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One of the highlights of our entire time in Indonesia was coming to Komodo National Park to see the wildlife. This park is much more prestine than other places we’ve been and we enjoyed it so much.
About Flores and Komodo National Park
Located west of Flores Island and east of Sumbawa Island, the Komodo National Park consists of 4 main island, 26 smaller islands, and parts of Flores Island.
Labuan Bajo is the main hub for the Komodo National Park and nearby islands and is located on Flores Island.
We arrived at Labuan Bajo and anchored off of the Puri Sari Beach Hotel. From the hotel is a 3 km dinghy ride or a 20.000 Rp ($1.30 USD) motorbike ride. The resort is very welcoming to cruisers and has a beautiful facility. We spent some time really cleaning the boat because we had guests coming to visit, but we also got to enjoy the activities at Puri Sari, including making use of the pool and attending a barbeque.
Provisioning in Labuan Bajo
David and I hired a driver to take us around to the supermarkets. We asked to go to the best supermarket, and he took us to one called Denny’s. It was fine, except there was no meat at all. We asked our driver, where can we get meat? He took us to the bigger of the two Roxy Marts, and we found the best provisioning we’ve had so far as we were able to get chicken, lamb, and pork. The stores carry a wide variety of western products, and there are lots of tourists in the store.
As always, I got my fresh produce from the local market.
While in the anchorage, a young man came up in his boat to sell souvenirs. While don’t buy a lot of stuff, I do occasionally buy small items to remember something from each country. Hendra had beautiful bowls, some made from fiberglass and abalone shell, and some made from hibiscus wood. I bought a small fiberglass bowl and a hibiscus wood carved komodo dragon. Even though I really loved the giant fiberglass bowl, it was too big. Hedra really tried to sell it to me, offering me a discount and then telling me to “ask your husband” for permission to buy it. I laughed and explained that no matter the price, I didn’t want to buy it as it was too big.
Catching up with Friends
Our first set of guests was Gina (formerly of Couch Sailors) and her sister Sasha. They just happened to be coming to Labuan Bajo the same time we were there, so of course, we offered them a place to stay. Gina now lives in the Philippines and it was so great to catch up with her. They stayed two nights, overlapping one night with our next guest….Sara!!
When Sara arrived, all five of us had dinner at Puri Sari, and once again we were treated to the amazing sasando player!
Exploring the Town of Labuan Bajo
The next day Sara and I went into town to explore and get massages! Labuan Bajo is really just a stopover. It’s full of tourist shops and serves as the hub for day trips or liveaboard boats into Komodo National Park.
Phinisis, Boatels, and Tour Boats
A Phinisi is a traditional Indonesian sailing ship, and there are tons of them in Komodo! There are some smaller ones that have had the aft mast removed and just motor around. There’s a huge variety in the luxuriousness of the phinisis, and here are just a few phinisis that we saw (and one jukung).
Pulau Sebayur Besar
Twelve miles away, we dropped anchor in a small bay on the west side of an island called Pulau Sebayur Besar. Pulau Sebayur Besar is not technically part of Komodo National Park. There are two resorts on Pulau Sebayur Besar, one called Komodo Resort Dive Club and the other XPirates Dive Camp. Neither was visible from our anchorage, and we were the only boat there….at first. Just before sunset, the local tour boats started to fill in.
The next day we packed up to go exploring but didn’t get as far as we wanted to. On Google Maps we had spotted a blue hole over the hill, with a dock out into the deep. We thought it’d be an awesome place to check out, but once we got over the hill we realized that the dock was not maintained at all, and was missing boards and was rickety. As it was high tide, we would have had to have wadded through mangroves to get out to the blue hole, so that was a no-go.
Back into the dinghy we piled and instead grabbed a small mooring at the south end of the bay and jumped into the water. It was very clear and we were really pleased with the amount of coral in the area.
We stayed another night in this bay with our friend boats Sail on Sailor and Sharman before taking off for Rinca to see Komodos.
We arrived in Loh Buaya just before noon. We’d seen many friends headed in and out, and fortunately, the bay was pretty clear when we got in. We anchored on the west side of the channel, not quite in Loh Buaya proper. Our friends on Henrietta did anchor inside the bay and probably regretted it – through the afternoon the bay filled with tour boats! It was absolutely packed, and none of them put out enough scope for their anchor. But, they also don’t stay long. Most of them only come in for a few hours and then leave.
The cruisers mostly stayed put overnight. By sunset, all of the local boats had cleared out and we were left with about seven cruising boats. We thought it would be a quiet night but it wasn’t long before a few local boats came through the channel, in the dark, with music playing and lights flashing. They must have tied up to the dock overnight.
Some cruisers had gone ashore to coordinate a tour for everyone. That’s how we wound up with 18 cruisers at the information shack at 6 am. The tour guides divided us up into the three trails; short, medium, and long. Our long trail group was the biggest with 9; three each from Samara, Henrietta, and us. We trekked for about two and a half hours through the arid lands. We got up close and personal with a water buffalo and saw a Komodo dragon lurking around another water buffalo. The guide also showed us the nesting area for Komodo dragons, with a female guarding the eggs. It was an awesome hike, and well worth the effort (and only costs 300.000 per person).
Gili Lawa Laut
Once on the boat, we set off immediately for Gili Lawa Laut. Shockingly, a mooring ball was available, so we picked it up. This was our second and last night in the Komodo National Park and it was idyllic. We snorkeled, paddleboarded, walked on the beach and enjoyed the sunset.
