The Galapagos of Indonesia

Just the very sound and idea of “Komodo Island” conjures up an air of mystique, intrigue and exoticness. Being constantly inundated by countless Instagram pictorial posts of the pretty pink sandy beaches and captivating aesthetic beauty of Komodo National Park triggered both my curiosity and wanderlust. I got envious and decided to set a personal intention that sprouted from a strong and sincere desire to go discover and explore the Komodo regions for myself. The universe must have heard me and answered my prayers, as I was lucky enough to be invited to have the golden opportunity to go onboard the Kudanil Explorer; one of the world’s most luxurious private charter dive expedition ships that sails around the Flores Sea and the Lesser Sunda chain of islands that would advertently include the famous Komodo island as well.

Crystal clear and pristine waters surrounding the untouched isolated wilderness.

Just a short one-hour domestic flight from the overly crowded tourist juggernaut of Bali lies the small and relatively unknown fishing village town of Labuan Bajo, which is practically the only commercially available aviation pit stop and maritime gateway to all the islands surrounding the Komodo National Park. Rusty brown rugged hills, grassy savannas, mangrove swamps, and some of the world’s best coral reefs await all adventure seekers, physically fit hikers and passionate scuba divers alike. The entire Flores Sea and East Nusa Tenggara area are bursting with an abundance of land and marine biodiversity with unique plant, fish and animal species that are endemic only to the surrounding regions that are similar looking and akin to the Galapagos Islands. Thus, the entire region has earned its famed nickname of being the “Galapagos of Indonesia”. Komodo also has one of only seven pink beaches in the world. The sand appears pink when viewed from a distance, as it is a mixture of fine powdery white sand combined with crushed red foraminifera corals.

The rugged beauty of Komodo Island, home to the largest monitor lizards in the world.

The Kudanil Explorer is a 50-metre long private expedition cruise ship that accommodates up to 16 onboard guests in 8 luxurious and stylish cabins. The vessel’s namesake is derived from the Indonesian word “kuda nil”, which means hippopotamus. I could see that it was appropriately named judging by the strong, sturdy and rotund exterior shape of the ship that was previously a heavy-duty oil rigging transport and safety vessel that was built to withstand even the toughest sea weather and roughest waters. As one who is easily prone to seasickness, I appreciated the fact that I could not even feel a thing as the Kudanil Explorer cruised smoothly and silently on the open seas.

The rock sturdy and smooth sailing Kudanil Explorer.

Mr Jason Friedman who is the creative conceptualiser and designer of the Kudanil Explorer explains, “I have been operating luxury ships and hotels in Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos for over 25 years and the Kudanil Explorer is by far the most comfortable and safest expedition cruise ship ever to operate in Indonesian waters. The Kudanil Explorer has been purposefully renovated and designed to take guests to the most remote parts of Indonesia with the highest possible standards for safety, comfort and service. Developed as a general expedition cruise ship, there are activities for just about anyone and everyone. Even if you are not a person who loves the water, we still have plenty of fun-filled activities on board the ship, as well as shore-based activities to keep you fully engaged and occupied while touring all the incredible areas that we sail to. If you are an avid diver, our seasoned dive guides will show you the very best diving that all of Indonesia has to offer.”


While on this trip, I was fortunate and excited to have the chance to go on my first ever discovery scuba dive alongside hotelier and hospitality industry expert Jason Friedman who also happens to be a certified divemaster with decades of experience and countless dives under his belt. Diving underwater amongst the blooming coral gardens of the lush Flores Sea was akin to having a “Find Nemo” and a “Little Mermaid” oceanic fantasy dream come true.

In the five open sea snorkelling and scuba dives that we did, we saw giant manta rays, Hawksbill sea turtles, reef sharks, sea urchins, eels, and a plethora of countless vividly coloured marine fish such as parrotfish, blue tang, butterflyfish, clownfish and much more swimming in and around large, ornamental and bountiful cabbage-like coral beds. I was so elated underwater that I could have burst into a song and dance routine of “Under the Sea”. This Komodo island dive trip on-board the Kudanil Explorer with their professional dive team truly inspired me to eventually go get my own PADI open water scuba diving certification and license, which I immediately did once I got back home to Singapore.

Other than the world-class dive sites, one of the most compelling reasons to visit the region is of course for the rare opportunity to gawk at the endangered Komodo dragons; the world’s largest lizards basking in their natural environment and habitat. According to the latest government figures and statistics, around 1727 Komodo dragons live on Komodo Island itself. The entire Komodo National Park has been gazetted as a UNESCO world heritage site. The Indonesian government recently rescind its initial decision to close off the park to tourism for one year starting from January 2020 so that the Komodo dragons and vegetation can rehabilitate on the island without any human interference and potential threats from illegal poaching. The Indonesian environmental minister announced that the reason for this U-turn is because their scientific research suggests that tourists and visitors to the island no longer pose any threat and had no tangible negative impact on the Komodo dragon population. Starting from 2020, Komodo National Park will now be marketed as a premium tourist destination with a hefty price tag of US$1,000 per person as an annual membership to enter. In spite of the hefty price tag, the Indonesian tourism board plans and expects to attract 50,000 visitors to the island on this new premium membership system.

For more details about the Kudanil Explorer and the Komodo National Park, please visit

Text and Photography by: Luke Elijah


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