Fam Archipelago. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, January 2015)
Fam Archipelago. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, January 2015)

Raja Ampat : practical information and tips to organize your trip

#Indonesia

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, the original and correct version can be found here:

  Indonesia & #160; Bangka [Sulawesi] + Rao [Halmahera] + Raja Ampat [Papua] - July 2019

I'm getting tons of emails asking me for information about Raja Ampat! So I gathered everything in one single post. But be aware, a trip to Raja Ampat requires you to behave as a respectful and responsible visitor. Tourism, which is booming in the region, is endangering one of the world's most magnificent reservoirs of biodiversity.

A Place We Must Protect

Raja Ampat means "the Four Kings". Composed of a multitude of islets covered with jungle, it is an archipelago located in the Far East of Indonesia, within 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 unspoilt there, because these islands are remote and isolated, still not too well known (even if it is getting less and less true). The Raja Ampat Archipelago is outstanding, in its beauty and its biodiversity, both on land and at sea.

But the tourism development in the area is speeding up and has negative consequences on the environment. Described as a "dream destination" for the privileged tourists we are, Raja Ampat is first and foremost a natural treasure, which must be preserved and protected. We must be aware that each of our visits has an impact on this unique and fragile ecosystem...

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)
The archipelago of Fam. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, January 2015)
Fam Archipelago. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, January 2015)

Update [2017]. The fears I shared above were sadly illustrated by an accident on March 4, 2017 in Raja Ampat waters: a large British tourist cruise ship, the Caledonian Sky, you can call it a "floating building", devastated a small portion of a spot known to divers as Cross Over, off the northeast coast of Kri Island... 😡 This kind of ship shouldn't be there! For more information, follow 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]

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

A Little 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, a former Dutch colony, was annexed by Indonesia in the 1960s. Indonesians behaved as invaders and the army committed massacres. 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, at Manokwari, Sorong and Fakfak, particularly after the arrest in Java of Pro-Independence Papuan students in a context of racist tensions, which led the government to cut off the Internet in Papua and send a thousand soldiers as reinforcements. In 2017, almost twenty years after the Biak massacre (1998), Indonesian military and police officers had made 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 Sorongairport, opposite the islands. The city has about 220,000 inhabitants, it is a mining and industrial port, without much appeal, where one of the scourges that particularly affect Indonesian waters is very noticeable: 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)

On Waigeo, the large island in the heart of the Raja Ampat archipelago, off Sorong, a second airport was inaugurated in May 2012 in Wasai (read more here: Raja Ampat gets a new airport). In 2014-2015, it was apparently feasible to make the Sorong-Wasai crossing by air, via small propeller cuckoos chartered by the local company Susi Air. I haven't checked, I don't know if these flights are still relevant. (2018 news: it would be possible, but only twice a week.) In 2016, I was told that Wasai Marinda Airport was not really operational and was rarely used only on official occasions... However, Sorong Airport has been transformed: it has been completely refurbished and expanded!

Updated [December 2016]. Wings Air (a subsidiary of Lion Air) has launched a new Manado-Wasai flight, as announced in this article (in Indonesian, submit it to Google Translate to grab the general outline) → Mulai 22 Desember, Air Wings Air Terbang ke Raja Ampat. But with the expansion of Sorong Airport, Wasai Marinda Airport (on Waigeo Island) is not likely to become the new gateway for Raja Ampat (phew!). The Wings Air route called "Manado - Raja Ampat" that I have already seen on the information screens at the airport has accumulated delays and/or cancellations since its launch, and it even seems (2018 news) that it has more or less been suspended...

Until now, the archipelago was still a little off the beaten track of so-called "mass" tourism. But the number of foreign and Indonesian visitors is growing from year to year. From a dozen liveaboards in the early 2010's, we have gone to more than a hundred in 2019... 😱 It is the end of the relative tranquility and preservation of Raja Ampat...

I Am Not a Travel Agency

I would like to give you a little friendly warning before going any further: I receive a lot of messages from people who mistakenly take me for a travel agency or a tour operator's agent... Some even send me booking requests!!! 😂 This is insane... To clear up any misunderstanding, please be aware that I am blogging for the pleasure of it on my travels and dives (click here to learn more about me), but I don't sell anything and I don't organize anything.

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

Be aware that things are changing very fast in West Papua, which is in full development as a tourist destination. This article was first published in 2013, but I continue to update it over the years and my new travels to Raja Ampat (I updated it again in August 2019).

