Situated between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores lies the Komodo National Park. Whilst it’s famously known for its resident Komodo Dragons, people are flocking to its shores for other reasons: to experience the magical underwater life that surrounds the islands of Komodo.
What better way to explore this diving mecca in Indonesia than by spending a few days on a Komodo diving liveaboard.
However, the costs for these liveaboards often exceed backpacker budgets (as it did mine). So, is it really worth doing one? Keep reading to find out how you can dive Komodo on a budget (sort of) and why this diving liveaboard was one of the highlights of my Indonesia trip.
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- Komodo diving liveaboard vs day trips from Labuan Bajo
- How many dives do you complete on a scuba diving liveaboard?
- The dangers of diving: Komodo diving currents
- How experienced do you need to be to dive the Komodo National Park?
- Best time to dive the Komodo Islands in Indonesia
- The best Komodo diving liveaboard: Budget liveaboards in Komodo
- Komodo dive sites
- Non-diving activities around Komodo National Park
- Komodo diving liveaboard tips
- How to get to Komodo National Park
Komodo diving liveaboard vs day trips from Labuan Bajo
I’ll just put it out there – diving liveaboards aren’t cheap! But they offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience and are a worthy bucket-list activity.
I spent hours debating whether it was worth the investment or not. I kept going back and forth, changing my mind every few minutes. Below are some of the main points that swayed my opinion and why I eventually chose Dive Komodo’s Tatawa Liveaboard as opposed to day dives to the national park.
Komodo diving day trips
The Komodo National Park is a scuba divers’ playground with over 30 dive sites to choose from. These sites are scattered throughout the massive park with day trips departing from the port town of Labuan Bajo, Flores.
One of the cons of Komodo diving day trips is the distance and time it takes to get to the best dive sites in the park. This can take over 2 hours, which will leave you spending most of the day boating to and from the Komodo dive sites.
So, why would you do a diving day trip? These day trips are popular amongst tourists as they are the more affordable option, costing around 1 600 000 IDR ($105) for 3 dives.
If you have limited time and budget, a diving day trip might be your best option as it still allows you to explore the Komodo National Park and get a glimpse of the rich marine life that call these waters home.
Komodo diving liveaboard
The best way to experience the underwater world of Komodo is through a diving liveaboard as the sites are all spread out over a vast distance.
Another factor to take into consideration is Komodo National Parks’ increased popularity over the past few years. This has resulted in crowded dive sites.
Being on a liveaboard allows you the flexibility of visiting the popular sites during the quieter times of the day, or when the conditions are optimal.
You will also be spoilt for choice when choosing dive sites as the liveaboard will move between the northern and central parts of the park. This offers you the best Komodo dive sites to explore. You’ll also have a chance to do a night dive which will be a first for many people!
So my final verdict: If you’re visiting one of the most preserved and spectacular dive sites in the world, you have to make the most of it and dive your brains out! However, finding a budget Komodo liveaboard is the difficult part!
How many dives do you complete on a scuba diving liveaboard?
Liveaboard durations and diving schedules vary, but on the Dive Komodo Tatawa liveaboard, we completed 3 dives on the first and last day and 4 dives on the second and third. So a total of 14 dives in 4 days!
This was my biggest concern – did I really want to dive so much?!
Well, I can honestly say that after completing 12 dives, I found each one to be completely different and unique in its own way. Be it the currents, the fish, the coral, the visibility – I was always left wanting more!
There are also options for trekking and canoeing, so you can skip one or two dives if you’re not up for it.
The dangers of diving: Komodo diving currents
I hate to break it to you but the Komodo diving currents are notorious for being unpredictable and strong.
During my second dive, I descended as normal and before I knew it I was out of sight of the rest of the crew. I managed to swim against the current and find my dive buddy, but it was still a shock.
Throughout the 4 days, we did numerous fast-paced drift dives and whilst they can be exhilarating, there is a dangerous aspect to it, so make sure you stick with your dive master.
However, do not let the strong currents deter you from diving Komodo. Just be prepared to use more energy than you’re used to and perhaps be more cautious when descending.
How experienced do you need to be to dive the Komodo National Park?
Spending 4 days on a diving liveaboard will be tiring – no matter how experienced you are.
