According to National Geographic, Raja Ampat is ‘Emerging island Eden in Indonesia’. It deserves the praise in full measure, because it is a beautiful cluster of islands, with a rich, doubly-beautiful marine life hidden under its waters.
Situated in the West Papua province of Indonesia, Raja Ampat is an archipelago consisting of more than 1500 tiny isles. It is part of the Coral Triangle, with five islands forming the centre of the group. Four of these islands, known as the four kings, are Waigeo, which is the largest of the group, Misool, Batanta, and Salawait. The fifth, the smallest one is called Kofiau.
The total area of Raja Ampat islands comprising of the land and the sea is more than 40,000 km2. The beautiful Cenderawasih Bay (which means Bird of Paradise Bay), full of atolls and tiny islands, is part of the area. The western part of Cenderawasih Bay is a marine national park.
What to do in Raja Ampat
Attractions under the water
The biodiversity of the coral reefs in the Raja Ampat waters is mind-boggling. More than 540 coral species and 1200 fish species have been identified here so far. Plus, there are varieties of turtles and sharks that will make your diving an incredibly satisfying experience. A host of World War II wrecks under its waters render the place suitable for wreck diving also.
Attractions above the water
Nature is at its best above the water as well. There are quaint shoals, majestic rainforests, islands on top of coral reefs, silvery beaches, unending cays, brilliantly-coloured fishes, and wild mangroves for visitors to explore and enjoy.
For those interested in trekking, there are two peaks to climb in Wayag Islands. The climb may not be easy but once you reach the top, the view from there is breathtakingly beautiful! Wayag is full of limestone cliffs that rise up steep, and there are thick jungles that jut out of the blue oceans. And all these are filled with silvery sand. Limestone cliffs envelope lovely bays where you can go kayaking. The jungles house a variety of birds, some of which are extremely rare and many of which are Indonesian endemic.
Baliem Valley in West Papua (which is also known as Western New Guinea because it is part of the island of New Guinea) is also a popular tourist attraction. The valley is home to a tribe called Dani (Ndani) people, believed to have survived from the Stone Age without too much change and have limited contact with the outside world. While visiting Raja Ampat, it is easy to combine it with a trip to Baliem Valley.
Those who are not interested in diving or underwater photography can still enjoy the spectacular marine life of Raja Ampat by snorkelling. There are dolphins, sea turtles, manta rays, and plenty of other varieties of fishes in the top layers of the ocean, quite visible from the depths to which snorkelling will take you.
Most of the accommodations in Raja Ampat have snorkelling facilities attached to it. However, there are some precautions to be taken while snorkelling in the area.
Currents: The first thing to watch out for is how fierce the current is. You can snorkel without fins if the current is not strong. But fins are essential from the safety angle because if you get caught in a rip current, you may not be able to manage without fins. Since tide conditions can change suddenly, it is important that you repeatedly check your location in relation to the shore.
Coral reefs: Reefs are to be enjoyed only visually and not by touching. Walking over it or meddling with it in any other way is strictly taboo.
Protection from marine creatures: Marine animals generally attack only when they are provoked or get frightened. But this rule is apparently not applicable to jellyfish. Most species of jellyfish live near the surface and may sting indiscriminately. You can wear a lycra suit as protection against these barely-visible creatures.
Sunburn protection: You have to either use a sunscreen lotion or wear a suit of lycra to shield your skin from sunburn.
Dehydration risk: It may appear to be a paradox that you can get dehydrated while soaking yourself in water. But that is how it is. You must not forget to drink enough fluids.
With about 1,500 islands to explore, Raja Ampat is an ideal place for island hopping. Covering all the islands may not be possible but you can visit as many that time and enthusiasm will allow.
If the waters of Raja Ampat are a diver’s paradise, its jungles with a host of rare and endemic birds are an ornithologist’s paradise.
Three popular species of local birds are the Wilson’s bird-of-paradise, red bird-of-paradise, and Waigeo brush turkey. The early morning courtship dance of the red bird-of-paradise is very popular among bird lovers. Other interesting birds are ‘palm cockatoo’ that is also called ‘goliath cockatoo’, ‘western crowned pigeon’ with its lacy crest, the orange-and-blue ‘pheasant pigeon’, the flamboyant ‘red lory’, and ‘great-billed parrot’ with its big red bill.
Regular tours are organized to Waigeo Island for tourists.
Best time to visit Raja Ampat
Being near the equator, Raja Ampat is warm throughout the year, with temperatures ranging from 25oC to 31oC (78oF to 89oF). Since humidity is high, you may feel hotter than what the temperature chart shows. The ocean surface is also proportionately warm with a temperature of about 29oC or 84oF.
October to April is the right time to visit Raja Ampat. These months are comparatively cool. Even among these, October and November are the best because the sea is generally calm then. Summer starts in June and extends till September and this happens to be the rainy season as well. The period is obviously not suitable for island hopping or water activities.
Interesting facts about Raja Ampat
- There is a legend on how Raja Ampat Islands got their name. The story is that a woman found seven dragon eggs, and four of these hatched to become kings of the four islands Waigeo, Salawati, Misool, and Batanta respectively. The fifth one hatched into a girl who ended up on the island of Numfor. The other two turned out to be a ghost and a stone but there is no explanation of their further development.
- Fishing provides their livelihood to most people of Raja Ampat. They live in colonies spread out on the shores.
