Komodo Islands

Home of the largest reptile on earth: the Komodo dragon

The Komodo Islands in Indonesia are the perfect places to see the Komodo dragon. This is the largest reptile on earth and is incredibly dangerous.

Komodo National Park and the island of Rinca are the perfect places to see the Komodo dragon. The island of Komodo is located between the islands of Flores and Sumbawa in Indonesia, which are all part of the Lesser Sunda chain of islands. These islands have a famous resident: the Komodo dragon, or Komodo monitor.

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. These creatures can grow up to 3 metres in length and weigh up to 90 kilos. They are easy to spot in the rugged natural landscapes on these islands.

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

But there is more to the Komodo islands than just these animals. The volcanic landscape on the islands is known as some of the wildest areas in the world. The islands can only be reached by boat, which adds to their charm.

Travelling to the Komodo Islands by boat.

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.

Hiking 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 here 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.

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.

Dutch history

The Dutch were the first white people to set foot here. 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 here, even if you shouldn't expect too much from it.

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 here. 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 here, the white sand has acquired a pink hue. In the dry season, the weather is usually better for snorkeling than in the rainy season.

Boat tour at 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 a 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.

Snorkelling 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 ontdekking door de wetenschap

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

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

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.

Visiting the Komodo Islands

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

This place is located in the north of Komodo and is easiest to reach from Sumbawa Island, which is west of Komodo. It is also possible by boat from the island of Bali, as I did. It is am long, but rewarding trip.

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.