Woman and two young boys stand on the front of a wooden boat with their arms raised on a family trip to Komodo National Park

Planning a family trip to Komodo (2024)

Of all the things we’ve done around the world, our family trip to Komodo National Park has to be right up there as one of the best places we’ve ever been.

When we were planning our family gap year, we gave the boys the chance to add one destination/activity to the itinerary. The number one thing in the world that they wanted to see or do. For our eldest, there was only ever one option: he wanted to see Komodo Dragons in the wild. Our wannabe David Attenborough has been enthralled by these prehistoric looking creatures since he was tiny.

So it was tasked to me to try and make his dream come true! Planning a family trip to Komodo National Park is not the easiest thing in the world. It’s a bit off the beaten track – particularly from a family travel perspective. But it is absolutely worth it!

For all the info on how we booked our family trip to Komodo (including costs), read on!

Where is Komodo National Park?

Komodo National Park is an archipelago in Eastern Indonesia. The nearest airport (and main jumping off spot for the park) is a small town called Labuan Bajo. Labuan Bajo is on East Nusa Tenggara island; from here the boat journey to Komodo National Park takes around 1.5-2hours.

How do you get to Komodo National Park?

The quickest (and easiest) way to get to Komodo National Park is to take a flight to Labuan Bajo. There are a handful of international flights operating in/out of Labuan Bajo. However, you’re likely to find that you’ll need to fly via a bigger airport in Indonesia (such as Bali or Jakarta). Air Asia and Batik Air both make the hops between other locations in Indonesia and generally offer affordable fares.

You can also take a boat from Lombok (which is the island next to Bali) to Labuan Bajo, stopping at Komodo National Park on the way. The boat journey takes 3-4days. We opted NOT to take the boat for our family trip to Komodo as the cost was comparable to the flights. It’s also reported that the sea can be quite rough on the journey. And additionally, the boats I looked at for the journey only had the option of sleeping on the deck (which I also wasn’t sure about with the kids).

From Labuan Bajo you’ll then need to take a tour to the national park (see below for more info on this aspect).

Image of two young boys standing beneath the entry sign to Komodo National Park

How do you see Komodo Dragons in the wild?

Komodo National Park is the only place in the world where Komodo Dragons live in the wild. They inhabit five of the islands within the National Park but only two are open to visitors – Komodo Island and Rinca Island.

Day tours and live-aboard tours operate out of Labuan Bajo and pretty much all of these include time on Komodo Island with the dragons.

What type of boat tour is best for a family trip to Komodo?‬

Based on our experience, I would highly recommend a live-aboard tour to Komodo National Park. It is possible to visit Komodo Island and see the Komodo Dragons as part of a one day trip. However, there is so much more to explore in the park! Being able to visit at a more leisurely pace and see the other incredible sights is absolutely worth it.

The most popular way to visit to park is to book on to a 3-day/2-night live-aboard boat trip, departing from Labuan Bajo. There are hundreds and hundreds of boat trips available. It took me a very long time to research the best options for a family trip to Komodo as there is just so much choice!

You can opt for a private or open (shared) boat trip. As part of a larger group, the private boat tour would be fabulous; if you’re a group/family of 10 or less though this will be very expensive.

Once you’ve decided whether to opt for a private or shared trip, you’ll then need to decide on the level of comfort you would like and can afford. Boats range from budget options (all dorm beds with c.20 passengers on board) through to luxury options for 8-10 people.

We opted for a shared tour on a mid-range boat. As a guide, a mid-range boat likely means around 12-16 people on board, small cabins with aircon and some rooms with private bathrooms.

For us on a family trip to Komodo, we felt that the budget options would likely be catering for a younger, backpacker crowd. We were looking for a slightly quieter vibe but didn’t want to stretch the budget for a luxury boat.

The boats – whatever level of luxury – are typically phinisi boats, the gorgeous traditional wooden style.

Young boy looks out from a small boat to the larger Maheswari phinisi wooden boat on a family trip to Komodo National Park

Which Komodo boat trip did we book for our family?

After a fairly huge amount of research, we opted for a 3-day/2-night trip on the Maheswari. We booked via Captain Komodo, who we found great to deal with. Captain Komodo act as an agent for a number of different boats, budget, mid-range and luxury. There were many different room options to choose from which we found helpful when deciding how to configure our travel as a family group of five.

Our contact Sebastian was super helpful and sent through e-brochures and detailed photos/videos of all the boats available. This made it much easier to make our choice!

Captain Komodo have several hundred reviews on Trip Advisor so I was able to check out the experience of other families before we booked.

The prow of a wooden boat floats in the ocean with rocky outcrops in the distance in Komodo National Park on a family trip to Komodo with kids

It is possible to book a 3-day/2-night tour of Komodo National Park when you arrive in Labuan Bajo. There are many operators based in the town to choose from. However, when planning a family trip to Komodo I definitely wasn’t comfortable leaving anything to chance! We booked around 3 months in advance and had a lot of choice.

