Komodo Islands

Home of the Komodo Dragon; Largest Reptile in the World

The Komodo Islands in Indonesia are famous and notorious. Most people come to this group of islands to see the Komodo dragon. But there is more to the Komodo islands than just these animals. You can easily visit this nature reserve. During my tour of Indonesia, I stayed here for several days. These are the must-see highlights of the Komodo Islands. I also recommend the best tours for your trip to Komodo.

Komodo National Park and the island of Rinca are the perfect places to see the Komodo dragon. This is the largest lizard on earth and kills its prey in a special way: with poison. This poison can also be lethal to humans. They are easy to spot in the rugged natural landscapes on these islands. 

This group of islands is known as the dragon islands – because the dangerous Komodo dragon had a bit of a bad image in the past. But more and more people appreciate these unique animals, and aim to protect them.

Travelling to the Komodo Islands by boat.

Hike to the Komodo Dragons

About 5,000 Komodo Dragons live on the Komodo Islands. They can grow up to 3 meters long and weigh 90 kg. You may only enter the islands accompanied by a park ranger. You can hire a guide on both Rinca and Komodo, especially in the villages and visitor centers. The guide is to protect the animal, but also to protect you. Although not too many people will dare to get really close.

He or she ensures that you do not get too close to the animals. The reason is that they can lash out at lightning speed. Usually there are walks of a few hours where you can encounter countless animals. And keep a close eye on the park ranger. The island of Rinca is the most popular, but it is also possible on the island of Komodo.

Kampung Komodo

The village of Kampung Komodo. ©Corno van den Berg

The locals have known about the Komodo dragon for centuries. Residents can tell countless stories about the animals. Kampung Komodo is located on the coast. It is the only village on Komodo Island. The fishermen claim to be descendants of immigrants who came from the island of Sumbawa a few hundred years ago.

Others believe they are the descendants of exiled criminals. The fact is that they learned to live with the Komodo dragons. A wooden fence has been placed since 2006 to keep the Komodo dragons out of the village. In the village you can see the daily life of the fishermen. Be prepared for quite a culture shock.

Help to Protect the Komodo Dragon

As a volunteer, you can help to protect the animals and their habitat. During your stay, you can help with the research of the monitor lizards and their prey animals. But you can also help in educating local population. An opportunity with one of the most special animals in the world.

Take that Terrifying Close-Up Photo

A Komodo dragon up close.

The main attraction on the island is a large and terrifying animal. But how do you get that scary part in the picture? One of the ways is to lay the camera almost on the ground and let the animal walk into the frame, as it were.

But how close? As a solution to this, you can zoom in on the animal. With the additional result that the environment becomes blurred. The attention is then drawn to the animal. And your living dinosaur looks nice on it.

The Problems on Flores Island

On the island of Flores, the Komodo dragons are less protected than on Komodo and Rinca. With a local guide you can see how humans and animals try to live together. And you learn how sensitive the animals are to disruption of their habitat, as well as the problem of illegal poaching of their prey animals such as deer.

Dutch History

The Dutch were the first white people to set foot on the islands. The P.A. Ouwen Research Institute at the Ranger Station is one of the remains. Ouwen was the curator of the Zoological Museum in Bogor on the island of Java. He saw a dead Komodo dragon who was taken by the Dutchman Van Hensbrack in 1911.

Ouwen gave the animal its current Latin name. In the Research Institute, you can see how research is done on the various animals, even if you shouldn't expect too much from it. It is located in the north of Komodo and is easiest to reach from the island of Sumbawa, which is located west of Komodo.

Prey Animals of the Komodo Dragon

Deer are one of the food sources for the Komodo dragon.

The Javan deer, wild boar, but also large animals such as wild buffalo and even horses are the prey animals of the illustrious Komodo dragon. During walks you will meet them regularly, the park ranger can tell you all about the hunting technique of the Komodo dragon, which usually simply waits for its prey to pass by. Intriguing.

