Photograph by K. Bonit Permadi, Alamy Stock Photo
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In Komodo National Park, Padar Island features three colored-sand beaches: pink, black, and white.

Photograph by K. Bonit Permadi, Alamy Stock Photo

How to go beyond the dragons in Komodo National Park

Manta rays, dolphins, bats, and other wild wonders also thrive in Indonesia’s iconic nature reserve.

There is much more to Komodo National Park than just dragons. This is a good thing because, following recent poaching incidents, Indonesian park authorities announced that they are considering temporarily closing Komodo Island to visitors in 2020 to preserve the safety of the world’s largest and heaviest lizards. (A decision will be made by the end of 2019.) The 1,076-square-mile park encompasses several other islands besides Komodo—including Rinca, where dragons can also be found—and supports a variety of wild adventures. Here are five experiences that will take you beyond the dragons’ lair.

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Climb Padar Island

On the south coast of Padar, one of the three larger islands in Komodo National Park, a rocky summit offers a unique view of three differently colored sandy coves—volcanic black, coral pink, and powdery white. The climb to the top is short but steep, but the effort is worth it. The panorama of land, sea, and sky is spectacular; not surprisingly, it’s a favored spot for envy-inducing sunset selfies.

Cruise the islands in a luxe phinisi

The best way to explore Komodo National Park is by water, whether on a chartered day boat, a liveaboard dive boat, or a luxe version of the traditional two-masted phinisi, such as the Ombak Putih or the Ayana Lako Di’a. On the water, travelers find a wild marine menagerie to rival the fantastic beasts on land. Most cruises can be booked on Flores Island.

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A traditional Indonesian schooner, the Ombak Putih sails around Komodo and can carry up to 24 passengers.

Visit Bat Island

As dusk approaches, boats of all kinds begin to gather around tiny Koaba Island (aka Kalong, or Bat, Island) to watch a nightly occurrence: the emergence of thousands of fruit bats from the island’s mangroves. They take to the skies at sunset to hunt on nearby Flores Island, returning in the early morning. Don’t expect a sudden burst of bat. Instead, they appear in waves, making it possible to track these flying mammals individually across the orange-streaked sky. If you’re lucky, you also might glimpse dolphins frolicking in the waters while you’re waiting for the aerial show to start.

Explore the land of hobbits

Although not part of Komodo National Park, Flores Island is the gateway to the park and to top local dive spots. Travelers are finding reasons to stay and explore the island itself. A luxury hotel, Ayana Komodo Resort, opened in the western part of the island in 2018. Adventurers head inland for indigenous villages with thatched houses and traditional, spider web–shaped rice paddies. At Liang Bua cave in 2003, archaeologists discovered bones of an early human species that lived about 190,000-50,000 years ago. Due to their unusually short stature, Homo floresiensis were inevitably nicknamed “hobbits” (much to the Tolkien estate’s dismay). The limestone cave and a small museum are open to visitors.

Snorkel with manta rays

At Manta Point, northeast of Komodo Island, manta rays gather along a lengthy reef with a sand bank down the middle. Cleaner wrasse, butterfly fish, and other small fish that live here provide “cleaning stations” for the mantas, grooming them of dead skin and parasites. Snorkelers and divers can spot these graceful sea creatures gliding through the water at depths of a few feet to more than 30 feet. Mantas may move like ballerinas—but they can grow to be up to 16 feet wide. A quiet swim with these gentle giants, whose tails are barbless, can feel like a gift from the sea.