(CNN) — Manta rays hover, wings pulsing, on the quick currents of the Flores Sea. Komodo dragons, earth’s largest lizard, skulk within the scrubby forests of Komodo and Rinca. A peachy dawn illuminates the rugged flanks and slender backbone of Padar Island.
It’s little shock to anybody who has visited Komodo National Park, a flurry of volcanically upthrust islands and coral reef off the coast of Indonesia’s Flores island, that it holds UNESCO World Heritage standing.
Labuan Bajo, a bustling port city on Flores’ northwestern tip, is greatest generally known as the soar off for Komodo National Park. It’s the place vacationers will discover Komodo Airport, which opened a brand new, trendy terminal in 2015.
Here’s a have a look at what vacationers heading to Labuan Bajo and past can expertise when the nation reopens to worldwide tourism.
Labuan Bajo: More than a port
A phinisi dive boat, anchored in a Labuan Bajo marina.
Andre Seale/VW PICS/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
The identify “Labuan Bajo” means “Place Where the Sea Gypsies Stop Over”, however the city is greater than only a stopping place to guide a cruise or refill on pearls and abalone shells.
Labuan Bajo has lodging for all budgets, starting from non-public island seashore bungalows to branded beachfront lodges, homestays and boutiques, with a wealth of lodges now beneath building forward of 2022.
While seafood feasts await and a few seashore golf equipment deck the shores, the city’s principal points of interest are pure, says Sebastian Pandang, head of the native department of the Indonesian Tourist Guides Association.
“When I do city tours, I take travelers to Bukit Cinta, Batu Cermin, Gua Rangko and Cunca Wulang,” he says.
Around the center of the day, when gentle floods by the hillside entrance and illuminates the turquoise waters beneath, Gua Rangko, a marine cave accessible by boat close to Labuan Bajo, is as gorgeous as Capri’s well-known Blue Grotto.
Meanwhile, about an hour away from Labuan Bajo, Cunca Wulang’s cascades and pure water slides are photogenic enjoyable for adults and children alike.
Bukit Cinta provides sundown island views, whereas Batu Cermin cave — only a 15-minute drive from the city — options shining partitions that replicate the daylight.
Further afield on Flores
Sunset seekers headed for Flores will probably be in for a deal with.
SONNY TUMBELAKA/AFP/AFP through Getty Images
For vacationers with time on their fingers, it is value exploring additional afield in Flores. More than twice the scale of Bali, this lengthy, slender island is a spot the place wealthy tribal cultures occupy lush volcanic landscapes.
Perched within the sky, the conical thatched huts of the tribal village of Wae Rebo could be accessed solely on foot. In Luba and Bena, an historic matrilineal tradition persists amid megalithic tombs and the skulls of sacrificed buffalo.
Traditional rituals and sports activities akin to armed boxing endure all through the island’s lush inexperienced highlands, the place ladies nonetheless weave ikat cloths and Flores espresso prospers.
Further east, the volcano Kelimutu beckons, its summit capped with three dramatic crater lakes that gleam like slicks of oil paint in vivid mineral colours that change with the composition of the waters.
Each August, the native Lio folks descend to the lakeside to depart choices to their ancestors and honor them with dance.
Komodo Island: Here be dragons
The island of Komodo is a few two-hour boat experience from Labuan Bajo. Its hottest attraction is its giant inhabitants of Komodo dragons.
“In local legend, we believe that the Komodo dragon is born together with humans, from one mother,” says Ishak, a ranger on the nationwide park station on Komodo island who, like many Indonesians, makes use of only one identify.
Over the centuries, the villagers of Komodo and close by Rinca islands, the place the majority of the park’s 5,000-odd lizards reside, have reached an equilibrium with these scaly predators — though they sometimes graze their goats on islands out of the dragons’ attain.
Despite their drooping jowls and lazy method, Komodo dragons are highly effective predators. Male dragons can attain a size of as much as three meters (near 10 toes) and take down prey as giant as buffaloes with their robust jaws and potent venom.
Yet rangers escort guests into their searching grounds armed with nothing extra dramatic than a forked stick, which they use in extremis to pinion the lizards’ tails.
“The dragons haven’t attacked a human being for (more than) two years,” Ishak explains. “And that was a Singaporean tourist who went for a walk without a ranger.”
Treks on Komodo island span the gamut from brief strolls to close by buildings the place lazy lizards hand around in search of meals, to half-day hikes into the encircling forests the place their extra energetic cousins hunt deer, wild boar and extra amid the calls of uncommon birds.
The coronary heart of the Coral Triangle
Liveaboard dive boats flock to websites like Batu Bolong, an oceanic pinnacle so wealthy in life that it is attainable to see a turtle on one aspect of you and a reef shark on the opposite, and Manta Alley, the place big rays, some as a lot as 5 meters in wingspan, cluster to feed on plankton.
Yet you do not should be a professional diver to expertise Komodo’s underwater delights. Overnight, two-night and even one-day cruises let snorkelers uncover pristine coral gardens, akin to these at Manjarite or Pink Rock, or drift alongside the reef on quick currents, akin to these close to Karang Makassar.
Snorkelers can fin out seeking manta rays at websites like Manta Point, the place the creatures circle over coral outcrops so smaller fish can clear them, or go in quest of the ocean turtles that graze on Komodo’s seagrass.
Island-hopping is among the nice joys of any journey to Komodo National Park.
Padar, the park’s third largest island after Komodo and Rinca, provides gorgeous dawn views over sculpted ridges and sinuous bays from its slender backbone, reached by tons of of steps.
Kelor Island, a tiny cone decked with a reasonably white sand seashore, delivers 360-degree vistas of the volcanic outcrops that stud the Flores Sea.
For the right selfie, Karang Makassar, a low-lying white sand atoll surrounded by pale turquoise waters, can also be magical.
And then there’s Pink Rock, a volcanic outcrop that provides a surreal background of pink rock marbled in orange and yellow and threaded with veins of iron ore.
Yet, much more than white sands, Komodo National Park is legendary for pink seashores. Scarlet coral fragments tint pale sands across the waterlines on a number of islands, making a pure rainbow of beige, pink and turquoise.
Come sundown, many in a single day boats anchor off Kalong Island, which consists of mangrove forests and is populated by flying foxes. At twilight, the island’s bats swoop out in a mass that swirls like smoke to hunt fruit on Komodo, Rinca and even Flores — a dramatic finish to a spectacular day.