The minimum requirement is an Open Water diving certification. This will allow you to complete all dives and get the best out of your Komodo liveaboard experience. However, some dive companies also require you to have completed a minumim number of dives in order to join their diving liveaboard. Be sure to check this before confirming your trip.
It’s also important to choose a reputable dive company with dive masters who can help and guide you if there are any issues.
I’m by no means a pro diver and still get anxious before every dive, not to mention the struggle I have equalizing. But I was back in the swing of things very quickly and was lucky enough to be with a group of divers who were of a similar level to me.
Best time to dive the Komodo Islands in Indonesia
Komodo National Park is divided into 3 diving zones: the central, north and south. Whilst you’re able to dive Komodo all year round, you won’t be able to explore all the sites across the park in just one trip due to the various currents and visibility.
During one half of the year dives take place towards the central and northern end of the park, whilst the southern part is more popular during the other half.
The best time to dive Komodo is during the dry season which runs from April through to September. During this time you’re able to dive the central and northern dive sites.
The rainy season runs from November until March and whilst you’re still able to dive during these times, you’d need to make your way down to the southern parts of the park.
The best Komodo diving liveaboard: Budget liveaboards in Komodo
So now that I’ve managed to convince you that diving the Komodo Islands should be on your bucket list, let’s talk liveaboard budget.
If budget ISN’T a concern, you will be spoilt for choice. Seriously, there are some Komodo diving liveaboards which are more like floating 5 star hotels. A girl can only dream!
However, most backpackers and budget travelers, like myself, can’t afford this luxury and so the search for the best budget diving liveaboard in Komodo begins!
I shopped around for months hoping to find a steal or last-minute discount that would fit my tight Komodo liveaboard budget. What I quickly learned is just how popular liveaboard diving is in Indonesia. Unfortunately, beggars can’t be choosers and so dive companies aren’t exactly willing to negotiate or reduce prices.
Budget Komodo diving liveaboards range from $150 – $200 per person per day. If you’re looking to splurge you can expect to pay between $250-$350 per person per day!
Over and above this daily rate, you’ll need to add the Komodo National Park fees into your liveabaord budget. This is 175 000 IDR ($12) per diver per day and an additional 75 000 IDR ($5) on Sundays and national holidays. They are expecting these daily fees to increase within the next few months.
Dive Komodo’s Tatawa Liveaboard – my honest review
Dive Komodo offers a budget liveaboard at $175 per diver per day. Whilst it’s slightly more expensive than the Wanderpus Diving budget liveaboard option below, there is the extra perk of having a private cabin to sleep in.
If you’re going for a budget liveaboard, don’t expect the luxury of flushing toilets, beautiful cabins, and 3-course meals. That being said, I didn’t want to be on a floating hostel and Dive Komodo’s Tatawa liveaboard was anything but.
Tatawa can fit 8 guests comfortably with 2 double, 2 single and 1 twin cabin. The rooms are small yet cozy and are all fitted with a fan. There are 2 shared bathrooms which are very basic, with bucket toilets and fresh running water for the showers and basin. This is all you need, and the most important thing is that everything was always clean.
The food on board the Tatawa Liveaboard was delicious (and plentiful) and varied from local to western food.
Tatawa is spacious, and the best part is the large chill deck towards the front of the boat. This is where we spent most of our time reading, sleeping or just enjoying the beautiful views. There was a great atmosphere on board and the crew were always happy to help. They were extremely professional when it came to organizing our diving gear and briefing us on the Komodo dive sites.
Other budget Komodo diving liveaboards: Wunderpus Diving
Whilst in Labuan Bajo, I also contacted Wunderpus Diving whose price for a budget diving liveaboard is hard to beat. Their daily rates are 2 200 000 IDR ($145) per diver per day where you sleep on the deck (and not in private cabins as with Dive Komodo’s Tatawa liveaboard).
Wunderpus Diving was fully booked during the time of our stay in Flores. But just from the numerous positive reviews I read online, I would definitely consider them when looking for a budget liveaboard option in Komodo.
Komodo dive sites
When you’ve dived sites that are as well preserved as Komodo and compare them to others around the world, it will make you truely understand the effects of climate change.
