When we decided to go back to South East Asia and hit the places we’d missed the first time around, Komodo Island was at the top of our list. Not only is it the only place to see these unique, powerful creatures in the wild, but it’s also an insanely picturesque area with some amazing diving. Alex still wanted to achieve his goal of scuba diving with Manta Rays, and we accomplished that and some! We saw 30+ Manta Rays on one dive! The town of Labuan Bajo is a little on the pricey side, seeing as it’s the only place to stay if you’re planning on making trips to the national park next door, but it does have some fun sights of its own. There are some cool restaurants to try, and a night market that is definitely worth the trip. A trip across Indonesia isn’t complete without a visit to Labuan Bajo to see Komodo Dragons!
How to Get There
The main way to get there is by plane. We flew into Labuan Bajo from Yangon, Myanmar, through Jakarta. You can also get there from Bali. The airport in Labuan Bajo is small, and you can walk pretty easily to your hostel or guesthouse in 10-20 minutes. We paid 712,000 Indonesian Rupiah for a last minute flight from Labuan Bajo to Lombok. We also met quite a few people who did a 5 day/4 night cruise from Lombok to Labuan Bajo, which also hit a bunch of places in Komodo National Park on the way in, and they raved about it!
Where to Stay
- Hotel Kasuwari – This hotel was about a 10 minute walk from town, and had a bit of a deserted feel to it, but was cheap and comfy! Everything in the rooms was relatively new, and each room had a private bathroom and a terrace. Unfortunately, the wifi was not good, only worked near reception and even so, it just barely worked there. We got a good free breakfast each morning, and there was always free tea or coffee if you asked. They also did our breakfasts to-go when we had to leave early for a trek. We booked in person and stayed for three nights for 220,000/night in a double room, which is pretty good considering most places along the main drag were asking for more than that for two dorm beds. It’s a great cheap spot that’s still close to town, and we were happily surprised by how nice it was! You can book a room online here!
Note: Komodo Island is suffering from over-tourism, and the government is debating on closing down Komodo Island, or potentially drastically increasing the price of entry to ensure the Komodo Dragons’ survival. While in the area (both in the park and in Labuan Bajo), make sure to do all you can to reduce your impact on the environment! Bring a refillable water bottle and reusable bag to reduce plastic use as the garbage disposal on the islands is not well developed. Lots of restaurants will refill your water bottle for free, or for very cheap!
What to Do
- Diving – We did a day trip with three dives through the Komodo Dive Centre for 1,600,000 IDR plus the mandatory park fee of 275,000 IDR. Our first dive was pretty standard (still awesome!), but our second dive at Manta Point blew us away. Manta Point is an underwater point; a mainly sandy bottom with not a ton to see unless you’re there at the right time or season. Our dive in early December was definitely the right time as we saw over 30 Manta Rays on our dive! It was absolutely amazing sitting back and watching the rays swim around in circles waiting to be cleaned by the little fish in the area. Every time we moved on from on ray, we swam right into another! Manta Rays had been on our diving bucket list forever, and this more than exceeded our expectations. The last dive was at Batu Bolong (Hollow Rock). This site is marked by an arched rock outcrop at the surface, but below is obviously what we were interested in. The reef is still in great condition and packed with tons of fish. The Komodo Dive Centre was extremely integral in helping us plan our dives, gave us lots of feedback on places to see in Labuan Bajo and even gave us tips on which boat tours to book the next day. We highly recommend them!
- Boat Cruise of Komodo National Park – You cannot walk 5 steps in Labuan Bajo without being offered a boat cruise of Komodo National Park. Through asking lots of questions around town, and walking to almost every agency, we gathered that there were three different tours offered:
- 1 Day Wooden Boat tour – This is the budget option, and will cost between 400 – 500,000 IDR plus the park fee (which can range from 310-350,000 IDR – different from the diving park fee as you are going onto more islands). It hits four spots: Padar Island, Pink Beach, Komodo Island and Manta Point. Padar Island is a hike to the iconic viewpoint found in the feature photo at the top of this post. Make sure to pack appropriate hiking gear, even though it was 7:00 am we still sweated through our shirts; it was super hot! Pink Beach is exactly what it sounds like, a naturally pink beach to take some photos at. Komodo Island is the main attraction for the infamous Komodo Dragons. You’ll choose between the short and medium hike on Komodo Island, and hope to see some dragons! Manta Point is a snorkelling stop, where you’ll hop into the water from your anchored boat to snorkel with Manta Rays if you can find them! The trip starts at 6:00 am and you’re back in town by 5:00 pm. Lunch is provided.
