What once was a dream for all scuba divers and sailors is today, relatively easily accessible travel destination. Although being a bit on the expensive side such a visit to Raja Ampat will definitely be worth every penny!

WHY IS RAJA AMPAT A MUST-DISCOVER?

Apart from outstanding eco-tourism hotspots and exceptional fauna and flora, the underwater world of West Papua amplifies its popularity. Being home to the world`s top diving location, the waters of Raja Ampat features the highest marine life diversity recorded on earth. 

The reason of this phenomenon is that the extensive colonies of corals together with fairly pleasant surface temperatures make the reefs to be resistant to coral bleaching and other diseases that threaten most of the coral ecosystems in the world. Besides, the isolation of Raja Ampat helps the islands to remain unspoiled by humans.

Raja Ampat, West Papua

RAJA AMPAT – THE BEST-KEPT SECRET OF THE MARINE WORLD

There are 4 main islands in Raja Ampat: Waigeo, Misool, Salawanti and Balanta, and more than 1.500 steep forested limestone isles, bee-hive shaped islets, hidden coves, and lagoons are spanning around the tip of the Bird`s Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea. Fringed with luminous coral estates and emerald waters of both the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the territory of Raja Ampat truly is a natural wonder.

The most popular activities in Raja Ampat are naturally scuba diving & snorkelling but also sailing, sea kayaking, fishing, birdlife watching, caving & jungle trekking.

Raja Ampat coral estates

Extensive coral estates in Raja Ampat

MISOOL ISLAND

Misool is the second largest island in Raja Ampat, regarded as the most spectacular and visually the most striking. Indeed, there are images that will make your jaw drop on every corner. It is deep sea diving what draws rich Westerners to Misool – there are beautiful eco-resorts and dive centres with private boat access only.

The best diving sites on Misool are Nampale, Palee, Warakaraket, Sagof, Daram, Balbuloll, Wagmab, Sepele, Boo, Fiabacet, and Fiarondi.

TRAVEL TIP

Misool is also the prime location for yachting and sailing, and if you have your own vessel you might well happen to discover bays and coves never seen before. Cruise around the island to discover its hidden bays and beaches. Drop anchor at Yapap, snorkel in the crystal-clear shallows and enjoy the serenity of this paradise; there are staggering rock formations coming out of the sea and panorama not to be found anywhere else on Earth (otherwise stay at the Misool Eco-resort).

Misool Eco-resort, Misool Island

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WAIGEO ISLAND

Waigeo, also called Amberi, is the biggest island of Raja Ampat and the most important. Pearl farming and eco-tourism are the main sources of income for the locals while the island`s underwater world is the highlight of tourism for most of the visitors.

Wayang, Kawe, Gam, Fam, Mansuar and Boo are the most famous dive sites at Waigeo.

TRAVEL TIP

Sea kayaking is a good way to explore the pristine beaches of Waigeo.  Take a stroll through Waisai, the capital of Raja Ampat, and arrange a snorkelling tour to some of the island`s virgin lagoon. Alternatively, you can do some jungle trekking and discover Waigeo waterfalls.

The lucky ones might get to spot the legendary Red Bird of Paradise that can easily be spotted at Sapokren Village. Remember to visit the pre-historic Cave of Skulls (Goa Tengkorak) and learn more about the local tribal culture.  Arborek is home to a particular handicraft – noken string bags – a very nice souvenir present.

Waigeo Island Waigeo Island

Waigeo Island

SALAWATI & BATANTA

Salawati is the closest to the mainland, yet the only access to the island is by a private speedboat from Sarong. The island the least visited with largely unexplored primaeval rain forest and most of the tourists would book a diving cruise or a day tour to the island to meet rare bird species, including the Bird of Paradise, Northern Cassowary, Emerald Dove, White-faced Heron, Royal Spoonbill and various exotic flowers.

Batanta is known for excellent dive sites, traditional villages, homestays, gorgeous waterfalls, ancient caves and bird life; one can encounter a bird carnival of more than 200 hundred species coming to sight literally everywhere.

The best diving locations are in along the Pitt Strait (between Salawati and Balanta Islands).

Fabiacet, Raja Ampat

TOP DIVING SITES IN RAJA AMPAT

  • PENEMU – medium level, excellent night dive spot, tropical limestone isles, soft and hard corals
  • GAM – steep valleys, coral outcrops, seahorses, sea dragons, nudibranchs
  • BIRD WALL – a reef bottoming out at around 30 m, pinnacles, vertical underwater walls of soft and hard corals
  • WAYAG – a great spot for experienced scuba divers, strong current, picturesque mushroom-shaped isles teeming with wild orchids and unique birds encircled by turquoise lagoons, overhanging coral walls, a wide variety of sharks, large schools of barracuda and tuna.
  • KABUI PASSAGE – the one-mile long channel between the islands of Waigeo and Gam, intermediate diving level, spooky views, mangroves, jungle canopy reflected in the water, giant sea turtles, enormous sponges, juvenile fish
  • FABIACET – extremely vibrant diving spot, dazzling schools of surgeonfish, parrotfish, wrasse, turtles, hammerhead sharks, a deep underwater kaleidoscope of pink, orange and purple colours
  • DARAM – volcanic black rock isles, black corals, big schools of batfish, bannerfish, sea snakes, reef sharks, spectacular underwater landscape
  • FARONDI – dream bays, emerald waters, underwater caves, stunning undersea scenery, relatively strong current though
  • KRI – great snorkelling location, medium to expert level, gorgeous palm-fringed beaches, extensive marine life diversity, flat reefs, algal ridges, azure cove lagoons, manta rays, dolphins, reef sharks, various colourful shoals
  • JEF FAM – impressive giant cabbage and mushroom corals, pufferfish, lionfish, mackerel, snapper, wobbegongs, big fish action
  • MANTA RIDGE – a popular site for manta rays spotting in large numbers, only a few meters below the sea level there is a great opportunity to watch the big manta underwater action, theatrical performances guaranteed
  • MISOOL ISLAND – ideal for night diving, awe-inspiring sights, coves, underwater holes, mystic  tunnels, radiant reef scene, steep slopes of coral walls teeming with brilliant colours, coral flowers, rainbow gardens, unbelievable scenery

