Raja Ampat, Indonesia Travel Guide
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.
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.
How to Get to 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.
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 Novotel Airport Lombok 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.
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.
photo of me via @superchinois801
Raja Ampat Hotels, Resorts & Liveaboards
Where to Stay If You Want to Dive or Snorkle
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.
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.
Keep in mind that accommodation on Raja Ampat is quite pricey given the remote distance. There’s everything from luxury resorts to ecological overwater bungalows. If you can, try to stay on an island homestay – it’s a way for tourism dollars to directly help local communities. 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!
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. Check the latest rates here.
3| Misool Eco Resort is known for its environmentally friendly over-water villas, made using local fallen driftwood. Divers and snorkelers will be excited by the property’s strong record of manta ray sightings. Check the latest rates here.
4| 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, one of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen (it’s the fourth photo from the top of this post, of me standing on the lookout point at the five islands below which form a star shape). Check the latest rates here.
The Best Way to Spend 3 Days in Raja Ampat
- 1) snorkle in the deep blue – any of the wooden jettys on any island are teeming with local coral and reef life
- 2) 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
- 3) taste jumbo prawns grilled on an open fire
- 4) settle in for the most vivid sunsets
- 5) feed the fish at Sawinggrai village
- 6) meet the local community at Arborek village
- 7) hike Pianyemo islands
Planning a trip to Indonesia? Save this post by pinning it for later or read the full series:
2 Week Itinerary Bandung, Yogyakarta, Lombok & Raja Ampat
What to Wear in Indonesia: A Packing Guide
The Ultimate Guide to the Most Beautiful Places in Indonesia (soon)
Paradise on Earth: A Raja Ampat Travel Guide
The Farthest Place I’ve Ever Been: How to Get to Raja Ampat
Bali Without the Crowds: Lombok & Gili Trawangan (soon)
Yogyakarta / Jogja
Yogyakarta’s 10 Most Stunning Attractions
Is the Borobudur Sunrise Ticket Worth It? Here’s My Experience
You Can’t Leave Bandung Without Seeing These 7 Sights
Follow Sher She Goes on
I was invited by Indonesia to visit Raja Ampat. Thank you for a wonderful trip!