Many of us are longing for a “paradise on Earth”. And there are still such places on our planet that are more or less close to this image. Let’s go on a journey to one of them, a particularly exotic gem. It is located at the western boundaries of the Pacific, where Asia meets Oceania. This is Raja Ampat, a place that is like taken from another planet. It looks fantastic on land. But how Raja Ampat looks like by diving underwater? Let’s go and see…
About Raja Ampat
Indonesia consists of five big and thousands of small islands, islets, and reefs. And one of the five big islands is different than the others. This is Papua- the second largest island on the Earth and the easternmost one shared between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. The nature is different here, and the people too- it is a different geographical area.
But the geographical area of Papua and the whole of Melanesia doesn’t have a clear boundary. There are some small islands located near the northwestern end of Papua that share mixed geographical features. These small islands united in a small archipelago are called Raja Ampat which means “The Four Kings”.
The Four Kings and their “servants”
The Four Kings are the four biggest islands of Raja Ampat Archipelago- Waigeo, Misool, Salawati, and Batanta. And their “servants” are about 1500 small islands, islets, shoals, reefs, and cays. Many of them are karst formations, creating unique scenery of karst hills rising from the water.
Most of the islands are covered by lush equatorial rainforest. Their karst shape, combined with the reefs and shoals, surrounded by crystal clear water creates a fairy-tale paradise. It is fantastic above the water. But let’s see what is underwater.
Raja Ampat underwater world
Raja Ampat is located in the Coral Triangle- the richest marine biodiversity region on the Earth. This is a large area that includes the eastern islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, the whole Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands.
Here you can see more than 600 different species of corals, and plenty of species of fish, sea mammals, and other sea creatures. For this reason, this area is called the “Amazon of the Seas”.
Raja Ampat Archipelago is located in the middle of this area and is called “The Crown Jewel of the Bird’s Head Seascape”. Due to its unique location between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and between Asia and Oceania, it has the richest in marine biodiversity coral reefs on the Earth, protected in the created Raja Ampat Marine Recreation Park.
This is already a sign that the underwater world around Raja Ampat Islands should be fantastic! And indeed, this is one of the most breathtaking places for exploring and adventures on the Earth!
Diving in Raja Ampat
So, you must include diving activities if you want to taste the best from Raja Ampat. But how to plan and prepare for it?
There are two main ways to arrange an exploration of the underwater world- staying in a resort and a liveaboard tour.
Staying in a resort is cheaper but with limited opportunities. From such a resort, you can go diving by boats that they provide, or just go snorkeling in the nearby shallow waters.
Liveaboard is more expensive but allows you to visit many more diving spots on an adventurous expedition. By joining such a tour, you can reach some really pristine and remote places, somewhere “at the end of the world”.
Diving areas in Raja Ampat
Actually, there are probably thousands of great diving sites in Raja Ampat. Nobody knows their exact number because many remote areas in the archipelago still remain unexplored. Only this fact already hints at adventures, although you can’t randomly go wherever you want since this is a protected natural area.
In general, there are three areas with diving spots in Raja Ampat. The most popular one is the waters and islands southwest of Waigeo Island. The other rich in diving spots place is the waters southeast of Misool Islands. And the rest is everything else around the archipelago, less visited, less touristy, and more remote.
Southwest of Waigeo Island
This is the most popular diving area in Raja Ampat. And if you start your Raja Ampat adventure from Waisai or another place at the south-southwest coast of Waigeo Island, this area is awaiting you.
There are a lot of boats from the nearby resorts that take you to various spots for diving. Here you can enjoy all kinds of underwater features in the tropical seas- hard and soft coral fields, fish schools, sharks, manta rays, turtles, octopuses, jellyfishes, and many more. In some spots, you can dive over a flat and sandy bottom, while other spots feature pinnacles, underwater rock formations, caves, and canyons.
Among the most interesting spots are Melissa’s Garden, Mioskon Reef, Cape Kri, Chicken Reef, Manta Point, and more.
Southeast of Misool Island
This is another area full of amazing diving spots. The starting points for exploring it are at the southeast coast of Misool Island, as well as the numerous small islands beside it.
Again, like the waters southwest of Waigeo, this area offers a similar variety of forms, shapes, colors, and life. The main difference is that here the water temperature is slightly lower, so some life forms are a bit different.
Among the most popular diving spot in this area are Andy’s Ultimate, No Contest, Andiamo, Boo Rocks, Nudi Rock, Sepele, and more.
Other diving spots around Raja Ampat
The other well-known diving spots are much more remote and scattered mainly around the smaller islands in the north, northwest, and southwest of the archipelago.
