Raja Ampat is undeniably one of the best locations in the world for scuba diving. It holds a number of world records for marine bio-diversity including the highest ever recorded number of fish species seen in one dive: a whopping 284 different fish species were spotted at Kofiau Island. Amazingly, the waters surrounding Raja Ampat host an incredible 1508 fish species, 537 different species of coral and almost 700 species of mollusc, including 7 different variants of giant clam. The area is also host to 6 of the 7 known sea turtle species, some of which are endangered and rare.
Raja Ampat is also known as the Four Kings, and it’s easy to see why as this archipelago really does have royal status amongst divers. Raja Ampat comprises a large number of smaller isles, shoals and cays that border the main New Guinean islands of Batanta, Waigeo, Salawati and Misool. The area is very remote and predominantly visited by liveaboards, although there are a very small number of dive resorts nearby.
Aside from lush gardens of coral and magnificent reef, Raja Ampat offers spectacular macro life just waiting to be spotted and captured on camera by underwater photographers with a keen eye. Look out for miniscule pygmy seahorses, frogfish no larger than a green pea and the deadly but intriguing blue ringed octopus. Remember to keep a safe distance from these small and quick-moving creatures as they can kill an adult within minutes from a single venomous bite.
At Raja Ampat, even the most uncommon of creatures is commonplace such as the tiny mushroom coral pipefish. Divers are encouraged to check their dive log books before diving at Raja Ampat as you’ll need a number of blank pages just to record everything you’re likely to see in this fantastic location.
Moving up in size slightly from the critters to juvenile fish species, Raja Ampat features all of the regular fish such as angelfish, parrotfish, sweetlips and butterfly fish. There are also large cuttlefish, bump head parrotfish and a number of sharks to be seen such as the epaulette carpet shark and the odd-looking wobbegong shark.
Best Diving Destinations in Raja Ampat
Made up of over 1500 smaller isles, it’s no surprise that Raja Ampat offers a number of excellent diving spots to explore and each one is different in terms of structure, size and underwater landscape. Where the dive sites do not differ, however, is in the level of high quality diving they offer for both liveaboard and resort-dwellers alike.
Dive Sites in the North of Raja Ampat
Dive sites around Kri Island and Sorido Bay
This area, most famous for the dive site known as Cape Kri, is known for its magnitude of brightly coloured reefs and corals, subtle and soothing sea fans with hidden pygmy seahorses and of course an abundance of marine life in every shape, size and colour. In fact, it was here that Gerry Allen broke the record for the highest number of fish species recorded in a single dive, so it’s unlikely that you’ll be disappointed diving at Cape Kri. The site offers some larger-than-life experiences with a number of shark species, including the wobbegong carpet shark, as well as dogtooth tuna, Queensland groupers and Napoleon wrasse.
Sardine Reef is appropriately named not due to its hosting of sardines, but rather because of the sheer quantity of diverse marine life and all the scuba divers packed into one site to observe Raja Ampat at its best. Most likely the reason that reefs are now described as ‘teeming with life’, Sardine Reef presents masses of snappers, batfish, groupers and bump head parrot fish. The current here makes for a great feeding location for schooling bannerfish whilst blacktip, whitetip and grey reef sharks are never far away. Fusiliers gather in large swarms and can often be seen getting chased by Spanish mackerels, bluefin jacks and massive trevallies. Even manta rays can be spotted in a neighbouring site, so underwater photographers be warned: you may need more than one visit to Sardine Reef to capture and experience everything to its full potential.
Blue Magic and Manta Sandy
The north of Sorong boasts two phenomena in the form of manta ray cleaning stations, definitely a must-see for any diving enthusiast. Giant manta rays will stop by Blue Magic or Manta Sandy to visit the reef-dwelling cleaner fish that are only too happy to feed off the bacteria, parasites and mucus that accumulates on the surface of the manta ray’s body. Manta Rays at these stations can be up to 5 metres wide and tend to cruise by unperturbed by the many divers and snorkelers coming to watch their cleaning sessions. Manta Sandy is specifically known for welcoming female manta rays, many of which will be pregnant whilst visiting this sandy station. Lucky divers will be those who spot the pregnant female mantas and the elusive black manta ray.
Dive sites around Waigeo Island
Waigeo Island is very popular with liveaboard trips, especially to dive the famous Bird Wall.
Considered by many to be one of the top dive sites in this area, Bird Wall will offer divers the chance to see both large and small marine creatures including sea dragons, nudibranchs, green turtles, Napolean wrasse and the spotted mappa pufferfish. There are also Indian lionfish, pipefish and cuttlefish to be seen.
Dive Sites in Central Raja Ampat
Dive Sites around Batanta Island
Jef Fam Group
On the western side of Batanta Island lies a group of roughly 12 limestone islands known as the Jef Fam Group. Visited by both northern and southern liveaboard routes, these sites offer a contrast to the soft corals of other areas with a number of mushroom, sheet and cabbage corals where you might also see a few sea snakes on the hunt. Angelfish, titan triggerfish and the tasselled wobbegong carpet shark can also be seen.
Manta Ridge will certainly not disappoint if sightings of manta rays are what you’re after. There have even been reported sightings of the rare black manta ray visiting this manta ray cleaning station. Sea turtles and bumphead parrotfish are also in the area.
Dive Sites in the South of Raja Ampat
Dive Sites around Misool Island
Dive sites in this region offer a medley of colours made up of soft corals and vibrant sloping reef. The island itself features shallow mangroves where the National Geographic-worthy scene of archerfish capturing their insect prey can be seen in real life. Dive sites around Misool Island are also a macro diver’s paradise with plenty of tunnels, cracks and crevices to explore. Many divers choose to dive these locations at night, where you can challenge yourself to spot the elusive ghost pipefish.
