Sunrise at Padar
To say that Padar in Komodo – Indonesia – has one of the greatest sunrises you’ll ever see in your entire life may seem audacious, but it’s a heck of a lot to take in, in just 40 minutes, and provides a lifetime of memories.
I’d been to the island once before during the day. It was nice. But nothing could compare to the excitement that I was feeling when at 4:30am, our guide started signalling to someone on shore with a flashlight. As our tiny boat drifted towards shore in the pitch dark ocean, we received our response.
From the other side, a faint flash of light caught our attention. It was a yes, we were coming onto the island before everyone else. And we were going to see the sunrise.
The group of people that I was with were mostly Indonesian and the guides knew their way around, so we made it onto the island before everyone else and were the first to make it to the top before the show began.
When the sun rose and the panoramic view of Padar with it’s 3 coloured beaches started to unveil, I realised just how lucky I was to be able to see something of such epic proportion happen all around me.
I’ve seen some pretty insane views from the top of hikes all over the world, but the view from the top of Padar Island is out of this world, and I’m sure is to stay on the top of my list for many years. This sunrise was definitely the highlight of my trip to Indonesia, even though those first hours felt pretty illegal.
Pulau Padar (the island’s Indonesian name) has an epic rugged terrain with some pretty steep hills covered in grass and occasional trees. This island was once also home for the giant Komodo Dragon due to its location between the two main islands of Komodo and Rinca, where the lizards still roam freely. And even though dragons are considered to be extinct on the island, there are still rumours of these epic creatures making the swim all the way to the island, which is one of the reasons why it’s not permitted for people to spend the night on the island, being allowed to hop on only at first light.
Pulau Padar in the dry season, just after sunrise
As the first rays of sunlight hit the top of the hills, the dry season’s yellow grass picks on a dark orange hue.
How to get to Padar Island
Getting to Pulau Padar can be tricky, and it all depends on what time of day you wish to experience the island, but I’d say that the very first thing that you should consider is where to stay the night(s) before. I’m saying this because Padar isn’t an island that you can stay on overnight, and you will need to plan accordingly in order to visit.
So, if you’re planning on visiting the Island of Padar, I recommend you start from Labuan Bajo, which is a town located on the Island of Flores in the East Nusa Tenggara province of Indonesia. It’s the southmost province of the country, and the town is considered to be the the gateway to the Komodo National Park.
At Labuan Bajo, you’ll find the port that serves most of the region, and you’ll also find plenty of places where you can spend the night.
I always recommend staying a night here and only parting on your adventure on the next day because all of Flores and Komodo can be very unpredictable, so buy yourself time to be able to pivot as you go along.
The same goes for your departure. I don’t recommend you book a flight for the same day that you’re arriving from sea, because I have to repeat “all of Flores and Komodo can be very unpredictable, so buy yourself time to be able to pivot as you go along.”
To make it to Padar Island from the port of Labuan Bajo, you can hop onto a day tour, or book yourself onto a liveaboard tour that sails through Komodo in style.
Join a Day tour to Padar Island
There are tour operators that can take you to Padar Island on a fast boat. They’ll normally include between 4 and 6 different destinations, depending on the duration of the tour.
Alba tours for example, will take you on a 4-6 hour tour between islands (which in my experience is a hell of a rush), and Alexandria Tours will take you all over Komodo with some pretty cool pit stops on some of the coolest islands in the archipelago.
I did the Alexandria tour by Warren Yeo to get a first glimpse of the field and the technical challenges I’d be facing production wise, in order to get the best shots, and had a blast! I definitely recommend this option if you’re looking for a 1 day tour. However, be prepared to not see everything you want to see. You’ll probably miss the Manta Rays and the turtles on such a fast snorkel trip. I for instance only saw them after 4 days of sailing and searching, but we’ll get to that in another article…
Traditional Pinisi vessel on the Flores sea
One of many liveaboards that sail the Lesser Sunda Islands in the border region between the provinces of East Nusa Tenggara and West Nusa Tenggara in Indonesia
Join a Liveaboard that stops at Padar
I personally believe that this is by far the best option to visit Padar Island, because it’s a once in a lifetime experience. Most liveaboards use traditional indonesian Pinisi 3 sail ships that can carry up to 20 people. They’re super comfortable and are generally very well equipped with small cabins, kitchen, decks, fully functional bathrooms and all the equipment that you’ll need for your trip.
