Komodo Snorkeling, Indonesia – Big Creatures and Beautiful Reefs

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.

Large Green Sea Turtle over hard corals in Komodo
Mix of colorful anemones and anemonefish in Komodo.

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.

Giant Trevally over a rocky bottom in Komodo.

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.

Cuttlefish tucked into soft coral in Komodo
Cuttlefish. It changed colors many times while we watched 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.

Two Komodo Dragons on Rinca Island Indonesia

And the landscape of the islands above the water, with their arid grassy hills, were very beautiful to see and walk on.

Nicole standing on the hillside of Komodo Island Resort at sunset.

Komodo Snorkeling Video

Watch our Komodo snorkeling video below. It will give you a sense of what fish and larger creatures you will see, as well as some of the interesting and colorful coral formations.

Beautiful blue and turquoise clam in Komodo Indonesia
Colorful clams are very abundant.

Where Is Komodo?

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.

Map of where Komodo is.

Komodo Snorkeling – What Are the Reefs Like?

Pair of Saddleback Butterflyfish in reef in Komodo

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.

Colorful soldierfish, squirrelfish and sergeants over table coral in Komodo
Manta Ray over a rocky bottom in Komodo

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.

Porcelain Anemone Crab or Spotted Porcelain Crab in Komodo
This Porcelain Anemone Crab or Spotted Porcelain Crab in Komodo lives in symbiosis with the anemone.
Peacock Mantis Shrimp Komodo
Peacock Mantis Shrimp

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 we have seen 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.

School of blue Fusiliers over hard coral reef in Komodo.

On one snorkel we found a Crocodilefish, that was about two and a half feet long, which we had never seen before.

Crocodilefish camouflaged in rocks in Komodo

Feather Stars were very abundant in a broad array of stunning colors, and so were a variety of beautiful sponges and algae.

Colorful soft corals, feather stars and tunicates in Komodo

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.

Healthy and diverse hard and soft coral reef in Komodo.
Bright red soft corals and many tiny fish on a patch reef in Komodo

The house reef of the Komodo Resort we were staying (more about the resort below) was exceptionally healthy, full of some of the most amazing corals we have ever seen, and packed with fish.

Reef packed with corals, anemones and fish Komodo Indonesia

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).

Snorkeler hovering over a massive table coral in Komodo
Galen hovering over the largest table coral we have ever seen.

To be fair, not every Komodo snorkeling reef we visited was full of live corals. 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.

Spiral shaped hard coral patch in Komodo

Snorkeling Komodo – Strong Currents Prevail

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.

Komodo Water Temperatures

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.

Small island with reef in Komodo National Park.

Snorkeling Komodo – How to Do It

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.

Labuan Bajo anchorage packed with boats.
Crowded Anchorage at Labuan Bajo

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.

Clouds and islands during sunset in Komodo.

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.

Panorama of Komodo Resort showing cabins and house reef.
Galen’s panorama of some of Komodo Resort and its house reef.
Komodo Resort beach bungalows

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.

Ben currently has these guided Komodo snorkeling trips: Alor and Komodo, Alor, Komodo, and Raja Ampat, and Komodo and Misool. Get notice of any new trips added by signing up for our newsletter.

Please note, we do not recommend booking a snorkeling trip by yourself to visit Komodo Resort. The resort has changed ownership and management and they no longer offer sufficient service for serious snorkelers. Our trips partner provides the snorkel guides required to visit the good snorkel spots safely, and that will not be available without them. If you want to visit Komodo to snorkel on your own, we now recommend seeking out a liveaboard in Labuan Bajo that is friendly to snorkelers.

Islands during sunset in Komodo Indonesia

Blurry Fish, Rotten Colors, Garbage Pictures

That does not look like what I saw! See our snorkeling camera pages for tips on selecting a good snorkeling camera, and how to use it for great pictures.

Traveling and Culture in Komodo

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.

Labuan Bajo anchorage full of boats

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 many 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.

Colorful fishing village and mosque, with fishing boats in Komodo Indonesia

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