Being both remote, and having one of the lowest population densities makes diving Raja Ampat simply stunning in respect of the unspoilt nature of the marine environment. It breaks records for biodiversity of all types of species from coral to fish and several Marine Protected Areas have been established.
Raja Ampat means Four Kings and refers to the four principal islands of: Batanta, Misool, Salawati and Waigeo. There are plenty of resorts and liveaboards offering diving throughout the area.
Raja Ampat can be dived any time of year, the water temperature being between 28° and 30°C. It can be a little windy between mid-June to September; often October and November are the least windy months.
Located off the northwest tip of Bird’s Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea, in Indonesia’s West Papua province, Raja Ampat, or the Four Kings, is an archipelago comprising over 1,500 small islands, cays, and shoals surrounding the four main islands of Batanta, Salawati, Misool, Waigeo, and the smaller island of Kofiau. Formerly Irian Jaya, it encompasses more than 40,000 km² of land and sea and the equator pretty much runs through the top half of it.
There are a number of shore based resorts, of which the aptly named Raja Ampat Dive Resort is an excellent example. Obviously, the dive sites will be limited by proximity to the resort, but usually each resort would have access to a couple of dozen known sites (- plus a few others). They also usually have a House Reef which makes for a good intro dive, a snorkel and often a night dive (or two).
The alternative is the liveaboard, of which Raja Ampat has no shortage. A quick Google search will give you the idea. These include luxury liveaboards such as the Indonesian Siren and cheaper options such as the Wicked. Of course you get what you pay for, so do your research carefully, as reliability, quality of guides, accommodation and boats can vary considerably!
A short liveaboard (up to a week) departing Sorong is another option, but be aware shorter trips may not leave the northern Raja Ampat area, and therefore you will be likely diving the same sites as those staying on island accommodation in the area.
If you are wanting to explore more of Raja Ampat, and even start or finish your trip in Raja Ampat and cruise further afield to places such as Komodo, then a longer liveaboard adventure might be the answer.
Some factors you might like to consider, when choosing a resort or a liveaboard, are: who is benefiting from the money you are paying? Are locals benefiting within the value-chain: dive guides, cooks, cleaners, folks who service the gear, folks who built the resort/boat, folks who supply the resort/boat with fresh produce daily?
View Dive Centres
The two main areas in Raja Ampat are the south-west corner of Waisai (including the Dampier Strait, which runs south of Waisai) and the area east and south of Misool. It would be unfair to say that any one area is better than the other, certainly both have a wide variety of sites for walls, to shelving reefs, and mantas to nudis. Below we present a selection of the most notable sites from the two areas.
View Dive Sites
Where to Stay
Land based accommodation in the north such as the Raja Ampat Dive Resort is perfect for exploring the many dives sites nearby, and having the comfort of returning to dry land afterward. There are obvious benefits to staying in a dive resort, but if you want an alternative, budget house stays and other hotels are available on the island of Waigeo and neighbouring islands. Raja Ampat homestays might not be what you are expecting – you won’t actually be sharing a family’s home. Homestays here generally welcome you to be a guest of a Papuan family to stay in housing built on their land.
How to Get Around
The main transport in the area is boat, and often with a wet landing – though the chances that you’ll be in anything other than shorts and bare feet will be extremely thin!
Kri Island (Floating Sand)
Kri Island is one of the most popular stops when island hopping in Raja Ampat. Also called ‘Floating Sand’ the island is simply a golden sand bar surrounded by clear shallow waters.
Pasir Timbul, is a sand bank, very near the island. Boats pull up here for meal breaks between snorkels. The shallow blue water and white sand makes it a spectacular photo location.
In front of Kri, there is a tiny island called Kho Island. It’s a beautiful place to stop for a break, offering wonderful views, with a white-sandy beach and crystal clear water. It is another perfect place to stop for a snack and enjoy the sun or the shade.
Visit Arborek village, one of the many roundabout that has embraced Eco-tourism. Afterwards, go for a dive or snorkel at Arborek Jetty.
Piaynemo is said to be one of Raja Ampat’s best views, and it’s not hard to see why. The 340 steps up can be hard work in the hot and humid weather, but the view from top is worth the hike.
Swim with Manta Rays
Variously called Manta Sandy, Manta Point, or Manta Mantra, this site is the best place to go for mantas. They often swim in this area individually (to visit the cleaning station), in small groups or even huge squadrons of 30 or more.
Raja Ampat Entry Fee
Raja Ampat is a Marine Park with a US$100 Entry Fee – though, this pass is valid for 12 months. The money goes towards conserving and preserving the marine park. The Tariff to Support Environmental Services in Raja Ampat is known as the Raja Ampat Marine Park Fee or PIN. Many homestays and resorts will organise this for you, though you should check in advance. If you have to, you can pre-purchase your PIN by contacting the Tourism Information Centre: firstname.lastname@example.org or by stopping at any of the local offices of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. Note: Children under 12 are not required to have a permit.
There are ATMs in Waisai and Sorong, but there are none on the islands. Be sure to have enough cash to survive on. Some homestays and resorts will have EFTPOS facilities but you should check ahead of time.
Internet Access and WiFi
Because of Raja Ampat’s remoteness, when island hopping Internet Access and WiFi can’t really be expected. If you want to get a traveller’s sim, 3G can sometimes be accessed at homestays, the major cities and at a few of the islands that are visited on day tours.
To be culturally sensitive you shouldn’t plan any arrival or departure dates for Sundays as they are a day of rest and church for your hosts. There are no organised activities available on Sundays.
In Waisai you’ll find small supermarkets, pharmacies, local markets, a hospital and the deco-chamber!
Sorong (SOQ), a coastal city in West Papua, is the jump off point for Raja Ampat. There are no international flights to Sorong, though there are a number of domestic connections from:
- Jakarta (which is probably your best option, as it has international connections)
- Denpasar (also has international connections)
Once in Sorong, the next step is to get to the capital Waisai via boat. Firstly, get a taxi from SOQ airport to the ferry harbour. It takes about 10-20 minutes and costs about US$10 (100,000 Rupiah). Your options then are to get the public ferry or private boat; there are two public ferries available: express which takes about two hours, and the other about four. From Waisai, almost all resorts/homestays will meet you at the harbour and provide transport the rest of the way – though you should let them know beforehand.
Ferry tickets can be purchased on the pier, and a limited number of VIP seats are available that have an adjustable-back chair with air-conditioning.