A note for booking in advance: every tour operator I contacted wanted part payment for the trip in advance via bank transfer. Whilst this freaked me out at first (it’s a lot of cash to part with via bank transfer) it IS the usual way of booking a Komodo boat tour. Indeed, throughout our time in Indonesia we frequently paid for activities via wise.com bank transfer – it is just one of the most accepted ways of payment.

What was the boat like?

Our boat – the Maheswari – had a capacity of 16 in total. There were four types of cabin to choose from:

  • Master Ocean View: on the top deck, a balcony looking out from the back of the boat
  • Deluxe Ocean View: on the top deck but without the balcony (but with the views still!)
  • Signature Ocean View: On the lower deck, located just off the indoor communal space
  • Superior Cabin: downstairs from the lower deck, tucked away (with much smaller windows!)

We opted to book both the Master Ocean View rooms for our trip. This slept all five of us, as you can opt for one extra bed per room. All options on our boat had private bathrooms and aircon.

The balcony was definitely worth it for us – the views were beautiful and it was a fab little private space to chill out.

Our boat also had three separate communal areas. There was a covered area at the front of the boat with two large dining tables/chairs. This is where all the meals were served.

There was also a sundeck on the top deck with beanbags and soft cushions to relax/sunbathe on.

Then there was a separate indoor communal space with seating, a communal fridge and karaoke!

It was the perfect option for our family trip to Komodo – comfortable, clean and with plenty of room to chill out. We were even able to jump in to the water from the front of the boat (Angus’ favourite activity!).

Double cabin on board the Maheswari Boat at Komodo National PArk on a family trip to Komodo with kids. Image shows double bed with white bed linen and sliding door to the rear out to a balcony.
View from the balcony of a cabin on a family boat trip to Komodo National Park

What was included on the boat tour?

Our booking on the Maheswari included:

  • All meals
  • Snacks served each afternoon
  • Tea, coffee, water and soft drinks (full fat Coke and Sprite)
  • Snorkelling equipment (all in very good condition, not always the case on group trips!)
  • Transfers from the hotel and back to the airport at the end
  • Drone, GoPro and SLR camera footage by a member of the crew

What was the food like?

I’d read really mixed reviews of the food on the live-aboard Komodo boat tours. One of the things that made me book through Captain Komodo was the fact that so many reviews raved about the food on board.

And it completely surpassed all of my expectations! The food throughout was EXCELLENT. There was lots of it (and as a family we eat a LOT) and it was all delicious. Our youngest can be a picky eater at times but even he ate everything on offer.

There were options for breakfast – a simple breakfast of bread, jam/nutella and/or pancakes, eggs, fried rice and fried chicken.

For lunch and dinner we were served several dishes in a buffet-style. We had whole fish, fried fish, rice, octopus, squid, beef curry, bowls of veggies, tempe and tofu dishes, baked chicken and more! The portions were incredibly generous and the food was some of the best we had on our travels.

At snack-time the cooks would rustle up french fries and fried bananas. There was also fresh juice with the meals.

What is the standard itinerary for a Komodo boat tour?

Most boat tours follow a standard itinerary around Komodo National Park. This itinerary obviously includes the stars of the show – Komodo Dragons – but there is SO much more to a visit to Komodo National Park than the giant lizards.

I don’t think I had fully appreciated how amazing the rest of the activities on the itinerary would be; we were all so focused on the Komodo Dragons.

Woman and two young boys pose behind a Komodo Dragon on a family trip to Komodo National Park,
Seeing the Komodo Dragons

You know they are huge, impressive creatures but nothing really prepares you for seeing them in the wild for the first time. They are giant, and like creatures from another time and planet.

The guides in the National Park will always emphasise that these are wild animals and so sightings are not guaranteed. However, there are around 1,500 Komodo Dragons on Komodo Island alone and they are not especially difficult to spot!

We saw a total of ten Komodo Dragons during our hour on the island. I cannot put in to words how blown away we all were by them – especially the boys, who were mesmerised. At one point I genuinely thought they might burst in to tears of joy!

There are a number of hikes available on the island with a guide; in reality this was dictated to us by our boat guide. We could easily have spent much longer on Komodo Island but were still beyond happy to have had the opportunity to see the dragons in real-life.

Snorkelling with Manta Rays

One of the stops on the boat tour is Manta Point, where sightings of Manta Rays are frequent (but again not guaranteed).

The small boat took us out to the point and our guide entered the water to try and spot the rays and direct the boat. Within about a minute there was a sighting so we were all in – and there was one, directly beneath us in the depths of the sea!

And they are HUGE. And so majestic to watch as they glide through the water. All of us were completely taken aback by their beauty and their size. We saw around 4-5 Manta Rays during our half-hour or so of snorkelling.