Warmer waters, coral bleaching and pollution are a reality. It’s so sad to see how sites are slowly changing and the scores of marine life are gradually diminishing. Hopefully we do enough to keep these dive sites and the sea life as healthy as possible.
Crystal Rock is a crowded dive site, even at 8 am! This dive site was incredible with spottings of back tip reef sharks, grouper, moray eels, and long finned batfish. There was so much action on this dive site with beautiful fish and bright colored coral everywhere you looked.
Prepare yourself for a fast-paced drift dive. This world-class site is popular amongst all divers and it’s no mystery why. Our group saw manta rays, eagle rays, moray eels, and white tip reef sharks. This dive site is not to be missed.
We dived this site twice!
Why? Because the current was so strong on our first attempt that we spent a good amount of time holding on to a rock for support! As I slowly lost my grip on the rock, I found my dive masters out-stretched fin to grab onto which prevented me from being swept away by the current! After that experience, I wasn’t too keen on diving Crystal Rock again. However, our dive master managed to convince me that it was worth a second go later in the day.
Man, was I happy I went for it! It didn’t even feel like we were at the same dive site. There was no current and the coral and sea life were on show. Grey and white tip reef sharks, giant trevally, barracuda and many other tropical fish are common sightings here and it was a spectacular dive (the second time around!)
Arguably the most popular dive site in the Komodo National Park, swimming around Batu Bolong feels like you’re in an aquarium, no jokes! You’re surrounded by schools of fish throughout the dive.
You can breathe easy as the currents here are quite light compared to the others – or perhaps I was lucky enough to dive Batu Bolong on a good day! Although it’s a crowded site with many other divers eagerly descending the waters, you’ll still see an array of multi-colorded fish and coral. Also expect to set your sights on turtles, napoleon wrasse, tuna, surgeonfish, giant sweetlips and even reef sharks as they circle the reef.
Manta Point may not have the bright colored coral that the other Komodo diving sites are famous for, but it does have one thing, manta rays!
The dive itself wasn’t the greatest and we spent most of our time searching for mantas at their cleaning stations which is where they visit to remove external parasites.
With about 15 minutes of air left we’d given up hope of finding one. As we approached the final cleaning station of the dive, we set our sights on a giant female manta ray circling the reef. We maneuvered quickly behind her, hooked into the sand bed and sat in awe for the rest of the dive watching as she moved from left to right of the cleaning station.
Sebayur Kecil was the first dive site of our Komodo diving liveaboard trip and definitely the easiest.
This initial dive is a good way for you to familiarize yourself with the equipment and for your dive master to get a feel for your level and any concerns he should take note of.
Diving Sebayur Kecil was a nice welcome for the beauty that was to come as we spotted parrotfish, triggerfish, lionfish, and stingray. However, it didn’t quite prepare me for the strong currents that the other sites are notorious for.
Dive Komodo’s Tatawa liveaboard was named after this dive site. The currents here were strong but it still offered a great dive with loads of giant trevallies, turtles, and angelfish.
Darat Passage was the dive site for our night dive. I’d never done a night dive before and so I was both nervous and excited for this dive.
Our dive master gave us a thorough briefing and explained how to use the torch to give signals. We then hopped into the dark waters and made our way down to the ocean floor.
With most of the fish sleeping, I saw the most beautiful spanish dancer and also a moray eel sleeping on the sand bed.
Siaba Kecil was one of our last dives and having already dived sites like Batu Bolong and Cauldron, I had very high expectations.
The coral here wasn’t as healthy as the other sites, with some being damaged. Despite the strong current, we saw a huge turtle and many sweetlips.
Again, this site didn’t compare to the ones we had dived earlier on our liveaboard trip. The visibility wasn’t great but the massive parrot fish we swam next to made up for it. That, and the black and white striped sea snake.
Mawan Island was our last dive location and is another popular site to spot manta rays.
However, we didn’t see any during our dive. However, we did swim past a black tip reef shark, bamboo shark and spotted the biggest turtle I’ve ever seen!
Non-diving activities around Komodo National Park
1) Komodo Dragons on Rinca Island
No trip to the Komodo Islands would be complete without seeing the mighty Komodo Dragons.