In addition to the Komodo dragon, there are numerous other dangerous animals on Komodo and the other islands. Including biting centipedes, but also poisonous snakes. So far 12 species have been counted. Such as: spitting cobra, Russell's viper and White-lipped bamboo viper.

Snorkelling and Diving at Komodo

The marine life around the islands may well be Komodo's unexpected gem. The coral reefs around the islands are extremely rich in animal life, including numerous species of fish, sharks and rays. And a dive under water opens truly a new world.

The Komodo National Park has dozens of dive sites. Note: most are for experienced divers, as the current is often very strong. Night dives are also popular. The water temperature varies between 20 degrees (wet season) and 28 degrees (dry season).

Divers have to deal with the changing tides at many dive sites all year round at Komodo. If you want to get in the water at the right time, you should ask for the tide tables on site. Or of course book a trip with the various dive organizers, they also know the best spots.

Pink Beach of Pantai Merah

The Pink Beach of Pantai Merah.

Pantai Merah is also known as Pink Beach.According to experts, this place is one of the best snorkelling spots in the world. Especially when you look at the numbers of fish you see swimming in front of your snorkel mask. The visibility in the water is usually about 20 meters.

Its name comes from the pink sand you see on the beach. Due to the abundance of red coral, the white sand has acquired a pink hue. In the dry season, the weather is usually better for snorkelling than in the rainy season.

Stay Overnight at the Ranger Station

The islands have various options for overnight stays. The most unique stay is with the park rangers, for example on Komodo Island and Rinca. You can spend 24 hours with the animals and be there before all the other tourists arrive. Which is especially nice in the high season, also in terms of temperature. An additional advantage is that you can learn everything about the park rangers, the researchers and of course the animals. Incidentally, you can also spend the night in the fishing villages on the islands in so-called losmen, which is often very basic.

Boat Tour Komodo Islands

One of the best ways to explore the area is to spend the night on the water. Multiday boat tours are ideal if you want to see many of the islands. It is possible to sail around for a few days, but also for a week.

Besides exploring the islands it is also very handy for diving or snorkeling. And at the end of the day, the sun slowly sinks into the sea, while the boat anchors in a quiet bay.

A boat tour around the Komodo Islands.

See Flying Foxes

At Komodo Island as well as at Rinca, an immense group of kalongs (a type of flying fox) lives in a mangrove forest. Every evening, after the sun has set, these large animals fly out en masse. In the last light of the day, you can see them approaching close by. They are making their way to the fruit trees ahead.

If you want to see this you have to spend the night on a boat. Ask the guide if you can spend the night near these animals. Stay on the deck when the sun has set and you will see a true spectacle. By the way, the animals come back in the early morning. You will probably notice that too, partly through the sound.

Find Baby Komodo Dragon

After birth (around March) young monitor lizards climb into the trees. The reason is not to get eaten by older dragons. After all, these animals are cannibalistic. It is difficult to see the youngsters, but in March and April you have a fairly high chance. Especially on Rinca Island. Even on a hot day you have a reasonable chance in the morning to spot young animals when they try to cool of in the mangroves.

Spot Red Bush Fowl and Other Birds

In addition to the Komodo dragon, many special birds can be found. Including the red bush fowl, with which the Komodo dragon has a special bond. But also cockatoos, bee-eaters and countless other species. Grab your binoculars and listen to the many sounds, in the forest and on the plains.

Snorkel with giant manta ray

Komodo is good for seeing a giant manta ray. ©Kieke van Maarschalkerwaart

Rinca is famous for spotting graceful giant manta rays. In the rainy season, around December and January, the animals visit the island en masse. And you can see them just below the surface of the water.

If you go snorkelling you will see them one by one, although you need a bit of luck. In Labuhan Bajo on the island of Flores, ask about the excursions that are offered to see this natural spectacle.

Late Scientific Discovery

The locals have known about the Komodo dragon for centuries, but scientists only learnt about them in the last century. It wasn’t until 1911 that this cold-blooded animal was first officially recorded. Dutchman Van Hensbrack, lieutenant of the Royal Dutch-Indian Army (KNIL), visited the islands and was informed by the locals about ‘giant lizards’.