The currents at Manta Point are strong so you’ll need to decide whether your kids are confident enough to snorkel here. Ours are both strong swimmers and super confident; even then they went in with life jackets on and we kept a close eye on them.

Another quick note on Manta Point – this was the only snorkelling in Komodo National Park where we encountered large numbers of jellyfish and sea lice (jellyfish larvae). I knew this might be the case in advance so we’d bought stinger suits for the boys (these cheap versions from Decathlon).

Whilst this should absolutely not put you off the snorkelling (as the manta rays are totally worth it!) it did make it much easier for the boys. Steve and I swam in rash vests and shorts and did get stings to our arms and legs, but nothing that caused more than a bit of discomfort.

A visit to Bat Island

At the end of the first day we anchored at a small island surrounded by mangroves. At sunset, the sky above the mangroves filled with thousands of huge fruit bats, all on their way to the jungle to feed. They spiralled out of the mangroves and flew right over the boats in the bay. It was an incredible sight, especially lit by the sun setting in the background.

Young boy in swim gear and snorkel dives down to the sea bed at Komodo NAtional Park
Young boy in stinger suit snorkels on the surface above a coral reef in Komodo National Park
Reef snorkelling

We stopped a number of times at various reefs to snorkel and this was one of our favourite parts of the tour. The visibility was excellent – the water was crystal clear. We saw huge shoals of fish and some beautiful coral at all the stops.

On the final day, the snorkelling was off a small beach and this was fabulous – warm, clear water and so much marine life. We spotted puffer fish, clown fish, angelfish, parrotfish and a big moray eel hiding under a rock.

Whilst the snorkelling from the beach was calm and very easy, again, the snorkelling from the boat at a couple of reefs did have some strong currents. We had to keep close to the boys (even though the safety boat was always nearby).

Image of Pink Beach in Komodo National Park
Pink Beach

The famous Pink Beach in Komodo National Park definitely lives up to the hype! It really is a beautiful shade of pink and a great spot to chill out on the sand or swim in the sea.

Padar Sunrise Hike

Whilst I am not usually a fan of anything that involves getting up at 4am, in this case I made an exception. The sunrise hike up to the top of the viewing point on Padar Island might involve an early start, but it is worth it. The hike itself is not too hard-going; it took us around 20minutes. And watching the sunrise and the islands of Komodo gradually emerge from the darkness was breathtaking.

However. We did opt NOT to include the boys on this part of the trip. They stayed back on the boat with Granny (still tucked up in bed!). Whilst they could easily have managed to hike, we knew by this point in our travels that starting the day at this time would mean extreme tiredness and possible meltdowns later in the day. And later on this particular day, we were due to meet the much-loved Komodo Dragons. The part of our entire year away that both boys had been counting down to.

We took the decision to leave them in bed as we didn’t want to risk anything marring their experience with the Komodo Dragons later in the day. This was a personal judgement for our children – there were several other families with young children on the sunrise hike. It is certainly a family-friendly part of the trip but just wasn’t right for us.

It is also PACKED with people at the top of the viewpoint. We were grateful to our guide for dragging us out of bed so early. Many other groups were just arriving as we were making our way back down and by this point the trail was very busy.

Despite the popularity of the hike, the views make it a must-see part of the itinerary!

View from the top of Padar Island. Dramatic landscapes are shown in the distance with a number of islands and beaches visible

How much does a family trip to Komodo cost?

Our 3-day/2-night trip on the Maheswari Phinisi boat cost us a total of £1,084 for two adults and two children. This included everything listed in the post above.

You could spend a bit less than this or far more depending on what boat trip you book. I would highly recommend Captain Komodo – you can check out their reviews on Trip Advisor here. Even if you don’t ultimately book with them (which you really should!) they have so much knowledge and can offer so many options of boats it will give you a good sense of costs and what is available.

The entrance fee to Komodo National Park is not usually included in the cost of the boat tours. This is paid in cash on the first day and the current rate is Rp550,000 per person (including children).

If you’re interested in our budget for the whole of our family gap year, check out this post: What we budgeted for a family gap year

The verdict

For so many reasons – not just the dragons – Komodo National Park is an absolutely brilliant place for a family trip. Who doesn’t want to spend 3-days drifting on crystal clear ocean, swimming with manta rays, lazing on pink beaches and chilling on deck watching the world go by?

Top tips for a family trip to Komodo National Park

  • Book in advance. It might cost more this way but it’s worth it for the choice of cabins and the peace of mind!
  • Make sure you have sufficient cash to pay the park fees as this is unlikely to be included
  • Remember to tip the boat staff and your guide! Factor this in to the cash you take on-board
  • Pack stinger suits, at least for the kids. The sea lice can really affect the enjoyment of your snorkelling otherwise!
  • There are small stalls on Komodo Island selling t shirts and small gifts. These are cash only so again, factor this in.

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