And then you should take some time to do your own research... We are living in a wonderful era, where everyone now has access to a free, highly effective, real-time 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.)

My Travels to Raja Ampat

So I don't pretend to be offering here the "ultimate" guide on Raja Ampat... As I said earlier, things are changing so fast there! In a short time, with the increasing influx of divers and tourists, both local and international, nothing will be quite the same. I have already witnessed significant changes between my first trips in 2012 and the latest ones (December 2018 and July 2019)... I have already published a fair amount of articles. 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 Sea + Raja Ampat Liveaboard: 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)

When to go to Raja Ampat?

  • From October to April: this time of year is considered optimal for diving. It is the one that corresponds to the northwest monsoon. This season is sometimes referred to as "dry" by tour operators, but it is "wet" too, especially in December and January. Raja Ampat can be dived all year round, but during this period from October to April, there is less wind and swell than during the southeast monsoon (May to September). It is therefore easier to navigate and it is the high tourist season for diving cruises. This is a time when plankton are abundant: visibility underwater is therefore less good, but it is also the season when we are most likely to encounter manta rays, especially the huge giant oceanic manta rays, and to see them form an incredible ballet at the 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 like the tourist off-peak period, it is a good plan for divers to go there at that time, because resorts regularly offer special discounts on their packages.
  • From May to September: we are under the influence of the south-east monsoon, sometimes referred to as the "wet" season, but in reality, in terms of rain, the difference is not very marked with the so-called "dry" season from October to April. The real difference between the two seasons is that between mid-June and mid-September there can be strong winds and the sea can be very rough... If you are based on land in the northern archipelago, on an island, it is not too difficult to go diving on nearby sites. But outings to more remote sites will be very dependent on weather and swell. That is why there are few or no cruises organized during this period, which is more appropriately called the "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 navigate and dive there during this period (the magnificent Misool Eco Resort is closed during our summer holidays). Manta rays are scarcer at this time of year, as there is no longer as much plankton near the surface, but the visibility underwater seemed generally better to me (see the video I made here in July 2016).
  • So when is the weather fine? Whatever the season, the sky is very changing, alternating between the bright sun, grey clouds and rain, in a more or less equal way, as I was able to gauge during my various stays (in December, January, March, July), whether you are under the influence of one or the other monsoon. Showers are often very localized. It is not uncommon to observe a large cloud pouring curtains of rain on an island opposite a few miles away, while the sun is shining brightly on the island where you are, for instance... The air temperature is stable (25°C at night, 30°C during the day), the water temperature is constant, around 28°C. We're at the equator, so it's basically always warm and humid. The climate is really "equatorial" all year round, with no major seasonal variations, except for the wind I mentioned above. Having said that, meteorology is not an exact science either... In addition, the climate is getting out of control. You can get a week of rotten weather. Or several consecutive days of real sunshine. 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.)

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 promotions, companies and seasons) for a return flight Paris-Jakarta.

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. Count at least two days (flights Paris-Jakarta, then Jakarta-Sorong, then the crossing by boat) to reach the archipelago from Europe. That is, including the round trip and return, a total of four days! A very long journey... To make it worthwhile, plan to stay enough time in Raja Ampat 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 flight from Jakarta to Sorong is about 4 hours. Two airlines offer direct flights: Batik Air (a subsidiary of Lion Air) and Garuda Indonesia. Xpress Air, which was the pioneer on this route, is no longer operating. The Nam Air (Sriwijaya's subsidiary) direct flights, launched in 2015, don't exist anymore since the end of 2018, as Garuda has bought Sriwijaya / Nam Air via its subsidiary Citilink and is gradually taking over their routes. I have already flown several times without any problems with all the airlines I quote (bookings made on their websites from my home in Brittany with my French credit card without any problem). Make sure, when you book, that you choose a direct flight (in the list, you will also find flights with a stopover). Finally, this August 2019 news : low-cost AirAsia should compete with the other two by launching its direct flight Jakarta-Sorong, in September 2019 (see this article in English on Jakarta Post).
  • 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.

