Komodo snorkeling is really pretty incredible. We visited in 2019, and spent about a week venturing out into Komodo National Park, exploring a variety of reefs and habitats from a boat, and we also explored the house reef where we were staying. We visited with a group of snorkelers, organized by our friend and trips partner Ben.
The reefs are stunning in Komodo, both for their overall health, and the variety of sea life you can see in the area. While not all the reefs we saw were super dense with life or perfectly healthy, the majority were extremely abundant and full of life, with very healthy corals, sponges, and a plethora of anemones.
Komodo is known for having bigger creatures, and lots of reef fish also. We were able to see some really unique creatures like cuttlefish, manta rays, eagle rays, and big sea turtles.
Many times we saw the biggest examples of fish, like Giant Trevally, Napoleon Wrasse, angelfish, and puffers, we have ever seen.
Although we have seen lots of squid, until this Komodo snorkeling trip we had never seen a cuttlefish in person, which was a real treat. This one changed color and shape rapidly when Galen dove down to take some pictures of it.
Of course, Komodo is famous for its Komodo Dragons, and on our walking tour in the national park on Rinca Island we were able to see a number of them, in mating season no less! They were pretty frisky, and fantastic to see. There were also deer and water buffalo near the ranger station.
And the landscape of the islands above the water, with their arid grassy hills, were very beautiful to see and walk on.
Komodo National Park encompasses three Indonesian islands, Komodo, Padar and Rinca, and 26 smaller ones. It protects the largest lizard on the planet, the Komodo Dragon, and the park also is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that protects a large marine area.
These islands are within the Coral Triangle, which is the most bio-diverse marine environment on earth.
Our Komodo snorkeling experience was filled with variety, in terms of
the types of reefs and underwater ecosystems we visited, and the types
of creatures we saw. And we were happy to see almost no trash in the water.
For about a week we ventured out each day on a boat from our resort to explore reefs within Komodo National Park, and a few locations just outside the park. We would have lunch on the boat and move to a new Komodo snorkeling spot after. The temperatures in Komodo were so hot that we were grateful to be on the boat most of the day, with the cooling ocean breezes.
Komodo is known for having a number of manta ray cleaning stations, and several times we were able to witness these giant beautiful fish gliding easily through the water, and frequently saw smaller rays, and eagle rays in the same areas. The mantas we saw were in a little bit deeper water, but another Komodo snorkeling group a week later saw them near the surface.
We also visited a reef known to be a sea turtle area, and probably saw twenty, either resting in the hard corals or coming up for air. They were Green Sea Turtles at this reef, but on other reefs we would also occasionally see rarer Hawksbill Sea Turtles too. They were quite large turtles, generally bigger than we see in Hawaii.
Fish life was pretty spectacular on the reefs in Komodo. There were lots of parrotfish, many types of which we had never seen. Other reef fish were in abundance, like angelfish, damselfish, gobies, and many varieties of anemonefish.
Redbreasted Wrasses were a treat to see. And giant Titan Triggerfish were common. Numerous species of lionfish were commonly seen, and are native to these waters, so not a scourge.
Beautiful small nudibranchs were fairly common, as were gorgeous colored tunicates, giant clams and some cool little crabs.
We found giant moray eels a number of times. And we often saw large colorful mantis shrimps.
As mentioned above, we saw some of the biggest trevally, and pufferfish
we have ever seen. They were easily two or three times the size of
similar fish that are also found in the Pacific.
Large schools of brightly colored fusiliers were on many Komodo snorkeling reefs. They are always a treat to see, and one of Nicole's favorite fish.
On one snorkel we found a Crocodilefish, that was about two and a half feet long, which we had never seen before.
Feather Stars were very abundant in a broad array of stunning colors, and so were a variety of beautiful sponges and algae.
Coral life is amazing in Komodo. Massive fields of both soft and hard corals covered every surface of the sea floor and walls on some reefs, in stunning colors and variety. And from spot to spot the coral life and overall reef appearance was very different.
The house reef of the Komodo Resort we were staying at (more about the resort below) was exceptionally healthy, full of some of the most amazing corals we have ever seen, and packed with fish.
The house reef has the largest and oldest table corals we have ever seen. Nicole got a picture of Galen hovering over one to help show the scale of it (he was not touching it).
To be fair, not every Komodo snorkeling reef we visited was in great health. There were signs of some destructive fishing that had harmed some reefs. And there were reefs we visited that likely don't get as strong of currents, and they were less dense, and slightly less healthy. But looking back, the reefs overall were in excellent health.
Komodo is a popular destination for divers, so the reefs often have other dive boats on them. At a few Komodo snorkeling locations it felt slightly crowded, although there were few snorkelers. But we also had the reefs completely to ourselves at many locations.
One of the reasons for the healthy reefs in Komodo is because they are constantly flushed with strong currents from big tidal movements. So we think that Komodo snorkeling should be done with an experienced guide, because the currents can be moving much much faster than you can swim. So your guide needs to time your snorkeling for when the tide is slack, or as often happened on our trip, we did a drift snorkel with the current. Sometimes we did this entirely around an island.
Depending on if you are snorkeling more in the north or south you may want to have a lightweight wetsuit. The water temperatures can get a bit chilly at times. The majority of our trip the water was warm, but a few times we wore our 2.2mm wetsuits.
The main airport for the Komodo Islands is on Flores Island, outside the national park, in the town of Labuan Bajo. It is a bustling little town that feels like a step back in time. The port is packed with wooden boats, both diving liveaboard and day boats, and there were several hundred more liveaboard boats anchored in the harbor. The streets are full of dive shops and tourist centers wanting to take you out on the water. Needless to say, you could do your Komodo snorkeling via day boats or a liveaboard from Labuan Bajo. But it would be a bit of a challenge navigating it and deciding what services to use without a guide. And, on a day trip, you will have a hard time reaching the national park.
Fortunately, we went with an all snorkeling group organized by our trips partner Ben, and we avoided all of that. We transferred very quickly from the airport to the marina, where we boarded a large comfortable snorkeling boat that was waiting for us from the Komodo Resort, which is where we were staying. Very soon we left the hustle and bustle of Labuan Bajo, and headed out through the crowded harbor and into the islands during a beautiful sunset.
About an hour later we arrived at Komodo Resort, which is just outside of the national park. The benefit of staying at Komodo Resort with a group of snorkelers is that you are on your own private island, away from all the tourism, and you are much closer to the national park and the snorkeling reefs. Plus we had an entire boat dedicated to taking us to the best Komodo snorkeling sites each day, with none of the constraints of a diving schedule; not to mention the phenomenal house reef at the resort.
The air-conditioned en-suite cabins were very nice. And the food and service at the restaurant was, while not five star, very good for the remote nature of the destination. One nice feature of staying at the resort is that you could get out and hike trails on the island. You want to do this early in the morning because during the day it was too hot. But the landscape was beautiful, and you can gain excellent views of the surrounding islands and the resort.
Komodo has certainly been discovered, but it still feels like a place back in time. As mentioned above, the marina in Labuan Bajo was just packed with boats, but they are all wooden boats of traditional style, making it feel like a much earlier era. It seems you can get by speaking English in this town because of the tourism.
Once you get out into the islands, fishing villages are fairly common, and are predominantly Muslim. We were whisked away to our resort so quickly that we did not have much cultural interactions, but everyone we encountered from the staff at the resort, to the guides at the national park, were very happy folks, welcoming and nice to be around.