Wayag Island is the Icon of Raja Ampat, one of the most famous places here. It is well-known for its labyrinth of karst hills raising from the shallow sea bottom, its crystal clear water, and otherworldly landscape.
Ayu and Asia Islands is an atoll chain of sandbars, islets, and shallows, providing a weird and fantastic lagoon type of sea environment, in fact, totally different than the rest of Raja Ampat.
Fao Islands are in the extreme northwest of Raja Ampat, sometimes considered a part of Maluku Islands. This is another remote, offbeat, and exotic place to dive.
The islands of Gag, Kofiau, and Boo are scattered in the west part of Raja Ampat. They are also offbeat, rarely visited spots and here you can enjoy the serenity of being alone in the nature.
Finally, near the westernmost tip of Misool is the Blue Water Mangroves at the small island of Nampale. Here you can dive into a different world with exotic underwater forests.
Diving resorts and centers in Raja Ampat
So, if you plan to reside in a diving resort as a “base camp” and starting point for your diving activities, you have to choose one of the resorts and homestays. Most of them are located at the southern-southwestern part of Waigeo Island, thus, this area along with its diving spots is the most touristy, developed, and popular place in Raja Ampat.
There are also several diving centers in Raja Ampat, again located around the same area. Here you can find everything you need for diving- rental equipment, diving tours (including tours to remote spots, far from places to sleep), diving PADI courses, information, and more.
The best diving centers and places to stay in the southwest Waigeo area
Arborek is a spot in Gam Island (almost connected to Waigeo piece of land) with two homestays- Sunset and Korbekwan, a good starting point for Arborek Jetty diving spot.
Kri (Koh) Island is one of the most popular resorts and diving centers in Raja Ampat. Here you can stay in Kri Eco, Sorido Bay, or some of the homestays around the island. And the nearest great diving spot is Cap Kri.
Scuba Republic Indonesia is a diving center chain, and they have a branch in Raja Ampat, west of the town of Waisai. There are a lot of homestays and bungalows around it, so it is a very convenient place for staying. The best resort in the area is Meridian Adventure Scuba Dive Resort & Marina.
Raja Ampat Dive Lodge is another resort with a diving center, located on Mansuar island. A great starting point for Chicken Reef and Manta Aggregation sites.
There are many other smaller places with bungalows, homestays, smaller resorts, guesthouses, or other forms of accommodation, scattered on Waigeo or the nearby small islands. They are farther from the best diving centers, but usually cheaper, and here you can also find boat tours to remote places like Wayag and Ayu.
Accommodation in Misool Island
Misool Island is much poorer in accommodation opportunities area. The traditional “base camp” here is Misool Eco Resort, located on the small Batbitieru Island along the southeastern coast of the main Misool Island. It is a great, but expensive and luxury option.
Other places to stay are Lalelkai Nature Lodge, Misool Paradise, Berdikari Home Stay, Heldanta Home Stay, Panun Paradise Home Stay, Woponta Ntun Home Stay, and a few more. There are no diving centers around these places, but at least they are much cheaper and you can still find private boats to some diving spots.
Liveaboard tours in Raja Ampat
This is a higher-level option for diving adventures. If you choose liveaboard, there are plenty of options. Most of the liveaboard tours are 1 to 2-week long cruise journeys that lead you to various diving spots around the Raja Ampat archipelago. Some of them include the neighboring archipelagos and islands like Ambon, Halmahera, and more.
The liveaboard boats cruising around Raja Ampat are mostly traditional Indonesian phinisi boats.
The best liveaboards in Raja Ampat
Below are the liveaboard boats, their tours, routes, and other details in short:
Coralia is a phinisi boat with 8 cabins for 16 guests, as well as 4 Master cabins. It includes also an indoor saloon and dining area, a sofa and TV area, an outdoor lounge, and more. The tours around Raja Ampat are 12 days/11 nights long and include 4 dives per day, as well as some bird watching, hiking, and snorkeling.
The starting point is Sorong. From Sorong, the Coralia route goes first to Misool and explores the Misool diving area. Then, you go to the islets and diving spots east of Waigeo and reach the iconic Wayag Island. Finally, it crosses the Dampier Strait south of Waigeo and returns to Sorong.
Emperor Raja Laut Liveaboard
Emperor Raja Laut is a phinisi boat with 6 cabins (3 twin and 3 double) for 12 guests. It includes also a fully air-conditioned lounge with TV, library, games, movies, and mini-bar, as well as a sun-deck and dining area. The tours around Raja Ampat are 10 days/9 nights, between November and March. Requirement: at least 30 logged dives to join the tour.
The route starts from Waisai, but the price includes a ferry from Sorong to Waisai. Then, you go to all of the best diving spots around Raja Ampat- from Misool in the south, around Waigeo, to the spectacular Wayag. It also includes some hiking and other on-land activities.
