The island nation of Indonesia straddles the equator between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and lies at the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’ - the epicentre of the world’s marine biodiversity. Nowhere on ...
Located off the northwestern tip of Papua, Raja Ampat offers exploratory divers some of the best underwater experiences in SE Asia, if not the world. The marine diversity of these islands is simply staggering and - quite literally - like nowhere else on earth. From the fabulous hard coral sites in the north, to the colourful soft corals of Misool in the south, Raja Ampat is reef diving perfection, combined with awe inspiring fish life, record-breaking biodiversity and truly stunning topside vistas. These modern day ‘spice islands’ draw explorers and adventure seekers alike in search of a very different riches found beneath the waves.
The diving in Raja Ampat can be broadly divided across two main area - the north with its nutrient-rich currents, denser fish life and better hard corals, and the southern area around Misool with better visibility and more plentiful soft corals. Both areas however have the same incredible biodiversity and range of different habitats and dive sites, as well as the same opportunities for amazing encounters with manta rays, dense schools of fish and fascinating macro critters.
At the heart of the northern section is the Dampier Strait and Mansuar Island. This area is home to the original resorts in Raja Ampat and many of the sites that first bought the islands to the attention of the diving world. Sites such as Chicken Reef, Sardine Reef, Batu Lima, Blue Magic and Cape Kri in the east, and Manta Ridge, Manta Sandy and Arborek Jetty to the west have a well-deserved reputation as world-class dive sites. Throughout the northern region, visitors have the opportunity to explore dive sites with fantastic biodiversity, large numbers of schooling fish and plenty of action when the currents are running, although visibility generally is not as good as in the south around Misool.
The Dampier Strait has become extremely popular with liveaboards and resorts and there is now a ranger station at Manta Sandy to ensure divers follow the correct codes of conduct when diving with the manta rays - and keep any disturbance from the number of visitors to a minimum.
North of the Dampier Strait are the islands of Waigeo and Gam, home to beautiful mangrove dives, sites such as the aptly named Mayhem with its incredible fish life, as well as the famous Passage - a narrow, sinuous channel that cuts between the islands. The tidal flow through the Passage creates an incredible river of water, creating perfect conditions for filter feeders such as soft corals and sea fans, which grow up to the surface beneath the overhanging branches of the mangroves.
The diving around Misool in the south is characterised by dramatic underwater landscapes, pinnacles and sinuous ridges carpeted in beautiful fans, soft corals and sponges - as well as huge numbers of fish. Famous sites such as Boo and Fiabacet have become synonymous with glorious reef diving, filled with life that ebbs and flows with the currents, whilst Magic Mountain attracts divers in search of giants - the oceanic manta rays that are regular visitors to the site. A significant number of these sites now lie within the Misool Marine Reserve, a protected area twice the size of Singapore within which all fishing has been banned; a sanctuary for the incredible marine life of Raja Ampat. Already the results of this protection are evident - fish populations are booming, and the number of sharks seen is increasing every year.
Raja Ampat is one of the world’s best destinations for snorkelers - so much so, that several liveaboard operators run snorkel and freediving trips to the region every year. The vast majority of the sites in the area have spectacular marine life in the shallows - including beautiful soft corals and fans, hard corals, fish life and more. Even some of the manta sites can easily be snorkelled as the rays feed in the top layers of the water. All the resorts in Raja Ampat offer non-diving packages, many of which include space on the dive boats that head out every day to explore different locations.
Raja Ampat is an archipelago of over 1,500 small islands and reefs surrounding the 4 main islands of Misool, Salawati, Batanta and Waigeo - the ‘Four Kings’ from which Raja Ampat takes its name. The area is part of the newly-created province of West Papua and, despite its allegiances to Indonesia, the islands of Raja Ampat feel very much like part of a different world - one with a promise of exploration and discovery.
