The heaviest lizard on earth, weighing up to 70kgm and 3 meters long, the Komodo Dragon's appearance is the stuff of nightmares. They are not exactly pretty reptile specimens. Flat heads and rounded snouts, bowed muscular legs, and big tails—all smothered in crinkly and scaly skin. A yellow forked tongue completes this menacing specter of brute strength that has been lumbering around on earth for about 4 million years, munching on stinky meat. But, they are the iconic symbol and token marketing word you will see everywhere in Labuan Bajo. This port town is the gateway to the Komodo National Park. Labuan Bajo sits on Flores Island, one of the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia.
Komodo National Park encompasses 29 volcanic islands, including Rinca, Padar, and Komodo, covering a massive 1,733 km² and home to about 2,500 Komodo Dragons. Officially named as one of the New7Wonders of Nature and a global conservation priority area, much of the zone is still undiscovered. One of the richest areas of marine creatures, fauna, and flora in the world. It's a hiking and diving mecca for adventurous souls as the area forms part of the Asia Pacific Coral Triangle.
The most recognizable view splashed over social media is the one that will take your breath away when you stand on the top point of Padar Island. The incredible view of four crescent-shaped coves with crystal-clear water lapping their shores is spread out before you. It's an endless vista of dazzling greens and blues in every shade you can imagine rolling onto beaches of pink, black and white sand. The island is a land mass of volcanic mountains, hills rolling down to aquamarine water, and patchy ground cover of grasses and bushes. The most incongruous sight is Timor Rusa Deer tip-toeing around the shoreline and amongst the large boulders on the foreshore. Or burying their noses into the split-opened coconuts the locals sell to thirsty tourists. You can snorkel or scuba these waters to gawk at sharks, manta rays, and roaming green turtles.
The Pink Beach on Komodo Island is one of only seven pink beaches worldwide. The pink sand is created by tiny bits of crushed red coral and foraminifera. This microscopic organism lives in coral reefs. Mixed with white sand, it forms a candy pink that shuffles with the tides onto the beach. Cruising into this stunning bay of blushing pink sand, boats stuffed with tourists jostle for a space to throw an anchor onto the beach—if you are lucky, you may have the beach to yourself. Locals have set up an array of neat palm-fringed warungs selling food and drinks, plus the obligatory bracelets locally crafted from South Sea pearls. The bronzed children of these beach vendors laugh and splash in the shallow water without a care in the world.
Komodo National Park is where you will fall in love with the ballerinas of the sea—reef manta rays. This adventure has four main dive/snorkeling sites: Manta Alley, Mawan, Cauldron, and Manta Point. But when it's their romantic season (mating), they roam all over the marine waters of the park. Growing up to nine meters in length and weighing up to two tonnes: swimming beside them is an adrenalin rush. Manta rays are as curious as you are, so be careful where your flippers are flapping!
There are over 100 world-class dive sites in Komodo National Park where you can get up close and personal with dugongs, sharks, and too many fish species to count. The water ranges from tricky whirlpools to fierce currents. Hence, diving only with reputable tour companies that take safety seriously is advisable. For those preferring to snorkel, the calm azure waters off the jetty at Kanawa Island will give you a visual feast of marine creatures that will have you mesmerized. Alternatively, snorkel the waters surrounding little mounds of sand that pop up in the middle of the ocean. It's definitely a surreal experience.
Cruising back to the jostling harbor of Labuan Bajo at the end of the day, when your tongue hangs out for a sunset cocktail, your boat will go past a series of volcanic islands. Many are uninhabited, and some have colorful villages nestled into shorelines. Lone wooden boats operated by local fishermen ply the blue ocean from one village to another, no matter the time of the day.
If you want more than a one-day wonder in this marine fairyland, take a liveaboard cruise for a few days of breathing fresh air, frolicking on sun-drenched beaches, and exploring the blue depths.