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Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Raja Ampat is a tranquil strip of islands renowned for its mesmerizing natural spectacles. Its clear waters boast some of the world’s most biodiverse dive sites teeming with lively sea creatures and vibrant coral gardens. This remarkable Indonesian archipelago is sure to delight divers and snorkelers eager to explore temperate tropical waters.

Geography of Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Raja Ampat is located at the intersection of the Indian and Pacific Oceans in the Coral Triangle. More specifically, it is situated at the northwest corner of Indonesia’s West Papua province, comprising more than 1,500 islands that cover over 15,000 square miles (40,000 square kilometers) of land. Boasting a sparse population, its islands are packed with sublime sceneries, including rich jungles and white, sandy beaches. Meanwhile, its clear turquoise waters are constantly being fed with nutrients from powerful deep-sea currents, surrounding the archipelago with spectacular coral reefs and an abundance of marine life. The region’s name literally translates to “four kings,” which pays tribute to a legend about four rulers who reigned over the main islands: Waigeo, Misool, Salawati, and Batanta. Blessed with otherworldly beauty courtesy of its lush forests, pristine waters, and breathtaking biodiversity, Raja Ampat certainly lives up to its recently acquired sobriquet—the “emerging island Eden”.

Waigeo

Waigeo is the largest island in the archipelago, stretching 1218 square miles (3.15 square kilometers). Aside from a variety of Raja Ampat diving and snorkeling sites, Waigeo houses a plethora of wildlife in its forests, including the coveted crimson Bird of Paradise.

El Pasaje

El Pasaje, or The Passage, treats divers to a surreal experience from its initial descent all the way down to its maximum depth. Beneath its waters are unique, eye-catching corals and light-filled caverns home to intriguing nudibranchs you’ll definitely want to revisit. While the plunge itself is relatively shallow at only over 49 feet (14.9 meters), you’ll need intermediate skills to navigate your way through its narrow passageways and caves. If you’re skilled enough, you can even ride the current to meet turtles, barracudas, and humphead parrotfish.

Arborek Jetty

Located at the south of Waigeo in the Yangefol region, Arborek Jetty is an underwater photographer’s dream. Here you’ll find giant clams the size of table tops, as well as epaulette sharks, curious batfish, and patches of coral. But what really makes the challenging 80-foot (24-meter) dive worth it is the ascent to the surface. As you near the shallows below the jetty, thousands of schooling baitfish will encircle you (which may force you to second guess your plan to resurface). Of course, you’re welcome to marvel at the view so long as you check your tank!

Misool

The island of Misool is the second largest of the group. Its waters are renowned for harboring 75% of all known species of sea creatures and corals, making it one of the most biodiverse dive sites in the world. Misool has also gained public traction for its surreal white-sand beaches and caves etched with historic petroglyphs.

Magic Mountain

Magic Mountain is a seamount dive fit for underwater thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies. The offshore pinnacle is exposed to strong currents, offering nonstop action as you work your way down the ridge. If that doesn’t sound entertaining enough, the dive spot also gives you a chance to get up close with manta rays as they pass by wrasse-filled cleaning stations. What’s more, a beautiful range of sea fans, soft corals, and assorted aquatic animals are scattered all around the perimeter. Before submerging 65 feet (20 meters) below sea level, be sure to have the right skills to fare well in the presence of a forceful stream. Use a reef hook for a safe, yet equally exhilarating dive.

Kaleidoscope

Aptly named after the trippy optical instrument, Kaleidoscope is a vibrant underwater paradise that’s sure to leave you speechless. It’s characterized by sloping walls covered with a lush layer of soft corals in almost every color imaginable. The experience is made more memorable by equally brilliant sea critters like pygmy seahorses, ghost pipefish, harlequin shrimp, and flatworms.

Salawati

Located in the more remote sections of Raja Ampat, Salawati is reachable only by boat. Novice and expert divers flock to this island for its tranquil waters filled with colorful coral reefs and exotic nautical animals.

Manta Sandy

Manta Sandy blesses divers with the best manta encounters in all of Raja Ampat. It is located south of a magnificent reef close to the west end of the Dampier Strait, and is home to a multitude of aquatic animals drawn to the plankton and strong currents. Rightfully one of the flagship dive sites in the archipelago, Manta Sandy is frequented by tourists to witness what is best described as an underwater ballet. Graceful manta rays with wingspans up to 22 feet (seven meters) loop around the waters in an enchanting dance, making the 65-foot (20-meter) dive well worth the effort. You might even come face to face with a rare black manta ray!

Batanta

Batanta is the smallest of the four king islands, having a land area of only 174.9 square miles (453 square kilometers). Its rocky surroundings is a playground for a variety of birds, while its calm seas boast astonishing plunging coral reefs and different kinds of tropical marine life. Batanta is also the place to visit to leave with the best muck diving experience.

