Komodo National Park, famous for its dragons, has even better diving. The snorkeling is also world class, and the boating is, well, you get what you pay for.
Labuan Bajo is the base for most explorations of Komodo. Many people go through the Park on tourist cruises, dive liveaboards, or smaller snorkeling excursions. The tourist boats have safety issues, and sink not infrequently. In fact, one crashed while I was there. 2 tourists still missing 4 days later, 23 found in several groups. I took the tourist boat from Gili Trawangan to Labuan Bajo, here is the basic info. The tourist boats take 4 days, 3 nights, stopping at several islands on the way for snorkeling and sightseeing, including Komodo and Rinca islands. More on the sightseeing later. There are two classes of ticket ‘deck class’ and ‘cabin class’, as of August 2014 they run about 1.5 million rupiah for deck, or 2.2 million for cabin. I took the deck class, a picture of the deck is below. The boats are pretty similar to one another and basically consist of a single bathroom, the sleeping area (or cabins presumably), a wide covered space and the front deck exposed to the sun. 3 meals a day are provided, generally rice, a veggie heavy topping and sliced fruit (papaya, watermelon and pineapple at different meals). Gado Gado, a mild curry, and fried rice were some of the specific meals. Breakfast was banana pancakes.
Your basics are taken care of on the boat, but there are a few things you can bring along to make it a more comfortable trip. There are no stores so you should be prepared. Sunblock, aftersun lotion, swimsuits are all necessary. Cigarettes if you are a smoker. A good book or two because there is a lot of downtime between sightseeing stops. Sunglasses. About 100,000 rupiah extra for ‘camera fees’ and ‘park entrance fees’. A towel or sarong to put down on deck – there were no seats on my boat, so you are sitting on wooden deck most of the time. I brought my hammock and it was great. It got slightly cold at night, so another layer on top of the blanket they give you can be nice too. A few people onboard had windbreakers, I just had an outfit I kept for getting salty – sitting on the front deck was the best for views, but you constantly got a little wet from sea spray.
About the sightseeing: At night there were phosphoresent phytoplankton in the water, and by day we watched the flying fish and the passing islands. We stopped at least once a day, usually twice, and swam to shore for a short trek or snorkeled between the boat and the beach. We would usually have about an hour for snorkeling at each island. Komodo had more dragons, Rinca had dragons and more of everything else, and was overall the prettier island.
Rinca island has a small resort, is easily accessible by day trip from Labuan Bajo, and was my favorite stop along the way. Unfortunately there was no snorkeling where we stopped (Crocodile Bay), however I’ve seen that there are single day snorkeling expeditions available to the island. You may be able to see the tiny boat in this bay, which might have been dropping off snorkelers or divers.
Many of the treks were unspectacular, but they were an opportunity to stretch your legs off the boat. I liked the waterfall, although unfortunately the water wasn’t deep enough to swim in. This was advertised as a shower opportunity, however since you had to immediately swim back to the boat… some of the people on board felt ripped off.
So that’s the above-the-water story. I also went diving in Komodo National Park while staying in Labuan Bajo. I went with Blue Marlin Diving, and ‘the fastest boat in Bajo‘. They seemed to be very together, and also slightly more expensive than the competition. I signed up the day before, and met at the dive center at 8am. We departed around 9am and arrived at the dive site at 10am. A quick but thorough briefing and we were diving The Cauldron. I was with a group of 4 (2 paying divers, 2 instructors). This was an excellent dive.
An easy descent, exploring a nice sandy bottom, with some interesting little critters (shrimp, seahorse), then into a bit of a hole, some sharks, some walls, then through a tight canyon abounding in giant Trevally and through a ‘shotgun’ of fast current while mantas dip and glide through the waters next to us. We grabbed on to some rocks for some extra manta-watching time and then eventually swam over to a soft-coral garden for a safety stop before heading back to the boat.
We followed that up with Castle Rock – also great, and the Lighthouse, also good. I’d go on more, but I think you get the idea … there is some really really great scuba diving here. Some currents, and advanced conditions as well, but if you are here, and you dive, you must give it a try.