees you will need to pay as they may collect these from you before you begin the tour.
The national park fees can be quite confusing as there are so many different ones, but the main ones are as follows:
Komodo National Park weekday entrance fee – 150,000 Rupiah.
Komodo National Park Sunday and national holiday entrance fee – 305,000 Rupiah.
Komodo Island Tourism Tax – 100,000 Rupiah.
Rinca Island Tourism Tax – 100,000 Rupiah.
Ranger fee on Komodo Island – 80,000 Rupiah per group of up to 5 people.
Ranger fee on Rinca Island – 80,000 Rupiah per group of up to 5 people.
Trekking fee on Komodo Island – 5,000 Rupiah.
Trekking fee on Rinca Island – 5,000 Rupiah.
Wildlife fee on Komodo Island – 10,000 Rupiah.
Wildlife fee on Rinca Island – 10,000 Rupiah.
Komodo National Park diving fee – 25,000 Rupiah.
Komodo National Park snorkelling fee – 15,000 Rupiah.
These fees are subject to change and so may increase without warning. It’s also worth noting that these fees must be paid daily, so if you’re on a 3 days and 2 nights liveaboard trip you would need to pay the national park entrance, tourism tax and diving fee each day. On top of this you would need to pay the relevant extra fees if your trip visits either Komodo Island or Rinca to see the Komodo Dragons.
In late 2018 there were reports that the entrance fee to Komodo National Park may rise to around $500 USD. Although there has been no official confirmation of this, it means that in the future it may cost around 50 times as much to visit the national park. If you’re thinking of planning a trip, we recommend doing it sooner rather than later to avoid having to potentially pay such a large entrance fee.
Komodo National Park Closure
Komodo Island will be closed for one year from January 2020 to allow for habitat restoration. The shut down, which has been given the go ahead by the Indonesian government, only applies to Komodo Island and not other sections of the national park. This means visitors will still be able to see the famous Komodo Dragons on Rinca Island, as well as visit other areas of the park such as Padar and Manta Point. The government hope to improve tourist infrastructure whilst reducing the impact of tourism in order to help preserve the nature of the national park. Find out more about the planned closure by reading this article from the Jakarta Post.
Tips for visiting Komodo National Park
Best spots to visit – It’s important to do your research before booking a tour as that way you can visit the spots in the national park that you are most interested in. We recommend the following: Komodo Island/Rinca – to see the famous Komodo Dragons, Padar Island – for a short hike to a viewpoint with stunning scenery, Manta Point – for the chance to swim with manta rays in the wild, Pink Beach – to see a unique pink sand beach and Kalong Island – to see a colony of flying foxes (bats) at sunset. There are plenty of other incredible spots to visit too, so make sure you read up about all the amazing places the national park has to offer.
Komodo Dragons aren’t active at midday – During the midday heat, Komodo Dragons generally conserve their energy. If you visit Rinca or Komodo between around 10am and 3pm, you’re likely to see the dragons sitting very still in shaded areas as they try to keep cool. Although we personally saw an active Komodo Dragon at this time of day, we were extremely lucky. If you’re hoping to see the Komodo Dragons active then you should book a tour that visits Rinca or Komodo either early in the morning or late afternoon. Unsurprisingly, it’s a lot more impressive seeing a dragon active in comparison to sitting still, so we recommend visiting early or late to give yourself the best chance of seeing this!
Komodo or Rinca? – Tours of the Komodo National Park provide the opportunity to see the famous dragons on either Komodo Island or Rinca. Perhaps surprisingly, there’s actually a better chance of seeing the dragons on Rinca. This is due to the island having a denser population of Komodo Dragons. Although we originally planned to see both Komodo and Rinca, we ended up cancelling our trip to Rinca as our first tour was so poorly run. That being said, we’d still recommend choosing a tour that goes to both islands as that way you should hopefully get to see these incredible creatures twice during your trip!
Be respectful – Make sure to be respectful to the wildlife and nature you encounter during your trip. When we snorkelled with manta rays we saw a few tourists dive down to touch them and hold onto them. Simply put, people who do this are idiots. Encounters like this are intimidating for wild animals and so you should always make sure to keep a respectful distance. The same rules apply for all wildlife in the national park. If you value your safety it’s particularly important to be respectful of the Komodo Dragons, as they are more than capable of killing humans. Finally, make sure to take all your rubbish with you to dispose of properly so that you don’t cause any damage to the wonderful nature of the park.
Strong currents – One of the highlights of any Komodo tour is the chance to snorkel or dive with manta rays at Manta Point. The currents here can be very strong, so it’s important to be a confident swimmer if you’re planning to get in. We were very fortunate that the currents were quite calm when we visited, but other people we met told us it was extremely choppy when they visited – similar to what we experienced snorkelling at Pink Beach. If the currents are too strong for you then you can always have a second chance snorkelling with manta rays in Nusa Penida.
Learn from our mistakes – We just have to say it one last time, do NOT book with a local operator and also avoid booking a day trip if possible. Our trip could easily have ended in a capsized boat or being stranded at sea, which just isn’t worth it to save a bit of extra money. Visiting Komodo National Park is a once in a lifetime experience that you should enjoy every second of. If you book with a local operator then there’s a good chance one or more things will go wrong throughout the course of the day. By booking a multi-day trip you’ll be able to explore more of the national park, giving you even more memories to cherish.
Speedboat day trips – If you only have time for a day trip in the Komodo National Park then we recommend paying more to go on a speedboat. The local tour companies have very slow boats, which mean you spend the majority of your day waiting to get between the different spots in the national park. By paying more for a speedboat you can save time and hopefully see more of the park too depending on the itinerary!
How to get to Komodo Island – The closest airport to Komodo Island is located in Labuan Bajo. Direct flights to Labuan Bajo airport are currently only available from within Indonesia, so you will need to already be in the country in order to fly there. Fortunately, there are a number of flights daily from some of the Indonesian islands.
No hotels on Komodo Island – To help preserve the unique nature there isn’t a single hotel on Komodo Island. The best option is to stay in the nearby town of Labuan Bajo, from which the majority of tours depart. Click here to find great deals on accommodation in Labuan Bajo on Agoda!
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