We initially planned to reach some of the nearer islands from Labuan Bajo by kayak. But after realising how long it would take to paddle out, it was clear that kayaking was not an option. Another idea was to join an organised group liveaboard, there are countless of them in Labuan Bajo – Offering anything from a 2night/3day combo around the National Park, right up to a two week sailing trip to Maluku or Raja Ampat. This option made sense after realising how spread out Komodo National Park was. Consequently we decided to try and join a snorkelling liveaboard in Komodo.
After speaking to a few tour shops, it was apparent that the liveaboards were tailored towards divers only. As a result, there weren’t really any tours available for snorkelling specifically, especially to the far out reefs. We were reluctantly put on a reserve list at a Uber Scuba who told us we could join as snorkelers but only if the spaces on board were not taken up by divers first. Also we wouldn’t have our own guide.
Furthermore, this was a really expensive option, way out of our backpacking budget. A two night, three day liveaboard package as snorkelers would set us back 6,500,000 IDR per person. This was just 500,000 IDR less than what a diver would have to pay. We had to re-think our plans.
Finding a local snorkelling guide
Purely by chance, we met a dive master whilst having lunch at our hotel. Ris had over 8 years experience diving in Komodo as a guide. He and his wife were freelance dive masters looking to form their own tour company. We voiced our predicament and explained that we were struggling to find a snorkelling specific liveaboard, that would take us to the best snorkelling in Komodo.
We knew that we would need a guide onboard to judge the current, tide and weather conditions. Ris suggested that if we could find a boat, captain & crew and provide food for 2 days then he would happily do the honors and be our personal guide on our very own snorkelling liveaboard in Komodo. We were starting to get really excited!
Finding a suitable boat on a budget
Ris recommended we source a big boat directly from the harbour. It should have a minimum of 3 engines, and capable of going at least 8 knots. The best reefs are far out from Labuan Bajo, plus Komodo seas can be unpredictable, as we were soon to find out.
The harbour at Labuan Bajo is a community on water, packed full of boats in all shapes and sizes. There weren’t any other tourists shopping, so our presence was welcomed by the boat owners as they each invited us onboard for a look around.
We clambered from one deck to the next, in search of our very own liveaboard. It was certainly not hard to find a boat big enough for our needs. The touts selling group tours on Jl. Soekarno Hatta had offered much smaller vessels than what we could find ourselves at the harbour.
After viewing several different options, and bargaining with the captains, we finally decided on a two cabined 52ft long boat. We were comfortable with the engines and most importantly, we loved its open top sleeping deck. The boat could fit up to 8 passengers on board, but we were happy to have it all to ourselves.
The majority of boats in Labuan Bajo are traditional wooden vessels constructed in Makassar. They have a distinctive style, but don’t offer the highest of living standards and facilities are very basic. Ours had a small open kitchen area to the rear, and very small saltwater toilet / shower.
We negotiated a price that we were happy to pay: 3,000,000 IDR which included the boat, fuel, captain and two crew members for 1 night, and 2 full days.
Although the captain spoke very little English, he made sure to communicate that this price did not include food. And there we had it, our very own private snorkelling liveaboard in Komodo!
Picking the best places to snorkel
Ris knew Komodo like the back of his hand. He suggested an itinerary that included some of his favourite dive spots; Tatawa Kecil, Pengah Reef, Siaba Besar, Batu Bolong and Mawan Island. He told us these were also amazing for snorkelling, but may be a challenge. Read our reviews of what it was like to snorkel these incredible dive sites here.
We were aiming to hit 3 different reefs per day and the order would depend on wind, current and tide conditions. Ris explained that the current situation at these reefs was no joke, and told us a story of a group of divers who’d been swept out to sea very recently. They survived, but ended up having to fend off Komodo Dragons with their scuba fins. Full story here
Guided by a pro
Ris had a very tight schedule planned for our two days at sea. He knew exactly when was best to hit each spot, and worked closely with the Captain to determine the direction of the fast changing waters.
