The Raja Ampat Islands
Discovering the Hidden Papua Paradise Formerly Known Only to Scuba Divers!
Unbelievably dramatic sunsets, thousands of sparkling darting fish and grinning locals are what I remember the most about my brief but unforgettable time in Raja Ampat.
Raja Ampat means Four Kings in Indonesian, and the four major islands are Waigeo (the capital where you’ll most likely enter), Misool (home to ancient rock paintings), Salawati, and Batanta. Beyond the main four, there are thousands of other islands, both inhabited and uninhabited. Here’s a look at what we got up in Raja Ampat!
Where is Raja Ampat?
The Raja Ampat islands lie in the Coral Triangle of East Indonesia, perhaps one of the last remaining biodiverse marine ecosystems on the planet. While I was slowly making my way to the islands (it’s a long journey to get there, but more on that later), I watched a short manta ray documentary on the flight.
“You’ll see perhaps 150 species on a dive in the Great Barrier Reef” the narrator explains. “In Raja Ampat, it’s not uncommon to see more than 300 species on your first”
From corals resembling Murano vases to darting clownfish, you’ll see more just dipping your head three steps into West Papuan waters than on your 10th dive to the Caribbean.
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Raja Ampat lies just off the western coast of Papua, an island closer to Australia than Jakarta. The people of West Papua voted to become part of Indonesia in a common vote in 1969 and in 2003, the territory was divided into two separate provinces, West Papua and Papua, where the eastern half belongs to the independent state of Papua New Guinea.
Together the island is commonly referred to as Papua New Guinea. Locals resemble Fijians more than their Javanese counterparts and are warm, friendly and fond of a gummy tree sap root in their diet.
How to Get to Raja Ampat Island
To get to Raja Ampat requires patience, about 8 direct hours (although in reality about two days due to flight and schedule differences) and a knack for sleeping anywhere.
First, get to Jakarta and take a 4 hour direct flight to Sorong – there are 1 to 2 scheduled flights per day, depending on the season. If you can’t hop on the direct, you can stopover in Makassar, on the island of Sulawesi between Java and Papua and then continue on to Sorong, on the northwest part of Papua.
We had a long layover in Jakarta airport and held fort over the Airport lounge cafeteria for 8 hours – although you could also book a room at the nearby Jakarta Airport Hotel for more comfort.
After flying into Sorong, catch a bus or taxi to the town’s port (about a 30 minute drive) and then take a 2 hour ferry to the main island of Waisai, the capital of Raja Ampat which is located on the largest island Waigeo. Waigeo has a couple small cottages and most of the local government and administrative activities take place around Waisai. The indigenous people of Raja Ampat are spread across many islands though.
From Waisai, catch a smaller speedboat to whichever island you’ve booked a stay for on Raja Ampat. We stayed at the Raja Ampat Dive Lodge which arranged a speedboat pickup – it was about a 1 hour fast boat ride to the local island. There are some islands on Raja Ampat that will take 4 hours to get to from Waisai so try to plan your accommodation in advance.
If you’re coming from Bali to Raja Ampat, the process is similarly difficult. More about how to get to Raja Ampat in this post.
Overall, the journey takes a solid day and a half… but the look on your face when you first step out on the wooden jetty will be priceless!
Where to Stay in Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat is composed of many islands, some of which are home to local communities and others which are completely private and relatively uninhabited. Most of these are far from Waisai, the main capital island where the ferry stops.
There are no public ferries to the smaller islands so arrange a pickup transfer from your hotel. Fuel for speedboats is very expensive and the distance to many of the homestay islands is quite long (an hour or more) so expect to pay around $150 for a return trip.
Here are some of the best hotels in Raja Ampat:
1 | Raja Ampat Dive Lounge is a luxury resort located at the heart of the most spectacular diving in northern Raja Ampat. The dive lodge is situated on a private island surrounded by natural beauty and minutes from the manta ray sites and fish filled dives at the western edge of the Dampier Strait. The pier is the perfect spot to settle in for perhaps the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever witnessed while just underneath the jetty teams with darting colorful fish and prickley sea urchins. Snorkle, dive or kayak from the on-site dive shop.
2 | Waiwoo Dive Resort is a laid back resort on Waigeo Island, the largest island in Raja Ampat. Snorkelers will love the island’s coral reef (gear available for guests)
Note: When searching for hotels, I like to compare across all the hotel aggregation sites as they seem to bid competitively to offer the cheapest rate. I’ve found that these hotel OTA sites can often have better pricing than the direct hotel site.
Visiting Raja Ampat on a Budget
Accommodation on Raja Ampat is quite pricey given the remote distance. There’s everything from luxury resorts to ecological overwater bungalows. If you’re on a budget, you can do on an island homestay. It’s also a great way for tourism dollars to directly help local communities.
Piaynemo Homestay is a good pick for budget accommodation. The reality is that Raja Ampat is very far and very expensive to get to. If you’re on a limited budget, this homestay is a great option as it’s located on Piaynemo, an island in Raja Ampat home to one of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen. Check availability here.
Diving in Raja Ampat
Pretty much all the islands have amazing local coral reefs and colorful darting fishes right under the jetty. There are also many unique dive spots on Raja Ampat that the local dive shop can recommend if you’re looking for specific marine creatures.
If you’re focused exclusively on scuba diving in Raja Amapt, a liveaboard is your best bet. No matter where you choose, anticipate an unplugged getaway as wifi is virtually nonexistent and spotty. No worries – there’s plenty to keep you occupied!
The Best Things to Do in Raja Ampat
Here are some sights and attractions in the Raja Ampat islands to keep you busy for at least 3 to 4 days!
- snorkle in the deep blue – any of the wooden jettys on any island are teeming with local coral and reef life
- for advanced divers, head out into the open sea for some pristine marine adventures. Raja Ampat is a manta ray and shark sanctuary and you’ll see all sizes of creatures in these waters
- taste jumbo prawns grilled on an open fire
- settle in for the most vivid sunsets
- feed the fish at Sawinggrai village
- meet the local community at Arborek village
- hike Pianyemo islands
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