- Elevation: 824 m (2,703 ft)
- Prominence: 824 m
- Ribu category: Spesial
- Province: Nusa Tenggara Timur
- Google Earth: kml
- Other names: none
Gunung Ara is the highest point on Komodo Island, which like neighbouring Rinca Island lies between the larger islands of Sumbawa and Flores and is famously home to the Komodo dragon. Komodo Island has the largest population of the huge lizards with an estimated figure of over 1,700 of them.
Gunung Ara is also the highest peak in the whole of Komodo National Park. The relevant Bakosurtanal map lists the highest peak on the island as ‘Golo Ara’ at 808m high. Some online sources state that Gunung Satalibo, at 735m Komodo’s second-highest peak, is more commonly hiked but it lies a good 6 kilometres to the north-east of Gunung Ara and there are no descriptions or reports of anyone having been there in recent years.
Some sources state it takes just over 2 hours to reach the top of Gunung Ara from the Ranger station at the sheltered bay of Loh Liang but on a 2020 trip we could find no rangers who claimed to have ever been there and plenty of reasons why even attempting a hike to the true summit would be inadvisable in the extreme.
Juvenile Komodo dragons live in trees for the first few years to avoid being eaten by cannablistic adults, and the saliva of the juveniles is just as dangerous as that of the adults. Given that the higher parts of Komodo Island still have forest on them, unlike the hot, dry lower parts, it seems likely that bagging Gunung Ara would involve numerous encounters with hostile dragons!
Despite this, there is allegedly some evidence to suggest that the original people of Komodo island lived high up on Gunung Ara. Now, however, the population is on the coastal fringes, with National Park staff at Loh Liang on the east coast, and a substantial village a few kilometres south.
A small number of tourists and locals have been injured or killed by Komodo dragons on Komodo Island, including in 1974 when Swiss conservationist Baron Rudolf Reding von Bibiregg vanished above Loh Liang after sustaining a knee injury, some of his possessions later being found. There is a white cross commemorating him. But such a fate is rare, especially if you stay together with your group and guide.
Most visitors go on a short wildlife trek from Loh Liang. Unsurprisingly, an official guide is mandatory, and larger groups will be accompanied by 3 or 4 guides who bring forked sticks with them to restrain any Komodo dragons in the event of aggressive behaviour. There are short, medium and long treks available, all requiring an hour or two and usually including a visit to a water hole where the animals of the island such as wild pigs, deer and of course the Komodo dragons often congregate.
Despite media reports, Komodo Island remains open to tourists in 2020 and it is Rinca that is now closed until the end of June 2021. Local and national government plans seem to suggest that anyone wanting to visit Komodo island from 2021 onwards will have to purchase an annual pass with a price so high it will prevent most ordinary people from the opportunity of visiting. Whether or not this turns into reality remains to be seen.
The best viewpoint in Komodo National Park that can be accessed easily is on Pulau Padar (Padar Island) which lies between Komodo and Rinca. From the pier on the south-east coast, an easy stone path leads up to the south offering tremendous views to the bays below, rocky peaks in the north of Padar Island and Komodo’s Gunung Ara in the distance beyond.
There is a small population of Komodo dragons on Padar Island, 7 according to an official report but closer to 20 according to guides in 2020. These are rarely encountered near the viewpoint but be aware that it is not impossible to see them near Pink Beach.
Pink Beach, on Padar’s west coast, is another popular stopping point on tours, with a beach made pink by red coral, and offering great views across to Gunung Ara on Pulau Komodo.
In 2020 whilst Pulau Rinca is closed, decent one-day trips from Labuan Bajo usually involve an itinerary including some or all of: Pulau Padar viewpoint (done first to avoid the midday heat), Pink Beach, Komodo Island, the tiny sand island of Taka Makassar north of Pulau Padar, Manta Point for spotting manta rays, and then Kanawa Island on the way back to Labuan Bajo.
For a high quality PDF version of this and other trail maps, please download from our Trail Maps page.
- Getting there: There are plenty of tour operators in Labuan Bajo where there is also an airport with several daily flights to Denpasar plus one or two to Jakarta and Surabaya. It can be expensive to join a trip to the National Park unless you go with a group and share costs.
- Permits: Komodo National Park permits for foreigners cost Rp380,000 per day in 2020 and Indonesians pay around Rp200,000. There is talk of this increasing significantly in 2021. Trekking fee is Rp65,000 per person plus Rp80,000 for one guide per 4 hikers, but this too is likely to rise substantially.
