For one of the new tourism hot spots in Indonesia, there isn't much in Labuan Bajo. One small main street runs parallel to the shore with eateries of varying quality, hostels, hotels and a scattering of markets. The beaches aren't spectacularly beautiful compared to other places in Indonesia and the harbour is more functional than picturesque. Everything is covered in dust and dirt from the constant traffic of scooters, taxis, and vans kitted out with 15 inch subs that blast hip hop at 7AM. It is a strange and busy little town. Through all of this Labuan Bajo gets a steady stream of tourists from all over the world. It has two big things going for it and I was visiting for both; dragons and diving.
If you have heard of Komodo it is most likely in relation to the giant lizards inhabiting some of the nearby islands. The Komodo dragons are huge reptilian assholes that bite things then follow them around the island until they can't run any more. It is a widely held misconception that the dragons kill with a mouth full of bacteria, but in 2009 a researcher called Bryan Fry decided to x-ray a dragon and showed they apparently have venom glands loaded with toxins that prevent blood clotting, lower blood pressure, and induce shock, which makes them even more badass than previously thought.
If you are a diver, the Komodo National Park is a playground of currents, coral, and creatures of all shapes and sizes. It is known by divers all over the world as some of the best diving available. Of course any time you say something like that someone will argue about it. I'm sure everyone will agree diving in Komodo is at least great. I am fairly new to diving so one of my missions in Labuan Bajo was to spend more time underwater. This seemed like the perfect place to do it.
My original plan was to alternate dive days and rest days. I dived my first day, then spent my second and third doing my Advanced Adventurer Diver course, then dived the next day as well. In the end I dived every day except one when there was no space on the boat and I was forced to spend the day relaxing...and by that I mean sitting around wishing I was diving.
Uber Scuba Komodo
I landed on a Saturday afternoon, checked into my small, cheap room and dropped in to see the team at Uber Scuba Komodo. I had done some research before arriving in Labuan Bajo and Uber Scuba Komodo has good reviews. While I might sleep in cheap hostels, eat fried rice every day and be to too cheap to hire boots to walk up a volcano, I'm not willing to compromise on safety when it comes to being 30 metres underwater.
My personal opinion is they were excellent. They had the perfect blend of competence, experience, and safety without ruining the fun. The dive briefings on each of the sites were intended to provide comfort as well as highlight any possible dangers. They did this really well. At the start of the week, I was still anxious at the start. By the end, I couldn't wait to get in the water again. I had a different dive master for all of my fun dive days and they were all great. I definitely recommend them and if I go back to Labuan Bajo, I will dive with them again.
If you want to know more about Uber Scuba Komodo, head over to their website here! If you're too lazy for that, here's the basics:
Uber Scuba Komodo operate two well equipped boats called the "KLM Iona" and the "KLM Karina" for diving day trips with a mix of local and western dive masters, guides and instructors. They also operate a liveaboard called the "KLM Amalia" which can take you out for multi-day diving trips around the islands.
They have a range of options for anyone who is interested in diving, including single day and multi-day fun dive packages, discovery dives for people who want to try diving for the first time, and dive courses run by experienced instructors who will take you to some dive sites that will make this the best classroom in the world. You can even go out snorkelling with them.
They also operate dragon tours to Rinca where you can get a guided tour to go dragon chasing...assuming they don't try chase you.
What you will probably see
Hard and soft coral. The coral here still seems to be in great condition considering many of the world's reefs are dying. The Great Barrier Reef has seen multiple bleaching events over subsequent years and is rapidly dying, no thanks to the Australian Government who spend their time trying to convince the public clean coal is a thing. It's not. We're not that bloody stupid.
There were thousands of species of fish and other wildlife. Every dive there was something interesting and cool to see. Some of my favourites...
Manta - Funnily enough at Manta Point.
Turtles - Everywhere
Sharks - Black tip, white tip, and grey reef sharks. They are cool to see underwater. They just hang out in the current, or laze around on the sand ignoring people. That is mostly what sharks do.
Black-banded sea krait - I saw two. One was on my very first dive. The other was in three inches of water at Tanah Lot.
Rays - I saw a few stingrays. Some were rather large. I kept away from them mostly.
Giant morays - Poking their heads out of holes in the reef
Juvenile emperor angelfish - they're some of my favourite reef fish.
A dragon sea moth - I was lucky to spot this squirming around on the sand.
A nudibranch - which was green and had the most brilliant orange stripes.
Rinca Island Tour
On my first day of diving with Uber Scuba Komodo, I swapped one of my dives for a Rinca Island tour. All I really wanted was to see a Komodo dragon in the wild, so if I could combine that with one of my diving days it would save me from having to go on an island hopping tour with some other operator.
On the island the guides met us and walked us to the rangers station to purchase tickets for the park. They carried around forked sticks intended to hold an attacking dragon at bay, through they seemed to lack the exploding, electrocuting properties I would have preferred in my own stick had I been allowed one.
We were there to see dragons and we definitely saw them. The guides walked us past five dragons hanging out, waiting for what I can only assume was some unsuspecting individual to walk past before they pounced and ate him. Their sleepy, lazy postures didn't fool me though. We saw a large male, laying on a fallen tree, looking like he'd just eaten and only needed a snack. Maybe a small child or the leg of someone larger.
The team at Uber Scuba were very professional and had safety as their primary focus throughout all of the diving. However, I never recommend doing anything adventurous without some kind of insurance that covers you on the off chance that something goes wrong. If you want to know my thoughts on travel insurance you can read about them here. Also, if you quote and book through the box below, you'll also help to keep my site running.
Notes on Labuan Bajo
Warung Mama was one of my favourite places to eat in Labuan Bajo. Local indonesian food in a small buffet style eatery. The food was tasty, cheap and you pay per helping, so you can always get enough. Meals cost me around 50K.
Le Pirates - To be honest, I only got one thing here. The big boy burger. Admittedly it cost the same as two meals somewhere else, but it was worth it just for a change.
Cafe In Hit. One needs to find decent coffee or life isn't worth living. I found some here.
I'm sure there are more places I didn't find, but those were what I did!