It’s worth every penny to get there. There is Labuan Bajo (pronounced LaBUan Ba Joe, not bahoe). Bajo is on Flores Island and the jumping off point for Komodo National Park. If you want to see epic scenery, graceful manta rays and lots of dragons, Komodo is a must do.
After 2 weeks on Bali, I wanted to see more of Indonesia, and more included dragons. To me, it made more sense to fly to Bajo and work my way back and I’m so glad I did.
First Bajo is a snorkel, dive, boat town. It’s very low key and casual. There are plenty of inexpensive restaurant options. Bajo Taco and Treetop are good and have excellent sunset views. Bamboo Cafe has great healthy options and everywhere has good coffee (kopi in Indonesian). [NOTE: In Indonesia many companies just have a Facebook Page and not a website.]
I took two cruises from Bajo.
Cruise 1 Day 1
The first was an experience. One I do not recommend. It looks like the company I used, Paradise, has closed or been renamed to Up and Up Komodo. My budget trip included 1 night 2 days (1n2d), 2 lunches, 1 breakfast, 1 dinner, snorkel, fins, and a mask. Sleeping was on mats under a very low tarp on the sleeping deck entered through a .5m x .5m opening. Access to the sleeping deck was up a ladder in the bow or a ladder in the stern. The stern ladder steps were 2 feet apart, Making it a tough climb, up or down, when you have any gear. There was no place to securely store your gear or luggage. Luckily the group on the boat (1 Indian, 1 French, 1 Brit, 1 Philipina, 1 Japanese, and 2 Germans) had no issues with “lost/misplaced” gear. Power to charge cameras and phones was only available for approximately 6 hours per day.
There was one open shower on deck and two toilets in the stern. The toilets were porcelain but not hooked up to running water, you had to use a 1 liter scoop to pour water into the bowl to flush. There was a very large cooler/ice chest was available to stash sodas or beers if you brought them on board. They provided water, tea and coffee 24×7. (I didn’t know this was not standard, and it really, REALLY should be.)
The local Indonesian food was served family style on mats on the floor of the main cabin. I discovered I really like Indonesian tempeh! Stir fried veggies, rice, melon, water, tea and coffee made up the rest of the meal.
At the first snorkeling stop Pulau Sebayur Besar, it took the captain six tries to dock the ship. The snorkeling location was not great, it had been devastated by a typhoon the year before and 95% or more of the coral had died. Thankfully the cruise got better from there.
One of the two islands you can visit and see Komodo Dragons! Rinca is smaller than Komodo and has fewer people. You probably won’t have to trek very far to see any dragons. Watching them walk might make you think they aren’t fast at all. While they can run very fast (up to 20kph/ 12mph) they don’t tend to run much. If you try to get too close the rangers will stop you.
Pink Beach, Komodo Island
Across the bay from the pier at Komodo is Pink Beach. Red and purple corals give pink beach a lovely pink sand.
It’s a nice shallow snorkeling stop with lots of coral. The highlight was spotting a cuttlefish curled up and hiding in the coral. TIP: There’s a decent current running from the pier around the point to pink beach so you can drift with the current and see even more with less effort.
A postcard! A short 15-20 min hike rewards you with stunning views of tan, black and pink beaches on Padar Island.
- TIP: At the top of the stairs up from the beach, look to your right and try to stop nesting or gliding sea eagles.
- PRO TIP: The best views are NOT from the top of the island, stop at the first or second overlook for the best views.
- PRO TIP 2: If you are doing a sunset hike, bring a headlamp or phone for light.
Cruise 1 Day 2
More dragons hanging out near the ranger station. Dragons are opportunistic scavengers and will eat leftovers. All tours are guided, you are NOT allowed to wander off. A tourist from Singapore was bitten in May of 2017. After the guided tour, we stopped at the Oasis Cafe and got coffee w/chocolate ice cream -an Indonesian affogato! And while there, the dragons decided to wander over to the side of the cafe for us.
Then, of course, you exit through an area of vendors where you can buy dragon statues, tshirts, etc. I was surprised (pleasantly?) that there was no Game of Thrones or How to Train Your Dragon merchandise.