WRECK DIVING 

Wreck diving is increasingly popular in Raja Ampat; Shinwa Maru is a Japanese cargo ship from the WWII, Cross Wreck is an old sunken boat of the first Christian missionaries who came to Papua (Manokwari), P40 Wreck is an aircraft wreck and along with several similar wrecks at Pulau Wai.

Kri diving location, Raja Ampat

Cape Kri, Raja Ampat

MANOKWARI

On the eastern side of the Bird`s Head peninsula, Manokwari is the biggest city of West Papua and it is home to a Christian community. The colonial era has left the mark here and Dutch heritage is quite evident – beautiful churches and colonial buildings.

Mansiman Island is good for a relaxing day on the beach and the picturesque Makabori Lake ideal for fishing. Manokwari has also great surfing beaches (Maruni & Amban) and snorkelling spots, but more importantly, it is the gateway to the iconic Cendrawasih National Park.

Swimming with the Whale sharks, Kwatisore                                                                                                Swimming with the Whale sharks, Kwatisore

CENDRAWASIH MARINE RESERVE

Cendrawasih Bay is the largest marine conservation area in Indonesia, also known as the “Galapagos of the East”. It is basically an extension to Raja Ampat with an incredibly abundant marine ecosystem.

The tourist highlight is swimming with whale sharks at Kwatisore (Bagan Point). They might be the biggest creatures of the sea, yet completely harmless. Join a diving cruise and interact with these fascinating ocean beings. Absolutely incomparable encounter!

Scuba Diving is another popular underwater activity, especially night wreck diving. The above mentioned  Shinwa Maru near Manokwari is the household name and other breathtaking underwater scenery can be seen at Biak and Yapen Islands.

A submerged shipwreck near Manokwari                                                                                                   

USEFUL TRAVEL TIPS

Waigeo Island (Waisai) is the only one that can be reached by local ferry from Sorong. All the other islands need to be accessed either by the visitor`s own vessel, organised tour or a private speedboat arranged in Sorong.

You must hold a valid visa to be able to enter West Papua. The cost and conditions depend on your nationality, so be advised to check the details in advance. Besides, you will need to purchase a Marine Park Entry Tag ($100 USD per person).

You should always carry enough cash with you if travelling independently as ATMs in West Papua are quite limited. Sorong will be pretty much your only option. Remember to test your credit card prior arrival at any other ATM in Indonesia as the Western cards often don`t work in Indonesian ATMs. Try to withdraw as much cash as possible at the airport in Sorong (the single withdrawal limit is IDR 2.500,00 but you can do multiple withdrawals).

It is always advisable to inquire about the safety situation in West Papua or in any location you intend to visit before travelling due to the presence of violence. There are frequent tribal conflicts which you should avoid as much as possible when travelling.

Malaria pills and vaccination against the Yellow Fever is strongly recommended and some countries such as even request all visitors get immunised prior to the arrival.

Cendrawasih Bay, diving with manta rays

Cendrawasih Bay, diving with manta rays

NOTE

Raja Ampat is not a cheap destination. Quite on contrary; luxurious eco-resorts typically offer all inclusive holiday and diving packages that can be booked in advance for the traveller`s comfort. They are built far from the local amenities and you will be totally dependent on their service (that is 5x more expensive). However, with good planning it is possible to reduce the travel cost to the minimum:

  • stay at homesteads instead of resorts – Waisai has the cheapest accommodation
  • use group tours (snorkelling, diving, trekking) – booked at local agencies in Waisai
  • move around by public boats (slow boats are much cheaper)

Private eco-villas, accommodation in Raja Ampat tends to be pricey

WHEN TO TRAVEL

Since Raja Ampat is almost exclusively destination for scuba divers it is essential that the underwater visibility is good. Therefore, the best time to travel is during the dry season, between May and September.


HOW TO GET THERE

Fly to Jakarta/Java or Denpasar/Bali first.

Then catch a domestic flight to Sorong or Manokwari, using one of the local airlines. There are 3 main domestic airlines operating within Indonesia – Lion Air, Garuda Indonesia and Sriwijaya Air.

There are frequent local Pelni ships departing from Jakarta to Sorong  (5-day odyssey). This means of transport is mainly used by the locals, it is cheap but very basic (suitable for budget travellers and adventurers).

For all international flights check out www.skyscanner.com or www.momondo.com

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Eva Bodova

By Eva Bodova

Saturday 14 July 2018

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