Booking a Komodo National Park Tour - What You Need to Know

Indonesia     Destinations
There are a ton of expensive options to tour the Komodo National Park but you can also do it within a reasonable budget! Know what to expect from the tour, what to bring, and what you'll see.
I'm not usually a tour person but I wanted to see the Komodo Dragons. And since Komodo National Park not an independent-travel kind of a place (unless you have your own boat of course), I had no choice but to book a boat tour.

The first thing you need to do is get to town of Labuan Bajo (BAH-jo, not BAH-ho) on the island of Flores. There are boat options to get from Bali to Flores but from the research I did, they are more expensive, super slow, and not very safe. There are, however, multiple one-hour flights a day from Bali to Labuan Bajo (LBJ) (see Labuan Bajo for more details on getting into town from the airport).
Keep an eye on the news. Although the government cancelled its plans to close the island of Komodo for a year in 2020, they are also talking about raising the entrance fee a ton! But the local governments are fighting against that.
Dragons - yes! But you'll also see amazing pink beaches, great snorkeling, the best view in Indonesia, and manta rays!
Dragons - yes! But you'll also see amazing pink beaches, great snorkeling, the best view in Indonesia, and manta rays!
The tour is SO much more than Komodo Dragons!
The tour is SO much more than Komodo Dragons!

Booking the Tour

I was there during the slow season (March) so there was zero need to book ahead. It's hard to imagine that you would need to even during the busy season because the entire small town of Labuan Bajo is either budget lodging, someone selling tours, or a place to eat. Everyone you walk by is trying to sell your a spot on a tour. If you arrive the day before you'd like to take a tour, you should be fine (unless you're me).

There are tons of tour options. From fancy speed boats to slow group boats. You will pay a lot more for a fast boat but will see more in a day. Being a budget traveler, the slow big boat was for me! From what I could tell, it almost doesn't matter what company you book with since they pile everyone onto the same boat.
Depending on your tour, you will see the Komodo Dragons on Rinca Island and/or Komodo Island.
Depending on your tour, you will see the Komodo Dragons on Rinca Island and/or Komodo Island.
You will get to go snorkeling in crystal clear waters. Which beach also depends on the tour.
You will get to go snorkeling in crystal clear waters. Which beach also depends on the tour.
Not all tours go to Manta Point - wow, these giants are unbelievable.
Not all tours go to Manta Point - wow, these giants are unbelievable.
I planned on shopping around to find the best deal, but my hostel (Labuan Nature Backpackers) happened to be advertising a pretty good rate. Their sign said 1,000,000 rp for a 2-day tour, but they immediately went down to 800,000 rp ($57 USD) which is about what I was looking for. So lazy me just went with them. I later had another tour company ask me what I paid and they were surprised it was so low so I think I did okay but I have recently seen other travelers get it for 700,000.

The tour was to include all food and drinks, sleeping on deck, snorkel gear, Rinca and Komodo Islands, Pink Beach, Padar, Manta Point, and Kanawa Beach. It would have only cost an additional 50,000 rp ($3.50!) to book one of the two private rooms on the boat but I'm glad I didn't. The rooms were small and dark and I liked sleeping on deck.
Sleeping on the deck of the boat was really quite comfortable. It gets a bit chilly but the pillow and flannel sheet do the trick.
Sleeping on the deck of the boat was really quite comfortable. It gets a bit chilly but the pillow and flannel sheet do the trick.
They also had a 1-day tour for 450,000 rp but it only went to Rinca, Padar, and one other beach (no Komodo, Pink Beach, or Manta Point). Price wise, the 2-day tour just makes so much more sense. You get twice the tour time and it saves you the cost of a hotel since you sleep on the boat. No brainer.

Now here's where it got weird for me. At 10:30pm I had a knock on my door. The hotel said the guide was on the phone and that the boat was not going in the morning because the road had been washed out and the fuel truck could not get through. They only had enough fuel to go on a 1-day trip. A guy I met on the plane had booked the same tour as I did and it apparently was up to me and my hostel to call his hotel, have them find him, wake him up, and tell him the news.

He decided to take the 1-day tour and although he had a great time, it was an ENTIRELY different experience than I had on my 2-day tour the following day. I still don't think I believe the whole fuel story, but whatever. In short, the 1-day tour was on a small boat that was just a bunch of benches. There were also a lot of little kids on the boat. They went to Rinca, Padar, and a Kanawa Beach.

It rained like mad that next night and I was worried that my tour would be cancelled again due to weather - that does happen sometimes. But I had my hotel call the guide that night and he assured me that the tour would leave in the morning. Yay - at 7:30 am I was picked up on a motorbike and dropped at a boat on the docks that were only about a block from my hostel.

