The engine roared. We awoke from the sudden rumble of the boat, an indicator that we had less than 30 mins before we had to be suited up in our diving gear and ready to jump into the water for our first dive of the day.
I looked over at the clock. It was 6am. Too early for our liking.
“We are diving in Batu Balong!” – Max reminded with excitement. His eyes lit up and he jumped out of bed like a kid before the first day of school.
“Batu what?”, I mumbled still half asleep “I need tea. I don’t do early mornings”.
One cup of tea later and my excitement level was right up there with Max’s. Batu Bolong was the dive site we’d been looking forward to the most. After all, it is probably the most famous dive site in Komodo National Park and one that often makes an appearance in lists of The World’s Best Dive Sites.
That morning Batu Balong didn’t disappoint, but neither did 8 other dive sites we visited during our liveaboard in the Komodo National Park with Dive Komodo
About Komodo National Park
Known primarily for being home to the elusive Komodo Dragons, the Komodo National Park is located in the center of the Indonesian archipelago, between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores. The area comprises of three major islands: Komodo, Rinca, and Padar, as well as numerous smaller islands that make up a total area of 1,800 km2.
The park was initially established to conserve the unique Komodo Dragon, but along the way the conservation goals have expanded to protecting the entire biodiversity of the region both on land and below.
Diving in Komodo National Park
Today, divers are able to explore over 30 different sites in the vicinity of Komodo National Park, many of which are located within just 1-2hr boat ride away from the pier in Labuan Bajo (the gateway to Komodo National Park)
While it is possible to visit some dive sites in Komodo on a day trip, exploring Komodo National Park on a liveaboard is probably the most popular option with travelers.
And for us, it was a no brainer!
Liveaboard Dive Operators
Choosing the right operator for our liveaboard in Komodo National Park proved to be a bit of a challenging task. There is not a ton of reviews and information about liveaboards available online (at least we didn’t have much luck finding it), so we had to rely on TripAdvisor Reviews and Wikitravel.
There are about 6-8 large established dive operators in the area, all offering similar liveaboard experiences ranging from $150-$250/pp/night. On the lower end, you have your somewhat dirty and packed (from what we heard) “floating hostel” experience with Wicked Divers, an operator that caters to backpackers on the absolute lowest budget. On the other end of the scale, there is Blue Marlin Dive, offering a slightly more luxurious experience for $250/pp/night. The rest sit in the middle.
Diving With Dive Komodo
We chose to dive with Dive Komodo, one of the pioneers of diving in the region who have been operating liveaboards out of Labuan Bajo since 1996. Their fair price of $175/pp/night, great reviews, and availability that fit our schedule made them an obvious choice.
Dive Komodo’s liveaboards are typically 5 days long, allowing the divers to experience over 20 different sites within the national park. But the team were incredibly flexible, able to accommodate us on their beautiful boat called, Tatawa for just 3 days!
Tatawa (Indonesian for “smile”), a 21 meter beauty designed specifically for dive safaris in Komodo National Park, is able to comfortably accommodate 8 divers in 2 double, 2 single, 1 twin rooms, along with a crew of 2 dive masters/instructors, plus cooks, cleaners, a few other helpers and of course, the captain! It may sound like a lot of people on board, but there was always a TON of room for everyone.
What to Expect
Upon arrival in Labuan Bajo we popped into Dive Komodo’s shop, located on the main street in town, to fill out some paperwork and get our gear ready for an early start the following day. Once our gear bags were packed and our paperwork sorted, we were reminded that beer and other alcohol is allowed on the boat, but is not available for purchase from the crew. Hint hint, nudge nudge.
15 mins later, we were back with a case of beer that we were able to store in Dive Komodo’s office overnight.
We met the rest of our dive group inside Dive Komodo’s office at 8am that morning, and by 9am we were en route to meet Tatawa. After getting acquainted with the boat, meeting our lovely guide Wai, Fabi, and the rest of the crew, we got a detailed safety briefing and a chance to settle into our cabins.
It was then time to jump in for our first dive.
We started off with a check dive at Siaba Kecil to make sure we were comfortable with our equipment, weights, and feeling comfortable in somewhat rough waters of Komodo National Park. (The park is known for its strong currents!)
Later that afternoon, we jumped in for our second dive of the day at Mawan, one of the dive sites known for common sightings of manta rays. We got lucky, spotting not 1, not 2 but 3 beautiful and incredibly gracious manta rays swimming right past us, along with some turtles, and sting rays!
Our last dive for the day was a sunset/night dive at Siaba Besar during which we spotted the elusive flamboyant cuttlefish, frogfish, a few turtles, squids, and more.
Dinner was served in a cozy dry wooden square table at the heart of the boat. The food itself was great, but it was the chance to recap the day with fellow divers over a few beers that made evenings on Tatawa that much more special.
It was an early 6:30am morning dive at the beautiful Batu Bolong, a site that was frequently labeled as “an underwater aquarium”. It was here that we saw some of the most beautiful coral in Komodo and spotted a white tip reef shark, giant trevally, jack fish, banded sea snake, and lots of puffer and box fish.
