Once upon a time we used to flick through the Sunday Papers, looking at the travel supplements and nonchalently add things to our bucket list. “Oh yeah, sure we’ll just go and see Komodo Dragons, add it to the list love”. If only it was that easy in real life. Truth is it’s taken us nearly 20 years of visiting Southeast Asia to finally book a trip to Komodo National Park which turns out to be a little less easy to get to than most destinations in the region.

Once you’ve worked out the flights (Note 1: NEVER fly with Wings Air), you’ve then got the task of trying to decide which tour operator to go see all this amazingness with (Note 2: there are about 4 million tour providers to choose from). Luckily, after our extensive research there really was only one option for us, and by this we mean that we found an operator that truly cares about quality, safety and conservation in one of the world’s most beautiful places.

Let us introduce you to Wunderpus, these guys are number 1 on Tripadvisor for a reason.

Wunderpus is one of the more expensive of the liveaboards that offer trips out of Labuan Bajo into Komodo National Park, but it offers a homely and understated luxury that comes from the passion of the owners. You get your own cabin (cosy) with ensuite bathroom (essential at our stage of life), there are places to chill on giant bean bags, communal areas for (vegan) meals and trip briefings, plus everything had a place and a system to be organised (very important when you have a boat full of dive gear, soggy wetsuits, towels and the like).

You’ll see things that will melt your heart and blow your mind, and that’s probably just on day 1.

Wunderpus Liveaboard in Komodo
Wunderpus Liveaboard Upper Deck

Wunderpus is the name of the liveaboard (or boat to the rest of us) we got to call home for 4 days and the name of the company behind it (they also have a budget liveaboard named Mimic). Our trip was run by Ed, part owner and founder of  Wunderpus and his partner Naomi. Ed  has a long history with Komodo National Park and his respect for the ocean and the creatures that live within is clear. Ed and Wunderpus have been at the forefront of raising environmental concerns in the park and of supporting local initiatives to protect the environment and the wildlife, so naturally we really liked Ed from the start.

But don’t get the impression that Wunderpus is some kind of tree-hugging hippy set up; it’s not. This is one serious dive operator where safety, respect for the environment and customer experience all compete for first place. Never before have we observed such rigorous safety measures; a briefing for divers and snorkelers about the sites we’d be visiting, information about currents, things we’d see, nuggets of key information built up from years of experience and a dive master to guide us even though we weren’t diving. Not to mention back up from a speedboat who’d act as a second spotter as well as collecting our group within minutes of finishing our snorkel or dive.

Wunderpus Liveaboard Komodo Scenery 2
Wunderpus Liveaboard in Komodo Park

The agenda for the trips is fairly fluid, which might fill the planners amongst you with a slight anxiety. However, this really is necessary to get the most out of the area as there are multiple changeable factors to consider like weather, visibility, crowds, wildlife as well as the mood you’re in as your trip progresses; best trust the experts and let Ed and the team guide you about.

Having a flexible agenda was one of the things we really loved; want to go for a hike through wilderness and see no other tourists? Fancy tickng off some of the famous ‘must do’ activities? Really want to swim with manta rays? It seemed like we’d just have a bit of a chat over lunch and dinner and Ed would work out a way to make things happen. Pretty quickly though, we learned to just let him choose things for us to do because his suggestions were better than all of our ideas put together.

We swam with turtles, sharks, manta rays, sting rays and endless different rainbow coloured fish swimming amongst the most vibrant and healthy corals we’ve ever seen. The scale of it all was seriously impressive, the diversity is mind boggling.

We hiked through landscapes that were totally different to other parts of the region and up huge hills to take in vast, expansive views of this totally unique area.

Yes we saw the famous Komodo dragons too.

Wunderpus Liveaboard Komodo Scenery 1
Wunderpus Liveaboard Komodo Dragon
Turtle in Komodo National Park
Manta Ray in Komodo National Park

But we also took a moment to consider the threats to this nearly perfect slice of paradise which is sadly under threat from the illegal fishing industry, from the illegal wildlife trade (shark finning and hunting of manta rays) and the very legal but equally damaging tourism trade. We went ashore and picked up plastic; it was a fairly pointless task in terms of actually cleaning the beach (it barely looked like we’d touched a thing despite the effort from all involved) but we are convinced that this is essential to really bring home the message to people that we must stop our plastic addiction. We must stop polluting the environment for our own convenience and greed. Wunderpus give you a refillable water bottle when you get on board; take it with you and start with this one thing, then continue with more life changes for all of our sakes.

Wunderpus Liveaboard Beach Clean
Wunderpus - Reusable bottles

The Vegan Food

Even though we had been reassured that being vegan would be no problem, we were still preparing to eat really simple meals of vegetables and rice during our trip, after all we were going to be on a boat and so we set expectations fairly low. Oh how wrong we were.

Meals aboard Wunderpus are served ‘family style’ which means everyone eats together sat at the big wooden table on the outside deck, passing giant dishes of food between you. It’s a lovely way to eat. What was even better is that most of the food was vegan meaning that we all pretty much ate the same with the exception of some meat or fish dishes for those who wanted them.

For breakfast we’d fill up on granola with soy milk, fresh fruit and toast.

Lunch consisted of huge platters of deliciousness; breaded slices of tempe with served with a pot of vegetable curry and rice, nasi goreng (fried rice) with crispy, sweet, spicy and peanutty tempe matchsticks.

Then there would be a ‘snack’ mid afternoon, either a huge mountain of fried banana slices, or battered yam or vegetable fritters.

Dinner always started with a homely, warming soup, before we were treated to more amazing creations like battered tempe and homemade chips or tofu balls with fried potato scallops. One night there was a spaghetti mountain soaked in a fresh tomato sauce which we all slurped away at. There was always a big mixed salad to share too. Then we’d get a giant wedge of vegan cake (lemon drizzle or vanilla chocolate chip).

To put it bluntly we were stuffed and we were very happy indeed.

Wunderpus - Vegan food 2
Wunderpus - Vegan food 1
Wunderpus - Vegan food 4
Wunderpus - Vegan food 3

The Vegan Essentials

No feather duvets and pillows to be found in your cosy cabin meaning a sleep fit for vegans, they do supply shower gel and shampoo but it wasn’t vegan so take your own; definitely conserve the precious fresh water on board and take quick showers whilst you’re here.

Enjoy filtered water in your branded Wunderpus bottle and don’t dare to bring a plastic water bottle on board or Naomi will hunt you down and punish you…

The Vegan Food Quest Verdict

The verdict on this one is simple. From our experience there is only one choice to see Komodo National Park in a way that really respects the planet, both in their practices, their ethos and their catering for vegan guests, and that is Wunderpus. Enjoy understated luxury, exceptional safety standards and having access to one of the most beautiful places in the world where wildlife is king and you’ll experience things beyond your wildest dreams.

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Labuan Bajo

Telephone: +62 821 4480 2882
Email: info@wunderpusliveaboard.com
Cost From:
£190 / $250 per person per day