Travelling to Komodo National Park with kids

What we say: 3.5 stars

Flores is in general a very basic travelling experience and can be quite tough when it comes to travelling with children. One of its key attractions is Komodo National Park, usually visited on a day trip from Labuan Bajo, Kanawa or Seraya islands, or as a stop on the Lombok-Sumbawa-Flores liveaboards. Here’s a rundown of the facilities you can expect to find along the way.

Yes, this is fun.

Yes, this is fun.

Labuan Bajo offers possibly the best range of groceries you’ll find on all of Flores, as well as medical supplies. Stock up here on foods that your kids like if they’re fussy — but even then, be warned that you won’t find the brands you’re used to at home. You can buy long-life milk here, but we did have trouble finding any in small cartons; we had to buy a few large and use one a day (our four-year-old has a bit of a habit). Warn your kids that outside Labuan Bajo, they’re in for a diet of nasi goreng, mie goreng, fish, repeat. That way when they discover the pizza on Kanawa they’ll be over the moon.

Never pull a Komodo's tail.

Never pull a Komodo’s tail. (NB: This is a trick photo!)

If one of your kids really can’t get by without a particular snack, bring it with you. Don’t bring anything that needs to be refrigerated, unless you’re staying somewhere like Bintang Flores, where you’ll have an in-room fridge. At lower-end places you may very well be able to use the hotel’s fridge — check in advance if this is important. Once you head to places like Kanawa and Seraya — or even just to Waecicu Eden Beach — there is no electricity for most of the day and no fridges in any rooms.

As a matter of course you won’t be offered lifejackets on boats, but many do have them. Be warned that they won’t, however, be kid-sized — you may want to BYO.

Tired out after an all-day trip to Komodo.

Tired out after an all-day trip to Komodo.

Komodo is infamous for dangerous currents. While these can be great for drift snorkelling, you’ll want to keep a very close eye on your kids at all times. If you stick with experienced boat pilots (it’s hard to tell though…) they should be able to quickly gauge what the waters are like and warn you against snorkelling if it’s too rough or the rips are too strong. Listen when they tell you what area to stick to; they generally do know what they’re talking about. From around April till around September, waters can be calm in many areas, but currents can still run very strongly.

Calm seas and great conditions at Batu Bolong.

Calm seas and great conditions at Batu Bolong.

While snorkelling equipment is readily available for hire for adults, you won’t find kid-sized stuff, so again, BYO on this front.

As always, make sure your kids (and you!) drink lots of water and wear sunscreen. Flores is malarial — read up on the risks and discuss with a doctor who knows her tropical medicine stuff. Many travellers we met were taking malarials, but as we go in and out of these areas quite frequently, we didn’t. We minimised our risk: we wore repellent, slept under mosquito nets — most places do have them — and were generally cautious on keeping an eye out for mosquitoes and on anyone feeling feverish, as malaria is very treatable if you diagnose it within a day or two of the onset of fever. We spoke with a doctor specialising in malaria who told us that to have a 50% chance of catching malaria, you’d have to get about 400 mosquito bites during a night (obviously, even if you just get a few bites, there is still a small chance you’ll contract the disease). If you’re stuck somewhere with no net and you wear repellant, which generally lasts around six hours, he said you’ll still be protected during the period of night when malarial mosquitoes are at their biting peak (if you sleep normal hours). If this is a one-off trip for you, you’ll probably be advised to take malarials.

Hanging out at Sabolo.

Hanging out at Sabolo.

Now, those Komodo dragons look kinda sleepy and lethargic — almost cute — but they are killing machines and can move very, very quickly. Keep your kids close at Komodo National Park or Rinca, the two most popular places to visit the dragons. It goes without saying, don’t let your kids touch them. You’ll need to walk around the islands with a guide; listen to their warnings carefully. (They also know how to set up trick photos!)

Hammock test at Waecicu Eden Beach.

Hammock test at Waecicu Eden Beach.

If you plop yourselves down for a bit longer at somewhere like Kanawa — which we recommend, despite the service at the restaurant — take lots of games and jigsaw puzzles, as aside from the various daytrips, snorkelling and hiking, there’s not much other entertainment. Kanawa is the best spot we visited for sandcastles and hermit crab catching, with plenty of tree shade. (We’ve covered whether you should head to Kanawa or Seraya already.)

Luckily superhuman strength not required.

Luckily superhuman strength not required.

Be warned that though Kanawa and Seraya have electricity for a few hours in the evening, they do not have fans. The bungalows get stinking hot — really, really hot. If your kids are old enough, and it’s within your budget, get them a separate bungalow just to keep things cooler. Take a battery-operated fan to get everyone to sleep if you can (we hadn’t even heard of them until someone told us we should have taken one…)

Exploring Seraya Island's viewpoints.

Exploring Seraya Island’s viewpoints.

All of this may leave you wondering why on earth you’d travel with kids to Komodo. Here’s why: The snorkelling is truly world class — we saw manta rays, turtles, and a fantastic array of sea life. The hill-climbing at Kanawa is great — we carried our four-year-old on our shoulders, but our six-year-old was fine — with goats to spot along the way and great views waiting at the top. The scenery throughout the archipelago is stunning and you really can’t have bored kids when there’s so much to see and do just on the beaches alone.

Unlike resort areas like Bali, there’s no babysitting available, but hopefully the kids will be so tuckered out from running around all day they’ll be asleep easily and early, leaving you time to swing in a hammock and contemplate what you did with all your time before you had children.

Last updated: 3rd March, 2015

About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
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