For the 2nd dive of the day we went back to Siaba Kecil only to find out that thanks to a strong current our easy check dive site has now turned into an awesome drift dive where the marine life was, once again, abound: turtles, lots of sharks, trevally, and much more!
Drift dives are officially our favourite…especially in beautiful places like Komodo!
3rd dive of the day was at Tatawa Kecil, a cool topography dive with lots of beautiful coral and fishies.
Thanks to an early start that day we were able to squeeze in a 4th dive into this jam-packed day of diving. It was another awesome drift dive at the Golden Passage filled with turtles, sharks, big jacks, lionfish, and scorpionfish.
Day 2 seemed to fly by and before we knew it, the sun was dipping below the horizon. Our captain docked Tatawa and we all made our way up to an amazing lookout to the west of the Golden Passage dive site. A tough, but short 15 min hike up and we were rewarded with stunning views of the Komodo National Park from above.
It was then another wonderful evening spent sharing a few beers, dive stories, travel stories, and photos from another great day of diving in Komodo.
After retiring to our room, it hit us. This was our last night on Tatawa and we were extremely sad to leave the group.
Another early morning dive at the Cauldron, which I was too lazy to get up for and Max, of course, absolutely loved. The group spotted black and white tipped sharks, scorpionfish, giant sweetlips, trevally, and a moray eel, along with chevron barracuda, midnight snapper, and of course plenty of hawksbill turtles. I had a serious case of FOMO and kicked myself for being lazy.
Luckily, our second dive for the day and last dive with Dive Komodo at Tatawa Besar quickly made up for it with white and black tip sharks, hawksbill turtles, crocodile fish, scorpion fish, cuttlefish and more!
When we got out of the water, we couldn’t’ believe it was time to say goodbye to the crew and our awesome dive buddies!
Dive Komodo arranged for their day boat to pick us up at Tatawa Besar and take us to Rinca Island for Komodo Dragon “trekking”.
Trekking with Komodo Dragons
I use the term “trekking” very loosely here, because although there are some longer treks available on Rinca Island, we only did a 30 min leisurely walk around the main area of the island… and even that seemed almost unnecessary.
We thought the dragons would be hiding away deep in the forest of Rinca, but to our great surprise, 6 of them were lazily hanging out right by the rancher’s cabin about 2 mins walk from the entrance to the park.
It immediately diminished their image as dangerous and elusive creatures. Although for Max, who has been in love with the idea of Komodo Dragons since childhood, seeing them up close and personal was still a moment to remember.
The Bottom Line
Our time on Tatawa with Fabi, Wai and the awesome group of travelers from all over the world was definitely the highlight of our time in Indonesia. We loved living on the boat, spending days in and out of the water in some of the most beautiful dive sites in the world, soaking up the sun, eating great food, and taking the time to finally relax! (There was no reception on the boat, so that meant 3 straight day of NO WORK for us!)
While diving in Komodo was definitely well beyond our budget of $50/pp/day it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and one that was worth every penny! If you are planning to visit Indonesia and are considering a trip to Komodo, DO IT.
We promise that it will be the highlight of your visit to this part of the country and an experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life!
Want more proof? Check out our amazing video (well we think it’s amazing) that will help you imagine what diving in Komodo is really like!
Komodo Tips & Travel Advice
- You can experience liveaboard diving in Komodo National Park all year round, however be aware that you will not be able to sample dive sites from across the park in just one trip. Due to weather conditions and currents, one-half of the year all dives will take place in the Northern part of the park, while the other half, liveaboards will only venture down to the South.
- Komodo National Park Entrance fee is 175.000 IDR pp/day during the week and 250.000 IDR pp/day on the weekends
- Despite the fact that you will be staying on a boat between 3-5 days, you will most likely end up wearing the same 1-2 shirts and 1-2 bathing suits the entire time, so don’t overpack. Do bring some layers though to keep you warm after long dives and in the evenings. ‘
- Bring lots of sunscreen! The sun in Indonesia is vicious!
- Bring mosquito repellent
- Bring running shoes or another pair of trekking shoes if you want to be comfortable while making your way up to the view point near the Golden Passage dive site. Although the guides may tell you running shoes are not necessary, trekking in proper footwear is just a much better experience!
- Power is available on Tatawa, so we had no issues with charging our cameras and laptops during our time on the liveaboard.
- Cell phone reception though, and as such data services, will probably be unavailable for the majority of your time on a liveaboard. There are a few spots in the park that do get reception, but don’t plan on it.
- Travel Insurance was a mandatory requirement for this liveaboard experience. We recommend taking out travel insurance before you arrive in Komodo to avoid paying premium prices. Keep in mind that a lot of basic medical insurance plans won’t cover diving as an activity, so be sure to read the fine print and inquire about all the details. Luckily, diving was included in our travel insurance plan with Budget Direct Travel Insurance, although unfortunately, it’s an option available to Australian citizens/residents only.