Komodo National Park is located in East Nusa Tenggara province in the center part of Indonesia. It has three larger islands of Komodo, Padar, Rinca, and 26 smaller islands. With a total area of 1,733 km2, the park is almost as big as the whole country of Mauritius. Labuan Bajo in the main Flores island is the hub town. Most tourists fly in and out, stay, and book the tours from there.
In 1986, Komodo National Park was declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site to protect the endemic Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), the world's most giant living lizard. The conservation now has expanded to cover the entire biodiversity of the park, both marine and terrestrial. The park became more popular after being voted as one of the New7Wonders of Nature in 2011. The Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy of the Republic of Indonesia has officially put the park as one of five priority destinations for Indonesia's tourism in 2020. The new airport, roads, and many tourism facilities have been built to cater to the tourists.
The climate in the Komodo National Park is one of the driest in Indonesia. It can reach up to 40°C in the dry season between May to October. Due to this arid climate, the land is rough with stony hills, grass, shrubs, and trees. However, the park's terrain is diverse, containing mountain ranges, tropical rain forests, grassy savannas, white and pink sand beaches. The landscape's color changes depending on the season: green in the wet season and yellow in the dry season.
In contrast, the marine area has high biodiversity and a colorful landscape in the Coral Triangle. The average seawater temperature is 27-28°C, so a 3 mm wetsuit will be fine. Thousands of tropical fish and coral species flourish in the park because its fierce currents bring in nutrients from the depths of the Indian Ocean that create ideal conditions for scuba diving. It is undeniably impressive to dive in Komodo!
Be aware there are fees applied to everyone entering Komodo National Park, such as entrance fees to some islands, diving fees, hiking fees, even a drone fee if you bring one. It usually does not include in your dive package. Ask your dive center how much in total because it is based on the route, the number of days, weekday or weekend, type of activity, and whether you are a foreigner or local. It is rather complicated, so bring cash in Rupiah and give it to your dive center. It should be no more than the equivalent of USD 55 per person for three days of diving. They will pay at the park authority locket, and you will get a stack of paper tickets.
What are the highlights of diving in Komodo?
Komodo is a well-known place to see manta rays all year round with various diving sites, including wall dives, pinnacle dives, drift dives, and coral gardens. Other than fish schooling in abundance, you can see sharks, greenback turtles, eagle rays, a wide variety of pelagic fish, as well as small creatures. The topographies and reef scapes are unique.
What is the best time of the year to dive in Komodo?
You can dive in Komodo all year round, both land-based and liveaboards. However, January to March has rough surface conditions at the northern dive sites, while July and August have rough seas in the south. Your local dive guides will choose the best sites.
The best weather is from April to November because it's the dry season, but July to August has the cooler seawater. From November through March is the rainy season when you can see the most manta rays. The best visibility is from November to January when 30 meters are standard.
Diving Komodo or Raja Ampat: which one is better?
If your concern is budget, choose Komodo because it is closer to Jakarta and Bali, while Raja Ampat is farther away, so the flight cost is cheaper. In addition, Komodo has a lot smaller area than Raja Ampat, so that you can do land-based diving or liveaboards for just a few days. In Raja Ampat, you need 5 to 7 days liveaboard to cover only the northern or southern parts. It will take you 14 days liveaboard to cover both north and south of Raja Ampat.
Choose Raja Ampat if you want the ultimate diving trip with spectacular viewing on the surface. Of course, Komodo has stunning views too, but Raja Ampat's remoteness makes the place still virgin and quiet. Read IndonesiaDive in-depth guide for Raja Ampat Diving here.
At the same time, Komodo is a popular tourist destination for both divers and non-divers so that it can be packed compared to Raja Ampat.
Read the best diving in Indonesia according to local experts, Bayu Wardoyo (DAN Indonesia Representative) and Abi Carnadie (consultant for the PADI diving industry in Indonesia) on their point of view about Komodo and Raja Ampat here.
Komodo diving sites: what are the best ones?
It's hard to pinpoint the best ones since we think there is no bad dive site in Komodo. But our most favorites are as follows (not based in order):
Is diving in Komodo dangerous?
Although Komodo dragons, the animal, can swim and dive, you don't need to worry about these human-sized lizards. Komodo is apparently just homebodies. In the ten-year study, only spotted two dragons in open water. Moreover, we never heard any diver ever meet komodo during their diving.
The best dive sites mostly have a strong current that needs a negative entry. In this case, you must be an experienced diver with at least 50 dive logs and very comfortable with buoyancy. You also need to have your diving computer or rent it from the dive center; bring a Surface Marker Buoy/safety sausage, dive gloves, and a reef hook with a sturdy lanyard, as the surge in Komodo can swing in a different direction. Finally, do not miss the dive briefing, as this is important to ensure you understand the plan and the possible underwater conditions you may face during the dive.
