Raja Ampat is an archipelago of approx. 1500 islands off the coast of West Papua in Indonesia. Most are tiny and uninhabited, but there are four bigger islands which you can visit. Forming a part of the Coral Triangle, Raja Ampat is a paradise for the lover of the underwater world and untouched nature in the form of dense jungles, wildlife and, of course, reefs and fish. Raja Ampat has 10 times the number of hard coral reefs than the Caribbean, two species of birds of paradise, manta rays and rare and birds of paradise.
Diving is not for beginners, but, as the fish and reefs are close to the surface you can see them all snorkeling. Alternating with a land excursion to visit villages, hiking the jungle and admiring a pearl farm or just lazing on one of the pristine beaches, make Raja Ampat a dream destination for all tastes.
Best time to visit
Raja Ampat has a tropical climate, so it’s warm year around. The best time for diving is between November and March. The heaviest rain falls between May and October which can make jungle hiking a slippery affair.
How to get there
You have to fly into Sorong on the mainland. Getting around the islands is only possible by boat. There are several options to do so, the most luxurious being going on a cruise on a yacht, cheaper options incl. homestays and booking group diving tours are also available.
Waigeo is the largest of the Raja Ampat islands and closest to Sorong. It can only be reached by boat. Waigeo at dawn is a very special experience because that’s when you can watch the mating of rare birds of paradise, just for one hour. You have to follow a jungle path to reach the trees where they do so. At the foot of the path is Saporkrem, a typical Indonesian village with colorful houses and welcoming locals, especially the kids. You have to go with a guide because he needs to ask permission of the village elder.
Tropical rainforest covers most of the island, but many smaller ones with the typical mushroom shape are grouped around Waigeo.
This is the second largest island and famous for its reefs, crystalline waters, beaches and as a hot spot for divers, to watch manta rays and turtles, in the water and on land.
This is the least visited of the islands of Raja Ampat, which means tranquility and unspoiled nature. Divers will have a heyday because there are shipwrecks to be observed underwater, as well as a ranger station on land dedicated to preserving nature and the environment. The ranger station has a very small shop where you can buy…seashells.
When diving and even snorkeling, always be aware that there are strong currents. You never dive alone of course, but snorkelers should raise their heads out of the water frequently to make sure they know where their boat is.
The smallest island also declared as a nature reserve will fascinate you with the stark rock formations which drop directly into the water. In between are crystal clear natural lagoons which invite for a swim.
Other islands not to be missed are Piaynemo where 390 steps lead up through the jungle to a viewpoint which affords the best overview of the mushroom-like islands that poke out of the ocean. Alyui Bay is where the Atlas pearl farm is located. You can see a presentation explaining the process, then watch how a mature oyster is opened and, with luck, a perfect pearl extracted. You can also buy pearl jewelry there. Kri and Gum are islands with homestays and therefore ideal starting points for a trip around the islands of Raja Ampat.
Places to stay in Raja Ampat
The most luxurious, easiest but also the most expensive way to explore Raja Ampat is by a cruise on a yacht. We went on a 4-day cruise on board the excellent phinisi yacht Prana.
The crew picks you up at Sorong harbor and sails to all the above-mentioned islands. 2 dive masters are on board as well as all equipment for scuba diving, snorkeling, canoes and much more. Food is provided by a Balinese cook and he also arranged for a sumptuous BBQ on the beach. Speedboats take you from the yacht to the islands and crew members accompany you on the land excursions.
A cheaper way is by booking a homestay, particularly on the islands of Kri and Gam and separate dive tours.
This alternative requires more organizing and planning, but less money than the Prana.
Currency, WiFi etc
The currency is the Indonesian rupiah. As can be expected, credit cards are no good outside Sorong. You need plenty of cash in small notes for tips and minor purchases.
WiFi is virtually nonexistent in the islands. The Prana provides you with portable modems and sometimes you find a short internet window when closer to Sorong, but otherwise it’s an ideal opportunity for ‘internet detox.’
Sorong harbor authorities need a copy of your passport prior to boarding any boat from there leaving for the islands. Visa for Indonesia depends on your nationality.
Where to shop
If you want to have a typical souvenir for your journey, your best bet is to acquire a pearl from the Atlas Pearl farm.
Otherwise, there isn’t much by way of shopping. Even Sorong doesn’t have much to offer.
Whether you choose the expensive cruise or prefer a homestay and separate dive trips, even if you don’t dive, a vacation in Raja Ampat is an unforgettable experience and very good for the soul.