Komodo’s seas are notorious for strong currents. Therefore certain places at certain times of the day could be very dangerous to dive, let alone snorkel. Claire was petrified about jumping back in after our experience at Pink Beach, but Ris’s expert knowledge helped put our minds at ease.
We learnt from Ris that you can often predict strong currents (horizontal or vertical) by looking at the surface of the water. Areas where the surface is choppy without a moderate to strong wind, mixed with areas of very smooth water, could indicate a strong current.
Also if a boat is tied to a mooring buoy, you can look at the direction in which the boat is turned. If a boat is tied off at the bow, the boat will be facing into the current. If the mooring line is tight, the current is likely to be moderate to strong.
Thankfully though we didn’t really need to worry ourselves. Ris would take the lead on each snorkel site, scrutinizeing conditions first before giving us the all-clear.
Dropping Anchor at Siaba Besar
After many awesome hours of snorkelling around several different reefs, we arrived at the sweeping bay of Siaba Besar. Siaba Besar was to be our anchorage for the night and we were looking forward to relaxing and enjoying this totally amazing location.
There were quite a few dive boats anchored when we arrived. After a while they moved on for the night, leaving just us and another yacht in the bay.
At dusk the sea turned into a perfect reflection of the sky, as peachy hues of the sun setting around us transformed the water and surrounding outcrops of land.
We let the crew and Ris take the cabins. And there we were, living out a bucket list dream of sleeping top deck under the starry night sky on our very own private snorkelling liveaboard in Komodo National Park. How lucky were we?! It was an incredible feeling.
It can get pretty gnarly out there
On day two of our trip, en route to Pengah reef, we encountered some very big swells. These unexpected waves were created by a sudden burst of strong winds pushing against the currents. Our boat took a beating and started listing 20 degrees or more. Unfortunately we happened to be enjoying a pre snorkel coffee and pot noodle when the captain yelled out – hold everything down! Big waves were hitting us from the side as he tried to position us in front of the reef.
We couldn’t even stand up let alone walk properly on the boat, and weren’t sure if the conditions were just too rough to snorkel now. Ris assured us it would be fine once we were in the water. We could see that the captain was trying his best to keep the boat pointed steady. So we didn’t hang around. We put our snorkel gear on, and as quickly as we could, jumped in.
We explored some pretty remote and unforgiving waters on our two day adventure, so it was essential to have an experienced guide and boat crew to look out for our safety.
We were grateful to have such an awesome team on board, and had a lot of fun together during our DIY liveaboard.
Conclusion: Be your own agent
If you are an adventurous snorkeler, wishing to experience the parks harder to reach and best snorkel sites, then there is no better way than a ‘do it yourself’ snorkelling liveaboard in Komodo. It is far cheaper than joining a dive liveaboard, plus creating your own itinerary is so much fun!
For us, it was a unique and personal experience, tailored to our dreams.
Additional fees we had to pay
If you plan on doing a DIY liveaboard, then we advise buying the Komodo National Park entry passes. Each pass is valid for one day and can be purchased at Labuan Bajo harbour.
They cost 150,000 IDR / person per day (Sundays & holidays 225,000 IDR / person)
Ris strongly recommended that we buy these, as boat crew and passengers can get in trouble with local authorities if they’re found taking tourists without passes. We were initially in two minds, but felt it would be unfair to their livelihood if we risked it.
If you join an organised group liveaboard, this fee is likely to be built into the price of your trip.
Get yourself a guide
Above all, getting a snorkel guide is a necessity, especially when circumnavigating Komodo’s currents. Our guide Ris offers private and personal tours across Komodo, Flores and Warebo – both underwater and overland. He was incredibly professional, personable and understanding of our needs. We would recommend his services to everyone, and hope to go snorkelling or diving with him again soon. If you are planning on a Komodo tour and would like the contact details of our guide then please feel free to send us a direct message.
We hope you enjoyed our travel trips and tricks on how to enjoy a snorkelling liveaboard in Komodo, on a backpackers budget! If you are interested in future posts like this one then please subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on Facebook.