They’re incredibly safe, and staying on one of these means that you won’t have to spend your time transiting between islands and the port of Labuan Bajo. You’ll be starting each day at a new location like Padar or Gili Lawadarat.
The liveaboards will include all snorkeling equipment (scuba upon request), park fees, travel plans, and will also provide you with some of the most delicious meals that you’ve experienced in Indonesia. Though prices can sometimes be high for these trips, I highly recommend you go somewhere in between at about 90 USD per night. Higher than that means that you’ll be losing money because you’ll be spending most of your time outside of your cabin, and lower will mean that you’ll be compromising on safety and comfort.
From my personal experience, I can honestly say that my liveaboard experience was one of the best travel experiences I’ve had in my entire life. And I highly recommend it if you’d like to make it to Padar to see a sunset or a sunrise.
To book one of these liveaboard experiences, you can head on over to liveaboard.com, or look for one on Tripadvisor. The Komodo liveaboard that I did was the 4D3N Vidi Liveaboard which was chartered by the group.
When looking for the right one, I can only recommend going for those that have good reputation.
What to expect once you’re at Padar
I highly recommend you find a way to set foot on the island at least 1 hour before sunrise, to be able to make it to the top before the greatest show on earth begins.
The small boat that you are traveling on will need to have a trusted guide who knows the rangers on the island, so that they can let you on before dawn, and negotiate your entry fee. Maximum discretion will be needed whilst doing this, so that you don’t raise any flags and create any disturbance to the crowd anchored near the port. If you actually manage to pull this off, you’ll realize that you’re jumping a queue of boats that are lined up with passengers all waiting to get on the island in order of arrival. So maximum discretion will be necessary, and don’t turn on your flashlight until you’re already on the island and on your way up to the top.
Hiking up Padar
Though there are many lookout points on the way up, the top of the summit will provide you with the best view.
The trek itself should be done up a stone path with hundreds of stairs. It can be a challenging hike for some, but if you’re in good physical shape, it should take you about 30 minutes, and then another 15 minutes on a gravel path to the very top of Padar.
Photography at Padar
Pulau Padar is a photographer’s paradise, so I really recommend you do that extra hike all the way to the top, in order to get the shot that nobody else in the group has. From up there, you can shoot panoramas, time-lapses, wide angle shots, and basically any technique that you can imagine with such a dynamic landscape.
At the very top, you will be able to see the iconic panoramic view of the island with it’s 3 coloured shores (image above).
Good Reasons to visit Padar
Though sunrise may be an adventure because of the Komodo National Park’s opening hours, sunset should also be a heck of a sight, and one that I plan on seeing soon.
From the two visits that I did to the island, the second one was the best for quite a few reasons (apart from the spectacular sunrise):
- Visiting at dawn means that there were far less tourists;
- Due to it’s topography and location, it’s very dry and very hot, so dawn makes it far more tolerable;
- You’ll feel far more energised and ready for adventure if it’s the first thing you do in the day;
- You’ll capture breathtaking photos;
- It’s a once in a lifetime experience.
Padar Island is located within the Komodo National Park, so you will either have to pay the daily entry fee to the park here, or show proof that you’ve paid the fee on another island. Your guide will generally provide this information to the park rangers, but it’s always good to know what you’re facing.
Padar Island has a rugged volcanic terrain, and it can sometimes be a challenge to hike up to the top (especially if you’re already tired, or aren’t in good physical condition). There are hundreds of steps up to the top, so be patient and be persistent with yourself.
I also highly advise you to take water and a snack which is high in calories, as the hike may wear you out. You can expect to spend at least 2,5 hours on Padar.
Flying a drone over Padar is forbidden by law unless you pay an extra fee of 1 million IDR (about $70 USD) with your entry fee, which will also grant you permission to fly in the entire park (except Komodo and Rinca) for that day.
– Half a day is recommended
– Take Water
– Take Snack
– Take Cameras
– 50+FPS Sunscreen
– Park fee 150K IDR (weekdays)
– Park fee 300K IDR (weekends)
– Drone fee 1M IDR