View of the Fam archipelago from the viewpoint of Piaynemo. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, January 2015)
View of the Fam archipelago from the Piaynemo viewpoint. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, January 2015)

Raja Ampat : practical information and tips to organize your trip

#Indonesia

  Indonesia: Bangka [Sulawesi] + Rao [Halmahera] + Raja Ampat [Papua] - July 2019

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic Google translation from a post originally written in French. My apologies for the weird sentences and the funny mistakes that could have been generated during the process. If you can read French, click on the French flag below to access the original text:

I'm drowning in e-mails asking me for information about diving at Raja Ampat! So, I've compiled it all here in this article. But beware, a trip to Raja Ampat requires that you behave as a respectful and responsible visitor. Tourism, which is booming in the region, is jeopardizing one of the most magnificent reservoirs of biodiversity on the planet.

COVID-19. When will we be able to travel to Indonesia from France? As of the date I edit these lines, foreign tourists are not allowed to enter Indonesia. and last I heard, Indonesia's borders will not reopen until 2021. The Indonesian government prefers for the moment to focus on domestic tourism Bali reopened on July 31 to visitors from other provinces (or to foreigners already in the territory), Raja Ampat on 22 August.

1. A Place We Must Protect

Raja Ampat means "the Four Kings". Composed of four main islands (Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati, Misool) and a multitude of islets covered with jungle, it is an archipelago located in the extreme east of Indonesia, in the Coral Triangle of the Indo-Pacific area.

Above, the spectacular viewpoint on the islets of Fam, emblematic of the Raja Ampat landscapes... We can see Otto, my super Papuan dive guide, and my buddy Sarah.

Nature is still relatively unspoiled there, as these islands are remote and isolated and still little known (although this is less and less true). The Raja Ampat archipelago is outstanding for its beauty and biodiversity, both on land and at sea.

But the region's tourism development has accelerated in recent years, with disastrous consequences for the environment. Presented as a "dream destination" to privileged tourists that we are, Raja Ampat is first and foremost a natural treasure, which must be preserved, protected. But we must be aware that each of our visits has an impact on this unique and fragile ecosystem ...

I invite you to read this inventory drawn up in 2020 by the non-governmental organization (NGO) The Sea People - Orang Laut, which details the damage caused in particular to coral reefs by too rapid and unsustainable tourist development in Raja Ampat: Reefs in Danger

Snorkeling in the turquoise waters of Raja Ampat, in front of the Kri Eco Resort. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, July 2016)
Snorkeling in the turquoise waters of Raja Ampat, in front of the Kri Eco Resort. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, July 2016)
View of the Fam archipelago from the Piaynemo viewpoint. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, January 2015)
View of the Fam archipelago from the Piaynemo viewpoint. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, January 2015)

Update [2017]. The fears I expressed above found a sad illustration with an accident that occurred on March 4, 2017 in the waters of Raja Ampat: a large British tourist cruise ship, of the “floating building” type, the Caledonian Sky, devastated a small portion of a spot known to divers as Cross Over, off the northeast coast of Kri Island… ???? This kind of ship has nothing to do here! To find out more, I refer you to the links below:

→ Indonesia : a ship damages exceptional reefs [fr]

→ Cruise Ship hits Crossover Reef : The Impact on the Reef [en]

→ Saving Raja Ampat waters with tourism [en]

For my part, I returned in July 2017 to Raja Ampat, and I dived on the site in question. The damage, just in front of the beach (how can you dare to come so close to the coast with such a big boat?) Fortunately only concerns a very small area. But underwater, the spot where the boat scraped and smashed the reef, a few meters deep, is now all gray and littered with dead corals. The contrast is stark with the reefs wriggling with life all around.

2. A bit of geography

Are you having trouble locating Raja Ampat? The archipelago is part of the province called West Papua (or Papua Barat in Indonesian). It's right there:

Where is Raja Ampat?

A brief historical-political reminder: the western half of the island of New Guinea, formerly colonized by the Dutch, was annexed by Indonesia in the 1960s. The Indonesians behaved like invaders and the army committed massacres. Nowadays, a Papuan separatist movement continues to take action and the Indonesian authorities do not hesitate to brutally repress any demonstration, even peaceful ones. Riots broke out in August 2019 in West Papua, in Manokwari, Sorong and Fakfak, in particular, after the arrest in Java of pro-independence Papuan students, against a background of racist tensions: the Indonesian government then cut the internet in Papua and sent a thousand soldiers as reinforcement ... In 2017, almost twenty years later the Biak massacre (1998), the Indonesian military and police have carried out mass arrests in Nabire and Sentani, whilea petition for West Papua tried to make the voice of Papuans heard on the international scene that same year. I close the parenthesis, but when you travel there as a tourist, you have to be aware that the region is unstable and not quite a "paradise" for everyone...