We made a quick stop at the snorkel rental shack near the boats. They have semi-decent gear and even have the option to rent a full face snorkel mask but it cost 135,000 rp ($10 USD) which was not in my budget. My guide tried to get me to pay the entire 50,000 rp for the snorkel gear rental but after telling him that I was told it was included in the tour price, I got him to pay half. So that's another thing; verify if the gear is included or if you need to rent it.
Clear water, anemones, and soft corals.
Clear water, anemones, and soft corals.
I have a thing for trigger fish. :)
I have a thing for trigger fish. :)
The boat was supposed to max out at 15 people, but we had 22. It was fine and didn't seem too crowded. Only 16 bed mats fit in the covered deck so some people had to sleep out on the front deck and 4 people had the 2 private rooms.

The park fees are typically NOT included in the tour price. Nobody seems to know what the park fees are either. My hostel told me they thought it was 400,000 rp but it turned out to be 470,000 rp ($34 USD) total.

To this day I still don't know who I actually booked with. It's whoever advertised at my hotel. My hotel did the booking and the guy simply picked me up and dropped me at the boat. He wasn't actually my guide at all. He asked if I'd review him. LOL

What to Expect

The main thing you can expect, from my experience anyway, is to have no idea what's going on at any given time. But that it's totally okay because every part of the tour is incredible and you are never disappointed!

I was dropped off at the boat and helped aboard. There were beanbag chairs so I grabbed an empty one and kept my bag next to me. That turned out to be my spot for the rest of the trip. I'm sure the boats all vary quite a bit.

We had one guy on our boat that was sort of the main guide. But it turns out he was specifically hired by one of the companies that sold the tour to a few people on the boat and his job was really to look out for them. So that's another question to ask when you book your tour. Is there a guide / someone to let you know the schedule, what to expect, etc.? Apparently the boat crew were supposed to tell us what we were doing as we went along but they were completely inept and did none of that.

There is a lot of time putting through the water in between stops. The boat is slow and you cruise through many small islands with some very odd and strong currents between them. You will be spending 2-3 hours at a time on the boat going from place to place. It's very relaxing actually and we saw dolphins more than once!

The food is all fixed in the most modest of galleys and it was all delicious. I did tell them ahead of time that I was vegetarian and they had at least one very good selection plus veggie side each meal. The 2-day tour includes lunch, dinner, breakfast, lunch, and coffee / tea / water. It's served buffet style with at least 4 different selections; rice dishes, noodle dishes, veggies, meats, and always sweet watermelon for dessert.
Grab your food and eat where you can. It was all very very delicious!
Grab your food and eat where you can. It was all very very delicious!
The cook is standing at the cook top cooking our lunch. I don't know how he produced such good food out of this tiny galley.
The cook is standing at the cook top cooking our lunch. I don't know how he produced such good food out of this tiny galley.
The only problem was the lack of communication about the schedule. You never knew what you were about to do or how to dress until you landed and it was time to disembark immediately. Even though I woke up early after our sleepover, many of us never knew that breakfast was ready until we landed at our hike so we missed the morning meal entirely.

I personally loved the overnight aspect of it. Aside from logistically getting more for your money, there was a nice sense of camaraderie. We played cards at night and all had to get along sharing our space. Trying to get changed under a sarong or sheet was somewhat challenging but nobody cared or looked.
Fun playing cards at night.
Fun playing cards at night.
Whether friends or couples, people were mostly in pairs but being a solo older woman was fine. There was another solo lady around my age so we hung out together. I definitely felt slow and out of shape compared to the younger of the group. The other gal had arthritis so the cool water and swims were tough for her as was the climb at Padar. The perfect bodies in bikinis are a reminder of the past and a reminder of how far I am from that now.

One last thing to expect. Expect to be wow'ed, expect to be grateful, expect to feel in awe that you are in this unique place. I don't say this often. This tour is SO SO worth it. I spent a total of just over $100 US (including the tour, park fee, and beer). That blows my daily budget but I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
You'll be stopping at beaches like this!
You'll be stopping at beaches like this!

What to Bring

You don't need much. A swimsuit, sunscreen, a bit of money, a phone/camera, some comfy clothes, and sport sandals. Most girls wear a swimsuit and shorts, and guys are in shorts and a t-shirt.

See What to Bring on Your Komodo Nat'l Park Tour.