Manta Point Snorkeling
They can’t promise you mantas, but they do like to hang out in the swirling confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The visibility wasn’t great because the current is so strong, but seeing the mantas gliding is magical! [NOTE: I cut together videos from both cruises into the Youtube video below.]
TIP: If you dive here you may end up holding on to the anchor line the entire time to avoid being dragged away by the current.
Back to Bajo
The captain hit two boats while trying to navigate into the harbor. Tho it didn’t slow him down or appear to damage the other boats too much. Then another boat snuck into out mooring location, so some of the crew jumped onto the boats on either side and pushed them out of the way so we could dock and unload. As I said this boat was not recommended. If you approach it as low budget camping on a boat for one night, it’s doable, but not recommended.
I took a day to relax in at Flores Spa in Bajo instead of diving. And I regret NOTHING! I had a 4 handed massage, a body scrub, a full body sunburn treatment, and a facial. For approximately USD 55. Like I said I regret NOTHING.
Cruise 2 Slow Boat
The slow boat 3n4d Flores to Lombok with Wanua Adventure had a better boat! And the upgrade to a cabin was worth the $35. It was still a very low-cost backpacker cruise. It had a similar sleeping deck, but this had lots of power outlets and you could stand up, instead of having to crawl everywhere. I opted for a cabin for $5 more per day. It was a basic cabin. No screen or glass or covering on the 12″x12″ window and if there had been more people I might have had to share the 6’x7′ room. It did have a “door” aka a piece of plywood that slid open and closed and would lock. It had a power outlet, light, fan and three built-in shelves to unpack. The bed was a thin mattress like Cruise 1 but twice as wide on a 3-foot high platform. It would have been much better if the platform opened to offer storage underneath.
It was still a bare bones, backpacker, boat. Shared toilets, deck shower, meals served family style on the floor were all similar. But real ladders or stairs to reach the upper decks, the sleeping deck you could walk around on (vs crawling in and out), and complimentary souvenir water bottles to help the environment! Food was basic, delicious and because there were only five passengers, food was always plentiful.
Boat 2 Day 1
They picked me up at the hotel in a nice SUV w/AC. [NOTE: Vehicles in Indonesia don’t have heat, only AC.] We (5 of us for a boat with a 45 person capacity) got a safety briefing and a reusable water bottle. [PRO TIP: Book from Bajo to Lombok. The Lombok to Bajo route tends to be full – 52 people sharing 2 toilets.] The other passengers were 3 Spaniards and 1 Slovenian.
Rinca Island Take 2
This time I did a hike to see the island and bay. Once you are out of the trees the possibility of seeing dragons is very, very low. It’s a nice walk around the island with a good view of the bay.
Komodo Island Take 2
I headed straight to Oasis Cafe to edit some of my dragon video from the first trip, see it above. Sadly they were out of ice cream so I had plain iced coffee.
Boat 2 Day 2
Padar Island Take 2
Sunrise instead of sunset but it was overcast instead of raining so still no great photos. I took some time to explore the main beach while waiting for the tender boat to come back.
Pink Beach Take 2
Just as much fun the second time around. Slightly better because I was familiar with the snorkel site, but slightly worse because I didn’t have fins to help with the current.
Manta Point Take 2
Better the second time around. Only because the mantas wanted to play! [I still need to work on my underwater filming technique.]
Boat 2 Day 3
Moyo Island & Waterfall
The beach bisected by a stream looked ok but not particularly noteworthy. A 20 min walk through the forest (crossing the stream several times) brings you to a wonderful waterfall. I’m not sure how this travertine waterfall was discovered but I’m so happy it was! I wish I hadn’t broken my toe in Bali, because it definitely wasn’t up to climbing. [TIP: Good hiking sandals, that can get wet are highly recommended.]
A nice swim stop with a gorgeous deserted beach.
More snorkeling, one of the better snorkeling stops. With a decent variety of fish. Then a hike up for sunset. [TIP: Do not go barefoot. TIP: Bring a headlamp.]
We opted to cruise to Kayangan Harbor that night. And shortly after breakfast Day 4 we departed by an old minibus to main office and from there I got a taxi to Sengiggi Beach. The drive across Lombok Island highlights the differences between Lombok and Bali. Lombok has mosques vs Hindu temples. Bali has lots of mountains vs open flat land. Lombok has MUCH, MUCH less traffic!