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).
Booking the TourI 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. 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.
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.
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 ExpectThe 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.
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.
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.
What to BringYou 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 BoatThe 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! :(
They have a drink station where you can make your own tea or coffee whenever you want and there is drinking water too.
Sample ScheduleDay 1:
Rinca Island & Komodo Island
Padar - THE Komodo View 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.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.
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