A visit to the Komodo dragons. ©Corno van den Berg

To prove their existence, he brought home a dead Komodo dragon. He thought they walked on their hind legs most of the time, that they had excellent vision and were deaf. But later research shows the opposite is true, and they spend most time walking on four legs.

Van Hensbrack sent the animal to PA Ouwens, the curator of the Zoological Museum in Bogor, on the island of Java. Ouwens gave this animal its official Latin name: Varanus komodoensis.

History of the Komodo Islands

All the islands in this region were created by volcanic activity, which also created the islands of Java, Bali and Sumatra. It was a collision between two continental plates, the Sahul shelf and Sunda shelf. The island of Komodo is right in the middle of this area. Friction between the shelves caused the earth’s crust to push up out of the water.

There are no more active volcanoes in the area, but earth tremors are common. Scientists believe the west of Komodo rose out of the sea first, about 130 million years ago. The eastern part and the islands of Rinca and Padar ‘only’ came up 49 million years ago, which is relatively young in the earth’s history.

After the eruptions, the land settled with landscapes of savannahs, forests and grasslands. A rugged area, where nature crafted her own path. Komodo dragons are among the oldest living lizards and resemble the extinct dinosaurs. According to scientists, their origin is not entirely clear.

They may be descended from a larger ancestor in Java as well as an ancestor from Australia, who roamed there 30,000 years ago. The fact is that it is one of the few living remnants of a distant past. And an animal that lives in a special symbiosis with a bird, the red bush fowl.

The volcanic landscape is considered one of the most wild pieces of nature in the world. Idyllic enough, even today the islands can only be reached by boat. A large part of the island is now protected in the Komodo National Park.


A Komodo dragon on one of the hills. ©Corno van den Berg

Dutch First Western Wisitors

After the Dutch first arrived, more and more visitors come to Komodo. And are impressed. The American researcher Douglas Burden gives Komodo the appreciation it deserves for the first time. In his diary, he writes: "With its fantastic outlines, huge palms as guards and the bare volcanic chimney, this is a suitable place for the large saurs for which we have come especially."

Komodo is now quite well known, or rather the inhabitants. But the extremely rich underwater world around Komodo and the other islands is unknown to many people. But divers (and also snorkelers) appreciate this area for the great wealth of animal species. Even though this area is not for inexperienced divers, as diving here is relatively difficult. Snorkelers can explore the many shallow reefs along the coast.

The offshore coral reefs are home to more than 1,000 species of fish, 260 species of coral and 70 species of sponges. The diversity is so great because these islands are on the border of the tropical reef, but also house many animals from the cooler seas in the south.

A meet up with a dangerous Komodo dragon. ©Corno van den Berg

This wealth attracts countless other animals. And because as a tourist you have to come by boat, you often spend several hours on the water. And there is a good chance to encounter other marine animals, such as dolphins, sea turtles and whales.

Best Time for Komodo Islands

Wet Season

The wet season lasts from November to late March. These are the only months when there will be substantial rainfall on the islands. They are incredibly green and lush at this time of year, especially from January onwards. The average temperature is around 30 degrees Celsius, but it will be very humid.

This is the time that the islands are wild and rugged. If that’s what you love, go in the wet season. Make sure you spend ample time here, because it’s possible that it will rain all day, though generally the showers last for about two hours.

Dry Season

The best time to visit the islands is between April and November, though the landscape is quite dry and the temperature can reach up to 40 degrees Celsius. Due to these conditions, many animals go looking for water so they’re easier to spot.

Be Aware!

The Komodo dragon is a wild and dangerous animal. Tourists often misjudge the animals’ speed and agility. Especially when tourists are taking photos, they are often unaware of how close the animal has gotten. They are predators, and won’t be intimidated by you. The ranger will give you strict instructions, please pay close attention.

The only way to get to these islands is by boat. Make sure you are well prepared, and ensure you’ve got medication if you’re likely to experience seasickness. The water can be quite rough.