Most travelers arrive in Raja Ampat via Sorong, opposite the islands. The city has about 220,000 inhabitants, it is a mining and industrial port, without much charm, where one of the scourges that particularly affects Indonesian waters is clearly visible: plastic pollution. (On this subject, I invite you to read this article, published by Tara Expedition after a stopover there by the scientific schooner in late December 2017 → Indonesia: The Ocean Is Choking With Plastic)

Sorong is located on the "beak" of the western tip of the Indonesian part of Papua, nicely nicknamed "Bird's Head Peninsula" because of its shape.

When you arrive in Sorong by plane, it looks like this:

Sorong Bay, seen from the porthole of the plane. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, July 2016)
Sorong Bay, seen through the plane's window. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, July 2016)
Above the mangrove water of Sorong Bay, there are many houses on stilts. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, July 2016)
Above the mangrove water of Sorong Bay, many houses on stilts. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, July 2016)

In Wasai, on Waigeo, the big island in the heart of the Raja Ampat archipelago, off Sorong, a second airport was inaugurated in May 2012 (read also here: Raja Ampat gets a new airport). From 2014, it was apparently possible to make the Sorong-Wasai crossing by air, via small cuckoos with propellers chartered by the local company Susi Air. But in 2016, I was told that the Marinda airport in Wasai was not really operational and was used only rarely, during official visits…

Wings Air (a subsidiary of Lion Air) attempted to launch a Manado-Wasai flight, but Sorong airport having been enlarged and modernized, Wasai airport does not seem destined to become the new air gateway to Raja Ampat ( phew). The Wings Air connection called "Manado - Raja Ampat" which I have already seen on the information screens at the airport has accumulated delays and / or cancellations since its launch, and it even seems (info from 2018) that it is more or less suspended…

On the other hand, Sorong airport has undergone a metamorphosis: it has been completely refurbished and enlarged! Result: the archipelago, which had long been away from so-called “mass” tourism, sees the number of foreign and indonesian visitors grow year by year. From a dozen liveaboards (cruises-dives) in the early 2010s, we went to more than a hundred in 2019… ????

The relative tranquility and preservation of Raja Ampat is over...

3. I am not a travel agency

I allow myself a small friendly warning, before going any further : I get a lot of messages from people who mistakenly take me for a travel agency or the agent of a tour-operator... Some even send me booking requests ! ! ???? It's crazy...

To clear up any misunderstanding, be aware that I blog for the pleasure of it about my travels and my dives (click here to learn more about me and this site), but I don't sell anything or organize anything.

So I can absolutely not answer on behalf of hoteliers, tour operators, diving centers: if you have any information to ask about their prices, services, etc., ask them directly by sending them an e-mail, to them not to me!

Be aware as well that everything changes very fast in West Papua, which is in full touristic boom. This article was first published in 2013, but I continue to update it as the years go by with my new trips to Raja Ampat (I updated it again in July 2020).

And then take the time to do your own research... We live in a great time, where everyone now has access to a free, highly efficient, real-time updated tool called Google. 😜

Divers meet a barracudas bench at the Blue Magic site in Raja Ampat. (West Papua, Indonesia, July 2016.)
Divers meet a barracuda school at the Blue Magic site in Raja Ampat. (West Papua, Indonesia, July 2016.)

4. My trips to Raja Ampat

So I don't pretend to offer here the "ultimate" guide to Raja Ampat... As I said before, things are changing so fast over there! In a short time, with the increasing influx of divers and tourists, both local and international, nothing will be quite the same anymore. I've already witnessed some notable changes between my first trips in 2012 and the last ones (December 2018 and July 2019)...

I have already published quite a few articles on this blog. You can always find them here, on Bubbles Underwater & Beyond, by following these links:

→ Raja Ampat + Bali Trip: March 2012

→ Alor + Raja Ampat Trip: July 2012

→ Raja Ampat Trip: January 2015

→ Banda cruise + Raja Ampat: October-November 2015

→ Komodo + Raja Ampat Trip: July 2016 

→ Sulawesi + Raja Ampat Trip: July 2017

→ Raja Ampat Trip: December 2018

A manta ray passes right over my head at the Blue Magic site ... (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, January 2015)
A manta ray passes just above my head, at the Blue Magic dive site... (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, January 2015)

