If you’re travelling to Flores / Komodo, then a multi-day live-aboard island hopping tour is a definite must-do. You see, Labuan Bajo is the starting point for most people as that’s where you fly into. However, whilst Labuan Bajo’s airport is often known Komodo Airport, the actual place ‘Komodo’ or Komodo National Park refers to a group of islands that you need to take a boat to reach!
Komodo National Park comprises of many small islands including the three largest / most famous ones – Komodo Island, Rinca Island and Padar Island. To visit these as a day trip can be a bit difficult as they do take a few hours to reach, so your best bet is joining a multi-day live-aboard group tour, or chartering your own boat for at least a couple of days.
About the tour activities
We liked the look of the Flores XP Dragon Tour because it included some of the main places we wanted to visit – Komodo Island to see the komodo dragons (more Tom, not me cause I was totally mortified at the idea haha), Padar Island viewpoint (#bucketlist), pink beach (#bucketlist) and a multitude of snorkelling spots. One thing that Flores XP didn’t include was Gili Lawa Darat Island, another island that I came across and wanted to visit, and it was too far to charter our own boat to visit on a day trip – so I had to sadly forgo that one for another time!
The tour takes up to 10 people, and for our tour, it was fully booked out so had ten people.
About the sleeping arrangements
With the 3N2D Dragon Tour that we went on, we spent one night sleeping on the boat and the other night sleeping at the XPirates Dive Camp which was a campsite style accomodation situated on one of the many smaller islands in Komodo National Park.
It was actually my first time going on a live-aboard boat tour and because I didn’t read the TripAdvisor reviews properly (I just saw high ratings and was like ‘yep great!’), I had no idea what I was in for and was thoroughly shocked with mismanaged expectations! I did not realise it was going to be a bit of a kind of night with no sink, cold water only and phew, luckily we brought our own bar of soap!
I felt like I had a total first-time camping kinda shock haha because I’ve never done anything like this before, so this tour ended up being a total adventure for me, anti-malarial side effects, sea-sickness, and all! In hindsight, it was a great adventure but I totally recommend bringing hand sanitiser if you’re anything like me haha (aka: not used to this kinda stuff).
The second night at the XPirates Dive Camp was a little better (aka less adventurous hahaha) – we slept in camp-style bungalows and had access to shared bathrooms. Image of the dive camp below!
About the food
For a boat that stayed out at sea for a good three days, I was surprised at how the crew on board managed to whip out so many dishes to feed us all (and themselves) at every meal. They were certainly well organised on this regard, if it were me in charge, I would totally run out of food by accident half way!
We had a range of proteins, veggies and rice or noodles at every meal, and I definitely also recommend bringing your own snacks because you’ll definitely get the munchies in between all the adventuring, swimming and sightseeing you will be doing.
Now on to the itinerary and activities and all the things we did!
Day 1 of the Flores XP Dragon Tour focused a lot on water activities – snorkelling or diving – the latter of which I believe you needed to be certified to do.
We started off at Sebayur Island and Mini Wall – guys I tell you, I haven’t been swimming in years and for this trip, I actually went to our local swimming pool every week to practise for this very moment – my life-jacketless snorkelling debut in open water!
The snorkelling here was quite incredible and the water was so clear compared to the other times we had been snorkelling – a few years ago near Halong Bay/James Bond Island and many moons ago at Gili Islands.
Sorry no pics, but we did take some videos!
We then headed off to Siaba Bay (Turtle City) to go turtle hunting. Unfortunately we didn’t find any turtles whilst snorkelling, however we did come across quite a few during other times of our trip whilst cruising on the boat or lounging by the beach.
The day finished off at Mawan, a little island with a pink sand beach. Did you know that Komodo National Park is actually home to multiple pink sand beaches and not just one? Mawan was the first pink sand beach we saw and we ended up seeing two more during our tour with Flores XP.
Pictured above is some of the red coral found in Komodo National Park. It’s broken up pieces of this that create the pink sand.
Sorry not too many pictures from day 1 – actually I accidentally ingested lactose that morning and coupled with anti-malarial side effect symptoms and sea sickness, day 1 was a pretty horrid day for me haha!
Day 2 was my absolute favourite. After all that swimming on Day 1, I was ready to do some land activities! We started the day with a morning hike up Padar Island. It was a picture of this very place that I saw many years ago that imprinted Komodo and Flores into my mind as a must-see destination. So I was totally thrilled to see it in person.
