The island nation of Indonesia straddles the equator between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and lies at the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’ - the epicentre of the world’s marine biodiversity. Nowhere on earth can visitors experience such a range of spectacular diving - from encounters with huge whale sharks and oceanic manta rays, to muck dives with beautiful Rhinopias and the exceedingly rare psychedelic frogfish.
The Komodo National Park is home to over 260 coral species and more than 1,000 species of fish - in fact this UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the world’s richest marine environments. The park’s highland peaks, secluded beaches, stunning coral reefs and crystal clear waters continue to attract visitors from far and wide, all drawn by the allure of adventure and underwater exploration. And for many, a liveaboard trip aboard a wooden Pinisi boat - diving or snorkeling the reefs and trekking with the prehistoric Komodo dragon - is an easy highlight of a trip to Indonesia; an exceptional experience in an extraordinary destination.
- Experience one of the world’s richest marine environments - protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Dive or snorkel with groups of manta rays at cleaning stations scattered throughout the park
- Trek on land in search of the infamous Komodo dragon or explore the dramatic landscape
- Explore the diverse reefs of the south and the crystal clear waters of the north
- Encounter sharks, turtles, schooling fish and more in current swept channels and seamounts
The diving within the Komodo National Park is simply world-class. The incredible marine biodiversity and sheer numbers of fish, combined with the variety of sites that can be explored means visitors are spoilt for choice. Guests can dive with manta rays, sharks and schools of giant trevally in the morning, drift over pristine corals for lunch, then drop in on a site filled with critters and macro life in the afternoon, all without ever leaving the boundaries of the park. Komodo has over 50 regularly-dived sites that offer a complete range of experiences - from current-swept channels and pinnacles, to walls, caves, boulder-strewn slopes, colourful reefs and barren sandy muck sites, Komodo has it all.
The marine environments of Komodo’s north and south are quite distinct, each with their own particular set of conditions and habitats.
The north is dominated by warm, clear water and the marine life and habitats are both typical of reefs throughout Indonesia. The diving focuses on several channels and isolated reefs, including such classic sites as Castle Rock, Crystal Bommie, Gili Lawa Laut, Darat Passage and Tatawa. All have fantastic hard corals, brightly-coloured soft corals in oranges, yellows and reds, dense schools of fish and some beautiful topography. Castle Rock is probably the best for bigger fish in the northern section of the park, and sightings of grey and whitetip reef sharks, eagle rays, big tuna, giant trevallies and even dolphins are possible. Darat’s ‘Cauldron’ is also a great site for spotting bigger species and schooling fish that gather in the strong currents that rip through the passage. And for those that need their manta fix, Karang Makassar is well known for congregations of rays that gather along the reef when conditions are right.
The north can be dived year round as the sites are sheltered from any rough seas that can impact the south. Water temperatures are normally 27 - 28C and visibility averages between 15 - 30m, even 35m on a perfect day.
Moving south through the park, the effects of the cold-water upwellings begin to dominate and dive conditions and habitats gradually change. The cooler, plankton-rich waters are perfect for a proliferation of filter feeders and the expanses of hard corals in the north give way to reefs thick with encrusting life, soft corals, fans, sponges and other species that thrive in the cooler waters. Smaller animals also become more more diverse and diving in the south often focuses on critter hunting, rather than searching for encounters with big fish. This being Komodo, there are of course exceptions to the rule, and the south is actually home to the park’s best manta site at the aptly named Manta Alley. Here large numbers of these incredible rays gather to feed on the plankton and visit cleaning stations dotted along the reef. Whilst never guaranteed, divers can often witness squadrons of mantas feeding in unison, or get up close and personal with a ray as it hovers over a cleaning station.
There are plenty of other great dives along the south coast of Komodo and across to Padar and Rinca. Sites such as End of the World, Cannibal Rock, Pillarsteen, Three sisters, Nusa Kode and the Yellow Wall are packed with invertebrate life and can be explored again and again by divers hunting for unusual nudibranchs, crabs, shrimps, fire urchins and sea apples, as well as rarely-seen fish such as torpedo rays. The conditions here are typically colder than the north - 23 - 24C on average with even colder thermoclines on some sites - and the visibility is less - 5 - 15m is typical, although when the cold currents are weak and warm water pushes down from the south, some sites can get up to 15 - 20m visibility.
One common denominator of all the sites in Komodo are the currents. Apart from a few sheltered locations, the vast majority are affected by currents which can be quite strong and at times, unpredictable. No trip to Komodo is complete without a swirling drift dive along a wall or through a channel, with divers hunkered down on the sand watching the marine life. These strong tidal flows are part of what makes diving in Komodo so unique and so special. Whilst the currents can make life difficult, they are of course, the reason why the park has such incredibly-rich marine life.
With so many reefs and islands to explore, it is no surprise that the Komodo National Park is also an incredible destination for snorkelers - in fact it is so good that several liveaboard operators run snorkel-only trips through the park, catering for visitors that want to experience the best of Komodo’s marine life.
