Before we begin – Important note on tours to Komodo National Park
Rinca Island is situated 2 hours away from Labuan Bajo and boat rides/tours that go there are generally cheaper than going to Komodo Island which is situated 3-4 hours away.
Tour packages often lump Komodo and Padar (because they are closest to each other) and a minor island or two as a package while Rinca is usually offered on its own along with 2 or 3 other minor islands as another package.
A probable combination of distance, time to travel and fuel as the islands official drop off points are very far apart from each other which usually takes about an hour or two to get to each jetty.
That means if you want to visit Rinca AND Komodo Island, you have to go with two separate packages and days which equals to paying for entrance to Komodo National Park TWICE as the admission tickets are valid for one day only.
So there are a few ways to approach this:
- (This is what we did because we wanted to visit Padar) Get a private tour and boat so that you can choose which islands you want to go but be prepared to pay a lot more. However, this is also still subject to the availability and willingness of the operator to do all three or to accommodate your plan
- Choose to visit Rinca OR Komodo Island
- Choosing a live aboard accommodation option may allow for more flexible island hopping.
From Padar to Rinca Island
Hiking on Padar Island left us pretty tired and covered in dust. Thankfully, the boat ride over our next destination, Rinca Island took about 1 hour 30 minutes, which meant time to clean up and rest and catch some shut-eye. Thankfully the swells (ocean waves) we encountered today were much more gentler which allowed us to doze off without any sudden sea spray waking us up like on Day 2.
We woke up to the sound of our boat’s incredibly loud engine splutter and cough to a halt. (Yeah, somehow we got used to the sound and slept right through.) We woke up surrounded by mangrove forests and a pier slowly came into the picture.
We’ve reached Rinca Island!
About Rinca Island
Rinca is often overlooked by tourists visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site registered Komodo National Park (Komodo & Padar are the more popular islands). Rinca is also the only place in the world besides Komodo Island where you can witness the beastly Komodo Dragons in the wild.
Rinca is also the best island to visit if your only agenda is to come up close with these fearsome Komodo Dragons as:
- It’s the closest from Labuan Bajo (roughly 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours) if you are strapped for time
- It’s basically a smaller and less popular Komodo Island but with more dragons, which means you have a considerably higher chance of spotting these beasts than on Komodo Island. Do remember that dragon sightings are not guaranteed!
Exploring Rinca Island
From the pier, it’s about an 8 minute walk to the visitor center. Walking through the main gate that’s flanked by two of the island’s main tenants with a hilly jungle backdrop made it feel as if we were entering Jurassic Park. Well technically, it is an island filled with giant lizards that can kill you!
At the visitor center, we were required to buy the national park tickets as the tickets we bought yesterday to visit Komodo Island were only valid for one day and it is actually more expensive than Komodo Itself!
Entrance to Rinca Island per person is IDR 355,000 (~SGD 35.50) while Komodo Island was IDR 310,000 (~SGD 31).
Cost breakdown for admission to Rinca Island per person as follows:
- Boat fee – IDR 50,000
- Visitor fee – IDR 150,000
- Wildlife fee – IDR 10,000
- Hiking fee – IDR 5,000
- Ranger fee – IDR 40,000
- Entrance fee – IDR 50,000
I’m pretty sure the locals get a much much better price than tourists.
There will usually be a few park rangers standing around (these guys have the term “Naturalist Guide” printed at the back of their clothing), just approach anyone of them with the “Ranger Fee” tab from your ticket and you’ll be on your way to start your tour! If there aren’t any around, it usually means that all of the rangers are out on tours. There is a canteen located just next to the visitor center which you can grab a drink at and wait for a ranger to be free.
We waited for about 30 minutes before we had a ranger free to host us. Rinca lived up to its reputation of being able to see more komodo dragons compared to Komodo Island – we spotted four dragons lazing about just 5 minutes into the tour! The guide explained that some dragons usually hang out near the houses as they can smell food cooking from within. We spied one sleeping with a huge belly which the guide explained that this bugger just ate a wild pig in the morning. An entire wild pig.