5. When to go diving in Raja Ampat?

  • From October to April: this is this is the period considered optimal for diving. It corresponds to the northwest monsoon. This season is sometimes described as "dry" by tour operators, but in reality it is also "wet", especially in December and January. You can dive all year round in the north of Raja Ampat, but during this period from October to April there is less wind and swell than during the south-eastern monsoon (May to September). It is therefore easier to sail and it is the high tourist season for diving liveaboards. It is a period when plankton proliferates: visibility underwater is therefore less good, but it is also the season when you are most likely to encounter manta rays, especially the huge oceanic rays, and to see them perform an amazing ballet at the world-famous dive site called Manta Sandy (unfortunately, since 2015, we see them less often, the too large number of boats and divers has made them flee).
  • Good to know for May-June: as it's a bit the tourist off-peak period, it's a good plan for divers to go there at that time, because the resorts regularly offer interesting discounts on their packages.
  • From May to September: we are under the influence of the south-eastern monsoon, sometimes described as the "wet" season, but in reality, when it comes to rain, the difference is not very marked with the so-called "dry" season from October to April. The real difference between the two seasons comes from the fact that between mid-June and mid-September there can be big gales and the sea can then be very rough... If you are based on land in the northern archipelago, on an island, it is not too much of a problem to go diving on nearby sites. But trips to more distant sites will be very weather and swell dependent. That's why there are few or no liveaboard cruises organised during this period, which therefore rather deserves the name "windy season". On the other hand, the southern part of Raja Ampat (Misool and surroundings) being much more exposed to the winds than the northern archipelago, it is difficult or even impossible to sail and dive there during this period (the magnificent Misool Eco Resort closes during our summer holidays). Manta rays are becoming rarer in this season, as there is not as much plankton near the surface, but the visibility underwater seemed to me to be generally better (watch the video I made there in July 2016).
  • So when is the weather nice? Whatever the season, the sky is ever-changing, alternating between bright sunshine, gray sky and rain, in a more or less equal way, as far as I have been able to judge during my different stays (in December, January, March, July), whether we are under the influence of one or the other monsoon. The showers are often very localized. It is not rare to watch a big cloud pouring curtains of rain on an island opposite only a few kilometers away, while the sun shines on the island where you are, for instance... The air temperature is stable (25°C at night, 30°C during the day), and the water temperature is constant, around 28°C. We're at the equator, so, basically, it's always hot and humid. The climate is really "equatorial" all year round, with no big seasonal variations, except for the wind I mentioned earlier. After that, the weather is not an exact science either... Besides, the climate is going downhill. You can get a rotten week. Or several days of real good weather in a row. Or not.
Panorama from the beach of Sorido Bay Resort on Kri Island. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, July 2016)
July 2016. On Kri Island, a great blue sky... Opposite, big clouds swollen with rain... (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia)
Great weather on Kri Island! Raja Ampat, Indonesia, March 2012.
Great weather on Kri Island! (Raja Ampat, Indonesia, March 2012.)
A sudden downpour comes to fog up ... Raja Ampat, Indonesia, March 2012.
Another day, a sudden downpour fogs everything up... (Raja Ampat, Indonesia, March 2012.)

6. How to get to Raja Ampat?

STEP 1: Fly to Indonesia

To go to Raja Ampat, you will first need to organize your trip to Indonesia, or to a neighboring country with convenient connections to Indonesia (Bangkok in Thailand, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, or Singapore, for instance).

  • PRICE. Count 450 € to 900 € (according to special offers, airlines and seasons) for a return flight from Paris to Jakarta (at least this was the range of fares before Covid-19).

In Indonesia, Raja Ampat is part of the province now called Papua Barat (West Papua), as I explained above, formerly Irian Jaya (name first given by the Indonesians). It is far, very far, in the far east of the country (Indonesia stretches over three time zones, it's huge). So the journey cannot be done in one go...

  • TRAVEL TIME. Allow at least two days (flights Paris-Jakarta, then Jakarta-Sorong, then the boat crossing) to reach the archipelago from Europe. That is, including outward and return journeys, four days in total! A very long trip... To make it worth it, plan to stay long enough in Raja Ampat and/or combine the stay with other destinations in Indonesia.
Long live the porthole to admire Papua from above! Flight Lion Air, July 2012.
The window seat is the perfect place to enjoy a panoramic view of Papua from above! Lion Air flight, July 2012.

STEP 2: organize the trip to Sorong

Sorong, in West Papua, is the gateway to the Raja Ampat archipelago. To reach Sorong from the Indonesian capital Jakarta, several options are available (I updated the information in August 2019):

  • DIRECT FLIGHTS. The duration of a Jakarta-Sorong flight is approximately 4 hours. Before Covid-19, three companies offered direct flights: Batik Air (subsidiary of Lion Air), Garuda Indonesia, and, since September 2019, AirAsia (Malaysian lowcost which has branches throughout South East Asia). Xpress Air, which was the pioneer on this route, no longer operates. Direct flights from Nam Air (a subsidiary of Sriwijaya), launched in 2015, have not existed since the end of 2018 (Garuda bought Sriwijaya / Nam Air via its subsidiary Citilink and is gradually resuming their connections). I have already flown several times without worry with all the companies I mention (reservations made on their websites from my home in Brittany with my French bank card without problem). Make sure when you book that you choose a direct flight (the list also includes flights with a stopover).
  • FLIGHTS WITH STOPOVER. Lion Air, Batik Air, Sriwijaya Air and Garuda do the domestic connection Jakarta-Sorong with stopovers, most often on the island of Sulawesi, either at Manado (the large northern city), or at Makassar (the large southern city, also called Ujung Pandang).

Makassar and Manado on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi are indeed the two main airline "hubs" to travel to Sorong. These airports are easily reached in Indonesia by domestic flights, from either the capital Jakarta or Bali (Denpasar airport).

