Nine Places To Visit If You Want To See A Real Jurassic World

When I first registered the existence of Komodo dragons, I was 8 years old, reading on my bed. It was a simple moment, but it made an impact. Here was a real monster. It was huge, quick, and its bite was deadly. I was just beginning to understand the concept of a mile, so the idea that a Komodo smells blood from 2.5 miles away felt otherworldly.

Backpacking in 2005, I made it my mission to see one of these dragons in the wild. It wasn’t easy; I had to hop a string of buses, taxis, and ferries before hitching a ride on a charter boat to the island of Rinca, Indonesia. Once there, I had two choices: Take an hour-long tour or stay until the next boat arrived five days later. I stayed.

In the days that followed, those dragons took hold of me. Watching their gummy tongues flick in and out of their mouths, spotting a dragon in the undergrowth only to see its eyes already locked on me, listening to the park rangers tell stories of dragon attacks; it wore me down. I mean, it was fun, it was an adventure, and it was what I had come for. But I found the dragons legitimately scary, too.

Their bite is not only decimating, it’s also mystifying. For years, researchers thought death came from the 54 different types of bacteria in the average dragon’s mouth. Then they discovered that the real danger was actually venom glands tucked halfway down the Komodo’s throat. Watching them feed is an experience that exists at the intersection of thrilling and terrifying. They roll and flop over one another, fighting for a mouthful of flesh and enough leverage to tear it away from the bone.

Spending five days with Komodos was wild in the truest sense. It was my own personal Jurassic World. On my last day on Rinca, I walked to the end of a long dock and lay down to dangle my feet in the water. It was stupid — I was tired and I got caught slipping. A few minutes later, something felt off; that little spine tingle that tries to keep us all alive. I hopped up and saw a dragon sauntering towards me. It was eight feet long and probably a few hundred pounds. Its yellow tongue darted in and out of its mouth. I thought to dive in the water, but dragons can swim. I thought to stand my ground, armed with the forked stick I’d been handed upon arrival, but didn’t want to stake my life on stick-fighting. There was a skiff tied to the dock and I jumped inside, untying the rope. The dragon watched me drift out of reach, then slowly turned back and waddled off the way it came.

Which is all to say: Komodo Dragons are scary. You want that rush that the people in Jurassic World feel just before all hell breaks loose? Rinca might be your perfect vacation spot.

Here are eight more Jurassic feeling places around the world:

Socotra Island

Socotra Island in the Indian Ocean is home to more than 700 endemic species (behind only Galapagos and Hawaii). It’s covered with white sand beaches, craggy limestone, and Dragon’s Blood trees. This umbrella-shaped species gets its name from the red sap that drips down its trunk when the bark is pierced.

Everglades National Park

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Want to get an idea of just how wild Everglades National Park is? This massive African python is an invasive species that has been thriving in the park’s swamps and jungles. Burmese Pythons have also taken sanctuary in the park (eating everything from rare birds to alligators in the process). These two apex predators sharing a habit have led scientists to fear that they will mate and breed a hybrid super snake. So, yeah: When your parks department is worrying about super snakes, that’s pretty wild.

Holbox, Mexico

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Swimming with giants.

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Assuming you can’t dive with a frilled shark (they stick to continental shelves, though one did surface in Japan in 2007 apparently for the express purpose of haunting our dreams), diving with a whale shark is the next best thing. Scuba Diving magazine nominates Holbox, Mexico as the best place to swim beside these marine giants, though divers also rave about whale shark encounters at Australia’s Ningaloo Reef and Isla del Coco in Costa Rica.

Olympic National Forest

There’s something about a rainforest that seems inherently jurassic and the Olympic National Forest on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State captures the feeling perfectly. Fallen trees immediately become hosts to hundreds of new plants and even on dry days the moisture seems to seep into your bones.

Cal Orcko

In Bolivia, at Cal Orcko(near the city of Sucre), you can witness the “largest, most diverse collection of dinosaur tracks on the planet” seeming to lead straight up a towering rock wall. The site, inside of a massive quarry, reveals where a wide range of dinosaurs once roamed (though they didn’t climb; the angle of the wall is from shifting tectonic plates).

Galápagos Islands

If the Komodo Dragon is the scariest lizard, the Marine Iguana is the strangest. There’s nothing like seeing one of these prehistoric-looking beasts dive into the ocean and swim off to forage. Like so many bizarre species, Marine Iguanas are endemic to the Galápagos Islands, where massive tortoises roam and blue footed boobies wing across the skyline.

Brazilian Amazon

The Brazilian Amazon is one of the most biodiverse places on earth. It contains 10 percent of all living species on the planet and if there were real dinosaurs around, they would clearly all make a plan to congregate there. Visit these days and you won’t see a tyrannosaurus, but you very well might spot a pink dolphin.

Kauai’s Nā Pali

Kauai’s Nā Pali coast looks like Jurassic Park because it was Jurassic Park in the first movie. The dramatic waterfalls, towering rock spires, and dense jungles set the scene… all Spielberg had to do was add dinosaurs. If you go, be warned: You’re stepping into one of the wettest places on earth. Also, one of the most stunning.

*Banner illustration courtesy of Kevin Tong.*