The highlight for most snorkelers in the park is an encounter with manta rays so sites such as Manta Alley and Karang Makassar are normally high up on the itinerary. There are also plenty of shallow reefs throughout the park with clouds of anthias and other reef fish, beautiful hard and soft corals and even the occasional turtle and eagle ray - the perfect combination for an amazing snorkel experience.
The islands of the Komodo National Park lie close to Flores to the east, and separated from Sumbawa to the west by the Sape Strait. Covering over 1,730 square kilometres, the park includes the three large islands of Komodo, Padar and Rinca, along with 26 smaller islands. On dry land, Komodo is justifiably famous for its incredible landscapes. The park’s rugged terrain is dominated by jagged peaks, mountain slopes covered in dry savannah and dense stands of deciduous forests that cling to life in the sheltered valleys - a testament to the park’s dry conditions. Erosion has carved the the coastlines of the islands into deep bays, inlets, channels and isolated beaches, creating some of Indonesia’s most spectacular scenery. Locations such as Komodo’s ‘Pink Beach’ and the incredible view from Padar looking across back-to-back, circular bays, are worth the trip alone!
The national park was founded in 1980 to protect its infamous resident - the Komodo dragon. This extraordinary species is the world’s largest land-dwelling reptile and can still be observed in the wild on both Komodo and Rinca islands. Komodo dragons can grow to over 70kg in weight and are thought to have evolved from giant monitor lizards that once roamed across Australia and Southeast Asia - before the arrival of man drove the lizards to extinction in all but the most remote corners of Indonesia’s archipelago.
Komodo’s dramatic landscape continues beneath the waves, and the diversity of different habitats is matched by the park’s incredible species biodiversity. In fact Komodo is one of the richest marine environments in the world, and the reefs, channels, seagrass beds and mangroves are home to over 1000 species of fish and 250 species of corals. The islands of the park lie within a channel that funnels a huge volume of water between the Flores Sea and the Indian Ocean - part of the famous Indonesian Throughflow. The result is nutrient-rich upwellings from the deep surrounding waters, and dramatic currents that sweep past the islands with every tidal change - perfect conditions for the an incredible diversity of marine life, as well as superb diving.
Labuan Bajo in West Flores is the departure point for most trips to Komodo. The easiest and fastest way to reach Flores is to fly from Bali and there are daily services from Denpasar to Labuan Bajo offered by domestic airlines including Garuda, Lion Air, Batik Air and Nam Air. A great alternative is to book a liveaboard dive trip out of Bali. Boats sail along the northern coasts of Lombok and Sumabawa - stopping off at islands such as Batanta, Moyo and Sangeang - before reaching Komodo and spending a few days exploring the islands.
Once in Labuan Bajo, resorts will arrange transfers for guests as necessary.
As the gateway to Komodo and the interior of Flores to the east, Labuan Bajo has grown from a trading port into a small but busy town catering to backpackers, yachties, divers and other tourists drawn by the incredible islands and reefs that lie just offshore. Labuan Bajo is not exactly the world’s prettiest town but it does offer a wide range of accommodation and serves its purpose as an easy base for exploring Komodo. It also has some spectacular views over the harbour at sunset.
Accommodation varies from cheap budget hostels, to small hotels, private resorts and villas that can be found north and south along the coast, as well as on several of the islands that lie just outside the national park boundaries. Divers looking for more of a holiday experience whilst diving Komodo from land might prefer to get out of Labuan Bajo and stay at one of latter resorts, but for students, or for those looking to dive on a tight budget, staying in town makes more sense - and the diving is all the same, no matter where you stay.
There are also plenty of liveaboard boats that are either based out of Labuan Bajo year-round, or spend part of the year exploring Komodo, the rest in locations such as Raja Ampat further east. Like the accommodation on land, there are plenty of choices - from budget boats running cheap-and-cheerful tours, to luxury Pinisi schooners available for private charters. Due to the nature of the diving in the Komodo National Park, we highly recommend booking a trip with a reputable dive operator. All of the resorts and boats featured by Zublu have high standards of safety and professionalism.
Like most of Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda islands, Komodo has alternating seasons or monsoon periods. The wet season runs from January though to April, however Komodo is considerably drier than the islands to the west and the wet season is more often than not sunny! The dry season runs from April to December with monsoon winds blowing in June, July and into August. During this period the southern areas of the park can have rough seas and are difficult to access, but sites in the north are always sheltered and the winds bring cooler weather, particularly in the evenings.
The combination of monsoon winds and the cold upwellings and currents that follow dictates where dive operators in Komodo can operate at different times of the year. From October to December, the diving focusses more on the south of the park, when the water is cold and dive condition are at their best. From March to October dive companies typically focus on the northern sites where the visibility and conditions are likely to be better. Throughout the year, visibility will vary from week to week, and from the south to the north. In the south, visibility is typically between 5-20m; in the north 15 - 30m.