Probably, most of you have not heard of Raja Ampat until now. Understandable. To be honest, I have not heard of it myself until my fiancé spoke about it last year. In all fairness, it is so remote that it is largely unknown to foreign tourists, which I consider a good thing.
“Picture a tropical archipelago of steep, jungle-covered islands, glittering white-sand beaches, hidden lagoons and luminous turquoise waters. Now throw in pristine coral reefs inhabited by clouds of tie-died fish. Place it in a remote corner of Indonesia largely unknown to foreign tourists, and you end up with the Raja Ampat islands: the ultimate tropical paradise”. – Stuart Butler, Lonely Planet
If you are a diver or an avid snorkeler, Raja Ampat should be your next destination. Lucky for you, I have all the necessary information. Read on.
First off, where’s Raja Ampat?
Located off the northwest tip of Bird’s Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea, in Indonesia’s West Papua province, Raja Ampat, or the Four Kings, is an archipelago comprising over 1,500 small islands, cays, and shoals surrounding the four main islands of Misool, Salawati, Batanta, and Waigeo, and the smaller island of Kofiau. The Raja Ampat archipelago is the part of Coral Triangle which contains the richest marine biodiversity on earth. – Wikipedia
Here are some quick facts:
- This area is home to 1,511 species of reef fish in the Bird’s Head Seascape;
- 1,320 species of reef fish in Raja Ampat;
- 75% of all known coral species in the world;
- 10 times the number of hard coral species found in the entire Caribbean;
- In the Birds Head Seascape there 600 species of hard coral recorded;
- 5 species of endangered sea turtles;
- 57 species of Mantis Shrimp;
- 13 species of Marine Mammals;
- And 27 species of endemic reef fish found only in that area
WHEN TO GO
Raja Ampat is a year-round destination, although many diving outfits cease operations between July and September, when the usually calm seas can get quite rough. For the calmest waters and best visibility for diving, aim for a visit between November and March. The Raja Ampat region receives the heaviest rain from May to October, which can also make jungle walks treacherous.
The nearest major airport to the Raja Ampat islands is in the mainland city of Sorong. There are flights here from the likes of Jakarta, Pulau Ambon (Maluku), Jayapura (Papua), Manado and Makassar (Sulawesi). From Sorong it’s a short ferry ride to Waisai, on the island of Waigeo, where homestay operators will pick you up. Most top-end dive resorts and liveaboards will pick you up from Sorong.
Read my previous post for much detailed instructions on how to get to Raja Ampat.
WHERE TO STAY
If you are travelling on a budget, I recommend staying in a Papuan style homestay. Staying in Raja Ampat accommodation that is owned and operated by local people provides a unique cultural experience at an affordable price. It really is the best way to enjoy Raja Ampat. You’ll be supporting the local economy and empowering the traditional owners of Raja Ampat in their efforts to preserve both their environment and their way of life.
For beach bums happy to loll under the palms and engage in a bit of lazy snorkeling, the growing number of homestays are ideal – Pulau Kri and Pulau Gam have particularly rich pickings. Many homestays also offer diving, but safety standards and equipment maintenance can be questionable. To book, visit Stay Raja Ampat website, a non-commercial, not-for-profit website. Use of the booking request system is free for both you and homestay owners. They don’t charge any commissions or fees.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST
Depending on the accommodation you choose, your base cost can be as low as 250,000 Indonesian Rupiah per day per person for your accommodation and meals. Added to that will be:
- Flights to and from Sorong (See How to get to Raja Ampat page)
- Purchase of Marine Park Entry Tags (IDR 1,000,000 or about USD 100.00 per person for international visitors)
- Transfer costs Sorong – accommodation – Sorong
- Activity costs (Compare activity prices on individual Homestay pages to get an idea of these)
With good planning, a two week trip from Jakarta to Raja Ampat including return flights, 4 full day snorkeling and island visit trips, boat transfers between homestays and one night in Sorong prior to departing can be had for about USD 2000.00 for a couple travelling together.
DIVING AND SNORKELING
No matter where you stick your head under the water in Raja Ampat you’ll be dazzled by a rainbow of luminous fish and corals. On a single dive you can expect to get up close with huge manta rays and giant clams, gape at schools of barracuda, fusiliers and parrot fish, peer at tiny pygmy seahorses and multicolored nudibranchs, and, with luck, spot wobbegong and epaulette (walking) sharks, with marine topography varying from vertical walls and pinnacles to reef flats and underwater ridges. Snorkelers can observe many of these species from above, too, with many reefs easily accessible from the beach.
Raja Ampat is generally better suited to advanced divers, and is thus not exactly a learn-to-dive hot spot. I learned this the hard way. There are, however, some dive spots suitable for relative novices. Most dives are drift dives, which comes with a warning: the currents that whip you along the edge of the reefs can be very strong.
BEYOND THE REEF
Raja Ampat isn’t just for divers. The forested islands are home to two bird-of-paradise species (the red and the Wilson’s, which can both be spotted on Waigeo and Batanta islands), along with a realm of lizards, snakes and other bird life. Almost every dive lodge and homestay can arrange pre-dawn tours that will take you to forest hideouts overlooking bird-of-paradise ‘concert arenas’.
MARINE PARK ENTRY PERMIT TAG
Raja Ampat Marine Park entry permit fees are directed to the operational costs of Raja Ampat’s five Marine Protected Areas (patrols, administration etc) and to community conservation and development programs.
As of February 1, 2015 a new Raja Ampat Marine Park entry permit tag structure is in place.
- The permit fee for international visitors is 1,000,000 Indonesian Rupiah (~USD 100.00)
- The permit fee for Indonesian citizens is IDR 500,000
To find out how and where to purchase the entry permit tag, please turn over to Stay Raja Ampat’s guide.
MONEY, BANKS & ATMs
There’s no access to cash or credit cards out in the islands. To avoid problems and delays on arrival, the best approach is to work out how much cash you’ll need for your stay (including a margin for the unexpected) and get it all in Indonesian Rupiah before you land in Sorong.
Local accommodation owners must be paid in cash. Although a few homestay owners provide the ability to be paid by bank transfer or credit/debit cards onsite. If you’re planning a long stay or will be doing a lot of boat travel and/or diving, you’ll need to bring a lot of cash. The largest denomination Indonesian bill is 100,000 Rupiah, so be ready to carry a sizeable wad of notes.
To make sure you have the best time in the islands, you’ll want to be sensitive to Raja Ampat local culture. No surprise there – that’s the same wherever you may go!
In the islands where the majority of homestays are to be found, the culture is predominantly Papuan and Christian. The people are among the friendliest and most welcoming you’re likely to meet, usually having a carefree attitude and a ready smile. You’ll have the best time if you adopt a similar approach!
Boat trips, tours and other activities dependent on service from your hosts are not available on Sundays. We’ve also been asked to do our best to make you aware that Sundays are a day of rest and religious observance for the Christian folk of Raja Ampat. Please resist the temptation to pressure your hosts into taking you anywhere on Sundays – there’s plenty of swimming, snorkeling and exploring to be had around your accommodation. Meals will be served as usual, but apart from that and departures to Waisai for the ferry, your hosts will be spending the day with their family and community. If you’d like to be truly considerate, avoid scheduling arrivals and departures for Sundays so as to allow your hosts to participate in their traditional community and family life.
Raja Ampat, Papua, is one of the few places in the world that I would recommend to anyone, because it is truely a holiday of a lifetime. If you are interested in a real adventure holiday in a tropical paradise then you should definitely visit, and I hope this information proves to you that it is possible to do Raja Ampat on a budget.