Papua is home to an incredible diversity of flora, fauna and cultures. The rugged terrain and the relatively late coming of the outside world have helped to preserve the unique biological and cultural diversity here better than probably anywhere else in the Asian tropics. Much of the mainland is made inaccessible by rugged mountains and dense jungle and new endemic species are being discovered here every year. Below the surface of the sea, the rich reefs of Raja Ampat are a similar treasure trove of unique species; in fact Cape Kri on Mansuar Island in the Dampier Strait holds the record for the most number of fish species recorded on a single dive. Raja Ampat is so species-rich and such a vital area for reef conservation that the entire area has been protected as part of the Bird’s Head Seascape.
The islands of Raja Ampat may not be as isolated as they once were. Resorts are being developed throughout the archipelago and liveaboards run regular schedules around the famous sites of the Dampier Strait and beyond. But this string of beautiful islands still holds on to a lingering sense of being perched at the edge of the world - remote, beautiful and exhilarating, the ‘Four Kings’ rightly hold on to their crown as offering some of the best diving on the planet.
The main port of entry is the town of Sorong, which can be reached from Bali or Jakarta via Makassar, Ambon or Manado. Visitors may need to transit overnight in Makassar or Manado en route. Many guests consider breaking up the long sequence of flights and transfers with a stopover in Ambon for a few days to explore the macro life, before heading to Sorong. If trying to maximise their time in West Papua, guests should consider flying to Jakarta, then getting the overnight flight to Sorong which will get you to West Papua in time to meet the resort transfer boats.
Once in Sorong, transfers onwards to the resorts or liveaboards are arranged by the dive operators. Public transport is not an option.
For many years the only place to stay in Raja Ampat was Papua Diving on Mansuar Island. Max Ammer’s resort, plus the few liveaboard boats that explored the region where the only options for adventurous tourists keen on learning what Raja Ampat was all about. Today, the situation has changed considerably and there are now many different liveaboards operating in Raja Ampat and quite a few different resorts concentrated in and around the Dampier Strait. The majority are ‘eco’ resorts that employ sustainable practices whenever possible, recycle when they can and use alternative sources of energy - very necessary when you are living in a remote and protected location.
All of the resorts and liveaboards featured by ZuBlu are relatively expensive in comparison to other destinations in Indonesia. There are a number of budget liveaboards and homestays in Raja Ampat, but given the area’s remote and isolated location - and the distance to the nearest hospital or recompression facility - we consider safety to be paramount and prefer to recommend professionally-managed resorts with a reputation for high standards and safety.
Raja Ampat has two distinct seasons that can influence the diving conditions. The northwest monsoon runs from October to April and is considered to be the best time to visit, whilst the southeast monsoon from June to September brings winds and rough seas to Misool in the southern region of Raja Ampat and Triton Bay further south. In fact Misool and Triton Bay resorts close down during this period as the waves can make diving conditions difficult. The northern and central areas of Raja Ampat are more sheltered from these winds and remain open all year.
This being the tropics, you can expect some rain whatever time of year you visit. The wettest parts of the year are normally around November and December, and July and August, however the rainfall is normally short and sharp and soon clears away. Water temperatures are warm year round, with 27-29C being the norm.
Extend your stay and take advantage of Papua Explorer’s midweek transfers to dive more of Raja Ampat’s incredible sites. This package includes accommodation for 11 nights in a double or twin Deluxe Water Cottage, transfers to and from the resort on Sundays and Wednesdays, 3 boat dives a day, unlimited house reef dives and free nitrox. Single and triple room rates are available. The package also includes 1 day excursion to The Passage.
Discover the incredible marine life of the Dampier Strait at the heart of Raja Ampat. This package includes accommodation for 7 nights in a Sentani Bungalow, transfers to and from the resort on Sundays, 3 boat dives a day (except Saturdays), plus dusk or night dives, unlimited jetty dives and free nitrox. A single supplement is available as well as upgrades to the larger Kaimana Bungalow. The package also includes 1 day excursion to Manta sites, Hidden Bay, The Passage and Mushroom Islands.