The walk up Padar Island wasn’t all that difficult or long – it was a series of stairs, a few rocks, and perhaps a good 20-30 minutes. However, it was the heat and humidity that really made it 10 times harder than it looked. We were lucky, because a good portion of the hike for us was done with the sun hiding behind the clouds. However, once it popped out, there was simply no shade on the footpath and I reckon I sweated a litre at least!
There are plenty of places to stop along the way to take photos of the view – it was simply breathtaking and if Tom and I had been visiting this island by ourselves instead of on tour, I could easily imagine spending an entire day here wandering around off-path or exploring the various bays.
The Padar Island viewpoint is an interesting one – from the top of the hill, you can see three different coloured sand beaches. A pink sand beach (the 2nd(!) one we saw), a black sand beach and a white sand beach. It was simply breathtaking, and I wish I could visit again!
After Padar Island, we headed to Komodo Island. In Komodo National Park, there are only two islands that the komodo dragons live on – Komodo Island and Rinca Island. For our tour, we visited Komodo Island to see them.
Tom was so damn excited about this part, GoPro on hand, trying so hard not to resist getting too close! I on the other hand kept my distance – you see, me and the dragons, we don’t know each other well, so how can I trust them at first sight?
Our nature guide took us on the medium trek which was about an hour long searching for komodo dragons. We ended up seeing four or five of them, which apparently was very lucky for us because some groups don’t see them at all, so it’s not guaranteed. The only self defence that followed us during the walk was the big stick the nature guide carried. I wasn’t so convinced, but I did later see them prove me wrong using the stick when a komodo dragon decided to come visit us just as the tour had ended.
These dragons I tell you, are huge. They look a bit like crocodiles and their eyes definitely look like they’re busy trying to think up a strat(egy). I heard that komodo dragons can eat up to 75% of their body weight per sitting and once they’re full, they don’t need to eat for up to a month.
I also heard (yesterday), that the news shared that in Komodo Island will be closed for one years time from Jan 2020, due to critically low numbers of the endangered species, after officials found visitors stealing more than 40 dragons ..!!!! What a shame that such a thing would be done – but if you’re planning to see the dragons soon, do try to go before it closes or there is also Rinca Island, another island where komodo dragons live, which I believe is still staying open.
After visiting the dragons, we cruised to another part of Komodo Island to visit the famous Pink Beach – the official pink beach! Apparently snorkelling is really great off this beach as well but we didn’t get a chance to see it as we spent most of our time here on the beach.
After Pink Beach, we headed to Makassar Reef, a mini sand bar in the middle of the ocean. It was such a cool little spot and actually, the sand was pale pink so does this also count as a pink sand beach?
On Day 3 we went manta ray hunting. We started the day at Batu Bolong, a little rock island that was covered with coral underwater. Batu Balong is one of the top 10 snorkelling sites in the world, and it was by far the most incredible snorkelling spot I had visited. There was just so much colourful coral, and so, so many fish swimming in every direction. Apparently, the tide is often very strong at Batu Balong, so you have to get lucky and come at the right time. We were lucky to have reached at a good time and were able to spend maybe 40 minutes exploring the coral reef here.
Here are some of the images we snapped at Batu Balong, I was so mesmerised, I have never been snorkelling anywhere as beautiful as Komodo National Park.
After Batu Balong, we headed to Manta Point to search for manta rays. I don’t know if we were just lucky, or what, but I swear I saw more than 30 manta rays during our quick one hour of snorkelling. The manta rays were so big, up to 1 metre in size, maybe even up to 2 metres for some of them. And they glided so gracefully across the ocean floor. We managed to even snap some photos of them – here is one of my favourites!
We ended the day at Tatawa beach for some more snorkelling. I was totally done for the day by then but did end up doing more snorkelling here. After seeing Batu Balong, this place didn’t compare haha but we did spot some interesting blue starfish and even a little reef shark!
Lastly, some travel tips if you’re going on this tour..
1) Bring hand sanitiser, if that’s your thing. Also bring snacks :-)
2) Pack super light, because space on the boat is quite limited in the cabins
3) Bring an extra towel if you can – they provide one per person, but with all the swimming and possibly showering (or not) that you will be doing, two towels will come in handy
4) National Park fees are not included in the tour, so you’ll need to budget about $40AUD (400k IDR) per day, per person.
I hope this post is helpful for any Komodo island-hopping research you might be doing! All in all we had a lovely time island-hopping with Flores XP seeing some of the most incredible sights both on land and in water – it was definitely an adventure different to any other I’ve ever been on. Thank you to the Flores XP crew & team for an action-packed three days.