We were given the option of a Komodo Dragon tour on Rinca Island for the last day of our diving liveaboard trip. Those who wanted to dive instead were able to do so, but we welcomed the land excursion after being on the boat for 4 days.
How could we not check out these beasts! They’re the largest reptiles in the world and grow up to 3m long. Komodo Dragons have a venomous bite which can kill humans and when on the hunt, these dragons only want one thing so do not get in their way.
There are various trekking options on Rinca Island. The most common is a 1-hour trek with a ranger who will lead you through the park and continue to a viewpoint.
Most of your Komodo Dragon sightings will take place in the first section, near the kitchen as this is where the dragons hover around in search of food.
When’s the best time to see Komodo Dragons?
Another bonus of being on a Komodo diving liveaboard is that you’re able to visit Rinca Island early in the morning. Because of the cooler weather during this time of the day, the Komodo Dragons are more active and they’re often on the hunt for food.
If you’re doing a day trip from Labuan Bajo, you might visit Rinca Island in the afternoon. However, this isn’t the best time to see them. It’s generally hotter in the afternoon and so the dragons are hiding in the shade and not moving around much.
How much does it cost to see the Komodo Dragons?
The cost to see Komodo Dragons on Rinca Island is not included in your diving liveaboard price. You’ll need to pay 100 000 IDR ($7) per person for a ranger and a little extra for a tip.
2) Gili Lawa sunset and trek
We enjoyed our first Komodo sunset from Gili Lawa island.
This is a popular stop off to the watch the sunset with two viewpoints. The higher spot has a great view of the Komodo National Park and the islands around it.
However, we went to a lower viewpoint, still with a great sunset but the views didn’t quite match those of the other one on the island.
3) Padar Island
Padar Island boasts one of the most iconic views in the whole of Indonesia. After a short 20 minute walk up the steep hill, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of the beaches and landscapes. This is a popular stop so don’t expect to have the island all to yourself as with Gili Lawa.
I wanted to check out Padar Island, but it didn’t quite match up with our diving liveaboard schedule, so we opted for an extra dive instead of visiting Padar Island.
Komodo diving liveaboard tips
- Most dive centers will keep your extra baggage that you won’t be needing on the boat so pack only your necessities
- Don’t forget your GoPro with waterproof casing and red filter
- Drinking water will most likely be provided on your Komodo diving liveaboard so bring an empty water bottle that you can refill
- Beer and soft drinks are allowed on the boat (Tatawa liveaboard) and there’s a fridge to keep them cold so stock up before you depart from Labuan Bajo
- Pack in lots of sunscreen and a good book to read
- Bring a pair of trainers if you’re planning on doing the Komodo Dragon tour on Rinca Island
- There is power onboard Dive Komodo’s Tatawa liveaboard but Wi-Fi isn’t available. If you have a local sim you’ll be able to get a connection, but this gets weaker the further out you go
- Crew tips are not included in your diving liveaboard costs so factor that in when doing your budget. Whilst tips vary and they are descretionary, the crew are always grateful to receive something
How to get to Komodo National Park
The Komodo National Park is a stone’s throw away from Labuan Bajo on Flores Island, the gateway to the Komodo Islands. To be honest, Labuan Bajo is nothing more than a port village and there’s not much else happening there. My advice is to spend your days on the boat, and when you’re done, get out of there.
Coming from Bali? You can catch a direct flight to Labuan Bajo for under $50 one way. Garuda Indonesia and Nam Air both offer great flights at minimum costs and the flight time is just over an hour.
An increasingly popular option is to travel from Bali to Lombok and then on to Sumbawa before reaching Flores. You would need around 3 days to make this trip and the driving can become quite tedious so unless you have time on your hands, I’d recommend flying to Flores Island instead.
Explore the island of Flores
My initial plan was to head straight to Labuan Bajo and spend a few days diving the Komodo National Park.
But, I got completely sidetracked and ended up taking a huge detour to the eastern part of the island. I hiked the challenging Mount Inerie in Bajawa which really tested my limits. Drank far too much Arak in Riung where I spent my night singing and dancing with the locals. And finally visited the magnificent Kelimutu Lakes in Moni (twice).
Those experiences, coupled with the Komodo diving liveaboard, all lead to Flores being my most memorable and adventurous of all the islands I visited in Indonesia.