Welcome to the Sunda Islands Java, Bali and Flores among volcanoes, lush jungles, paradisical beaches, pristine reefs, impressive archaeological sites, traditional villages and Komodo dragons. These are three of the more than 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia, an archipelago straddling the equator, where people, cultures, different languages coexist, creating a rich mosaic, surrounded by a wild and spectacular nature.
The first leg of our trip to Indonesia was Ubud, which can be defined as the island's cultural center. The town is fairly busy but we just got lost in the narrow streets off the main streets to find ourselves suddenly immersed in the green rice fields that surround it.
After we leave Ubud and we continue to discover Bali. Bali is where the hills are covered with flooded rice fields, where the sky is reflected making you lose track of space. Not to be missed are undoubtedly the rice fields of Jatiluwih where you will literally enchanted by the beauty and green of these ancient terraced rice paddies declared World Heritage Site by Unesco.
Going up north we leave behind the green countryside to get to the northern mountainous area, where we find the volcanic cone of Gunung Batur and Lake Danau Bratan on whose waters is reflected the Pura Ulu Danau Temple, an important Hindu-Buddhist temple dedicated Dewi Danu, the goddess of water, who protects agriculture throughout Bali. Here the temples are called Pura and are made in the Pagoda style, like those of Luhur Batukaru, surrounded by virgin forest, and the Ulu Danau Temple on the banks of a lake.
Our next goal is Munduk, a charming village nestled in the heart of the mountains of Bali, surrounded by lush forests, coffee and spice plantations and waterfalls hidden among the vegetation. At Munduk we also got to feel the kindness and hospitality of the Balinese people having been virtually accommodated in the home of a family that ran a small guesthouse. The village does not offer many accommodation and that day were all fully booked.
The journey continues in Indonesia, however, and after a couple of days we leave Munduk and return to Denpasar, the capital of Bali, to fly finally to the sea! Actually Bali is famous for its beaches and for its social life. Here there are many resorts full of shops and restaurants where you can enjoy the excellent fresh fish and relax on the white sand.
In an hour's flight we reach Labuan Bajo, a small fishing town on the island of Flores and the starting point for a visit to the Komodo National Park and its beautiful grounds, which attract snorkelers and divers from around the world. Speaking of beaches and places to dream, Flores, below the line of Wallace, is a true paradise. Flores island of Indonesia is quite large, wild and little touched by tourism which deserves a thorough visit.
Soaking in it means getting lost in a fantasy world that you will hardly forget. So we will not forget the beaches of fine white sand or pink ones and red, formed with broken coral, which remain to contemplate sunsets that take our breath away.
In front of Riung, a small village of fishermen living on the wooden stilts, there is the Seventeen Islands Marine Park, an archipelago of coral islands emerging from a turquoise sea, where you can go snorkeling to observe the reef, inhabited by a rich variety of tropical fish and coral flowers of giant proportions. Then at dusk the sky darkens for the migration of a colony of thousands of flying foxes who head to Flores to find the fruits at the base of their diet.
But from paradise we move to a prehistoric hell as we come face to face with Komodo dragons, the largest living lizards up to 3 meters in length and 70 kg weight.
Komodo dragons are real survivors of a distant era. With their forked tongues and their menacing advance, it is easy to see them eat or dozing in the sun, ready to pounce on the next prey. Their bite is deadly because of the deadly bacteria in saliva. Even the air becomes unreal in this out of the world place, that mkae us aware of having visited one of the last Eden on the planet.
Worth a visit without a doubt is the Rinca and Komodo islands, where through small organized hiking you may spot up close the famous Komodo dragons, giant lizards that populate these islands. Komodo is an island located in the archipelago of Flores, east of Bali and Lombok. Along with Rinca is the only place on earth where living Komodo dragons.
From Labuan Bajo instead we go off to explore the Komodo National Park, included in the list of the new Seven Wonders of Nature. The islets are characterized by rust-colored, steep hills covered with mangrove-fringed savanna. They stand in a sea of incredible colors, which hides the pristine coral reefs.
We start from Rinca, where you can choose between different paths to go. The Dragons tend to stay near the ranger station attracted by cooking smells, but the walk leads up a hill from which we see many of the surrounding islands of Flores. The fauna is not limited to dragons as buffalo, wild horses and deers occupy the island. From rinca we move on Komodo banks to immerse ourselves in some of the richest coral areas, where we swim with giant turtles, painted fish and an amazing marine life.