Makassar and Manado can also be reached by international flights from the airline hubs of neighbouring countries: for instance Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, or Singapore.

I put you above a map retrieved from the site of the resort Papua Paradise, which summarizes the possible routes to Sorong via Manado or Makassar (click to enlarge).
I give you above a map retrieved from Papua Paradise Resort website, which shows you the various routes to Sorong via Manado or Makassar (click to enlarge it).
I like companies that are nice with the scuba gear ... Above screenshot of Sriwijaya Air website.
I like airlines that are friendly with the divers and their gear... Above is a screenshot of the Nam Air / Sriwijaya Air website.

How to find domestic flights?

Very useful to do your own research: the site Nusatrip.com (it is a bit like Skyscanner but for domestic flights in Indonesia). You can also book your tickets there, but for my part, whether in Indonesia or France, I always prefer to visit afterward the website of the identified airline and book directly at the original company rather than through an intermediary.

Below are links to the websites of the various airlines, where you can check schedules, availability and book your ticket online with a credit card, including from France (which was not always possible a few years ago). I have tested them all at least once successfully.

  • Flight Jakarta-Sorong: the only non-stop connections are operated by Batik Air, Garuda Indonesia and AirAsia.
  • Flight Jakarta-Sorong with stopover: the Garuda and Lion Air / Batik offer connections, there is a stop at Manado or Makassar generally, sometimes Ambon or other… Sriwijaya Air also offers flights with stopover.
  • Flights to Makassar or Manado: from Jakarta, Bali-Denpasar, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore: there are plenty of possibilities on company websites Air AsiaGarudaSriwijaya AirLion AirSilk Air (affiliate Singapore Airlines), etc.
  • Flights Manado-Sorong: the Garuda now has a link, which adds to those of Lion Air (or its subsidiary Wings or the associated company Batik).
  • Flights to Makassar-Sorong: I have already flown with Sriwijaya Air and with Garuda... Check now the existing offers at Lion / Batik too ... People who keep hotels and resorts in Raja Ampat are generally well aware of changes in air links, inquire with them.
A Garuda plane, on the tarmac of Makassar airport. (Sulawesi, Indonesia, January 2015)
A Garuda plane, on the tarmac of Makassar airport. (Sulawesi, Indonesia, January 2015)

⚠️ Be careful, there are often changes in schedules and connections domestic flights. At the time I published this post, the Batavia Air company went bankrupt (I had to sit on my ticket and find another flight) and the company Xpress Air canceled its flights (before taking them back , then delete them again) ... Always check the eve of departure if you can that the times have remained the same (it happened once to have an ADVANCED takeoff of one hour, without being warned! ). Also know that delays from one to two hours are often the norm in Indonesia.

⚠️ Confusing source for many travelers: Makassar is often referred to by his other name, Ujung Pandang, on the online booking sites. Think about it when you do your research ...

⚠️ Note that you may need plan a night in Makassar or Manado. Good to know: there is an Ibis Budget at Makassar airport, to grab a few hours of sleep, before take-off at dawn for most flights to Sorong. I have slept there several times…

⚠️ If you don't feel like booking the domestic flights yourself, or if the website of the airline you are interested in is not accessible for a mysterious reason, or if there is no way to pay online by bank card from France - there are sometimes bugs or security issues on Indonesian sites - you can always ask the hotel or the diving facility that will be hosting you to arrange domestic flights for you or contact a local agent. Otherwise, you can book your Indonesian flights on the site Nusatrip.com, which I mentioned earlier (I haven't tested it myself). You will find links to the Raja Ampat diving resorts below. They all have an explanatory page "How to get there" indicating the flights to Sorong and the possible routes to organize your trip. Finally, if you do not want to take care of all this, the easiest way is to turn to a dive tour operator, who will organize the entire trip and stay according to your wishes.

7. Don't forget the permit

You have to pay an entrance fee to visit the Raja Ampat natural maritime park. Until December 2019, this permit cost foreigners 1 million Indonesian rupees (around 60 € or 70 dollars). Since December 20, 2019, the tariff rose to 700,000 rupeesaccording to this document issued by the official KKP office, and this is confirmed on the page "Raja Ampat Marine Park entry permit" by the excellent website Stay Raja Ampat, which is a valuable source of up-to-date tourist information about the region. This permit is valid for one year from date to date.

(During my very first visit in 2012, this "fee" was initially 500,000 Indonesian rupees, it increased to 1 million rupees on February 1, 2015, and has therefore just been revised downwards, in this month of December 2019, at 700,000 rupees ...)

You are given a plastic card indicating this period of validity, with your name and passport number on the back and, for divers, a plastic badge to hang on the stab.

