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Diving Komodo National Park is on most divers’ bucket lists and for good reason. The park is probably best known as home to the infamous Komodo dragon but under the surface, the fun really begins for mermaids.
Komodo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, and part of the Coral Triangle. The latter is the reason for its rich marine biodiversity that makes diving in Komodo so much fun.
Where is Komodo? The park comprises a part of western Flores, the main islands Komodo Island, Padar Island, Rinca Island, and 26 smaller islands.
The Ins & Outs of Diving Komodo National Park
Table of Contents
Why you should dive in Komodo
Together with Raja Ampat, Komodo is considered the best place for diving in Indonesia. Strong currents and drift dives, big pelagics, and incredible macro life await at depth. If you are asking – what can I see in Komodo – you should rather be asking what you can’t see. Depending on the season and a bit of luck you can look forward to lots of manta rays, sharks including hammerheads, pygmy seahorses, hawksbill turtles, and ALL the nudibranchs.
How to go diving in Komodo National Park
Various dive operators leave on day trips from Labuan Bajo in Flores. However, the best way to dive in Komodo is a liveaboard. This way you won’t waste any time traveling to and from the best dive sites and can quickly adjust your itinerary if the conditions aren’t right (or at least your captain can).
If you are short on time or simply prefer to stay on land, I would recommend you check out the dive resort Scuba Junkie – they are one of the best in the area!
Note that all visitors need to pay a park fee in Komodo of 150k (about $10) per day and divers an extra 25k. In August there was a huge commotion as the government wanted to increase these fees drastically and many operators went on strike. Fees remain the same for now but are set to increase by 2023. If you are traveling on a budget I recommend you visit Komodo as soon as possible.
Most diving in Komodo is only suitable for advanced divers due to those strong currents. That said if you are an Open Water diver check beforehand with your dive operator. While some require a number of minimum dives or certification levels, others don’t and you could always go with a private guide.
How to get to Komodo
The starting point for most Komodo expeditions is Labuan Bajo in Flores. Flights from Bali are easy and inexpensive, and it will take you a good hour to get there.
We arrived a day before our Komodo liveaboard departure and spent the day at Seaesta Hostel. Honestly, I cannot recommend them enough – they have shared dorms and pretty, individual rooms, a beautiful rooftop deck with a pool, killer cocktails, and a stunning view over the bay. On our way back we had a few hours to spare before going to the airport and they were more than happy for us to lounge and eat on the deck.
To get around Labuan Bajo you have the choice of walking, hiring a scooter, or taking a taxi. Taxis from the airport to a hotel or the harbor will cost you 60k ($4). Labuan Bajo isn’t big though is quite hilly – if you plan to walk make sure to wear decent shoes. For those planning to get a bike – there is basically only one road in Labuan Bajo that connects the airport and the harbor in a one-way ring.
Of course, if you are booking a liveaboard in Komodo your transfer from the airport or hotel to the harbor and back is included.
If you don’t want to fly and prefer to spend more time on the boat you should look out for crossing trips that some operators offer at the end or beginning of the season. I have seen a few that combine the best diving in Bali with a journey to Komodo.
Best time for diving Komodo National Park
When to dive in Komodo? That is not an easy question to answer because each season has its advantages. The dry season runs from April to October and the rainy season from November to March though the word ‘rainy’ shouldn’t deter you. Mind you, December and January is a great time for wildlife sightings, especially in the south, and June to August can get quite busy as it is prime tourist season with many boats doing day trips.
It will also depend on where in Komodo you want to dive: the north, the central, or the south. While geographically not far from each other the north offers warmer water and better visibility while the south has more currents that bring along a huge array of marine life.
With that said, it also depends on what you want to see (mola mola like cooler water and mantas like lots of plankton) and what kind of water temperatures you can stomach. I was told that temperatures can range from 19 °C to 30 °C on a single trip – lucky for me the coldest we got was 25 °C in the south of Komodo.
