A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Komodo National Park (Taman Nasional Komodo) accommodates nearly 50,000 visitors annually.
Komodo Island is the more popular of the two sites that can be visited, and the adventure begins at Loh Liang ranger station. The search for the giant lizards stalking prey or sunning themselves is a 2-km (1.25-mi.) trek through dry savannah leading to Banunggulung, though the route may vary depending on where the creatures were last spotted. The bird- life here is astonishing. There are species of both Asian and Australian origin, including imperial pigeons, yellow-crested cockatoos, friarbirds, and flowerpeckers. With luck, ground-dwelling orange-footed scrubfowl will be busily building their mounded nests.
Treks on Rinca Island (pronounced ‘ren-cha’) begin at Loh Buaya ranger station and there are two trekking paths, one leading through monsoon forest and the other up a ridge that has fantastic views of the sea below. Rinca has populations of wild buffaloes and feral horses which are not seen on Komodo.
It is best to begin the treks on either island early in the morning while the animals are still active. Being accompanied by a park ranger is required, and they are experts at tracking the beasts and protecting visitors from them. The dragons’ tails and claws are lethal weapons and the nasty bacteria that are embedded with bites from their serrated teeth can be fatal, so beware. Longer treks are available on both islands with prior arrangement, for example to Poreng, Sebita, Gunung Ara or Gunung Satalibo on Komodo.
Afterward, take a dip, snorkel or dive in the unbelievably crystal clear waters off Red Beach (Pantai Merah) just outside the park’s entrance on Komodo. Snorkeling is stupendous off the beach, but divers are advised to go with an experienced guide as strong currents in deeper waters can be catastrophic.
Best Time to Go : The dry season in this area lasts for nearly 10 months, with January and February and occasionally March the only months to avoid.
Getting There : Three regional airlines fly from Bali to Labuan Bajo, the usual entry point (1.5 hrs), daily. From there, boat transfers to Komodo or Rinca can be arranged at your hotel or prearranged through tour operators or dive charters.
Admission Fees : Rp70,000 (conservation and entrance fees), plus Rp50,000 per photo camera and Rp150,000 per video camera, plus Rp50,000 per group guide fee. The pass is good for three days, usable on both islands.
Accommodations : Labuan Bajo has several types of accommodations, with more being built.