  • Direct Flight Jakarta-Sorong: the only non-stop flights are operated by Batik Air, Garuda Indonesia and soon AirAsia.
  • Flight Jakarta-Sorong with stopover: the Garuda and Lion Air / Batik offer connections, there is a stop in Manado or Makassar generally, sometimes Ambon or other ... Sriwijaya Air also offers flights with stopover.
  • Flights to Makassar or to 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 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. For my part, during my two trips in 2012, I made the Makassar-Sorong connection with the Sriwijaya Air company, but I was forced to spend the evening before departure in Makassar. Impossible to make the trip in a row, the schedules of my planes did not stick. Good to know: there is an Ibis Budget in Makassar Airport, to glean a few hours of sleep, before takeoff at the dawn of most flights to Sorong.

⚠️ If you do not feel like booking domestic flights yourself, or if the website of the airline that interests you is not accessible for a mysterious reason, or if there is no way to pay online by credit card from France - sometimes there are bugs or security problems on Indonesian sites - you can always ask the hotel or the diving center that will host you to take care of booking domestic flights for you or to contact you with a local agent. Otherwise, you can book your Indonesian flights on the website Nusatrip.com, which I mentioned above (I did not test myself). Below you will find links to Raja Ampat's diving resorts. They all have an explanatory page "How to get there" showing the flights to Sorong and the possible routes to organize your trip.

Do not forget the entrance fee

An entry fee is required to visit the Raja Ampat Natural Marine Park. It costs 1 million rupees (about 60 € or 70 dollars) for foreigners and it is valid for one year from date to date. (This "fee" was initially 500 000 Indonesian Rupees, during my very first visit in March 2012. It increased to 1 million rupees on 1 February 2015.)

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 is change, readers tell me that since January 2018, we can not remove his badge at the small tourist office located almost opposite the Sorong airport. The badge is now issued to Wasai (on the island of Waigeo). Most travelers do this at the KKPD office located at the port, where the Sorong-Wasai ferry arrives.

There are also apparently other offices in Wasai authorized to issue this permit, I refer you to the page detailing all this, on the excellent site Stay Raja Ampat :

→ Raja Ampat Entry Permit Marine Park

⚠️ Little advice : remove the permit in an official office, and do not buy it especially from people who could approach you and offer it to you at the exit of the ferry. You may pay more and get a license that is not valid ... In short, watch out for the scammers!

This entry fee is intended to finance conservation actions in the maritime protected area and to contribute to 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

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 practically be practiced everywhere ...

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

Compared to cruises-dives, this is the option that I prefer: on the one hand, dive resort guides often know more about the sites than those of cruise ships. On the other hand, the structures based on the place are generally more involved in the conservation programs and more concerned with the protection of the area than the cruise operators, who, they, are only passing ...

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 picture! I asked them to resume 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)

Attention, the diving resorts in Raja Ampat are not cheap and in general, prices 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", these simple and cheap accommodation run by locals (often simple huts with a mattress and mosquito net). Be vigilant: more and more of them offer scuba diving in their activities, but without necessarily having neither the authorizations nor the skills nor the equipment in good condition ... The dive resorts, they, in principle have equipment and compressors maintained, trained guides, adapted boats and certified instructors for training (PADI, CMAS, SSI, etc.).

I can not 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 especially be a diver autonomous or 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 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 did not test it myself, but everyone told me good, both divers tourists and staff from different resorts in Raja Ampat. The center of Arborek is run by two enthusiasts, Githa (whom I met) and Acel, and he 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 neighbor (more affordable), it is ideally located on the island of Kri, in the Strait of Dampier, where are concentrated the most famous sites. These two resorts belong to Papua Diving and were created by the diving pioneer in Raja Ampat, the Dutchman 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).

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)

Diving cruises

It's an interesting option to discover a wider variety of sites and islands. But the quality of the dives can be felt: the guides on the boats do not always know as well the sites as those which are in the year in the resorts ... There are more and more operators, more and more. more choice, short cruises (only the North of the archipelago) and long cruises (including South to Misool).

We must also be aware that the multiplication of diving cruises, in recent years, with influx of boats and divers on the same sites, has an impact on coral and reef fauna, and begins to become problematic. During my visit to Raja Ampat in July 2016, a draft quota, to limit the number of boats present at the same time in the different protected areas, was under study, but has not been completed to date.

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 above, the cruises-dives are rather organized during our winter period (between October-November and March-April), the most favorable to sail in the region.

In March 2012, I had a short cruise in the North Archipelago with the boat Black Manta, the company White Manta Diving, which I found very well at the time. 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, newer, from the same company).

