Bashia Golachowska, an animal protection worker from Seeb, recommends Komodo and Rinca Islands:
Greetings from Rinca and Komodo Islands in Indonesia, an unspoiled tropical paradise that is home to the largest lizards on the planet. Komodo dragons are aptly named as they can grow to three metres, and kill and eat buffalo.
As someone who works with endangered species, I am passionate about wildlife and so it was always my dream to come here and see these fearsome creatures in their natural environment. There are only about 4000 Komodo dragons in existence, with about 2500 on Komodo and the rest on Rinca.
They only live on these two islands, which are remote from the tourist hotspot of Bali. Local people are rightly scared of the lizards because their bite is poisonous and can kill. In earlier times they were something of a curse but now they are a blessing as they bring many tourists. Fortunately, this place is still too inaccessible to attract large numbers of visitors. You have to fly from Bali to Flores on a small plane before taking a boat to the islands. The flights are not that expensive and it’s more than worth the trip.
My Favourite Place: Of the two islands, Rinca is the most beautiful and untouched. It is part of the Komodo National Park and has the most amazing flora and fauna. The islands are protected by rangers who take care of the lizards and other protected species, and show people how they live in their natural environment. After the madness of Bali, which has sadly become something of a tourist trap, for me Rinca is the perfect escape. There are breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, stunning scenery and incredible species like boars, buffalo and lots of tropical birds – and best of all, almost no people. Because it is a national park, the animals are everywhere, and you can get pretty close to them. Unlike most of Indonesia, which is jungle, the landscape is actually savannah.
Highlights: The seas are a diver’s paradise, with the most gorgeous coral reefs around the islands. I saw some of this when I went snorkelling – if you are more adventurous, the diving is amazing. There are only a few boats plying the waters around the islands so you get an incredible feeling of peace and silence. I do worry that the unspoilt beauty of these islands will be lost if more tourists come here. To get onto the island you usually take a small motorboat attached to the main boat. In our case, the engine broke so we had to paddle with flipflops.
Lowlights: You have to be careful about the travel company you choose, because once you step onto their boat in Flores, you are at their mercy. On the islands there are no places to eat or stay. Some of the boats can be overcrowded and the standard of cuisine may vary, although we ate fresh fish caught the same morning from the sea, which was fantastic. Good boats offer cabins and en suite bathrooms while on others you sleep on the deck under the stars, which is fine until you need to go to the bathroom. Some of the prices of these boat tours are crazy too.
We were lucky enough to travel in September, which is probably the best time to go. Between November and March it rains and there can be storms, while in the summer it gets very hot.
Souvenirs: Fishermen will come up to your boat and offer to sell trinkets and wooden crafts, usually carved Komodo dragons. Out here there is very little to spend your money on once you have left Flores. Don’t even think about taking shells or pieces of coral home with you – the Indonesians take environmental protection very seriously.
Where to stay: Forget about five-star hotels – you can find some hotels in Labuan Bajo, but they are generally of a low standard and expensive. The Golo Hilltop Hotel and La Prima Hotel are probably the best. There are some lovely restaurants in Flores worth visiting, including an excellent Italian. Otherwise you can stay on the boat for your whole trip. The boat owners know the best places to stop for the night in the bays and coves around the islands.