The Passage, or Kabui Passage as it is also known, is a 30-meter wide channel in southern Raja Ampat. The mangrove swamps in this area are in very shallow waters together with soft corals and sea fans of every colour imaginable. You’ll get the chance to see pygmy seahorses in amongst bright orange, yellow, rich purple and bright green sea fans.
Large schools of a variety of fish are what many divers come to Fabiacet to see. You’ll be amazed by snappers, surgeonfish, triggerfish and masses of bannerfish and might even be lucky to spot a hammerhead shark in the distance.
Although it is a remote area and visited by only a handful of liveaboards, the dive sites surrounding Triton Bay offer nutrient-rich waters, colourful soft corals and the usual amazing levels of marine diversity you would have come to expect from Raja Ampat by now.
Getting to Raja Ampat
Visitng Raja Ampat is hassle-free when choosing the liveaboard option. As the archipelago is smack-back in the centre of the Coral Triangle, it is fairly remote and is easiest to get to by liveaboard.
When to Visit Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat has an interesting and unique climate due to its close proximity to the equator as well as the fact that it is protected by various mountainous island masses. In general, the area experiences a tropical climate characterised by rain showers and high humidity. For the maximum number of diving and liveaboard options, many visitors will choose to visit Raja Ampat at the start of October through April. These months are also the best for diving in terms of increased visibility thanks to reduced rainfall with consistent water temperatures around 26-30°C. However, it is important to bear in mind that increased plankton presence has an impact on visibility, meaning that visibility can range from 9-20 metres during these months. The high concentrations of plankton will bring along with them guaranteed sightings of large pelagic fish.
From the start of July to the middle of September is the least popular period with divers as the rains of the monsoon season and windy conditions have an impact on the calmness of the sea. In fact, some dive resorts even close down during this monsoon period. Luckily for divers, West Papua is magnificent all throughout the year and offers somewhat protected areas that manage to escape the force of the rough seas. Whale sharks can often be spotted in this area.
Where to Stay in Raja Ampat
Liveaboards are the best option for divers looking to explore the immense number of dive sites in Raja Ampat. Liveaboards travel on different routes so be sure to check that your dream dive sites are included on the route you choose. Liveaboards are available to suit every budget including luxurious options that will provide high levels of comfort with lounges and large diving decks.
Ambai (Wallacea Cruise)
The MV Ambai specialises in Raja Ampat and Komodo routes and offers divers ultimate luxury with modern conveniences such as a camera dedicated room and a lounge equipped with a big screen TV. This liveaboard is ideal for underwater photography enthusiasts.
This unique wooden vessel is a boutique diving liveaboard considered by many to be one of the best, rivalling many top-notch land-based hotels. Features include a luxury restaurant and sky lounge.
Boasting a wide variety of routes, the Dive Damai liveaboard offers modern home comforts and excellent dive facilities.
Elegance and excellence are at the forefront of the Dewi Nusantara’s vision. Experienced crew, high quality facilities and elegant surroundings make the Dewi Nusantara one of the best in the area.
M S/V WAOW
The Water Adventure Ocean Wide liveaboard, or WAOW as it is commonly known, is a long-standing industry leader in high quality liveaboard options. This exceptional vessel offers everything an avid scuba diver needs on a scuba diving holiday.
S/Y Indo Siren
Well reviewed and long-established, this fleet of liveaboards cater to every need a diver onboard could have, from helpful, experienced crew to well-balanced, luxurious meals and great diving facilitites, the Indo Siren is definitely a top consideration when considering diving via liveaboard in Indonesia.
MV Mermaid I
This premier liveaboard offers spacious, air-conditioned cabins, a great variety of routes and exceptional customer service both on-board and in the water.
MV Mermaid II
Considered by many to be one of the most diver-friendly options, this updated version of the highly successful Mermaid I is large enough to provide plenty of personal space for each guest. Modern amenities and handy extras such as camera charging outlets are also available on this 104 ft vessel.
Raja Ampat Aggressor
Known for its wide choice of itineraries and convenient pick up locations, the Raja Ampat Aggressor is a large steel vessel solidly built for safety and comfort.
Traditionally built from Indonesian ironwood and specifically constructed with divers in mind, the Seven Seas offers a number of different route options whilst providing complete comfort and excellent service to its well-cared for passengers.
Si Datu Bua
On par with its luxurious sister boat the Silolona, Si Datu Bua allows divers to travel in style on their way to some of the best diving destinations in the world. The 120 foot vessel reveals impeccable attention to detail and is ideal for family charters or for a group of friends looking to have the experience of a lifetime.
A traditional yacht constructed of wood and made with divers in mind, the Tiger Blue is a liveaboard dream with plenty of space for relaxation and reminiscing about the wonderful dives you are sure to experience. The Tiger Blue boasts great speeds which is a consideration for those wanting to cover large areas around Raja Ampat.
This 100 foot luxury yacht is truly a magnificent choice for those wanting to privately hire a vessel to explore the waters of South East Asia. Equipped with only the best equipment and facilities, the SY Asia is a step above the rest.
The Ondina offers great itineraries all throughout the year. This classically built schooner is the ideal way to travel by liveaboard.
The Silolona is the way to go for stylish travelling on-board a deluxe yet comfortable liveaboard. With only the best and most helpful staff on board, it doesn’t get any better than the Silolona for luxurious diving adventures.
For those only wanting to explore a few dive sites from a stationary base, there are a handful of exclusive dive resorts, many of which are eco-friendly and have received many positive reviews.
Regardless of which accommodation option you choose, all divers will require a marine park permit to dive in Raja Ampat. Divers can easily purchase these through your dive resort or on board your liveaboard.
Feeling inspired and raring to go? Check out our Raja Ampat travel guide and start planning your next diving trip!