Rinca is THE best place to go to see dragons in their natural habitat. As it is closer to Labuan Bajo (the main departure point for any visit to Komodo) it is also the easiest place to witness the largest lizard on earth. Depending when you visit, the treks can be a bit challenging in the high humidity and heat of Rinca, so be prepared. There are three different walks offered – from a short 1 hour walk that is not stressful, a longer two hour walk that goes up to some very scenic viewpoint and a longer 4 hour walk that ends in Rinca Village. Tell your ranger/guide which one you prefer – and bring water!
For first time visitors – Rinca is far less familiar than Komodo Island, for which the park and dragons get their name. As the geography of Rinca is slightly different than Komodo, its much easier to find and view dragons here. Rinca has much more savannah type topography, which the dragons like better than jungle and trees. For those short on time, a visit to Rinca is far more rewarding and a better bang for your buck.
RINCA: Unusual Island
A savannah you say? Isn’t this Indonesia? It’s true, Bali and west is much more wet and filled with plenty of jungle. But Komodo and the Eastern provinces are far drier and the hills of Rinca and Komodo are really rolling savannah with very few trees. With rain occurring only sporadically through the year and a short rainy season, the area is surprisingly dry and sparse. Grassfires are a common problem in the dry months.
The park guides are also trained as rangers. Most of them come from the Village of Rinca (there is a village on the island of a few hundred people) and are very knowledgeable about the island and the many different animals on it. They sometimes do 3 treks a day, so know exactly where the dragons are resting on that day and are great at taking visitors to the dragon’s natural habitat without disturbing the dragons in anyway. The rangers really make the park come alive with their detailed knowledge.
The trek at Rinca starts at the Ranger station/visitor center, where there are about 10 dragons, big and small, around the ranger station – they are attracted by the smell of the kitchen, and incidentally make a great opportunity for photo taking. The dragons seem to be doing ok, although we wondered about the wisdom of having dragons that could become dependent upon humans for food. The rangers seem to like to have some dragons around the visitor center, because it provides a guaranteed photo opportunity. The rangers can’t always promise to find dragons in nature, so the presence of a few animals at the visitor center ensures nobody leaves disappointed. The trek itself can be a bit grueling in the heat and humidity. Starting off in a jungle, we walked through a thick forest, alternatively dry and muddy. Our visit was in late March, the end of the annual rainy season, so the island was green and a little wet in places. Walking through a jungle valley, we saw some of the island’s wild water buffalo, which were introduced to the island by man, but roam free. The beasts provide an excellent source of food for the dragons and sustain the population. The dragons basically relax on a stone under a tree in the shade. When hungary, they find a buffalo, take a bite, then wait for the buffalo to die from blood poisoning. Once the buffalo is dead, the dragon feasts and the smell of blood attracts other dragons as well. Dragons also eat deer, which are plentiful in the park, wild pigs, monkeys, fish, and the occasional human. The rangers like to tell lurid tales of dragon attacks, but the reality is that dragons don’t like to bother humans unless they are attracted by some food smell or bothered. We were told there have been about 10 recorded incidents of dragon attacks on humans – one in the mid 1970’s when a Swiss tourist went on an independent photo safari and never came back, one about 2 years ago when a boy in Komodo village was tragically attacked in a forest and killed, and a ranger was attacked in the visitor center at Rinca while sleeping, but lived to forever tell the tale. The ranger’s blood stains can still be seen in the reception center window frame, which the rangers enthusiastically show visitors at the end of the trek. Just a couple of days after our visit we read that a fisherman who ventured into the jungle looking for fruit was attacked by a dragon and tragically died from blood loss.