Komodo National Park is one of Indonesia's most stunning attractions. With lush, dramatic island landscapes, sublime snorkelling, a huge variety of things to see and a thrilling menagerie of wildlife, Komodo has something for everyone and should be an essential part of any Indonesian itinerary.
Sadly, the tour I booked with Fantastico Tours / Komodotours.net was deeply disappointing, and at times left me feeling angry, frustrated, bewildered and cheated.
To be fair, the staff and guide on the boat we took around Komodo National Park were great, and did their best to make every member of our three-person group happy. But in terms of the tour itinerary, logistics and organisation, Fantastico Tours / Komodotours.net spectacularly dropped the ball – and considering that my fellow travellers and I spent a *lot* of money on this so-called 'Diamond Service' trip, it left a lot to be desired.
In the interests of balance, I have outlined my issues with Fantastico Tours / Komodotours.net below, along with details on the parts of the tour I enjoyed immensely. Anyone choosing to book with Fantastico Tours / Komodotours.net can easily avoid these problems by knowing the potential pitfalls, so don't worry if you've already booked a trip with the company – most of these issues can be rectified if you double-check all information you're given, and ask lots of questions before the tour begins...
* The Fantastico Tours online booking service via Komodotours.net is fast and efficient, and the company is quick to respond to queries.
Fantastico Tours / Komodotours.net also put me in touch with another traveller who'd already booked a solo tour for the dates I was interested in, and I was able to hook up with him for a two-person five day / four night tour of Komodo National Park and Kelimutu in Flores.
Fantastico Tours / Komodotours.net also have a variety of reliable methods for paying the trip deposit, which makes remote dealings with the company feel safe and relaxed.
* Our guide during the tour of Komodo National Park – Mewes – was a friendly and likeable man, with a great depth of knowledge about the islands and the local flora and fauna. The boat captain and his young crew were also friendly, funny and attentive, and we enjoyed their company while cruising around the National Park.
* Mewes and the boat crew were willing to go 'off itinerary' to take us to interesting places and accommodate our requests. For example, Mewes took us to visit a remote fishing village, which was a fascinating detour from the advertised trip, and when we spotted a pod of dolphins the boat captain took us closer (but not too close!) so that we'd get a better view of the amazing creatures.
* Our hotel in Labuan Bajo and lodge in Moni were excellent, and in most respects the Komodo tour boat was clean and satisfactory when compared to other ships working the same tourist trail.
* Up until the day before the tour began, the trip was booked for two people. However, a third traveller joined our party at the last minute.
Having an extra person on the trip was absolutely no problem – and she turned out to be a wonderful travelling companion – but this meant that the original guest and I had to share a room on the boat, and in our hotel in Labuan Bajo.
While I don't resent sharing, it's fundamentally unfair that Fantastico Tours / Komodotours.net benefitted financially from this extra booking, but there was no adjustment in price for the two original guests who made the trip possible in the first place, despite the fact we'd been inconvenienced. Sharing a room also conflicts with the expensive 'Diamond Service' pricing, and left me feeling ripped off.
* The trip started badly as the itinerary we were presented with on arrival was different to the itinerary we'd been sold by Fantastico Tours / Komodotours.net.
Rather than spreading the Komodo Dragon spotting over two days, we were informed that we'd be hiking around Komodo and Rinca islands on the same day, and that the first morning would be spent snorkelling.
As my fellow travellers and I had booked this expensive trip based on the itinerary we were sold by Fantastico Tours / Komodotours.net, this immediately made us uncomfortable. And as the second day of the tour featured two long hikes and a long snorkelling session, the new itinerary was exhausting and did not make best use of our time in Komodo National Park.
* Visiting Komodo and Rinca islands in the morning significantly increases your chances of seeing Komodo Dragons – however, despite this well-known fact, our second dragon-spotting trip was scheduled for the afternoon of the second day.
Mewes and our guide on Komodo Island spent a great deal of time telling us that we probably wouldn't see any dragons or other wildlife because it was too hot, which made the stop feel like a waste of time. We were still able to see the sleepy, semi-tame dragons at the ranger hut – but as morning visitors often see wild dragons drinking at the watering hole or hunting, it would have made more sense to trek on the second and third mornings, and save our snorkelling for the afternoons instead.