Raja Ampat fee entrance tag (2012).
Raja Ampat fee entrance tag (2012).
  • If you have organized your trip to Raja Ampat with an official diving structure (a resort), do not worry about it. The resorts buy it in advance for their customers (the homestays, they are not allowed to do it and can not make this service). The amount is then added or included in your bill and the permit is given to you by the hotel staff during your check-in.
  • If you are an independent traveler planning to stay in homestay: there have been several changes in recent years... License Is Now Issued in Wasai (on the island of Waigeo). Before 2018, it could be obtained in Sorong near the airport, then from January 2018 to December 2019, it could be picked up at the Wasai pier by disembarking from the ferry coming from Sorong. But this annex office has closed, it seems (at least for now) and you have to go in the official premises UPTD KKPK, located a little further to Wasai... I give you the site link below Stay Raja Ampat which compiles all this information, and which is regularly updated, as the situation evolves...

→ Raja Ampat Entry Permit Marine Park

⚠️ Little advice : collect the permit in an official office, and especially do not buy it online or from people who could approach you and offer it to you at the exit of the ferry. You risk paying more and getting an invalid license... In short, watch out for scammers!

This entry fee is intended to finance conservation actions in the protected maritime area and to feed a community fund (70 %) and to contribute to the development of the region (30 %). Below is a small chart showing where the money goes:

Permit for Raja Ampat: where the money goes (Source: Raja Ampat / StayRajaAmpat Kabupaten)
Permit for Raja Ampat: where the money goes (Source: Raja Ampat / StayRajaAmpat Kabupaten)

NO NEED TO SURAT JALAN. Finally, I specify it here because I am often asked the question (info valid to date, to my knowledge): no, you do not need another license called Surat Jalan, to just go to Sorong or Wasai and go sightseeing in the Raja Ampat archipelago. Surat Jalan is only required to circulate elsewhere in the immense Papua, especially in areas deemed "sensitive" by the government that does not care too much for journalists, in particular, too closely interested in the region ... Read about it, this article (from 2015) by Human Rights Watch:
→ Indonesia: lifting the barriers to access to Papua

8. Diving resorts

Small precision: when I use the word "diving" here, I'm talking about scuba diving with bottle, no swimming with fins-mask-snorkel, called PMT in French or snorkeling in English, which can be practiced almost everywhere…

So, if you want to practice scuba diving in good conditions of comfort and security in Raja Ampat, being based on land, it is best to contact one of the resorts (diving center + accommodation) from the neighborhood.

Compared to diving cruises, this is the option that I prefer: on the one hand, the guides of diving resorts often know the sites much better than those of cruise ships. On the other hand, structures based on the spot are generally more involved in conservation programs and more concerned with the protection of the area than cruise operators, who are only passing by ...

It's time to equip yourself to go diving! (Raja Ampat, July 2012.)
It's time to equip yourself to go diving! (Raja Ampat, July 2012.)
Diving guides in gold. (Raja Ampat, July 2012)
Lius and Nathan, dive guides in gold. (Raja Ampat, July 2012)
The same, Lius and Nathan, six years after the previous picture! I asked them to resume almost the same pose ... (Raja Ampat, December 2018)
The same, Lius and Nathan, six years after the previous photo! I asked them to take almost the same pose ... (Raja Ampat, December 2018)
Otto knows all the sites like his pocket. It is undoubtedly the most experienced dive guides in the region. (Raja Ampat, July 2017)
Otto knows all the sites like his pocket. It is undoubtedly the most experienced dive guides in the region. (Raja Ampat, July 2017)

Be careful, the diving resorts in Raja Ampat are not cheap and in general, the prices charged in the archipelago for tourist services have nothing to do with the rest of Indonesia.

As a result, many tourists limited by their budget choose to dive with "homestays", simple and cheap accommodations run by locals (often simple huts with mattresses and mosquito nets). Be warned: more and more of them now offer scuba diving as part of their activities, but without necessarily having the required authorisations, skills nor equipment in good condition... Diving resorts, for their part, usually have well-maintained equipment and compressors, trained guides, appropriate boats and certified instructors for training courses (PADI, CMAS, SSI, etc.).

I cannot recommend too much caution if you decide to dive with a homestay. Better to come with your own equipment, check the condition of the compressor and above all be an autonomous diver, even experienced, with experience of currents. If you read English, I invite you to read the warnings about it on the site StayRajaAmpat, who go in the same direction → Diving with Raja Ampat homestays

As an alternative to resorts, there is the small diving center located on the island of Arborek which allows to dive at cheaper and works for accommodation with the homestays of the island (see also their Facebook page). The Arborek Dive Shop has a very good reputation. I have not tested it myself, but everyone has said good things about it, both tourist divers and the staff of different resorts in Raja Ampat. The Arborek center is run by two enthusiasts, Githa (whom I met) and Acel, and it participates in conservation programs.

For my part, as a photographer diver, I loved the comfort, the service and the setting of the magnificent Sorido Bay Resort, where I went twice in 2012 and where I returned several times thereafter. As the Kri Eco Resort neighboring (more affordable), it is ideally located on the island of Kri, in the Strait of Dampier, where the most famous sites are concentrated. These two resorts belong to Papua Diving and were created by the diving pioneer in Raja Ampat, the Dutch Max Ammer.

