****This article was featured on Lonely Planet’s Best Family Travel Blogs: Best In Travel 2019
A couple of weeks ago, we came back from Indonesia. Our family of 6 (13, 14, 16 and 20 year old children) spent 17 days exploring many islands all over Indonesia. One of our highlights was the four days we spent in Komodo National Park where we hiked surrounded by Komodo dragons.
But, seeing the Komodo dragons in their natural habitat was merely one extraordinary experience that we had in Komodo National Park. We swam with turtles and manta rays, and snorkelled in some of the most beautiful and biodiverse waters in the world. We watched spectacular sunsets that left us speechless and discovered deserted pink beaches.
Komodo National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is made up of 29 uninhabited islands and the waters surrounding them. In my previous blog The Unbelievable Wonders of Komodo National Park in Indoensia, I discuss in detail what makes Komodo National Park a destination that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Also, I describe how to get there and where we stayed.
In this blog, I am going to write about our day to day activities while we were there. Without question, we were mesmerized and astonished by some of the animal encounters that we had, and by the natural beauty that surrounded us. It was truly some of the best days that I have ever had on a holiday.
We arrived at our hotel, the Komodo Resort, had lunch and left a couple hours later on our private boat for our first excursion. We headed to Rinca Island to visit the Komodo dragons. Komodo dragons are the largest lizard in the world. They can grow up to 3 m or 10ft long, and weigh up to 70 kg or 150 lb. Their bite is venomous and deadly to humans. To make matters worst, they are extremely fast. Months before, when I booked this part of our trip, I thought it would be an amazing experience to hike on an island where these animals were wild and run free. However, as we approached Rinca island, I looked at my children and wondered whether I had made a huge mistake.
The boat ride, like every boat ride we had during our stay, was beautiful and serene. We lounged on bean bag pillows on the top deck, mostly under the roof to protect us from the very hot sun. We watched islands go by and spotted birds and fish, barely coming across another boat or person.
Upon arrival, we were met by two park rangers. While we walked, one led us in front and the other walked behind. They each carried a long stick with a “V” at the end, our only weapon to defend ourselves in the event a Komodo dragon attacked. Let’s just say we were unimpressed by this show of force! My oldest son thought this was a good time to remind us that we didn’t have to outrun a Komodo dragon, we only had to make sure we weren’t last. As I sheepishly looked around at my competition – my children, husband and two park rangers who were small but I figured very fast – I felt like I had just become a contestant in the Hunger Games.
We went on a one hour hike. We saw lots of Komodo dragons near the start of the hike and the park ranger buildings, but thankfully, none were lurking around any trees or rocks during our hike. I was thrilled to spend time with the Komodo dragons. However, I was equally thrilled when we left. I found being near these fierce and deadly creatures to be a little stressful.
We saw a family leaving the park when we first arrived. A man was carrying a child that looked to be around 2 years old and a woman held the hand of a 5 year old. I would NOT recommend bringing young children onto Rinca Island and being near the Komodo dragons. These animals are deadly and unpredictable. Children should be mature and alert. However, it looks like there are no age restrictions. They leave the decision to the parents.
From Rinca Island, we boated around an hour away to a humongous mangrove forest near Pimpe and Flores Islands to watch the sunset and see the flying foxes.
All we knew before we arrived was we were going to see bats, which happened to be called “flying foxes“. That’s it. We considered the possibilities: perhaps, we would be getting off the boat and hiking to a cave to see them; or maybe, taking the boat into a cave and watching them from there. Suffice it to say, we were absolutely unprepared for what happened.
Once we arrived, we remained on the boat and floated around waiting for some instruction. As the sun slowly set, we spotted a group of birds in the distance that we initially thought might be the bats. There were around 30-40 of them and I thought, that’s nice but not sure this is all that big of a deal. Then, all hell broke loose.
Suddenly, these enormous creatures began to emerge from deep within the mangroves and fly over our heads. They were only 15 m or 50 ft above us. After a moment or two of stunned silence, we realized these were the bats. Flying foxes are the largest bat in the world. They have a wing span of 1.5 m (or 4 ft 11 in) wide. Every night around 6:00 pm, thousands and thousands of these bats leave the mangroves and head to nearby Flores Island to eat fruit.