From my *very* first communication with Fantastico Tours / Komodotours.net, I told them that seeing the dragons was my priority, and I'd happily sacrifice snorkelling time to maximise my chances to see these elusive animals in the wild.
However, the tour itinerary took us into dragon heartland at *precisely* the wrong time, making this once-in-a-lifetime trip feel like a wasted opportunity.
* Similarly, the third day of the trip took us to ‘manta bay’, and we were excited to have a chance to see manta rays in the wild.
However, the night before the visit we were told that manta rays were not in season, and it was highly unlikely that we'd see any. When we questioned why we were still making this stop, we were simply told that manta bay was "always on the itinerary" despite the season – which is a waste of time and energy, especially as there are other interesting snorkelling sites nearby we could have explored instead.
* The evening before visiting manta bay, we were also told that currents in the area were very strong, and that anyone who wasn't a strong swimmer should stay on the boat. And as I'm not confident in deep water, all I could do was sit on the deck and watch my fellow travellers searching in vain for mantas...
If I'd known my swimming skills were not up to scratch for parts of the itinerary, I would have thought twice about booking the trip – discovering vital information like this a few hours beforehand is simply not acceptable.
* Because of the strong currents, one group member opted to wear a life vest during the manta bay visit. However, she soon discovered that all the life vests on the boat were defective and had broken clasps, which would have made them next-to useless in an emergency.
This is unforgivable and dangerous. I expect Fantastico Tours / Komodotours.net would argue that it's the responsibility of the boat captain to make sure the life vests are safe – but as each of us paid Fantastico Tours over $1,000 USD for this trip, they are ultimately responsible for our safety, and cannot absolve themselves of responsibility in this matter.
* After leaving Komodo National Park we flew to Ende in Flores, to take a trip to see the thee coloured lakes of Kelimutu.
However, when we arrived in Ende airport our pick-up was not there as promised. I tried calling the mobile number we'd been given by Fantastico Tours / Komodotours.net in case of emergency, but there was no reply, and we had a stressful experience trying to find our own transport to our lodge in Moni.
When we arrived at the lodge, the manager told us that Fantastico Tours / Komodotours.net had provided incorrect dates for our check-in, and that they were expecting us the following morning.
Again, this put unnecessary pressure our group, wasted a lot of precious time, and was not what you'd expect from a 'Diamond' class service.
* In the end, we were able to make it from Ende to the lodge as one of the guides aggressively touting for business outside the airport was friends with the hotel manager, and called him on our behalf.
Unfortunately, this chancer ended up becoming our guide for the next two days, and was not what you'd expect from a 'Diamond' class service:
- On our visit to Kelimutu, he began hassling us to return to the hotel as soon as the sun rose, and lied about the time required to drive to Maumere airport, leaving us over two hours early for the domestic flight, and angry as we'd left Kelimutu early for no good reason
- Despite calling himself a guide, he had little knowledge about Kelimutu except for the spots where most tourists cluster to take photos, and instead spent most of his time embarrassingly grasping for tips.
* To be frank, there was confusion and conflicting information at every stage of the trip:
- When we departed Labuan Bajo, the local representative of Fantastico Tours / Komodotours.net promised to accompany us to the airport from our hotel – but in the end he just met us at the airport for a pointless farewell, and we had to rely on our own initiative and use hotel transport to get there on time.
- The travel documents my fellow travellers and I were given by Fantastico Tours / Komodotours.net had conflicting information, and we had to Google flight times to confirm details.
- On the last day, we were contacted by Fantastico Tours / Komodotours.net to ask where we wanted to be dropped in Bali, despite us telling them on several occasions we were departing Denpasar for Singapore the same day.
Travelling in Indonesia requires patience, flexibility and a good sense of humour – but travellers who are short on time depend on premium services that are efficient and stress-free. Sadly, the 'Diamond Service' trip I took with Fantastico Tours / Komodotours.net fell far short of its promises, and I find it impossible to recommend the company.
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