The Komodo dragon is the world’s largest lizard and can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh 300 pounds. Until recently, it was thought that the dragons became so big because they had no competition from other carnivorous predators and evolved to prey on the local Timor deer. Nowadays scientists suspect that the dragons are a relict of the megafauna that once lived across Indonesia and Australia, species that are thought to have become extinct due to human predation. (According to the renowned evolutionary biologist and best-selling author Jared Diamond, the Komodo dragon may have evolved to feed on an extinct pygmy elephant that once lived on Flores.) Either way, they are remarkable creatures that must be treated with considerable respect. Komodo dragons have been known to attack humans, and to see them in Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is mandatory to be accompanied by park rangers.
There are several flights a day from Bali to Komodo Airport at Labuan Bajo, a town on the northwestern tip of the island of Flores, which is the port from which boats depart to the national park. However, it is still easy to escape the crowds. The dragons are found on the islands of Komodo, Rinca, Gili Motang and Padar, as well as Flores itself. In addition to trekking to see the dragons, most visitors spend time snorkeling in the prolific surrounding waters. The islands are hot and dry, with hills up to 2,400 feet high, so the experience is only for those who are in good physical shape. The best way to see the dragons is undoubtedly from one of the luxury vessels operated by Aman Resorts and Alila Hotels and Resorts.