Calico Jack Liveaboard
Calico Jack is a phinisi boat with 5 luxury cabins. It also includes a dining area, an outdoor deck, camera and photography stations, and a diving platform. It offers long (12 days/11 nights) and short (9 days/8 night) tours throughout the whole year, except from July to September.
The tours don’t guide you to the iconic Wayag, but instead, you can visit some offbeat spots that are much rarely visited by other liveaboards. You start from Sorong. First, you go to Misool diving area and visit Balbulol, Daram, Warokaraket/Boo Island, Boo Rock, Wayilbatan, Yilliet, Wagmab, and Goa Besar.
Then, you proceed to Penemu, Wofo, Gam, and Arborek diving spots in the north. Finally, you explore Dampier Strait and back to Sorong.
Ondina is a traditional phinisi schooner. It offers 8 cabins for 16 guests. Besides this, there are a dining room and lounge with TV, and 2 covered outside decks for relaxation between the dives. This boat takes you to full Raja Ampat tours, as well as to mixed Raja Ampat with other neighboring islands and archipelagos tours.
The “All Raja Ampat” tours are 10 days/9 nights long and are scheduled mainly between May and September (the rest of the year it sails to other Raja Ampat with other islands combined). You depart from Sorong. Then, you first explore the area of Dampier Strait and the diving spots southwest of Waigeo. After that, you move to Misool and explore the Misool diving area, until finally back to Sorong.
Mutiara Laut Liveaboard
Mutiara Laut is a combined traditional British schooner with Indonesian phinisi elements. It offers 7 cabins (6 deluxe and 1 master) for 14 guests. The boat includes also an indoor saloon and dining room, an al-fresco dining area, and a sundeck with lounge chairs. It travels around Raja Ampat from November to April, the rest of the year it goes to the area around Komodo Island.
The Raja Ampat tours are 11 days/10 nights or 12 days/11 nights long. You start from Sorong and visit all the popular diving spots around Raja Ampat, including Dampier Strait, Wayag, and Misool areas. Finally, you back to Sorong. The difference between 11 and 12 days tours is just two-three more diving spots on this route.
Sea Safari VI Liveaboard
KLM Sea Safari VI is a traditional Indonesian phinisi boat. It offers 10 cabins and includes also an air-conditioned restaurant and lounge area, an outdoor bar area, and a deck for relaxation. Most of the Raja Ampat tours are shorter- 7 days/6 nights, from November to April. The requirement is at least 30 logged dives to join the tour.
The tours of Sea Safari VI focus on Damper Strait and the diving area southwest of Waigeo. It doesn’t go to Wayag and Misool but takes you to all of the best diving sites in the focused area like Melissa’s Garden, Citrus Ridge, Airborek Jetty, Sardine Reef, Mioskon, Cape Kri, and many more. The tours start and end in Sorong.
Wisesa is a traditional phinisi boat, relatively smaller. It offers 4 cabins for 8 guests only, so the whole experience is more private. The boat includes also an outdoor dining area, indoor lounge, and galley for meals and snacks.
Wisesa tours around Raja Ampat are from November to April each year and vary from 8 days/7 night to 12 days/11 nights. There are two routes- North and South. The North route is focused on Dampier Strait, Waigeo Southwest area, and Wayag, and the South route takes you to Misool and Dampier Strait. Both routes are in short and long versions, and the difference is more or less diving spots.
Sea Safari VIII Liveaboard
This is another Sea Safari boat, again in Indonesian phinisi style. It offers 12 cabins for 23 guests, and also includes a large air-conditioned restaurant, camera maintenance, and setting up area. There is also an indoor lounge, an outdoor bar area, and a sun deck for relaxation.
Like the Sea Safari VI, this liveaboard offers 7 days/6 nights tours around Raja Ampat, from November to May. And again, the tours guide you to the best diving spots in the area southwest of Waigeo and Dampier Strait, skipping Wayag and Misool.
More liveaboards in Raja Ampat
These are the best liveaboard tours in Raja Ampat. But there are more, and if you want to check more options, you can look at these:
- Mari Liveaboard
- Pearl of Papua Liveaboard
- Damai I Liveaboard
- Gaya Baru Indah Liveaboard
- Epica Liveaboard
- Raja Ampat Explorer Liveaboard
- Putri Papua Liveaboard
Ayu and Asia Islands
These islands are a unique place, only for travelers and adventurers- no tourism is developed there! This is what makes these islands like a “last frontier”! No liveaboard tours and no local tourist boats go there. There are no hotels, resorts, homestays, or guesthouses there too. They are really wild, extremely remote, and breathtakingly beautiful!
