For my first trip to Indonesia, I initially only had in mind a road trip around Bali. Yet, this is how the magic starts within a journey: when you let enough space for spontaneous adventures. After one month in Indonesia, I actually discovered more of Indonesia beyond Bali with a trip to Flores Island where I went scuba diving in Komodo National Park.
Planning without overplanning
People often stare at my organization when I’m travelling: travel notebook, agendas or even enriched online maps; I admit I must look a bit like a travel nerd.
However, the secret to organising unforgettable trips is to find the perfect balance between organisation and spontaneity. This way, I can always adapt to the situation and make some changes in my plans without any stress.
Here are some ideas of things to do before your trip. Do it step-by-step. Planning is part of the fun to go on a trip. By allowing yourself some time at home to make the research you will spare yourself some stress during your trip:
- Research the destination you picked: guide books, travel forums and blogs, hospitality networks like Couchsurfing… and save what you liked in your notebook or favourite notes app. In my case, I use Pinterest more and more to do this.
- Study the geography of the place: islands, seas, borders, mountains… all are constraints you have to take into account but also an opportunity to go scuba diving or hiking. I can spend hours on Google maps to memorise where I will go.
- Evaluate the different transportation options: bus, car, ferry, speed boat, plane, how long do they take? how much do they cost? I like using Rome2Rio to do so.
- Draft a tentative itinerary: give a reasonable amount of time for each place. 3 days is a minimum to really experience each place, meet people and take the opportunity to follow them on any spontaneous adventure.
Finally, the best travel information you will get is once at the destination. Don’t over plan a marathon itinerary, you may, otherwise, miss fantastic opportunities along the way.
The most important thing: don’t feel stressed by the social touristic pressure and its “must-see” list: It’s ok not to see everything! Just imagine the fantastic memories you will bring back with you just because you took the time to experience a place more than an overnight stay! If you don’t have enough time to see everything, don’t hesitate to make choices to discover each place better.
Once you have the main stops of your trip on your agenda, don’t hesitate to make them slide or swap them when necessary after your arrival. Making choices will be easier and you won’t hesitate to take opportunities for unexpected adventures. While it can be done easily with an agenda app such as Google agenda, I finally prefer my old-fashioned paper planner with a pencil and an eraser.
My journey to Labuan Bajo, Flores
Before my trip, I spotted 10 places to visit in Bali, 5 in Lombok and 3 in Java. Considering I had 4 weeks, I made blocks of 3 to 5 days by area. I finally went to 4 areas in Bali, 1 island in Lombok and visited Komodo National Park from Flores Island, without a single regret.
All along the way, it was so nice to hear stories from other travellers and favourite spots of Indonesian people, that I naturally made my plans slide on my agenda during the trip. This way I extended my stay in Ubud, and I even took a day off in Sanur to re-plan the days of my trip.
Of all the stories from travellers and scuba divers I heard, one destination was coming back all the time: “You have to go scuba diving in Komodo!”
At the beginning of my trip, I wasn’t so keen because of time and budget issues, but, after 3 weeks as I was already happy with my trip to Bali and Lombok, time left allowed it, my bank account allowed it, flight ticket was still available at a reasonable price… ok, let’s go! After comparing options in Sanur over lunch on the beach, I just booked a domestic return flight Denpasar- Labuan Bajo for the next morning!
Landing in Labuan Bajo, on the east coast of Flores Island, is already an adventure as the plane is small and the airport in the hill. The atmosphere of the harbour town feels like the end of the world but also the gate to amazing adventures. Indeed it is also the port of departure to discover the Komodo National Park.
While many scuba divers board their liveaboard in Labuan Bajo, it is also possible to go on scuba diving day trips while still enjoying exploring Labuan Bajo and Flores Island. This is the option I took, 3 days of day trips for a total of 6 dives.
Each day trip was also the opportunity to visit the National Park to meet the famous Komodo dragons. Local wildlife also included buffalos and macaques. The landscapes alternating between grass hills and tropical forests were bright green as it was the rainy season.
Scuba diving in Komodo National Park from Labuan Bajo
For each day trip I took, we went for 2 dives. You need to be board the boat at 8 am and the journey is 2 hours before reaching Komodo diving area (enough time for a long nap to slowly wake up).
Water was a bit cooler than in Bali (25/26°C instead of 30°C) so a 5mm full suit is not a bad idea. Don’t expect to go very deep, the most interesting part lies between 5 m and 20 m deep. Yet, expect strong current, Komodo is the paradise of drift diving. Some diving experience and efficient fin kicking technique will be definitely an advantage to feel comfortable underwater.
The coral reefs of Komodo are well-preserved thanks to the status of National Park and UNESCO Marine World Heritage site. It was the first time for me to see such a large range of colourful coral species.
I had also never seen such a large variety of marine critters in the same spot: bumphead parrotfish, angelfish, sea turtles, cuttlefish, peacock manta shrimp, spiny lobster, clownfish, black-tip and white-tip sharks,… and most of all, manta rays!
The first time I saw a manta ray was in Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt, but being surrounded by a dozen manta rays for an hour is just priceless and a memory of a lifetime. For sure, no list of the best diving in Asia-Pacific would be complete without Komodo.
“This is why I stay here” said the divemaster and I can understand that having this kind of action underwater on a daily basis is addictive. In a nutshell, with this experience, I am now fully convinced that being flexible in your plans while still being organized can just lead you to magical unexpected experiences.
So I would like to thank all the people I met during this trip who helped me build, without knowing it, the way I travel now just by telling me: “Go to Komodo!”
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