Where the Wild Things Really Are: The Top Wildlife Tours
This vast archipelago is home to some of the most exotic creatures on earth. Many species are endemic, including the rare and threatened Javanese rhino. (The last 40 or 50 of these animals survive in the confines of Ujung Kulon National Park on the west end of Java.) Indonesia is also the last sanctuary of the orangutan and the Komodo dragon, a fabled link to the age of the dinosaurs.
These giant monitor lizards are found only on Komodo, a small volcanic island 200 miles east of Bali. They can grow 12 feet in length and have been known to attack humans, although birds and small mammals are their preferred fare.
If you're interested in a dragon trip, do the 13-day East Indies Sea Trek with the Adventure Center (1311 63rd Street, Suite 200, Emeryville, CA 94608; 800-227-8747; www.adventurecenter.com).
Participants travel by schooner outfitted with eight two-berth cabins, visiting the islands of Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, and Komodo. You stop for a day on each island to explore villages, trek inland, or snorkel the warm, clear waters. Highlights include observing the dragons in their native habitat on Komodo and touring a sultan's palace in Sumbawa Besar. The price is $1,680 per person, excluding airfare. Food and on-board accommodations are better than backpacker fare, but don't expect haute cuisine or luxury cabins.
The Wild Indonesia tour run by Asia Transpacific Journeys (2995 Center Green Ct., Boulder, CO 80301; 800-642-2742; www.southeastasia.com) is a magical, multifaceted adventure that focuses on Bali, Irian Jaya, Komodo, Borneo, and Java.
This is an active but comfortable trip that introduces you to the colorful cultures of Indonesia, as well as to many of the archipelago's resident creatures—among them orangutans, Komodo dragons, proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques, sliver leaf monkeys, giant hornbills, banteng cattle, and more. Trips run from late spring through summer. Land cost for two weeks is about $3,000; for three weeks, $4,000.
Asia Transpacific is one of the best tour operators for Southeast Asia. It can extend your itinerary to include stops in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, or other destinations.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication