Aside from Komodo Island, the only other place to see Komodo dragons in the wild is on Rinca Island, the second biggest island in the national park. The visitor’s centre at Loh Buaya is located at the bottom of an inlet on the north-east of the island, about 2 hours boat ride from Labuan Bajo – approximately half the time it takes to reach Komodo Island. As a result, Rinca Island tends to be favoured by day trippers from Labuan Bajo as the place to see the Komodo’s, whilst still leaving time to swim, snorkel or visit some of the other nearby islands.
The dragons on Rinca have a reputation for being slightly smaller but a bit more aggressive than their counterparts at Komodo. The reputation seems quite well deserved. In 2013, a ranger was attacked whilst sitting at his desk in his office at Loh Buaya. His screams alerted other rangers who came to his rescue. Unfortunately, the smell of blood also attracted more Komodo’s to the scene. So whilst some were occupied keeping the new arrivals at bay, several other managed to fight off the attacker to rescue their colleague. Subsequently, the victim and one of his rescuers received nasty injuries that required urgent medical attention but they lived to tell the tale.
News reports of this incident, barely a year prior to our visit, were at the front of my mind when I eyed the deceptively sleepy looking dragons lazing around the huts at Loh Buaya on our arrival. Naturally, I listened intently as the compulsory ranger assigned to our group runs through his Komodo dragon safety talk and I stick close as we set off on one of the established trails hoping to spot some of these prehistoric creatures in the wild.
Over the next couple of hours we did see several Komodo’s, as well as Timor deer, long-tailed macaques, sulphur crested cockatoo’s and some fabulous scenery. Despite the threat of being eaten alive, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Rinca Island has several treks of varying length to choose from:
- Short Trek – 1km, 30 min. A fairly undemanding loop trail that passes by an artificial water source frequented by Komodo dragons and provides an excellent view over the inlet from the top of a low hill.
- Medium Trek – 2km, 1 hour. Begins with a shaded section through savannah woodlands where Komodo dragons make their nests and young Komodo seek safety in the tree from cannibalistic adults in the trees. The trail culminates with a pleasant, low gradient ascent of grassy slopes to a viewing point with fabulous views across Rinca and nearby islands.
- Long Trek – 3.5km, 2 hours. Extends the medium trek with a visit to a permanent waterhole frequented by Komodo dragons and their prey (Timor deer, wild boar and water buffalo), a longer trail through the savannah grasslands and additional viewing opportunities. This trek offers the best chance of seeing Komodo’s and other native wildlife in their natural environment.
Loh Buaya visitors centre is located a short walk from the boat dock. Visitors should wait at the dock to be escorted to the centre by one of the rangers. Komodo dragon regularly move between the dock and the visitor’s centre (which we can personally attest to) so don’t be tempted to make the short walk unattended. Loh Buaya has decent visitor facilities including western style toilets and a small kiosk selling cold drinks and snacks.
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