One of the main attractions
The diving in Komodo National Park is some of the most famous and well regarded in all of Indonesia. Conditions can be extremely challenging but there are also plenty of spots ideal for people just learning to dive, making this an ideal spot for divers of all stripes.
We recently spent a few days diving with the dive shop on Kanawa Island, Kanawa Island Diving run by a friendly guy Ed. While the future of that shop may be a bit up in the air, Ed has a new liveaboard going, the Wunderpus, which may be worth checking out. These two aside, there are oodles of dive outfits in Labuan Bajo proper, and we’ve personally also used DiveKomodo. Other reputable operators include Bajo Dive Club and Wicked Diving Komodo.
The standard of most operators appears to be reasonable because, in the words of one dive master, “the conditions here are sufficiently challenging that cowboys just can’t maintain an operation here — they all stay in Bali!”
Divers have the option of doing fun dives out of Labuan Bajo, multi-day liveaboard trips through the park or, if staying somewhere like Kanawa, diving straight off the beach. Also bear in mind that if you don’t dive but would like to snorkel, you’re often able to join a dive trip for a lesser fee — you snorkel when the divers dive.
Komodo is famous for its coral, sheer volume of fish and in particular its spectacular manta rays. The latter are best snorkelled with at aptly named Manta Point — we saw around 20 on our most recent trip of 2014 — while other sites may yield anything from dugongs to reef sharks and sea snakes to turtles. Some of the drift dives are simply spectacular and you’ll feel like you’re on a moving footpath through an aquarium. The sealife really is bountiful and the corals stunning. Diving Komodo can be a true highlight of your time in Indonesia.
Along with fabulous underwater life, Komodo also has currents — sometimes currents so challenging they may rip the mask straight off your face. As such, it is very important that you are honest regarding your abilities and take heed of what the shop tells you. There are plenty of novice level spots where currents are not so bad, so as long as you’re grouped according to your skill you should have a swell time. All dives should be preceded by a detailed briefing explaining the do’s and don’ts and highlighting what to keep an eye out for so you know what to expect when you are underwater.
A few of the sites we’ve personally tried out include:
This north Komodo dive site of Crystal Rock features an absolute profusion of reef sharks when the conditions are right, both swimming languidly along in the proverbial Komodo “fish soup” and resting on the bottom, some in hidden spots. There’s usually a strong current here, but we visited during a period of somewhat unusual slack current, giving us plenty of time to investigate the profusion of fish life here. Enormous grouper and giant fusilier are in evidence here, and our dive master even uncovered a small and exquisite pink pygmy seahorse, nestled in a gorgonian.
Batu Bolong is a popular dive and snorkelling site and can get rather crowded during the high season, so solitary divers should be mentally prepared. Divers zig-zag upwards along the face of the rock, checking out diverse live corals and a profusion of fish species. Snorkellers often stop here on the way to or from Komodo to see the dragons. Also popular with turtles!
The rubbly bottom at Karang Makassar (Manta Point) is dotted with a few coral bommies and cleaning stations, but the real attraction here is manta rays, which are drawn to the plankton rich waters and the promise of a free tune-up. We’ve seen anything from four to 20 manta rays here in a single trip — both diving and snorkelling. Manta spotting is best done close to the bottom, and if the tide is blowing a bit, you’ll want a dive tool or gloves so you can successfully stay in one spot. It’s imperative not to chase the mantas, which can scare them away from an area important for their species survival. Further, even if you get a chance, don’t touch the mantas either as this can remove the protective mucus layer on their skin and can subject them to an increased risk of infection.
A popular drift dive that runs to a depth of 30 metres, Tatawa Besar is home to many turtles (“they’re like rats,” according to one of the dive masters on our dive) in a moderate current. The reef drops away at around the 25 metre mark, but most will find themselves drifting at 10-15 metres. We saw impressive sponges, large cuttlefish, turtles, lobster and lionfish and our keen-eyed divemaster pointed out a stonefish that took us about five minutes to see! Further out from the reef the current can speed up considerably so be wary of being pulled off from the reef.
Located just outside the park boundary, the wall and coral garden at Sebayur Kecil is a good spot for less advanced divers due to a relative lack of current.The reef (which was devastated by crown of thorns starfish in 2003 but has since regenerated) is rich in many species and the sandy slope at the base of the reef has fields of garden eels swaying in the current — don’t get too close or they’ll vanish! We saw crocodile fish and line fish here along with a very large banded sea snake which gave everyone a bit of a startle. This is also a popular night dive location — again due to the lack of current.
Back on the mainland, there is little to separate one shop from another price wise in Labuan Bajo and as schedules change daily depending on conditions, tides and customer demand, you’re best to peruse the chalkboards that sit out front of most dive shops and see what tickles your fancy.
As far as liveaboards are concerned, a friend who did one in Komodo in May 2014 recommended Putri Komodo where a private cabin with only two other passengers on board cost around 1,000,000 rupiah. At the higher end of the liveaboard scale, Damai does high end trips kicking off at around US$400 per person per night. (disclosure, Damai is owned by Alberto Reija, a friend of the author). We also talked to Flores Experience who do combined liveaboard camping trips, meaning you camp on one of the islands within the park. The camping is not too shabby and trips start at about 1,700,000 rupiah for 1 night/2 days.
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.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.