Black Beauty

Black Beauty is an incredible muck dive site in Raja Ampat, found on the southwest coast of Batanta. In a single destination, you get three novel views as you explore the bay from east to west. The easternmost side is filled with algae housing all sorts of critters like mimic octopus and ghost pipefishes. Moving westward, you’ll encounter various octopi and frogfishes hiding in the black sand until you finally hit a vibrant coral garden near a bordering river. When diving in Black Beauty, remember to descend slowly so as not to scare away the sea creatures.

Happy Ending

Happy Ending is another signature critter site in Raja Ampat. Like Black Beauty, it is located in the southwest coast of Batanta and characterized by sloping black sand and fascinating sea creatures. Nudibranchs are the usual animals to welcome divers in its calm waters, but tiger shrimps, crocodile fish, and snake eels are also abundant in the site.

Marine Life

  • Long-Beaked Spinner Dolphins - These aquatic mammals are known for their spectacular water acrobatics and twisting jumps. While they are usually a bit shy, a couple of dolphins may approach your boat while you’re liveaboard diving in Raja Ampat.
  • Epaulette Sharks - Epaulette sharks love staying on the seafloor to walk on their fins. When the tides are low, they can even walk on land as needed. You can easily identify them once you see white-margined spots behind their pectoral fins.
  • Electric Clams - At first glance, electric clams may fool you into thinking they’re emitting their own light, but in truth, they are merely reflecting ambient light on the outer edge of their mantle. Nonetheless, seeing them “flash” from red to white is extremely intriguing.
  • Ghost Pipefishes - Ghost pipefish are beautifully decorated with a unique exterior. They are great subjects for underwater photography as they come in different colors, but are usually tricky to find. Look for them hiding in feather stars or black corals and stay alert!
  • Blue-Spotted Stingrays - Unlike their relatives, blue-spotted stingrays don’t hide in the sandy bottoms of dive sites. Instead, they show off their beautiful blue spots as they swim across the depths of the sea. While divers are attracted to their markings, the spots are actually used to ward off other creatures by signaling venomous properties.

Other Attractions

  • Pasir Timbul Beach - If you plan on visiting Pasir Timbul’s white sands and crystal clear waters, you’d need to consult local guides as the sandbar disappears during high tide.
  • Harfat Jaya Peak - This destination gives a majestic view of islands, lagoons, and lush greenery. It takes about 30 minutes to get to the top, but the climb wouldn’t feel so tedious once you catch a glimpse of its heavenly scenery.
  • The Sacred Cave of Tombol - Apart from its breathtaking structure, the Sacred Cave, or Goa Keramat, is prized for being the burial spot of an Islamic missionary. It is also heavily visited by archeologists to uncover historical secrets.

How to Get There

Despite being a little secluded, traveling to the Raja Ampat Islands is pretty straightforward, albeit time-consuming.

By Air
Since there are no direct flights to the archipelago, you’re going to have to book one to Sorong—the gateway to Raja Ampat. You do this by heading to Jakarta, Makassar, Ambon, or Manado and fly out from there. Unfortunately, Sorong is as far as air travel is going to take you. From there, you’ll have to make other arrangements by sea.

By Sea
Once you’re in Sorong, head to its harbor and take a ferry to Waisai, which is the capital of Waigeo. You can take the express ferry for a little over nine US dollars (130,000 Indonesian rupiah) for economy class or a VIP class for over 15 US dollars.

Getting Around
To get from island to island, Raja Ampat offers many boat rental services, with fees ranging from 142 to 356 US dollars (two to five million rupiah) per day. The steep price is attributed to expensive fuel rates in Sorong.

Best Time to Visit

To get your money’s worth, time your visit during Indonesia’s dry season, which runs from October to April. These months also assure you spectacular dives as it is a time when the waters are calmer and manta rays cruise in large numbers. Temperature readings are consistent throughout the year, ranging from 77 to 89.6°F (25 to 32°C), but could feel a lot hotter due to the humidity.

Required Trainings & Certifications

With a wide selection of dive sites in Raja Ampat, divers of all skill levels can find numerous spots that match their level of experience. However, if you want to explore every underwater gem around the strip of islands, you must be a certified advanced open water diver. You can get your certification before your vacation or learn in Papua’s five-star PADI Dive Center.

Miscellaneous Information

Currency
The US dollar is accepted by upscale establishments and online booking websites, but transacting with smaller business will require the Indonesian rupiah.

Language
There are many languages spoken in Raja Ampat, thanks to its geographical makeup and influence from neighboring communities. Resort staff and liveaboard crew can speak a little English, but their native tongue is Raja Ampat Biak or Bahasa Indonesia.

Time Zone
Raja Ampat follows Eastern Indonesian Time. This means the islands are nine hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC +09:00)

Driving Side
Raja Ampat follows Indonesia’s standard of driving on the left side of the road.

Calling Code
The area code for Raja Ampat is (+62) 956. Dial this after your country’s exit code and before the specific local number.

ISO 3166 code
Raja Ampat is covered by Indonesia’s ISO 3166-2:ID.

Internet TLD
There is currently no top-level domain specifically assigned to Raja Ampat, but Indonesia uses .id.