When you hear “Indonesia,” what do you think of?
If you’re a surfer, you’ll probably start daydreaming about the waves in Kuta, Bali. A yoga fanatic? I bet you’re already reciting the mantra you learned at your retreat in Ubud, Bali. Or perhaps you’re a culture aficionado, and you can’t wait to tell me about your latest UNESCO World Heritage Site visit: Borobudur Temple in Java.
But do you want to know what I think of? Dragons!
Don’t worry; this isn’t some weird Game of Thrones goes to Southeast Asia fan fiction piece. I’m talking about real life, covered in thick scaly skin, terrifyingly deadly, make you want to run for cover dragons! Komodo dragons, that is!
Referred to as “land crocodiles” when Europeans first discovered them in 1910, Komodo dragons are the largest lizards on earth. They may not breathe fire, but these things are fierce! They’re equipped with 60 serrated teeth to rip apart their prey, not that they need them in order to kill; similar to snake venom, Komodo dragon venom is lethal (at least that’s what many scientists think). One dragon bite and you are basically a goner. These lizards are no geckos; a Komodo dragon can reach 140 kilograms and measure 3 meters in length. And yes, they are carnivores.
What’s that? Think you’re too big for a lizard to eat? Think again. A Komodo dragon can eat up to 80 percent of its own body weight. In fact, they can eat pretty much anything, from pigs to huge water buffalo, humans, and even other Komodo dragons. It’s a good idea to keep away from them – and I mean far away, as they can run up to 20 kilometers per hour, accelerating very quickly.
Basically, Komodo dragons are awesome – the stuff fairy tales are made of! Well, the sort of fairy tales where the prince dies tragically from a venomous bite, because Komodo dragons do NOT lose in a fight!
But do you want to know the best part about Komodo dragons?
They live in paradise.
To be more specific, Komodo dragons live on the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Padar, and Gili Motang, which are part of the larger Sunda Islands group.
While these islands may not be on every tourist’s itinerary, with many people simply heading to Bali and the Gili islands for beach holidays and Java for a taste of Indonesian culture, they certainly should be. Boasting pristine white sand beaches, clear turquoise water, and some of the best snorkeling spots in the world, these islands really will make you think that you’ve found paradise.
You can sunbathe on impossibly soft sand, watch fruit bats storm across the sky at sunset, hike up to high points on an island for some gorgeous photo opportunities, take a nighttime swim through seemingly magical phosphorescent plankton, and of course get to see Komodo dragons hanging out in their homes!
If you’re not the lucky owner of a private yacht, the best way to explore this area and get a chance to see the Komodo dragons is to take an organized tour. These tours will take you to Komodo or Rinca to catch a peak at the Komodo dragons, and your boat might also make stops at tiny deserted islands to give you a chance to sunbathe on a deserted beach, or in the middle of the ocean for an impromptu dip!
To actually see the dragons up close in their natural habitat, visit Komodo National Park, which spans several islands, including Komodo and Rinca. Here you can take a tour with a trained guide, who not only will tell you more about the island and point out interesting vegetation and animals, but he will also help to keep you safe when Komodo dragons are nearby.
While spotting a dragon is not necessarily guaranteed, many hang around the park buildings where they are used to being fed, seemingly undisturbed by visitors. In fact, you might find a dragon peacefully lounging in the sun – the perfect backdrop for your next Instagram selfie! Just remember to keep a safe distance, as Komodo dragons can move shockingly quickly. Stay close to your guide and follow his instructions to avoid any dangerous encounters.
Several companies run boat multi-day boat trips, usually starting from one of the Gili islands and heading down to Labuan Bajo on Flores, however safety standards can be lacking and sinking is not unheard of. Flying between some (but not all) of the islands is also possible. Book with a trusted company to ensure you have a comfortable and safe journey!
You can read about my personal experience on a multi-day boat trip to Flores here.