Surface interval in front of Kri Island, green triangle on azure water. (Raja Ampat, July 2017)
Surface interval in front of Kri Island, green triangle on azure water. (Raja Ampat, July 2017)

My sister, who is not a diver, has tested Raja4Divers and she loved it.

Marc and Isa, a couple of adventurers, previewed Raja Ampat Dive Lodge in 2009 and they liked it a lot.

Anne-Sophie and Marco, another couple of divers, were delighted to their stay at Papua Explorers in 2014and then of the one they did in Papua Paradise in 2016 (Their only regret for this resort, as divers, was its location away from the Dampier Strait where the best-known sites are, but in compensation, Emma dugong visited them, and afterwards they even worked for this resort for a year).

Here is the list of diving resorts that exist, to my knowledge and to date (I keep this list pretty much up to date over the years):

Deluxe Water Cottages at Kri Eco Resort. (Raja Ampat, July 2016)
Deluxe Water Cottages at Kri Eco Resort. (Raja Ampat, July 2016)
The interior of one of the spacious and luxurious bungalows of Sorido Bay Resort. (Raja Ampat, July 2016)
The interior of one of the spacious and luxurious bungalows of Sorido Bay Resort. (Raja Ampat, July 2016)
When it comes time to unwrap or repack all my underwater photography gear, I am happy to have a work plan designed specifically for that in my room .. (Sorido Bay Resort, Kri Island, Raja Ampat, July 2017)
I admit, I do not travel more in "backpack" mode ... When it comes time to unwrap or repack all my underwater photography gear, for me, the luxury is to have a work plan designed for that in my room .. (Sorido Bay Resort, Kri Island, Raja Ampat, July 2017)

9. Diving cruises

It is an interesting option to discover a wider variety of sites and islands. But the quality of the dives can be affected: the guides on the boats don't always know the sites as well as those in the resorts all year round. There are more and more operators, more and more choices, short cruises (only the North of the archipelago) and long cruises (including the South to Misool).

We must also be aware that the proliferation of diving cruises in recent years, with an influx of boats and divers on the same sites, is having an impact on coral and reef fauna, and is beginning to become problematic. When I visited Raja Ampat in July 2016, a proposal for quotas to limit the number of boats present at the same time in the different protected areas was under consideration but has not yet been implemented. A project to install buoys throughout the park for moorings is also underway.

Raja Ampat dive cruise with the Black Manta in March 2012.
Raja Ampat dive cruise with the Black Manta in March 2012.

As I said before, liveaboards are rather organized during our winter period (between October-November and March-April), which is the most favorable time to sail in the region.

In March 2012, I had a short cruise in the North Archipelago with the boat Black Manta, which belonged to the company at the time White Manta Diving, and that I found very well. But this ship has since been sold and is now chartered by another operator who no longer offers the same services… During my cruise, it was a Frenchman, the adorable and very competent Cédric Lesénéchal, who was the cruise leader (He then officiated several years on the boat Blue Manta, more recent, from the same company). Below some pictures of this cruise…

  • You can use the site First Liveaboard Diving to spot the boats that operate at Raja Ampat (and elsewhere). He is held by Jez Tryner, a sub photographer based in Bali, who acts as an intermediary with the operators. I don't know him personally, but I used his services in 2012 and I was very happy with it. We exchanged by e-mail to settle a lot of details, he was very responsive, very friendly. Otherwise, in the same style, there is this site which is pretty damn good also for locating availability: Liveaboard.com
  • If you are not fluent in English and prefer to speak to a French intermediary, there are cruise offers on the site Balanced, launched in early 2020 by a friend, Carol, who has been based in Asia for a long time, as well as on the Dazzle Dive and Asiaqua, managed by Valérie and Olivier, French people also living in Asia. Most of the big well-known French speaking tour operators have cruises to Raja Ampat in their catalogs, I'll let you find it for yourself. And Wallacea Dive, long-established French operator in Indonesia, also organizes cruises to Raja Ampat now.
  • Update. Finally, in the category "dream", there was the magnificent and luxurious Waow, the well-appointed ... In November-October 2015, I had the chance to enjoy a fabulous cruise aboard the Waow, from the Moluccas of the Center to Raja Ampat (departure from Ambon, arrival in Sorong). But this boat no longer exists, it burned and sank at the end of January 2018. The owners temporarily chartered another sailboat, the Mutiara Laut, to continue to provide cruises, and have considered launching a Waow 2… To be continued.
Sunset on the Waow, all sails out. (Raja Ampat, November 2015.)
Sunset on the Waow, all sails out. (Raja Ampat, November 2015.)

10. Sorong Hotels

In Sorong itself, there are not many hotels. The best known has long been the I Meridien which has nothing to do with the chain that bears almost the same name. This is where we had previously looked for his "tag" for the entrance fee (see above).

Since the first edition of this article, the accommodation options in Sorong have grown. There isn't a huge choice, but most travelers only spend one night there, on arrival and / or return. Among the most comfortable to recommend is the Belagri, the Swiss-Belhotel, the Royal Mamberamo.