Shortly after, the landing dock at the entry to the National Park and Rinca, we start the long walk of about two hours allowing us to see the different island environments. Megapodes scratch around in the undergrowth. They are the only birds in the world that spawn underground. The chicks emerges from the ground after hatching like a Martian in a science fiction movie of the 60s and begins to turn and feed alone.
Going up the hill a beautiful view opens on Rinca and its vegetation scattered with tall palm trees, the nearby islands and the multicolored sea that surrounds them. The Komodo dragons are everywhere, from the more sleepy near the entrance in the Park, to the more perky and wild in the outer parts.
The Komodo dragons spend much of the day dozing, or at least that's the impression. It turns out that actually they run, jump, climb and swim quickly if need be, and the only protection against unexpected movements of the guide is the stick used to block off their heads. The local attacks are still happening today. Their power lies in the bacteria inside the mouth and in patience and not in physical strength. To eat a buffalo in fact, the Komodo dragons after bite wait for days to be able to devour quietly.
The buffalo is a favorite prey of the monitor lizard that to take it paralyzes with his bite and then eat slowly, even for days. Seen up close, even the claws and powerful tail inspire a certain fear, and have been used where appropriate to prey also the humans. To walk down the path you need to be accompanied by at least two guides, one in front and one behind, equipped with the appropriate anti dragon stick.
The guide in front makes a click and does give way to a big monitor lizard resolutely advancing along the path on a collision course with the party. In total we encountered 10 along the long walk, mainly in the initial part. We wonder how they can feed all of these monitor lizards, now that the park does not feed them anymore.
We left no time for a dip at the edge of a mangrove forest at high tide to cool off from the walk with a lunch of baby tuna, gado gado and squid rings caught the night before and soaked in a yellow spicy lime sauce. That's not all, the pleasure of good food is added, in an environmental context is itself impressive, as dozens of dolphins pass next to the boat while moving towards Rinca.
We were the first to enter the Komodo park and have more opportunities to watch the wildlife. Starting the long walk of about 2.5 hours, the fauna density is remarkable, especially of birds. We meet the Cockatoos from the ridge, which have here one of the last locations where they can be observed in the wild.
Numerous are the Green Imperial Pigeon-Ducula Aenea, big colorful pigeons. A red-cheeked parrot, fast hurtle in the air in the forest. A beautiful golden oriole eats fruit of a tree near the path. The stop in Komodo however was longer than expected and we opt for a return to the pink beach as deviations on other islands may create problems before the return to Labuan Bajo in the evening. After another stop to dive among corals, small sharks and shoals, we return in the evening to Labuan Bajo.
The ethnic Ngada remained isolated until the twenties of the last century when it was reached by the Dutch missionaries. The Ngada have managed to preserve their ancient animist beliefs and live in the villages where we can see the megalithic symbols of their tradition. They live in huts with high thatched roofs arranged along two rows on a ridge and the central area of the village.
Mysterious and mystical, the Kelimutu Volcano on the island of Flores is considered sacred by the locals. And it was beautiful to observe at dawn, when the mists are dissolved from the sun, giving the opportunity to admire the three lakes of different colors inside the crater which, according to tradition, collect the souls of the dead.
The elders in the brown lake, men and young women in the turquoise and wicked in the black.
The Candi Sukuh is an enigmatic and extraordinary temple, nestled in the forest on the island of Java. Here it was celebrated a cult of fertility, as evidenced by the archaeological remains present that have earned it the nickname of erotic temple. But little is known of its origins and it is not clear even the religion for which it was erected.
In Java you can visit the temple of Borobudur, a spectacular and magnificent Buddhist monument, built in the ninth century. The cult site is located near the ancient city of Yogyakarta, the place is the symbol of resistance to the Dutch colonial rule. Do not miss his kraton, with palaces, markets, craft workshops of batik and silver.
The temple of Borobudur is the largest Buddhist structure in the world, situated between the rice fields and volcanoes. These are colossal tantric mandalas made of two million blocks of stone worked with refined sculptural decorations depicting the Buddhist doctrine and over 500 statues of the same Buddha. The complex of Hindu Prambanan has many temples of which the main ones are dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The latter is 47 meters high and is richly carved. We do not miss the sunset sitting on the steps of one of the temples.
Not far from Yogya is even the Prambanan complex, a very interesting testimony to the years in which the Hindu culture flourished in Java. At night the Ramayana Ballet is staged in the outdoor theater located just steps from the archaeological site. But this island also offers the superb natural landscapes.