Ayu and Asia Islands are considered a part of Raja Ampat, just because they are close to the archipelago, but their nature is more like the atolls of French Polynesia or Micronesia. And although there is no tourism there, they are inhabited. Only a few visitors go there every year, and they have two options to sleep- in a local’s house or their own tent or sleeping bag.
Some public boats connect these islands to the rest of the world from Sorong. The other way is by chartered boat from Sorong, Waisai, or Kabare. No airplanes, no ferries go there. Once you arrive in Ayu or Asia, you can dive and even surf in the wild, only on your own, bringing your own equipment. For more information about Ayu and Asia islands, see here.
Raja Ampat diving and exploring tips
All of the above sounds great, but how to prepare and what to expect if you want to go diving in Raja Ampat?
Raja Ampat is located on and a little south of the Equator. So, the climate is equatorial, with not clearly distinguished seasons. But in general, two seasons are expressed here- dry and wet, although the dry season is not perfectly dry, and the wet season is not perfectly wet.
The dry season lasts from November to April. It still can rain, but rains are rarer than in the rest of the year. And the wet season is from May to October, but even then, there are sunny days or at least sunny hours. Anyway, travelers don’t like rain, so the dry season is the high season in Raja Ampat.
No matter what is the season, the water temperature is permanently warm- from 28 to 30°C in the north, and from 26 to 28°C in the south. But this difference is not because the south weather is colder, it is just due to some cooler sea currents coming from the south.
Diving skills requirements
The area of Raja Ampat is calm. It is unlikely to face big waves and swells here, at least not where the best diving spots are located (big swell is possible on the northern coast of Waigeo, but it is not a diving area).
However, since Raja Ampat is located between two oceans, underwater currents flow from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean and vice versa. For this reason, most of the diving spots require advanced or at least intermediate diving skills.
Most liveaboards require not less than 30 logged dives before joining, the same is true for the local short diving tours, organized by the local resorts and diving centers.
So, if you haven’t much experience, you can at least join a diving course here, and with the help of professional trainers, you can learn these necessary skills, at the same time enjoying the fantastic beauty of the underwater world. And as a reward, you can get a PADI certificate. For more details see here.
Permits and fees
Raja Ampat is a spectacular paradise, and we all want it to remain untouched and not crowded by tourists. For this purpose, a large part of the archipelago is turned into a national park- Raja Ampat Marine Recreation Park.
The entrance fee for Raja Ampat Marine Recreation Park is IDR700,000 for foreigners (around 50 USD) and IDR425,000 (around 30 USD) for locals. Besides this, you have to pay additional fees for the major islands and diving areas- IDR300,000 (around 23 USD).
In other words, if you are a foreigner, you have to pay IDR1,000,000 in total for both fees. You can do it in advance online from here, or purchase it from Sorong Airport, or Waisai ferry port. Some places in Indonesia require a Surat Keterangan Jalan permit, but it is NOT required for Raja Ampat (and better you don’t mention Raja Ampat where you apply for an Indonesian visa)!
How to reach Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat is a quite remote place. There are no direct international flights to the archipelago (and hope it will remain like this, to protect this paradise from mass tourism).
So, the traditional way to reach Raja Ampat is to go to Sorong, a city located on the mainland of Papua Island, on the Bird’s Head of the island. You can reach Sorong from four cities: Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar, Manado, and Jayapura, but only the first four have a connection with international flights. There are also ferries
From Sorong to Raja Ampat
Once you reach Sorong, you can join a liveaboard tour that departs directly from there, or you can proceed to Waisai or another spot in Raja Ampat. By air, you can go only to Waisai Airport (this airport has a connection only to Sorong). And by boat, you can go to Waisai, Misool (Fatiga’s Harbour), Ayu Islands, or several other spots, reachable only by chartered or private boats. Or, you can join a liveaboard tour that starts directly from Sorong.
Recently, a new direct flight from Manado to Waisai was introduced too, and probably the direct connectivity to Raja Ampat will increase.
In other words, follow these steps:
- Go to Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar, or Manado (by air or as a part of on land or sea journey).
- Go to Sorong- directly by air or by sea (there are no direct ferries from Jakarta to Sorong, but you can travel from point to point until reach Sorong).
- Join a liveaboard tour from Sorong, or go to Waisai (by air or by sea), or another spot (only by sea). Or, use newly introduced direct flights like Manado-Waisai.
This is Raja Ampat, an incredibly beautiful paradise of islands in spectacular shapes covered by equatorial rainforests and seas of crystal clear water, full of marine wildlife. Once you reach it and start exploring it, you dive into a fantastic dream, somewhere in the remote frontiers of the world.
Take a look at this video for more impressions from Raja Ampat:
Check some travel books about Raja Ampat and diving in Indonesia:
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