Carlos from S/V Mirniy had a manta experience here, and although Sara and I looked hard, we only saw a fleeting glimpse of one manta ray. Here’s Carlos’ video:
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Swimming with this creatures is beyond words, I was going to post some pictures, but then I thought a video will make more justice to the experience. Amazed from this creatures and forever grateful to them and the moment they made me live..this is why we do it 🎥⛵️🌏 #mantaray #freedive #komodonationalpark #indonesia #22south #sailingaroundtheworld #sailor #adventure #exploremore #documentary #film #boatlife #ketch #yacht #nature
Our favorite stop in Komodo was Banta Island. We were coming for one main reason: our friends on S/V Field Trip were there.
Flashback to five years ago, June of 2013. David and I have charted a boat in St Martin with our friends. We’ve just started to plan our purchase of Starry Horizons and sailing around the world. We’re both reading blogs, including one of an Antares 44. In St Barth’s we motor into an anchorage and realize we recognize the boat: Field Trip! We dinghied over to introduce ourselves, and Mark and Sarah very graciously invited us aboard to get a tour and meet their kids. They are the first people out cruising we ever met.
We’ve been in touch with them all this time and we were looking forward to catching up. Field Trip has been in Indonesia for 11 months at this point, and Banta is a return visit for them. They helped us pick out an anchoring spot, and after dropping the hook we jumped into the water for a swim. There’s a big sandy patch near where we were, and the water was sparkling clear.
The first night, Mark and Sarah hosted all six cruising boats on Field Trip for sundowners. We got to meet a lot more cruisers who aren’t in either rally, which was fun. One of the boats, Briony Rose, are excellent spearfishers, and they gifted us a dogfin tuna. We, in turn, gifted them some of Matt’s favorite beer (Great Northern). We were thrilled to be able to serve Sara freshly caught tuna.
Diving Gili Banta, Indonesia
The next day, Mark and Sarah picked us up to go diving. David and I have a mere 20 dives under our belts, while Mark and Sarah have to be getting close to a thousand. We dinghied around the northeast tip of the island to do a drift dive over the coral. While dinghying over, we spotted a manta ray. I hopped in to snorkel with it before it zoomed away. Then we donned our dive gear and hopped in. The current was FAST, sweeping us all along!
David passed on doing more dives, but several cruisers were getting together to dive or free dive GPS point, a mountain off the northeast corner of Banta. Mark picked me up and we dive buddied together. On our way back, we found the bay to be invaded by five of the big phinisi boats! They were doing snorkels on the west side of the point, and we saw from the surface that they were swimming with manta rays.
I even got a third dive in that day (!!) Mark, Sarah, and their daughter Elizabeth picked me up and we went around the corner again to the location of the first dive. This time, there was no current running parallel to shore. We stayed very shallow and took our time spotting macros and taking pictures. There was a rip current near the north, and mantas like to swim there to feed. We were able to sit outside the current and watch, which was awesome!
Swimming with Manta Rays in Gili Banta, Indonesia
At this point, I’m thinking to myself, every time we’ve gone around the point I’ve seen manta rays. I came up with a plan. Our last morning in Banta, we load the three of us and our snorkel gear into Little Dipper and go around the corner. I stand up in the dinghy, watching for manta rays and it’s not long before we spot two!
Sara and David hop in and swim with them, while I stay in the dinghy to play spotter and rescue if the current is too strong. Often David and Sara would lose sight, but I could see the big picture and help them find the mantas again. One of the manta rays was not interested in swimming with us, but the other one, the big one, hung around. I eventually slipped in and enjoyed the swim too. The water was so clear, the current was non-existent, and the mantas were in shallow water. It was amazing!!
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BEST SNORKEL EVER!! While checking out the Komodo National Park area of Indonesia we saw an amazing amount of coral and very clear water, but our highlight by far was on Gili Banta Island. For forty minutes this big manta ray swam with us in very shallow water, gliding around and circling near to say hello. Mantas are by far my favorite marine animal. We’ve had a few amazing experiences in our past four years of sailing, but never this up close and personal. #wonderfulindonesia #indonesia #mantaray #snorkeling #gilibanta #cruisinglife #sailingaroundtheworld
I’m afraid we’ve ruined snorkeling for Sara. The only place we’ve seen more coral is the infamous Fakarava, and the experience with the manta rays just pushes Banta ahead for the best location we’ve ever snorkeled.
From all of the anchorages except Loh Buaya, we could see Sangeang Island and the smoke of the volcano, even from Labuan Bajo 55 miles away on a clear day. Our last night in Banta, we noticed not only the smoke but also the lava flowing down the side of the mountain. We got a close-up view as we sailed past at sunset the first night of our two-night sail to Lombok.
How to Book Your Trip to Komodo
There are two main options for visiting the Komodo National Park without your own boat. The first is to book a day trip from Labuan Bajo, and the second is to book an overnight cruise.
For an overnight cruise, you can use either the website Liveaboard.com, which is aimed more towards divers, but not exclusively, or you can book directly through a company like Cajoma or Le Pirate. I think the Le Pirate cruises look pretty great and are reasonably priced.
Where to Stay in Labuan Bajo
The above mentioned Le Pirate has a Boatel anchored in Labuan Bajo, where Gina and Sasha stayed for an extra night after they left us. Alternatively, if you want something out of town and nice, I highly recommend the Puri Sari Beach Hotel. If you want a place in town for easy access to day tours, Eco Tree O’tel is well rated, clean, and inexpensive.
Sailing to Lombok
Sara had to get back to her work (sad face) and David and I were flying out the same day to go back to the states for David’s grandmother’s service. We needed to high tail it to Lombok, where we were leaving the boat and catching flights. We skipped the next rally stop (Moyo) and did a two-night sail, beating ferociously to Lombok. It was one of our rougher sails, and Sara was such a trooper about it.
The area around Komodo has been a major highlight so far of our trip through Indonesia and the Wonderful Sail 2 Indonesia Rally. I’d highly recommend it for anyone wanting to explore a lesser-known part of Indonesia.