As a thrifty backpacker, the adage, “You get what you pay for,” often does not apply; only suckers pay the full asking price. I always make sure to shop around and try to find a place that’ll provide me deliver the best service for the most affordable price. This was the goal I had in mind when I decided I wanted to visit Komodo Island, home to superb beaches, amazing underwater life, and of course, the elusive Komodo Dragon.
When looking for a boat trip that would take me from Bangsar in Lombok to Labuan Bajo in Flores, with stops at Komodo, Rinca, Moyo, and Laba islands, I managed to find a trip vis-a-vis Komodo Adventures and Beyond for 1,750,000 RPH (around $150USD). The price included breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, free coffee and tea, six 1.5L bottles of water, plus all of the Komodo Island fees and transport from my hotel in Senggigi.
After asking to see photos of the boat, which looked simple yet sturdy (this was no cruise trip, I know) AND which also included a Western-style toilet (a luxury on this side of the world), I agreed to join the tour and handed over the money. The next morning, a van came and picked me up and brought me to the port; we waited a few hours at Lombok Café for a briefing. Everyone at the restaurant was super nice; it seemed almost too good to be true.
As soon as the brief started, something felt wrong. Since it was the day after Ramadan, the man giving the briefing told us that despite there being two ships, there would only be one captain because no one else wanted to work that day. We all nervously laughed, thinking it was a joke, but nope, he was serious. After his speech, we made our way to the harbor where we were greeted by an unfamiliar-looking boat.
Unlike the images I saw the day before, the boat was essentially two stories of poorly constructed wood tethering on the edge of collapse. The first floor included a small front area, a covered space in the middle with two benches, the captain’s room, plus one cabin and a squatty potty at the back. Upstairs was a covered platform about four feet tall with 20+ mats strewn across the floor; this was apparently our sleeping space. Never one to be deterred, I decided to grin and bear it and enter the boat—after all, it’s about the journey and not the vessel, right?
After 4 very long days living in close quarters on the open water, I’m happy to say I survived. The conditions on the boat did not get any better. The engine broke down on our first night, plenty of people got seasick due to the choppy waters, the food was ALWAYS a variation of mie goreng or nasi goreng, and we never did end up getting a captain, which meant we had no idea what was going on most days.
Despite all of this, seeing the Komodo dragons up close, snorkeling with huge manta rays, seeing dolphins, laying out on a pink sand beach, and sleeping under the stars with good people made it all worth it—plus I picked up a few new Indonesian words after becoming friendly with the crew, who while spoke no English, always had big smiles on their faces.
Here are some helpful tips on how to decide what company to use and what to pack when you brave this adventure:
- Ask friends for a tour recommendation. While I cannot recommend my tour company, komodo dragon, Wanua Adventure seems to be a safe bet. Since our captain never showed up due to an engine problem on the other boat, the captain of the Wanua boat came over and decided to explain the agenda for each day since all the boats more or less have the same schedule.. very nice guy!
- Ask about how many people will be aboard the ship. We only had 13 people on our boat, which is far less than some other boats trying to squeeze 30 people aboard. Not only is this completely unsafe, but it also means a lot of people are not fed and that there’s not a lot of room to relax.
- Make sure the komodo park entrance fee is also included in the cost of the cruise. I’ve heard about people having to pay an additional $25 because the fee was not included in their deal.
- Pack a separate bag filled with your essentials to bring to the sleeping deck. Luggage is stored under the boat and is a pain to get to. In addition to sleeping clothes, a bathing suit, a towel, and your toiletries, I suggest packing a sarong to use as a cover while you sleep, ear plugs or music to help drown out the noise of the loud engine, baby wipes since there are no showers, and a portable charger due to the high probability the electrical outlets on the boats will either be taken or not working. And if you want, take cards, a wireless speaker, a guitar if you can play, etc., for entertainment on the boat.
- Bring motion sickness tablets. Even if you don’t end up using it, someone aboard will most likely need them, and you’ll have a friend for life.
The safety of a boat trip/tour to Komodo has been criticized numerously; there are reports of accidents, so proceed with caution. Decide if this is the adventure for you, and use our tips above to make an informed decision. Happy and safe travels!