Positioned on the edge of tectonic faults, Indonesia is rich in active volcanoes that stand out with their smoldering cones on top of rice fields and forests. Watch the sun rise on the craters of the volcano Bromo or inhale the sulphurous fumes of Monte Ljen. These experiences are hardly forgettable.
Among the trips I've been lucky enough to do in recent years travel in Indonesia between the islands of Bali and Flores has definitely left its mark for the extraordinary beauty of its landscapes and the kindness of its inhabitants. Just get away from the most crowded places to breathe a peace and spirituality that I have hardly seen elsewhere until now!
How to get to Komodo Island
I will list all the alternatives that we looked at and of course the one we chose. Plus other practical advice on how to visit Komodo with children.
The most convenient way to reach Flores and from there organize the excursion to Komodo is to fly from Bali or Lombok to Labuan Bajo. The destination airport is small and the track can not accommodate too large airplanes; For this reason, low cost airlines do not cover this route. The companies covering the area are Garuda Indonesia, Merpati, Transnusa, Wings Air and Lion Air.
An alternative that we considered was to take part in one of the cruises that depart from the Lombok, arrive at Komodo National Park and then return. This particular one has a duration of 5 days and 4 nights, if you make stops along the route. Certainly would have been a nice experience, but spending all those days on the boat with the kids did not lure a lot. We must therefore keep in mind that life on board can be tiring even for an adult.
Bus and ferry is undoubtedly the most economical and adventurous possible combinations. The boldest can go from Bali to Lombok by ferry and then take a combined bus and ferry that take you up to Sumbawa Besar. From here you can take the bus to Bima. You can reach Sape Bima bus in two hours. So, finally, from Sape ferry you can reach Labuan Bajo in 6 hours. There are also express buses between Bima and Lombok .
In my opinion, this way of reaching the islands of Flores is among the best. There is also a public ferry transiting from Bali to Flores every 15 days.
The best ideas always come to me in times of despair. When I found myself with monstrous airfare to reach Flores from Bali in August, I started to consider going from Lombok. But unfortunately, doing so we could not find a cheaper rate! So I looked for other airports as well as to Labuan Bajo which may have served to bring us closer, perhaps to be taken in combination with some other medium type buses and public ferry. Put simply, I created a travel route to Komodo from Bali that took something from all the three I listed above you.
I looked for a round-trip in flight to Lombok - Bima, which is the closest city to the port of Sape from where public ferries go to Labuan Bajo. So we took a ferry from Padang Bai in Bali to the pier Lembar in Lombok. So in minivans we have reached Kuta and there spent the night. The airport is in fact located in the center of the island, and Praya, sleeping in Kuta, is till close and we also spent a day on this beautiful beach of Lombok Island.
The next morning, a plane took us up to Bima and then took a taxi shared with a couple and arrived in Sape, the port city where we catch a ferry to Labuan Bajo. At Sape we had to spend a night because ferries were in the morning. We chose one of the two hotels present on the only road to this desolate crossing point.
Once in Labuan Bajo we looked for a lodging for the week that we will be held there. After escaping from the hotels proposed on Lonely Planet, since they know they are on a guide, always raise the prices, we find accommodation at a cheap hotel.
Organize the excursion to Komodo National Park
To visit the park we decide to rent a boat for two days and a night, so that we can go to Rinca during the first day of sailing, then visit Komodo in dawn the next day. We start early in our trek to see the dragons and other animals. Another recommendation I make to you is to not bring along all your luggage.
Entrance to the Komodo National Park
Rinca and Komodo are the islands that make up the park and only habitat of the Komodo dragons. You will not find in any other part of the world, unlike other Asian monitor lizards that instead moved from one area to another. While knowing how to swim, this huge lizard has remained here. The ticket is valid for one day. Alternatively you can get to Komodo in the late afternoon of the same day but you are less likely to make sightings. In my humble opinion, if you have arrived here you cannot miss behind for the payment of an extra ticket.
The guide will offer you three and four trekking routes in Rinca to Komodo, where there is one more which includes an overnight stay on the island and must be booked one day in advance. The daily trekking are of 1-2-4 hours and on both islands we chose the intermediate. Get dressed with pants and long-sleeved shirt, with under a t-shirt in case of excessive heat, shoes or hiking shoes, hat and sunglasses, which will also serve you in case of a close encounter with a cobra and it is not to say!