  • 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 plays the intermediaries with the operators. I do not know him personally, but I used his services in 2012 and I was very happy. We exchanged by e-mail to settle a lot of details, it was very reactive, very nice. Otherwise, in the same style, there is this site which is not bad damn also to locate availabilities: Liveaboard.com
  • If you are not comfortable in English and prefer to contact a French intermediary, there are cruise offers on the sites Dazzle Dive and Asiaqua, managed by Valérie and Olivier, French people long settled in Asia. Most well-known French tour operators have cruises to Raja Ampat in their catalogs, I'll let you find that for yourself. Wallacea Dive, long-established French operator in Indonesia, also organizes cruises to Raja Ampat now.
  • 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, Moluccas of the Center to Raja Ampat (departure from Ambon, arrival in Sorong). UPDATE : this magnificent boat no longer exists, it burned and sunk in late January 2018. But the owners have temporarily chartered another sailboat, the Mutiara Laut, to continue to insure cruises, and plan to launch 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.)

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, accommodation options in Sorong have been expanded. There is no crazy choice, but most travelers only spend one night on arrival and / or return. Among the most comfortable to recommend is the Belagri, the Swiss-Belhotel, the Royal Mamberamo.

Cheap lodgings: homestays

In the islands of the archipelago, there are now many "homestays" as I indicated 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 accommodation, the rates are of the order of 500 000 Rp to 800 000 Rp per day (30 to 50 € approximately) in "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):

Kayak 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 we can paddle with a guide, beaches where we can camp, or homestays installed for some in fabulous places in the heart of the archipelago , far from everything ... Different routes, pre-established on a map, are possible.

To move in 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 rates are sometimes a little "at the head of the customer". Independent travelers, group yourself! Otherwise, most homestays offer boat trips by the day, rates 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)!

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 great diving spots! And I'm not very familiar with the Misool area 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 Triangleit is the epicenter of marine biodiversity in the Indo-Pacific zone. 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)

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!

Yet things are starting (alas) to change: manta rays, disturbed by boats and divers, are now rarer at the Manta Sandy site. Previously pristine beaches are littered with cut coconut trees 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 dropping daily groups of tourists on the sandbank at the tip of the island in front of Kri for picnics or 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. The ecosystem of Raja Ampat is fragile and threatened by our sightseeing, among other things. Environmental protection organizations and local initiatives are working to support the development of Raja Ampat, by supporting eco-tourism and various conservation programs involving the Papuan population... Some links (in English) to find out more:

→ Raja Ampat Research and Conservation Center (RARCC)
→ SEA Center by Papua Explorers
→ Misool Foundation
→ Raja Ampat conservation programs (on StayRajaAmpat)
→ Conservation International
→ The Nature Conservancy
WWF at Raja Ampat
→ Barefoot Conservation
→ Kalabia Education for Conservation

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.)

Books about 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.

A Papuan French-speaking guide in Sorong

I received in early 2018 an e-mail ofAlberth Sorondanya, a native of Papua and geologist by training, who studied in France, Lille. I do not know him personally, but he explains that he is currently based in Sorong and offers his services as a French-speaking guide to Raja Ampat and elsewhere in West Papua (Baliem Valley, Cenderawasih, Nabire, Triton Bay, etc.).

He speaks very good French and English, and can also help you organize your trip upstream. For people who would like to contact him, I put his coordinates below:

Facebook page → Alberth Douglas Sorondanya

E-mail → paceguide [AT] gmail.com

Alberth's profile picture, on his Facebook page.
Alberth's profile picture, on his Facebook page.

Conclusion

  • I do not have a recommendation for "cheap addresses", I also do not have "good plans" for accommodation on a desert island or a dream beach, nor a "recipe" for not spending a round in Raja Ampat. There are deserted islands, but really deserted, with just birds, couscous, jungle and mosquitoes, all over the archipelago. Think of 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 quite unable to know if it will be fine precisely from February 28 to March 12. Or if it will rain a lot or just a little from December 10th to 22nd. I have a good command of the humid climate (Breton or tropical), but I am not a meteorologist nor Mrs Irma.
  • Yes, there are mosquitoes in Raja Ampat - no more than elsewhere in these latitudes - and they can transmit malaria. But I can not decide for you whether you should take preventive treatment or not. 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 du 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 poiscaille, 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 & #160; 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 - October 2015

  Indonesia: Raja Ampat - January 2015

  Indonesia: Alor + Raja Ampat - July 2012

  Indonesia: Raja Ampat + Bali - March 2012

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