The 2-Day Tour Boat

The main upper deck where you spend your time and sleep, is up a ladder. If you have problems with that, you might need to book one of the private rooms. Almost the whole top level is covered but is only about 4' tall so you have to bend over to walk around. I knocked my head on one of the rafters so hard once that it knocked me clear on my butt! :(
The wooden floor is wet and dirty and you are either sitting on your beanbag or sitting on the floor leaning on your beanbag. Other than your shoes, you keep your bag in your spot. Hang your wet clothing wherever you can (there are some ropes and rafters) and stash your wet snorkel gear out of the way somewhere you'll remember where it is. You're really on your own to figure out how to get along.
Wet clothing hanging all over the boat.
Wet clothing hanging all over the boat.
There is a head (toilet) that is pretty basic. We did have toilet paper (up high - look around for it) and a fresh water spigot for showering. But it's not really even worth showering.

They have a drink station where you can make your own tea or coffee whenever you want and there is drinking water too.

Sample Schedule

Day 1:
Rinca Island & Komodo Island
Pink Beach
Day 2:
Padar - THE Komodo View Point
Manta Point
Crystal Beach & Little Caribbean (not Kanawa)

The schedule was sort of explained at first, but I don't think they even stuck to it. We had no idea at any point what we were doing next or when we were doing it. There's a lot of chilling on the boat. Bring a book, have a nap, watch the scenery. But do try to ask around as to the next destination so that you're properly dressed and ready to go when the boat docks.

We departed Labuan Bajo at around 8am on our big slow boat and were hiking on Rinca Island by 10:45. Back on the boat at 12:10. Then Komodo Island, then Pink Beach in the later afternoon. We slept anchored off of Komodo village after enjoying an amazing sunset and a large Bintang beer from the "cool beer" boat.
Pink sand, turquoise waters, blue sky. Happy.
Pink sand, turquoise waters, blue sky. Happy.
My love! We ran into a few turtles at Pink Beach.
My love! We ran into a few turtles at Pink Beach.
While you're eating dinner, the crew puts out the sleeping mats on the upper deck and puts your bag on the closest mat. That's your bed for the night. The stars are amazing and going to sleep and waking up on the boat is so beautiful. Being anchored off of the village, the 4:30 am seemingly never-ending call to prayer was surprisingly loud. We also had a neighboring boat run their bilge pump all night - ugh. At 5:30 am our generator started up and we departed. So don't expect to sleep in, but the sunrise made it all better ... ahhhh.
Waking up to the sunrise on the water. Life is good.
Waking up to the sunrise on the water. Life is good.
Be sure to get downstairs early for your breakfast since the boat stops at around 7 am to get off for the Padar Island / View Point hike. We were back on the boat by 8:30

You spend most of your time the second day in a swimsuit. After Padar, we went to Crystal Beach, Manta Point, then Little Caribbean. An underwater camera is a great thing to have.

At 2 pm we started our 3 hour stretch back home. What a spectacular tour.
Komodo National Park Foreigner Tarifs 2019
These do change and it's almost impossible to find the current rate online.
 
Entrance Ticket National Park (M-Sa): 150,000 rp (11 USD) per person
Entrance Ticket National Park (Sun & holidays): 305,000 rp (21 USD) per person
Entrance Ticket Padar: 150,000 rp (10 USD) per person
Tourism Tax Rinca: 100,000 rp (6.60 USD) per person
Tourism Tax Komodo: 100,000 rp (6.60 USD) per person
Ranger fee Rinca: 80,000 rp (5.30 USD) per group up to 5 people
Ranger fee Komodo: 80,000 rp (5.30 USD) per group up to 5 people
Hiking fee Rinca: 5,000 rp (0,30 USD) per person
Hiking fee Komodo: 5,000 rp (0,30 USD) per person
Wildlife observation fee Rinca: 10,000 rp (0.7 USD) per person
Wildlife observation fee Komodo: 10,000 rp (0.7 USD) per person
Canoeing fee: 25,000 rp (1.15 USD) per person
Diving fee: 25,000 rp (1.15 USD) per person
Snorkeling fee: 15,000 rp (1.00 USD) per person
Kanawa Island fee: 100,000 rp (6.60 USD) per person
Boat Parking fee Rinca: 100,000 rp per boat
Boat Parking fee Kanawa: 100,000 rp per boat

More Details About the Tour

Booking a Komodo National Park Tour - What You Need to Know
What to Bring on Your Komodo Nat'l Park Tour
Visiting Komodo Dragons in Indonesia
Pink Beach, and Pinker Beaches
Padar - THE Komodo View Point
Manta Rays - Majestic Giants in Komodo

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