- Water sources: Like Rinca Island, Komodo Island is very dry so assume no water sources available aside from bottles bought from the stalls near the pier.
Local Average Monthly Rainfall (mm):
One thought on “Ara”
Padar Island is quite rightly famous for its spectacular scenic panorama from the viewpoint. Our one day boat trip called off there first, and the views first thing in the morning once you get out of Labuan Bajo itself and out onto the water are incredible. The hike up to the viewpoint takes around 20 minutes, with a couple of intermediate rest points with increasingly panoramic views as you get higher. We met one ranger who said he had been attacked by a Komodo dragon on Rinca some years ago but was ok now.
Sadly there are no views over to Doro Ora, the highest point of Rinca from the Padar viewpoint, and my attempt to wander a bit further up was met with a call from a ranger to come back because the views over there are not very good. I couldn’t be bothered to explain that I wanted to get a photo of Doro Ora – this region is already a regimented tourist experience. This is the official path and we follow this only, no straying. You can understand that policy on Rinca and Komodo, but on Padar it seems a little over the top. The view is great, but be aware that it isn’t even the highest part of the southern tip of Padar Island, let alone of the whole island. Nevertheless, some people find it completely exhausting and it is no wondde this is the early morning activity as at noon it would be roasting hot with almost zero shade.
On Pink Beach, or one of the pink beaches as there appear to be several, all caused by the red coral, the view over to Komodo island is great, with Gunung Ara right above the settlement and Park entrance. Once over on Komodo island itself, I was impressed with the rangers’ communication as they showed us a map of trails from Loh Liang. They had decent trekking boots aswell – quite unusual to see in Indonesia.
After just 10 minutes of trekking we were at the water hole, not natural I think I heard, presumably because the island is so incredibly dry. There was a wild pig, a deer, an emerald dove and two Komodo dragons, one hiding in the shade and a large one at the foot of a couple of trees. This was the obvious photo place and the rangers kindly took everyone’s photos crouched behind the massive lizard.
They are wild animals, yes, but it must be the case that some are wilder than others, and more used to interacting with the rangers. There was a bit of debate about whether menstruating women should go on the trek at all, but the guides said it was fine now as long as you didn’t go off alone. Komodo dragons can smell blood over several kilometres – the ranger on Rinca who was attacked by a dragon under his desk around a decade ago reported that after the attack other dragons arrived, having caught a whiff of his freshly spilled blood! Luckily he made a recovery.
It would have been interesting to visit the village 2 or 3 kilometres along the coast too but we didn’t have time for that. Presumably the government wants these people off the island in order to make way for the super-rich who may or may not yacht in from Bali, despite this community having been established way before the National Park.
However, the kids selling souvenirs as you finish your hike are a sad sight. Not only are they presumably missing school, they are also child labourers, and also hassling tourists. It needs to be abolished. Also, I would have been happy to have a kelapa muda at the warungs but paying Rp30,000 for one is nonsense. So I just sipped my Teh Botol that I bought the day before in Alfamart. 15 or 20k is fine… 30k is treating visitors like they are idiots. But it’s a premium destination, or will be next year, for premium….idiots? People happy to pay Rp50,000 for a coconut, maybe even a hundred. Hell, why not 1 juta per kelapa muda, after all money rains down on these people from above!
It is said that when Soeharto visited the island in 1988 (there’s a plaque/ monument near the coast) his entourage brought a diviner in from mainland Flores to call out the dragons. None emerged. Then the local Komodo people started chanting and the dragons indeed came out! That’s one of the stories supporting the idea that Komodo island without its local people would be a huge loss indeed. That they should be regarded as an integral part of the ecosystem too.
On the way back to Labuan Bajo we called off at Manta Point, and there were tens of manta rays gliding past devouring plankton. Absolutely stunning to see. And then the views to Gunung Mbeliling from Kanawa island…. Great. Just the overcharging problem again…. Rp25,000 per person just to sit down on a lounger for ten minutes. We declined. Do visitors have to pay to stand up here aswell? How about for breathing? This is a premium destination now, with premium air, premium coconuts and premium seats to sit down on.
Jokes aside, overall it is a brilliant trip to a brilliant area, but it is debatable whether access should be restricted to the super-wealthy. And it is also debatable whether or not the super-wealthy would want to spend such sums coming to such a place…. Most rich people are rich either because they were born rich or because they don’t go around throwing huge sums of money around on entry tickets to National Parks. Or both.