(CNN) – Manta rays hover, pulsating wings, on the fast currents of the Flores Sea. Komodo dragons, the largest lizard on earth, stumble into the bushes of Komodo and Rinka. A peach sunrise illuminates the healthy flanks and thin spine of Padar Island.
It is a little surprising to anyone who has visited Komodo National Park, a wave of volcanic islands and coral reefs off the coast of Flores Island in Indonesia that it has UNESCO World Heritage status.
Labuan Baggio, a bustling port city on the northwest end of Flores, is best known as the jump for Komodo National Park. Here, passengers will find Komodo Airport, which opened a new, modern terminal in 201
Here’s a look at what travelers to Labuan Baggio and beyond can experience when the country reopens to international tourism.
Labuan Baggio: More than a port
Diving boat Finisi, anchored in the port of Labuan Baggio.
Andre Seal / VW PICS / Universal Images Group / Getty Images
The name “Labuan Bajo” means “Place where sea gypsies stop”, but the city is more than a place to stop to book a cruise or stock up on pearls and mussels.
Labuan Bajo offers accommodation for all budgets, ranging from private island bungalows on the beach to branded beachfront hotels, guest houses and boutiques, with many hotels under construction before 2022.
While waiting for seafood holidays and several beach clubs on the beach, the city’s main attractions are natural, says Sebastian Pandang, head of the local branch of the Indonesian Tourist Guides Association.
“When I tour the city, I take passengers to Bukit Sinta, Batu Chermin, Gua Rangko and Kunka Wulang,” he said.
Around mid-day, when light floods through the entrance to the hill and illuminates the turquoise waters below, Gua Rango, a sea cave accessible by boat near Labuan Baggio, is as stunning as Capri’s famous Blue Grotto.
Meanwhile, about an hour’s drive from Labuan Bajo, the Cunca Wulang cascades and natural water slides are photogenic fun for both adults and children.
Bukit Cinta offers sunset views, while Batu Cermin Cave – just a 15-minute drive from the city – features gleaming sun-reflecting walls.
Further on Flores
Sunset seekers heading for Flores will enjoy.
SONNY TUMBELAKA / AFP / AFP via Getty Images
For travelers with time in hand, it is worth exploring further in Flores. More than twice the size of Bali, this long, thin island is a place where rich tribal cultures occupy lush volcanic landscapes.
Perched in the sky, the cone-shaped straw huts of the Wae Rebo tribal village can only be reached on foot. In Luba and Bena, ancient matrilineal culture continues among megalithic tombs and skulls of sacrificial buffaloes.
Traditional rituals and sports such as armed boxing endure in the lush green mountainous areas of the island, where women still weave ikat towels and Flores coffee thrives.
To the east, the volcano Kelimutu attracts, its top is covered with three dramatic crater lakes, which shine like pieces of oil paint in bright mineral colors, which change depending on the composition of the water.
Every August, the locals of Leo go down to the shore of the lake to leave donations to their ancestors and honor them with dancing.
Komodo Island: Be a dragon here
Komodo dragons can reach a length of 10 feet.
Komodo Island is about a two-hour boat ride from Labuan Baggio. Its most popular attraction is the large population of Komodo dragons.
“In local legend, we believe that the Komodo dragon was born with people from the same mother,” said Ishaq, a ranger at Komodo Island National Park Station who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name.
Over the centuries, the villagers of Komodo and the nearby Rinka Islands, home to most of the park’s 5,000 lizards, have struck a balance with these scaly predators – although they usually graze their goats on islands beyond the reach of dragons.
Despite their drooping jaws and lazy manner, Komodo dragons are powerful predators. Male dragons can reach a length of up to three meters (nearly 10 feet) and take down buffalo-sized prey with their strong jaws and powerful venom.
Yet the rangers accompany visitors to their hunting grounds, armed with nothing more dramatic than a forked stick, which they use in extreme areas to hook lizard tails.
“Dragons haven’t attacked a person in (more than) two years,” Ishaq explains. “And this was a Singaporean tourist walking without a ranger.”
Hikes on Komodo Island include short walks to nearby buildings, where lazy lizards search for food, to half-day hikes in the surrounding forests, where their more active cousins hunt deer, wild boar and others among the calls of rare birds.
The heart of the coral triangle
Giant rays often gather on Manta Alley to feed on plankton.
Live diving boats on board flock to places like Batu Bolong, an ocean peak so rich in life that it is possible to see a turtle on one side and a reef shark on the other, and Manta Alley, where giant rays, some up to five meters in wingspan, cluster to feed on plankton.
Still, you don’t have to be a skilled diver to experience Komodo’s underwater temptations. At night, two-day and even one-day cruises allow snorkels to discover pristine coral gardens, such as those in Manjar or Pink Rock, or to drift on fast-reef reefs such as those near Karang Makassar.
Snorkels can manage to search for manta rays in places like Manta Point, where creatures roam over coral ledges so smaller fish can clean them, or search for sea turtles that graze on Komodo’s seagrass.
Komodo National Park is home to several pale pink beaches.
Island jumping is one of the greatest joys of any trip to Komodo National Park.
Padar, the third largest island in the park after Komodo and Rinka, offers stunning views of the sunrise of sculpted ridges and curved bays from its thin spine reached by hundreds of steps.
Kelor Island, a small cone covered with a beautiful white sand beach, offers 360-degree views of the volcanic ridges that dot the Flores Sea.
For the perfect selfie, Karang Makassar, a low-lying white sand atoll surrounded by pale turquoise waters, is also magical.
And then there’s Rose Rock, a volcanic outgrowth that offers a surreal background of pink rock marbled in orange and yellow and strung with iron ore veins.
And yet, even more than the white sands, Komodo National Park is famous for its pink beaches. Scarlet coral fragments color pale sands around the waterlines of several islands, creating a natural rainbow of beige, pink and turquoise.
Come sunset, many boats anchor overnight near Kalong Island, which consists of mangrove forests and is inhabited by flying foxes. At dusk, the bats on the island rise in a mass that swirls like smoke in search of the fruits of Komodo, Rinka and even Flores – a dramatic end to a spectacular day.