Komodo National Park, famous for dragons, swift drift diving and abundant marine life, is located more-or-less in the heart of the Indonesian Archipelago. This UNESCO World Heritage site encompasses Komodo Island itself, Rinca and Padar Islands and several smaller islands as well. If you’re thinking about a visit, read on for our definitive guide to diving Komodo.
Best time to go
It’s possible to dive Komodo year-round. However. the liveaboard ‘season’ is between May and September — the dry season for the Nusa Tenggara region. Adverse weather in the wet season, including rough seas, can adversely affect liveaboards. It is still possible to dive, however, by choosing a resort-based option. Ever-present strong ocean currents ensure good visibility.
From north to south
Resort-based diving is primarily in the northern half of the park due to proximity. We differentiate between the northern, central and southern sites by temperature.
In the north the water is typically warm and very clear, with visibility averaging 82 feet (25 m) though it can reach 130 feet (40 m). Average water temperatures are around 81 to 82 F (27 to 28 C), so you’ll want a 3 mm full wetsuit.
The stronger currents make these sites mainly suitable for experienced divers, although you can make exceptions at quarter-moon phase. The currents make for interesting dive plans and some pretty fast drift dives, so in this area good buoyancy is a must.
The volcanic topography provides stunning underwater landscapes while strong currents attract big stuff, including white- and blacktip sharks, gray reef sharks, Napoleon wrasse, mantas, mobula rays and large schools of giant trevally.
In the rainy season, between December and March, these sites may not be accessible due to northwestern winds.
Komodo’s central area has the most varied diving — you’ll often find adjacent dive sites with completely different topography and marine life.
Average water temperature here is 81 to 82 F (27 to 28 C), so you’ll want at least a 3 mm full wetsuit. Visibility averages around 50 feet (15 m) but can be anywhere between 23 and 98 feet (7 to 30 m). It’s possible to dive year-round, though some dive sites are better between April and November.
There are wall dives, pinnacle dives, drift dives, sheltered coral gardens, and great muck diving. You’re pretty much guaranteed turtles and reef sharks, and you’ll frequently see mantas at two popular sites. It’s hard to summarize central Komodo as a whole since each dive site has its own treasure, from muck to mantas and healthy corals galore.
The water is a bit cooler in the south, averaging 73 to 75 F (23 to 24 C), so a 5mm full-length suit is best. Visibility varies with upwellings between 23 and 67 feet (7 to 20 m), but averages around 40 feet (12 m). The best season for diving in the south is from October to April, as you frequently get clearer, warmer water.
From Pantai Merah (Pink Beach) and further south, you move into the cooler upwelling water from the depths of the Indian Ocean. These upwellings, caused by ocean currents colliding with the continental shelf, bring with them an endless supply of plankton and with it an explosion of marine-life including, of course, filter-feeding manta rays.
The reefs in the south are vibrant in soft-coral life, large branching corals, and sea fans. The invertebrate life here is a macro-lover’s dream come true: nudibranchs, frogfish, pygmy seahorses, torpedo rays and more.
Komodo by liveaboard
If you want to experience the full range of Komodo diving, a liveaboard is your best bet. There’s almost an endless choice, from budget to luxury and everything in between.
Most boats include land-based day trips on their off-gas day to Rinca Island to see the Komodo dragons and, depending on the itinerary, a surface interval visit to one of the area’s famous pink beaches.
There are plenty of tour operators in Labuan Bajo that run hiking, Komodo-dragon tours, pink beach days and snorkeling trips. Consequently, if you’re traveling with kids or non-diving family members, you can put together a great mix of snorkeling, diving and other activities to keep everyone engaged over a week or so.
There are dragons on Komodo Island, but Rinca Island has a better setup, tends to be less busy and has more hiking trails. There are park fees associated with all trips into the national park, which go toward facility upkeep and ranger wages.
Padar Island has a great hike with views along the way and especially at the summit. Be sure to take plenty of water and sunscreen as there is not much shade on the island trails. It’s best to go early in the day as the early morning/sunrise views will make for a great Instagram photo. On Padar Island you’ll also find a famous natural phenomenon: a pink beach. Red-coral fragments are responsible for this peculiar beach, which is definitely a great place to lie back or enjoy the underwater world with your snorkeling equipment.
Flores has very distinct cultural practices, well worth taking time to explore and experience. There are cultural village tours, both half- and full-day, which include performances such as the traditional bamboo pole jumping game ‘Tetek Alu,’ the ‘Ndundu Dake’ dance and ‘Caci’ performances.
The night life and range of restaurants is always growing with something for everyone’s taste. Food choices ranges from spicy aromatic local dishes such as nasi campur to milder Western fare. Cheap eats are normally a stone’s throw of most hotels. A standout is in Labuan Bajo is the Treetop Restaurant, which has a menu with something for everyone, attentive staff and a great location. For jaw-dropping views and cocktails, La Cecile is a great place to end the day (or in fact, your dive trip).
Traveling to Komodo is easy with numerous daily flights to Komodo Airport in Labuan Bajo from neighboring international Indonesian hubs including Jakarta and Denpasar (Bali). Labuan Bajo (LBJ or Bajo) is a fishing town, located at the western end of Flores island in the Nusa Tenggara region of east Indonesia. It’s the gateway to the national park and is home to a whole range of accommodation choices for those after a land-based adventure.
A multitude of liveaboard boats also depart from Labuan Bajo harbor, which is an easy 15-minute taxi ride from the airport.
Garuda Indonesia has a generous sporting-goods baggage allowance (an extra 50 pounds/23 kg on international flights); just be sure to mention you have scuba equipment on check-in. If you’re flying in on a domestic flight only, check with your travel agent or airline for excess baggage fees. These are normally quite reasonable but often cheaper if you pre-purchase.
Lately there have been a few news reports that Komodo National Park will close to tourists to help conserve the endangered population of Komodo dragons. Find out what’s really happening in our report.