- 1 Day Speedboat tour – For once we ended up going with the more expensive option; the speedboat tour. After some negotiating we ended up paying 1,100,000 IDR for the tour plus 310,000 IDR park fee through East Cruises. The speedboat tours hit 6 spots in one day: Padar Island, Pink Beach, Komodo Island, Manta Point, Taka Makassar and Kanawha Island. The first four spots are the same ones as described above. Taka Makassar is a crazy beautiful white sandbar near Manta Point, where you can lounge. Kanawha Island is a resort island, where you can actually stay overnight. We stopped here for a snorkel and saw an octopus and lots of starfish. You can also just chill on the beach and have a beer (if you’re willing to pay a hefty 70,000 IDR for it!). Kanawha Island wasn’t all that great to be honest. We left at 6:00 am and got back to town by 3:30 pm, and honestly felt a bit rushed by our guide. On Komodo he spent a while trying to convince us to only do the short hike because we didn’t have time (even though we ended up getting back to town 1.5 hours earlier than planned, after choosing the medium hike). Seeing Taka Makassar was amazing, but the biggest benefit of taking the speedboat over the wooden boats was the fact we had each place to ourselves because we were in front of the crowd of wooden boats. Both the speed boat and wooden boat are good options, and depend on your budget.
- 2 Day/1Night Wooden Boat tour – This tour hits Rinca Island, Pink Beach and Komodo Island on Day 1 and Padar, a different pink beach, and Manta Point on Day 2, with a possibility to go to Taka Makassar on Day 2 if time permits. The tour costs between 700-900,000 IDR. Overnight you’re generally sleeping on thin mats on the deck of the boat. We opted against this one in the long run as we were unsure of the quality of the boats, and could cover almost all of the same destinations with the speed boat tour. However, the benefit of the overnight tour is you can get to the main tourist spots before all the day trip boats!
- Night Fish Market – You can find this night market by the soccer fields (it’s marked on maps.me). Walk up, choose your fish and they’ll grill it for you while you wait. They also have very tasty calamari, and cold beer! We loved this experience.
Where to Eat
- Bajo Taco/Bakery – The Bajo building has three floors and one half is home to Baja Taco, the other Baja Bakery. Both have a great view of the ocean. We hit Baja Bakery for a great filling breakfast a couple times. Baja Taco has amazing tacos and burritos and cheap buckets of beer during happy hour 5-7:00 pm. The only annoying thing about this place is that it is right beside the mosque, which blasts prayer out of it’s speakers multiple times a day so loud that it’s difficult to think. Prices ranged from 50 – 75,000 IDR for a burrito, bowl or taco(s).
- Treetop – Another multi-floor restaurant with a view of the ocean! It has a good mix of cheaper and more expensive meals depending on how you feel that day! This is the go to restaurant in the town for backpackers.
- Le Pirate – We ate here once and it had a cool vibe, but definitely on the more expensive side.
- Artomoro – We ate here once as well. The restaurant is up top and often has live music. The seafood dishes here were amazing!
- Night Fish Market – You can find this night market by the soccer fields (it’s marked on maps.me). Walk up, choose your fish and they’ll grill it for you while you wait. They also have very tasty calamari, and cold beer!
- Paradise Bar – This is up the hill about a 20 minute walk from town. It has great views of the town and ocean. It only serves drinks at reasonable prices, but there is a café out front which sells fries, chicken nuggets and other snacky foods that you can bring back inside. Unfortunately it was completely dead when we were there for sunset, but on a busier night it would be a great place to be!