Staying safe during Komodo diving
Since Komodo underwater is awesomely beautiful with excellent visibility, there is a possibility you feel like you are in your own world, and that makes you quickly forget to check your dive computer until it alerts you. Furthermore, you will experience multiple dives in a day when you stay liveaboard, so you must know your dive within the limit (or you may be at risk of getting bend). So make sure you follow the dive computer limit and do the deep-dive/decompression stops.
Have yourself dive insurance, and it will protect yourself and your dive equipment in any case. We recommend getting DAN (Divers Alert Network) Dive Insurance as they are the pioneer and most experienced one. And, if you need the Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber, it is available at Siloam Hospital in Labuan Bajo town with international standards.
As for health protocols, the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism has applied CHSE (cleanliness, health, safety, environment sustainability) certification in the diving industry. Dive operator and liveaboard that have been certified means they have followed and audited the health protocols to prevent the Covid-19 virus.
Some of CHSE certified dive operators and liveaboards in Komodo are as follows:
Which is the best Komodo diving experience? Land-based or liveaboard?
With land-based diving, you have to go back and forth from early in the morning until afternoon. It takes time to reach the sites by boat, and your surface interval, including your lunch, usually be done in a small boat. The dive is done three times a day in 3 different sites; then, you can spend your evening exploring Labuan Bajo town.
You can do more than three dives a day with liveaboard, including night dives, without spending too much travel time. The liveaboard will travel in the evening and park nearby the dive sites, and then you'll be transferred by a small boat to dive. You will be back to the main boat at surface intervals, ready with nice hot drinks and meals. Liveaboards can cover more of the diving sites in Komodo National Park and are more convenient.
Underwater Photography Komodo Diving Tips
Since Komodo underwater has high biodiversity, so in every dive site, you can find both small creatures and pelagics. The challenge is to choose between taking a macro or wide-angle lens. Most of the dive sites are drift dives. Manta rays and big fish schooling pass you fast, so make sure your camera is always ready to shoot. It isn't easy to carry and take a snap with a strong current, so bring your reef hook. Divers with professional cameras who have separate macro and wide-angle capabilities might find it helpful to hire a personal diving guide who can serve as a buddy as well as help you keep your other camera while you shoot.
For charging your camera, be aware that power plugs and sockets in Indonesia are type C and F or two-pin sockets, the standard European plug. Bring an adapter if you have a different type. If you have a lot of devices to charge, bring a multiplug and cord extension.
Hiring a photographer is our tip if you're too lazy to take pictures but want to share your Komodo experience. No kidding! Due to the rise of social media, now in Indonesia, it's common to hire a local professional photographer to take pictures and video underwater, on land, and with drones. The photographer will send you a Google Drive link to be downloaded, including the edited video. Ask for recommendations from your operator or find someone on Instagram.
What to do when you don't dive?
What are the must-eat restaurants according to locals?
Labuan Bajo has many local and international restaurants, most of which are located on Jalan Soekarno-Hatta, the main road. Mainly they serve seafood with various sauces and eat with steamed rice as our staple food. If you don't feel adventurous, there are Starbucks and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Our recommendations are:
Komodo souvenirs: what should you bring home?
The best local souvenir to buy is a traditional Flores woven fabric and Flores coffee beans. There are many individual souvenir sellers in Labuan Bajo or Komodo Island, and mainly they sell bracelets or t-shirts.
How to go to Komodo National Park?
To get to Komodo National Park, you need to fly to Labuan Bajo's Komodo International Airport (LBJ) from Jakarta (CGK) for 2.5 hours or from Bali (DPS) for 1 hour 15 minutes.
The new airport terminal, inaugurated in 2015, is vast and modern. In June 2020, it started an expansion project to cater to 4 million passengers per year. Moreover, since Komodo Airport partly owns Changi International Airport, we expect to have direct flights from Singapore in the near future.
The airport is just 15 minutes drive downtown. When you book a liveaboard package before arrival, you will be picked up and transferred directly to your boat; otherwise, ask your hotel to get an airport pick-up transfer. From Labuan Bajo harbor, the boat will take you to the islands around Komodo National Park.
Komodo National Park is well known for its Komodo dragons and is one of the best places in the world to dive due to its high biodiversity. The view is breathtaking both on the land and underwater. It is not only about seeing manta rays but also the sheer number of fish, from small reef fish to pelagic, including macro creatures. Since most of the best dive sites have strong currents, you need to be an experienced diver. You can choose your diving experience from land-based or liveaboards.
If you want to know more about other dive sites in Indonesia, download our free ebook "99 Scuba Diving Places in Indonesia" here. Feel free to share your dive experience in Komodo or ask questions in the comments below.