FEAR & RESPECT THE DRAGON
When on tours in Komodo National Park, ALWAYS follow and listen to your guide’s instructions and never stray off your group no matter how great that photo opportunity may be.
In contrary to popular belief that the komodo dragon’s venomous bite stems from toxic bacteria thriving in the dragons’ mouths which slowly kills their prey after a bite, it has been discovered that these dragons do actually have venom glands but instead of injecting the poison through the bite, the bite wounds the prey AND oozes its toxins all over the wound. Damn, talk about overkill.
To top that off, komodo dragons can do sudden and brief explosive runs at 20km/h (13 mph) while an average human can do about 16-24km/h (10-15mph). That means in an event you find yourself being chased by a 3 meter long dragon, you are highly likely in for a very very bad and final day in your life.
Always respect wildlife. It will mess your shit up if you don’t.
We eventually passed a nest with a female dragon guarding it. The nest consists of several dug out holes in the ground with only one that contains the dragon’s eggs. This was pretty cool to see. There was a motion-activated camera strapped to the tree overlooking the site as the guide explained that it would be used to determine which hole actually contained the eggs as getting someone to physically check would not end very well hahaha.
Right up at this point, we saw more dragons than we ever did in Komodo Island! The rest of the hike we didn’t see any more dragons and continued hiking up to a major view point.
When we reached the viewpoint, the view was spectactular. We could see the bay from which we entered the island from and everything else below plus hills that seemed to go on forever. In the far horizon, you could even see a part of the peaks from Komodo Island!
After which, we made our way down and back to the visitor center and back to the boat. On our way back, we spotted one last dragon walking about and calling out. For such fearsome dragons, their call is actually pretty funny (or scary). It sounds like an old siren. I think this video best illustrates that.
On hindsight, we could have avoided paying for admission to the national park a second time by not visiting Rinca and instead just opting for Padar and 3 other minor islands for the custom tour. We didn’t think of that then, but at least we got what we wanted! Tons of dragons and an unforgettable experience getting up close with them.
And now, it’s onward to the last stop for the day, Kelor Island!
From Rinca to Kelor Island, it took about 1 hour 30 minutes (it takes the same amount of time to travel to Kelor from Labuan Bajo). Kelor Island is this really small beautiful island where the main feature is crystal clear waters (like the ones we had at Pink Beach and Kanawa) and hill which you can climb for a nice postcard view.
As there are no man-made facilities on the island, the only thing you can to is take a hike (haha), work on your tan by the beach, swim and snorkel as the island is surrounded by a beautiful shallow coral reefs!
Dian decided to do some snorkeling while I decided that the hill had to be conquered. The journey up the hill is steep, rocky and filled with lots of loose gravel. Combined with my full camera pack and load, it was a pretty treacherous climb but worth the view at the top!
Unfortunately the weather turned cloudy and it hid the now slowly setting sun that would have made the waters sparkle and illuminate the reefs below like how it did at Pink Beach and Kanawa Island. But the view was beautiful nonetheless.
Take it slow when descending the hill though. Whatever that’s steep to ascend, you can be sure its gonna make life even more difficult for you when you descend.
Once reaching the ground, I decided to snorkel as well since Dian said the view was really great below! So I took her GoPro and headed into the water and damn, almost immediately I could see corals and fish everywhere, what a sight! A lone fish decided to swim up to me to take a good look at this weird looking land creature with a weird stick in his hand. Just as this happened I felt something nip me on my right thigh! But I couldn’t find the culprit! That little bugger.
Soon, it was time to head back to Labuan Bajo. Bummer. As we look our last boat ride back to the harbour, we were treated to the most beautiful sunset.
If you ask me, it was the perfect end to our time here at Labuan Bajo and the land of dragons.
Just like that, we were already halfway into our trip! and the next leg will see us moving away from tropical paradise to cold mountains and active volcanoes!
Stay tuned as we make our way from Labuan Bajo to Surabaya where we visit Mt Bromo and Mt Ijen!