Having dived in a few amazing places before, including world-famous Pulau Sipadan in Malaysia, I was beginning to worry that it would be hard to impress me anymore. But the Komodo Islands proved to me that there are plenty of wonders left to see under the waves. It’s a place of staggering beauty, and the dive sites around the the islands are some of the best I’ve been.

As a budget traveller, I was a bit pertubed when I saw the prices of liveaboard packages, and wondered if diving the Komodo Islands was a little out of my range. Fortunately, many of the famed dive sites around the Komodo Islands can be easily reached by less expensive day trips from the small port town of Labuan Bajo on Flores. If you cherry pick your dives and use Labuan Bajo as your base, you can see plenty of amazing stuff.

Another option I considered is the Komodo floating hostel run by the Wicked Diving dive shop. This is a boat that’s permanently anchored inside the national park and where you can stay a night or two (or longer). This costs more than just going on day trips, but it cuts out 2 to 3 hours of sailing in the morning, and it’s a sort of liveaboard-on-a-budget experience.

WATCH: Highlights from diving Batu Balong and Sabayar Kecil.

One thing to keep in mind is that diving the Komodo Islands is not for absolute beginners. This is due to the strong currents in the area which require a decent level of comfort with scuba diving to navigate properly. As a new diver or a novice you can still dive here, though you are likely to be taken to more sheltered dive sites that aren’t as exciting.

The currents depend largely on the moon cycle; when I was there the current was quite moderate, though the local dive masters told me that at certain times of the month or year the currents become too strong even for them (in such cases, alternative dive sites are selected).

Out of the different dive sites that I went to, I can especially recommend the following ones:

Batu Balong

One of the most spectacular dive sites in Komodo and for many the main reason to come. This pinnacle can be dived only in zig-zag fashion along one of its sides due to the currents. The site is full of fishes – so many that your head is constantly on a swivel. Gorgeous.

Castle Rock

Another popular site, this one is in the north on the edge of where day trips will go (it takes about 3 hours to get to). Great site for encounters lots of sharks, and big schools of fishes.

Sabayar Kecil

Possibly my favorite, in more of an understated way. This calm and shallow dive goes along a reef and ends up in a sandy area. Apparently, a great place to see cuttlefish (I saw 5 on a single dive).

Mauen and Manta Point

Famous dive sites for reliable sightings of manta rays year-round. I, however, was not quite so lucky.

While I had heard many divers talk of seeing 15 or more mantas on a single dive, I sadly saw not a single one. This was disappointing though somehow not entirely surprising, as I’ve had bad luck in finding mantas ever since I started diving. One time in the Philippines I even went into extreme currents and had to use hooks to attach to the reef and prevent myself from drifting away — alas, no mantas. These creatures are fast becoming my Captain Ahab obsession. If I had been able to stay longer in Labuan Bajo, I surely would have tried a few more times.

If you love to dive then you owe it to yourself to come to the Komodo Islands. During my dives at Komodo, I saw multiples of sea turtles, mantis shrimp, reef sharks, giant trevallies, barracuda, cuttlefish, stingrays, and more. Labuan Bajo is only a short flight from Denpasar on Bali, and can also be reached via a multi-day boat trip from Lombok, during which you can visit the above-surface sights of the park.