Diving in Komodo with the Amaya Explorer
There are plenty of liveaboards in Komodo to choose from depending on your budget, how much diving you want to do, and time. My friend and I did a lot of research and ended up going with the Amaya Explorer for a 5 days/ 4 nights trip which covered north, central, and south Komodo. The perfect trip to see what Komodo diving is all about.
The Amaya is a traditional but revamped phinisi boat, a style I absolutely love. Unlike my liveaboard in Raja Ampat, she was not able to sail anymore but honestly, I didn’t mind. She has a separate dive deck on the aft with plenty of space for each diver and their gear. There are also two showers and a designated tank for cameras.
All diving is done from two dive tenders and in small groups. Before each dive a bell will call you for a briefing, you gear up, and each group leaves for the dive site by tender.
Depending on the season the Amaya travels in Komodo, Raja Ampat, or the Banda Sea. While diving is obviously the main focus of a liveaboard trip they offer plenty of other excursions for their guests. We went for an early morning hike to Padar Island, went for a late afternoon swim at the famous Pink Beach, and visited the dragons on Komodo Island.
Cabins & amenities of the Amaya Explorer
The Amaya has 8 cabins, most of which are below deck with 2 bunk beds, and 2 Master deluxe rooms on deck with a double bed. All of the cabins have AC and an en-suite bathroom. Cabins below deck have a porthole, while the ones on top have floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors.
On deck, there is a communal open-air dining area with comfortable seats and loungers, two daybeds, and a bunny pad with beanbags. Plenty of space for everyone to chill, watch the stars or sunbathe.
Inside there is the galley and two dining tables in case the weather doesn’t cooperate. The kitchen crew of Amaya is absolutely incredible and will prepare 3 daily feasts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and also make the most delicious afternoon snacks. Food is usually served on the buffet and offers a mix of international and Indonesian dishes, and they can cater to a variety of dietary requirements.
Coffee, tea, and water are available around the clock and are included in your price while wine, beer, and spirits are available to purchase.
Some little extras that I really enjoyed: they offer diffusers with various essential oils in the cabins and have a tiny bathing suit dryer.
Route & Dive Sites in Komodo
Most liveaboards will cover dive sites in northern, central, and southern Komodo during a trip. As mentioned above the north is known for good visibility and warmer waters while the south offers an even bigger biological diversity.
Obviously, this is not a complete list of the dive sites Komodo has to offer but rather a little overview of the places we dived during our trip. Your dive guides will put together a route and also decide on the best spots depending on the conditions and divers’ abilities.
We started out at Castle Rock where we had to cross a kind of channel before getting to the end of a plateau where we hooked in at 31 m. We were greeted by lots of batfish, grey sharks, schools of bannerfish, and a napoleon wrasse.
At about 15 m we drifted over beautiful corals with lots of smaller reef fish before hooking in again for our safety stop.
In general, Castle Rock sums up perfectly what Komodo diving is all about: drifting, healthy corals, and masses of fish of all sizes.
Shotgun / The Cauldron
Shotgun is another famous dive spot alas, for us it was simply the Cauldron as the site is called when there is little current. I was told you will quite literally shoot through the canyon when the current is pumping but for us, it was just a nice drift dive.
We started with some giant trevally but were quickly distracted by the first manta sighting of the trip. Afterward came the sharks, blue-spotted stingrays, another manta, and beautiful soft corals.
Chances are you will need to do a negative entry at Crystal Rock and while we didn’t things still went awry as my buddy couldn’t equalize and we ended up getting separated. I called the dive and met up with her on the tender, a bit shaken up, to be honest.
We ended up diving a different part of Crystal Rock with an open water diver and his private guide which was much calmer. While the dive isn’t as exciting it is a great place for those new to diving or not keen on too much current.
We did a morning dive at Tatawa Kecil in central Komodo and were greeted with lots of sleepy white tips at 25 m and, one of my favorites, Sweetlips!
The dive site has an awesome overhang/ swim-through option which is also incredibly pretty from the outside as you can see divers’ bubbles ascent.
You will dive around some pretty boulders before heading up to a beautiful reef at around 7 m. If you get lucky there is a decent chance for mantas here, alas we ‘only’ saw more reef sharks.
Batu Bolong is without a doubt the most famous dive site in Komodo. It is also infamous for its downward current so should only be dived with an experienced guide.
Batu Bolong means “rock with a hole” which you can see on the surface as it juts out like a small island with a hole in the middle. Below the waterline a pyramid-shaped paradise awaits.
We started our dive at the bottom of the pyramid at 35 m (make sure to stay well above if you are not deep certified!) where we found a shark and two turtles under a rock. From there we zigzagged our way up, always avoiding the sometimes treacherous currents on the side of the pyramid.
Honestly, if I were to go back I would avoid going too deep and rather spend more time in the shallows because this is where Batu Bolong’s true beauty unfolds. Crystal clear water and millions of colorful little reef fish make it the most beautiful dive site in Komodo.
Another favorite for Komodo diving is Manta Point. While you can see manta rays everywhere in Komodo this is a designated cleaning station so your chances are a lot higher. What can I say? During our one-hour dive, we didn’t see a single one!
That said, it was still a stunning dive. While the topography of Manta Point may seem a bit boring at first, almost like an underwater rubble desert, there are so many things to discover. Pretty patches of corals busy with fish, lots of Unicorn fish, stingrays (not quite a manta, but still), and awesome critters. We found the best nudis here and even a tiny white baby scorpion fish.
Once you head to the south you will immediately notice a change in the water: it gets murkier and colder. That is not necessarily a bad thing when diving at Three Sisters, a dive site with three beautifully overgrown pinnacles.
We saw plenty of blue-spotted stingrays, sharks, and to my delight, a leaf fish. You will usually do your safety stop on top of one of the pinnacles and get to marvel at some beautiful corals and some kind of red goldfish (does anyone know what they are called?) while you wait.
Pink Beach is not only a destination on land but also for diving. I didn’t expect much, to be honest. That changed once we saw two mantas within the first five minutes of our dive at Pink Beach. Then another, and another… at some point, I stopped counting but I think we saw at least 15.
In addition, Pink Beach is also pinkish underwater as much of it is covered in beautiful rose and beige soft corals.
A word about currents…
If you are diving in Komodo National Park you will encounter currents at one point or another. Diving in currents is kind of the point of diving in Komodo. After all, it is those currents (due to the different heights of the Pacific and the Indian Ocean that meet here) that make the diving so exciting and account for all the marine life you will get to see.
That said, I am slightly terrified of currents. While I am an instructor by now and would consider myself a fairly experienced diver, I have never done much diving in currents. We had one incident where I was too far from my buddy descending so I couldn’t see her aborting the dive due to ear issues. I thought I had lost her and got caught in a current making me panic. All was well in the end and I think I want to do more drift diving to get more comfortable in currents.
But if you are also a bit afraid of currents here are my tips if you go diving in Komodo:
- Carry your own DSMB and practice regularly how to deploy it.
- You will most likely use a reef hook at some Komodo dive sites. This is not for everyone (my friend hated it) but it can be quite fun if you know how to use it and position yourself correctly. If you haven’t used a reef hook before ask your guide to show you how to set it up and use it.
- Avoid diving during a full moon or new moon when the currents are strongest.
- Discuss detailed lost buddy procedures beforehand and stay close while descending in a group.
- Batu Balong is infamous for its down currents. Our guide would actually swim towards the edge of the rock and show us how to identify the downward spiraling bubbles. Those dive sites should only be dived with an experienced guide.
- Practice a negative entry. This can come in handy when you need to descend quickly due to surface current.
- Many dive sites in Komodo will have a more sheltered side. Those might not be as exciting in terms of marine life but are a great option if you are still getting used to the currents. Dive spots like Shotgun are loved for their current, however, when there is no current it is also a perfectly lovely site. Know yourself and your limits, and adjust your itinerary accordingly – diving in Komodo is always great! And remember: there is absolutely no shame in sitting dive out if the conditions feel too much for you.