- The majority of Indonesians are Muslims, but most of the people of Raja Ampat are Christians.
- Um Island near Raja Ampat is a very interesting place where bats are diurnal and seagulls appear to be nocturnal.
How to reach Raja Ampat
Sorong is the gateway to Raja Ampat as it is the nearest place with an airport, namely Domine Eduard Osok Airport. However, there are no international flights to Sarong so that you have to first fly to Jakarta and then take a domestic flight from there to reach Sorong. Jakarta is connected to many important Asian cities like Hong Kong, Singapore, Manila, Kuala Lumpur, and Bangkok.
The flights from Jakarta reach Sorong in 4 hours and most flights are at night. Two airlines that fly Jakarta-Sorong flights are Sriwijaya Air and Nam Air. Garuda Indonesia also runs a flight to Sorong from Jakarta but it has a stopover in Makassar at night so that the flight time is longer.
There are flights from Bali (Denpasar International Airport) to Sorong but they have one or more stops and flight duration ranges from 9 hours to 12 hours. Sorong is connected by air to places like Jayapura and Ambon but no international flights land at these airports. Lion Air and Merpati run flights between Manado and Sorong.
In Sorong you will be received and transferred to your liveaboard or taken to a resort. Liveaboards generally depart in the afternoon.
Getting around in Raja Ampat
In order to explore the islands of Raja Ampat, you should first go to Waisai, the main island of the group. Sorong and Waisai are well-connected through water routes. Both speed boats and public boats ferry passengers to Waisai from Sorong and a speed boat will take about an hour and a half to cover that distance. Of the two public ferries, one leaves in the afternoon and the other slightly later.
Waisai is linked to the rest of the islands in the group. You can stay in Waisai and go to the other islands in speedboats, longboats, dive boats, or motor boats as you choose. For exploring any of these islands, walking is the best option. However, those who are reluctant to walk can hire a motorcycle taxi called ojek to take them around.
Where to stay in Raja Ampat
While liveaboards are a good option for diving enthusiasts, there are plenty of other accommodation choices in Raja Ampat. There are excellent dive resorts and pleasant homestays catering to the needs of all types of tourists.
1. Dive Resorts
If your main interest is diving, there are resorts tailor-made for you. The most recommended ones are those in Kri Island and Misool Island.
Kri Eco Resort (5 stars)
Kri Eco Resort in Kri Island is located in perfect natural settings in Dampier Strait, with a host of amenities including a restaurant, sundeck, and sunset lounge. It is like a microcosm of Raja Ampat because the resort ground is full of wild orchids and creatures like eclectic parrots, glossy-mantled manucodes, paradise kingfishers, cockatoos, lorikeets, and monitor lizards. There are great dive sites bang in front of the resort.
Raja Ampat Dive Lodge (3 stars)
The Raja Ampat Dive Lodge or RADL is on Mansuar Island at the tip of Waigeo, the largest of the four primary islands of Raja Ampat. It has a south-facing long jetty ideal for viewing both sunrise and sunset. Manta Ridge, the coral ridge where mantas aggregate, is quite near RADL.
Located in Pulau Pef, which is a pretty island full of unexplored virgin jungles, Raja4Divers has everything that divers need. The bungalows are on stilts, the beaches of the island are excellent, great diving sites are around, the island is full of blue lagoons and lakes, and the coral reefs under its waters are rich and teeming with life. The design of the resort is a combination of traditional Papuan construction style and modern ideas.
Papua Paradise Eco Resort
Located on the north-western side of the lush green island of Birie, Papua Paradise is a row of 26 bungalows rising on stilts. They are of different sizes, have all modern amenities, and are maintained on highly eco-friendly principles.
Misool Eco Resort
Spreading out over 465 sq. miles, Misool Eco Resort is located in a totally uninhabited island with its nearest village at a distance of 20 km by boat. Its spacious dive centre, in its North Lagoon, is equipped with a small library, a big work station, and a dry area with lounge chairs for relaxing.
Papua Explorers is near Dampier Strait, on Waigeo Island. It is built and run in such a way that inside the resort, the occupants get the feeling of becoming one with nature. Many good dive sites are easily accessible from Papua Explorers.
Sorido Bay Resort (5 stars)
Sorido Bay Resort consists of 7 cottages set on a lush green backdrop. It is situated near the wonderful dive site Cape Kri, which has a world record of a diver finding 374 types of fishes during a single dive. The resort has all amenities like AC, Wi-Fi, private sundeck, minibar, work station, safe etc.
Dive resorts may be perfect but they do not come cheap. For backpackers, there are plenty of ‘homestays’ in Raja Ampat. However, these homestays are not as cheap as those in other tourist towns, even though they are cheaper than dive resorts.
For budget travellers, a homestay near Waisai will be a good choice since that will reduce ferry charges. As Sorong is the entry point to Raja Ampat, backpackers should ideally take a public boat from there to Waigeo or Waisai. If you choose a homestay that is at quite a distance from a boat station, you may have to spend a pretty sum on boat charges because ferries are expensive in Raja Ampat.
Where to stay in Sorong
Accommodation is not difficult in Sorong since it is a bustling industrial town with a port and an international airport. There are lodgings to suit the pockets of all types of people.
Scuba Diving in Raja Ampat?
Check out our Raja Ampat dive guide and start planning your next dive trip!