11. Cheap accommodation on the islands: homestays

In the islands of the archipelago, there are now many homestays, as I mentioned above. These are not quite homestays as the expression suggests, but accommodation for tourists built by locals.

Most often, they are simple huts in wood and palm leaves, in the local fashion, very rustic comfort : a mattress on the ground, a mosquito net, toilets to share. It is also possible to stay in homestays in the heart of a village, as that of the island of Arborek (near the mantas-rays site).

For these very simple accommodations, the prices are in the range of Rp 500,000 to Rp 800,000 per day (around € 30-50) on a “fullboard”, that is to say with three meals included per person.

It is quite complicated to book in advance or to contact people via internet (there are few connections to Raja Ampat, outside the resorts). But once in Sorong or Wasai, one can easily learn and succeed in contacting people locally, including the small tourist office and homestay office in Wasai or SMS. It is a nice option for the budget travelers, which allows to favor the Papuan local population and to meet the inhabitants of Raja Ampat.

I put you below some useful links (I regularly publish the list, as and when I find new infos on the web):

12. Kayaking and nature

Finally, for true lovers of adventure in nature, I invite you to discover the very nice project Kayak4Conservation.

(Photo: Kayak For Conservation)
(Photo: Kayak4Conservation / RARCC)
(Photo: Kayak4Conservation / RARCC)
(Photo: Kayak4Conservation / RARCC)
Kayak for Conservation, to discover the beauties of Raja Ampat while paddling. (Kri, July 2017)
Kayak for Conservation, to discover the beauties of Raja Ampat while paddling. (Kri, July 2017)

Supported by Raja Ampat Research and Conservation Center (RARCC), this program aims to help the local population, by organizing kayak tours for tourists a bit adventurous.

We rent a resin kayak (made on site) and paddle to the beaches where we can camp, in the company of a guide, or even homestays, some of which are located in fabulous places in the heart of the archipelago. , far from everything ... Different routes, pre-established on a map, are possible.

13. Getting around the archipelago

It is complicated. There are no regular connections between the different islands except the Sorong-Waisai ferry which allows to reach the big island of Waigeo.

I guess we can, from Sorong or Wasai, chart his own boat for a day or more, but I think I have to be a little resourceful, gifted in negotiation and know exactly what you want. Diesel is expensive, renting a boat with a guy to sail is very expensive and the prices are sometimes a little "at the head of the customer". Independent travelers, get together! Otherwise, most homestays offer day trips by boat, prices vary depending on the distance.

Near the island of Mioskon. Raja Ampat, July 2012.
Near the island of Mioskon. Raja Ampat, July 2012.
The Papua Diving boat is approaching the island of Kri. (Raja Ampat, July 2016)
The Papua Diving boat is approaching the island of Kri. Raja Ampat, July 2016.

The islands look like each other on the map, but in reality navigation takes time. The local boats are slow, and even the speedboats of the resorts are not always so "speed" as that. It is enough that the sea is formed a little or that an engine breaks down to double the journey time. Thus, the crossing between Sorong and Kri Island (where are the resorts Kri Eco and Sorido Papua-Diving), can vary from 1 hour 30 to more than 3 hours ...

Even more, perhaps, than in the rest of Indonesia, here you have to tame the notion of "Jam karet" (elastic time)!

14. Dives not to be missed

  • My top 5 sites of Raja Ampat North: Blue Magic, Sardines, Cape Kri, Otdima, The Passage... 😍
  • Other sites that I like a lot: Manta Sandy (when there were manta rays), Sorido Wall, Five Rocks, Mike's Point, Mioskon, Citrus Ridge

But there are plenty of other beautiful diving spots! And I'm not very familiar with the Misool region in the south, but the little that I saw is sumptuous

→ All articles on my Raja Ampat dives: click here!

Exuberance of life and colors at Sardine Reef. (Raja Ampat, July 2016)
Exuberance of life and colors at Sardine Reef. (Raja Ampat, July 2016)

In general, all sites, even those considered less spectacular, reserve their share of surprises to Raja Ampat.

There is always a carpet shark (wobbegong) stashed in a corner, a Pygmy seahorse, huddled in a gorgon, a bench of humpback parrots an ocean manta which tumbles in the blue, a whirlwind of barracudas or a school of jacks that emerges in the current ...

And then there is this permanent, hallucinating, unique profusion of incredibly varied poiscaille, which I call lazy under the expression "tropical fauna" in my notebooks. The coral is to match: exuberant, splendid, spectacular. Impossible to get tired in a place like this.

We are at heart of the Coral Triangle, it is the epicenter of marine biodiversity in the Indo-Pacific region. They are by far the most beautiful, the most extraordinary underwater world I have ever seen in my life as a diver. Really. I do not say that in the air and I place Raja Ampat at the top of my little personal top of the sites of the Indo-Pacific zone, in front of Komodo and Sipadan ! ! !