For 30 minutes, we sat on our boat and watched these animals in their nightly migration while the sky turned orange, pink, purple and finally red. It was such a mesmerizing scene that I kept asking myself whether this was really happening – that somewhere on this earth this nightly ritual occurs and somehow, we got a front row seat to watch it.
And that was day one!
Snorkelling and Swimming with Turtles
We spent the day swimming and snorkelling in multiple spots in Komodo National Park. I don’t think that I have ever seen more beautiful underwater coral, reefs, and plant life. I felt that I had been dropped into a world that Dr. Seuss had drawn – fantastical colours and shapes were everywhere just below the surface of the water. We saw fish, of course – lots and lots of spectacular and exotic fish. But, it was the coral and plant life that had me spellbound. I simply floated and stared. It was insane.
We went to four different snorkelling spots in the park. They were Makaser Reef, Batu Bolong, and near the islands of Mauan and Siaba BS. We swam with enormous turtles near Siaba BS. It was magnificent.
Everywhere we went, the water was warm and we felt very safe. We had a guide in the water with us, a spotter on the boat, and another crew person in a motorized dinghy following us from behind. With life jackets and similar supervision, young children comfortable in sea water should be able to participate in this activity.
In the morning, we headed to Padar Island where we hiked up to the top of a mountain. The hike took about 30 minutes. Overall, it wasn’t a difficult hike but it was very hot, steep in certain places and a little slippery on small loose pebbles in certain spots along the way. Young children should hold hands with their parents and stay in the centre of the path. There wasn’t any fencing until we reached the top.
From there, we had breathtaking panoramic views of nearby islands and deserted beaches. Incredibly, this included seeing three different coloured beaches at the same time – black, white and even pink. It was an absolutely stunning view.
After, we boated to Sara Island and hung out on our own pink beach. We swam, snorkelled and explored this tiny piece of paradise. There wasn’t another boat or person in sight.
Swimming with Manta Rays
Notwithstanding the incredible experiences that we already had in Komodo National Park, swimming with the manta rays was one of the most breathtaking things that I have ever done.
We headed back to Makaser Reef where the manta rays liked to swim. This was one of my favourite spots from the day before. We had not found any manta rays, but the coral and plant life was stunning. Once we arrived, we started to put our snorkelling gear on when one of our guides yelled and pointed “manta, manta”! I ran over to where the guide was and looked into the water where he was pointing, but I couldn’t see the ray. All I could see was an enormous black shadow under the water that looked like a rock. Determined not to miss this experience, I jumped into the water as fast as I could.
I immediately looked down with my goggles and spotted the manta ray. It was ASTONISHING. First of all, it was GINORMOUS! Manta rays reach between 5.5 m – 7 m wide (or 16 feet – 23 feet). I had no idea! The day before, I was looking for cute little things, maybe slightly bigger than a standard seat cushion in a couch, maybe hiding on the bottom of the ocean or tucked behind some coral. Well, there was no way this creature was ever going to hide from anything.
We spent about an hour swimming with 4 manta rays. In that hour, my whole family could not believe that we were swimming with these majestic creatures. They are completely harmless and gentle. They swim with their enormous mouths wide open, eating tiny plankton by filtering what gets scooped into their mouth. I still think back to our time in the water and shake my head at the beauty and wonder of these creatures.
Every day that we spent in Komodo National Park felt like we had won the lottery. We basked on our own boat gliding though remarkably beautiful and untouched islands and beaches. At our pleasure, we snorkelled and saw extraordinary reef and plant life, unlike most any place in the world. We survived a hike in the natural habitat of Komodo dragons, and for a moment in time, we swam with some of the largest, most magnificent creatures in the seas. Komodo National Park is an untouched jewel that is waiting for you to explore!
If you are interested in reading more about our adventures during our three week trip to Indonesia, here is a list of all the articles that I have written:
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