School of snappers at the Mioskon site in Raja Ampat. (West Papua, Indonesia, July 2016.)
School of snappers at the Mioskon site in Raja Ampat. (West Papua, Indonesia, July 2016.)
Sweetlips. Otdima, Raja Ampat. Indonesia, July 2012.
Gaterins at the Otdima site. Raja Ampat, Indonesia, July 2012.
A huge ball of caterpillars in Cape Kri. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, December 2018)
A huge ball of caterpillars in Cape Kri. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, December 2018)

15. A threatened nature

In 2012, after a first stay at Raja Ampat in March, I returned in July. Then I recidivated in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 ... Same enthusiasm and even dazzle!

However things are (alas) starting to change: manta rays, disturbed by boats and divers, are now more rare at the Manta Sandy site. Previously pristine beaches are littered with cut coconut palms to make way for new homestays and resorts. Dogs and cats brought to certain secluded beaches by homestay owners are a disaster for the surrounding wildlife. And now, we see speed boats depositing daily groups of tourists on the sandbank at the tip of the island in front of Kri for picnics or the sunset…

I continue to take photos underwater, to show the beauty of the underwater world, to share what amazes me but also what worries me. Raja Ampat's ecosystem is fragile and threatened through our sightseeing tours, among other things.

Environmental protection organizations and local initiatives strive to support the development of Raja Ampat, by supporting eco-tourism and various conservation programs involving the Papuan population

Some links below to discover them:

The reefs of Raja Ampat are teeming with life. (Papua, Indonesia, January 2015)
The reefs of Raja Ampat are teeming with life. (Papua, Indonesia, January 2015)
Hump parrot. Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, November 2015.
Hump parrot. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, November 2015)
Manta to Blue Magic. Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia. January 2015.
Blue manta ray. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, January 2015.)

16. Books on Raja Ampat

For divers, four books to recommend, in English:

  • Indonesian Diving Indonesia's Bird's Head Seascape. By Burt Jones & Maurine Shimlock. The Bible on the subject. I found copies at the Bali airport bookstore. Otherwise, the resorts sell it. Very complete, not only for the central part of Raja Ampat (Dampier Strait), but also for all the other islands, less visited, to the North, that is rather in cruise, as well as for Misool to the south, Cenderawasih Bay and Triton Bay.
  • Diving Indonesia's Raja Ampat. By Burt Jones & Maurine Shimlock. This is the short and lightened version of the first.
  • Underwater Paradise: a diving guide to Raja Ampat. By Ricard Buxo. A light version there too, for a first approach of Raja Ampat.
  • The Raja Ampat - Through The Lens Of ... Beautiful illustrated book by 17 famous underwater photographers, including David Doubilet, Gerry Allen, Tim Laman, Burt Jones, Maurine Shimlock ...

For all, in French:

Available in English only:

Three books on diving in Raja Ampat.
Three books on diving in Raja Ampat.

Conclusion

  • I do not have a recommendation for "cheap addresses", I also don't have a “good plan” for staying on a desert island or a dream beach, nor a “recipe” for not spending a round in Raja Ampat. There are a lot of deserted islands, but really deserted, with just birds, couscous, the jungle and mosquitoes, everywhere in the archipelago. Consider rather preserving this extraordinary nature ...
  • I live in Rennes, in BrittanySo, I do not know by heart the schedules of Indonesian planes, nor that of the ferry, nor do I know exactly how much it costs to stay in this or that place. The best is to contact hotels and resorts in Raja Ampat, they are always pretty well aware of these things ... Otherwise, you will notice on site.
  • Climate forecast side, I am unable to know if it will be sunny precisely from February 28 to March 12. Or if it will rain a lot or just a little from December 10 to 22. I have a fairly good grasp of the humid climate (Breton or tropical), but I am neither a meteorologist nor Madame Irma.
  • Yes, there are mosquitoes in Raja Ampat - no more than elsewhere in these latitudes - and they can transmit malaria. But I cannot decide for you whether or not you should take preventive treatment. I am not a doctor and it is up to everyone to take responsibility for their health. I invite you to read this excellent article published by François from the blog Tourdumondiste, which explains everything very well, with serious information (sourced) and advice → Should we take malaria medication while traveling?

If after that, you still want to discover Raja Ampat, because you like the wild and preserved nature, the rather slow and distant voyages, the islands rather lost and isolated, the rather tropical and abundant fish, and that you can allow a piggy bank break, do not hesitate: you will come back dazzled ...

The pontoon of Sorido Bay Resort and its blue hole in the middle of the coral. Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, January 2015.
The pontoon of Sorido Bay Resort.

  Indonesia: Bangka [Sulawesi] + Rao [Halmahera] + Raja Ampat [Papua] - July 2019

  Indonesia: Raja Ampat - December 2018

  Indonesia: Sulawesi + Raja Ampat - July 2017

  Indonesia: Komodo + Raja Ampat - July 2016

  Indonesia: Banda + Raja Ampat - Oct-Nov 2015

  Indonesia: Raja Ampat - January 2015

  Indonesia: Alor + Raja Ampat - July 2012

  Indonesia: Raja Ampat + Bali - March 2012

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