Raja Ampat: Ultimate Underwater Expedition

Raja Ampat or ‘Four Kings’, is the name given to the four major islands: Waigeo, Misool (which is home to ancient rock paintings), Salawati, and Batanta.

Underwater enthusiasts flock to this region because it offers the world’s best marine sights. On the Raja Ampat islands, divers can explore vertical underwater walls. The thrill of drift diving is another great challenge. These are the awesome experiences you will find in Raja Ampat.

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The territory within the islands of the Four Kings is enormous, covering 9.8 million acres of land and sea, home to 540 types of corals, more than 1,000 types of coral fish and 700 types of mollusks. This makes it the most diverse living library for world's coral reef and underwater biota. According to a report developed by The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, around 75% of the world's species live here.

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While the landscape may look like a dream, this is not an illusion. As you embark on your dive, the phrase "Attention to detail" takes on new meaning as pigmy seahorses swim around your fingers. Manta Rays and wobbegongs will glide right by you. Tuna fish, giant trevallies, snappers, and even barracudas are there to complete your underwater "meeting list". Not to mention the friendly assistant of the dugong, and a busy colleague, the turtle.  Natural and untouched beauty is the main attraction here.

Getting There
If you are flying from Jakarta, you can take a six hour flight to Sorong with a stopover in Manado.  Alternatively, you can join a diving tour in Bali and fly from there. You will find Sorong just like any other city where you can get almost everything, although prices are higher due to its remote location. Usually only divers come to Raja Ampat, so you will not find many other tourists around. Joining a tour is the most common practice when visiting Raja Ampat. You do not have to be a professional diver to join a tour, as tour operators sell tours for both divers and non-divers.

Flying from Jakarta/ Bali to Sorong, with connecting flights in Makassar or Manado
are offered by:
1.    Merpati
2.    Express Air
3.    Batavia Air
4.    Lion Air
5.    Wings Air
6.    Silk Air
7.    Garuda Indonesia
8.    Pelita Air

There are daily ferries available between Sorong and Waisai, capital of the Raja Ampat district on the island of Waigeo. Ferries leave Sorong at 13.00 hrs and the journey takes between 1.5 to 2 hours. The return ferry from Waisai to Sorong leaves around 11am. There are also speedboats for hire  at Sorong. 

Getting Around
Commonly, divers will join a tour and live in a diving resort during their stay in the Raja Ampat Islands. To access diving spots, please contact and use the professional diving organizers, who can be conveniently found in Sorong.

Before going to a dive spot, you'll need to obtain a permit from the local Papua police station. You will need to bring your passport and three (3) copies of the passport page with the Indonesian Visa. The diving organizers can help you with these formalities

From Sorong, there are two type of boats available:
Speed Boat (40 minutes - 1 hour boat trip, carries 15 passengers
Long Boat (2-3 hour boat trip and could carry 10 passengers 

You may rent a small boat if you wish to stop and make personal discoveries along the line of the beaches. As the Raja Ampat Islands have four mountainous main islands and hundreds of small islands in their vicinity, you may want to take this opportunity to explore. In addition, the Karst area is a beautiful and original natural phenomenon, as it has various unique flora and fauna as its attractions e.g., Bird of Paradise (Cenderawasih) Botak, Red Cenderawasih, Maleo Waigeo, Kus-kus, orchids, palm etc. You can also trek around the islands to find hidden beauties, like waterfalls and ancient caves.

To Do
The Raja Ampat islands are a truly natural phenomenon with enormous biological diversity. The amazing marine landscape means that underwater photography should be on the top your list during your stay.
However with Raja Ampat’s natural conditions, high endemic level of land, sea biodiversity, coastal ecology, and local culture & tradition, the islands offer more than just amazing landscapes to photograph.

So you may also consider:
•    Wreck diving
•    Sailing
•    Kayaking
•    Exploring the islands by boat
•    Visiting the Red Bird of Paradise
•    Enjoying the Karst islands around Wayag Island
•    Exploring the bat caves (literally, not the Dark Knight variety)
•    Make your own wood sculpture guided by an Asmat artisan
•    Fishing using traditional Papuan techniques
•    Trekking to discover waterfalls
•    Feeding couscous
•    Snorkelling
•    Watching The Sea Ghost

-       On North and West Waigeo - you can see a traditional bamboo flute (suling tambur) performance. This traditional performance usually takes place during religious festival, on Independence Day, (August 17th), and during visits from important officials or leaders.

-       In East Waigeo - particularly in front of Urbinasopen and Yesner villages, there is a very interesting and unique natural phenomenon, which can only be seen every year-end. A light comes out from the ocean and wanders around on its surface for about 10 – 18 minutes. After that, it disappears and can only be seen again at the following years-end. Local inhabitants in both villages call this phenomenon the “Sea Ghost”. This is more than just a sunset view, overlooking from your liveaboard.

-       In Tomolol - you'll be amazed by the caves in the area, where you can see paintings of huge human palms and animals which were painted by ancient cave dwellers.

-       At Salawati - the ever-flowing waterfall, a sight not to be missed.

-       Ayau islands - consisting of small islands on a very large atoll. Many islands in this archipelago have white sands with a large seabed connecting one island to another. But there are also islands with unique sands that the local community calls “zandplaat”, which are a unique habitat for local vegetation. On these islands, mothers and children of local tribes collectively catch sea-worms (insonem).

-       South Waigeo – favourite destination for diving enthusiasts But while you are here, why not take the chance to visit Kabui Bay with many karst islands, goa tengkorak (cave of skulls), and the historical sites of Raja Ampat in Kali Raja.

-       In Sawandarek - there's a white sand beach with sea ducks and beautiful corals. In addition, there is a traditional village where you can walk around in and enjoy the unique slow paced atmosphere.

To Eat
Dining services are provided by the diving organizer, and range from an international menu to fresh traditional food made by the local people. Naturally, there will be a variety of seafood dishes. Do try the fish soup. There's a local specialty called Sup Ikan Kuning (Yellow Fish Soup), served with local spices.

To Stay
Presently on Saonek Monde, a Tourist Centre and harbour are being constructed. In the near future there are plans for three resorts to be built on Nyandebabo, and Batbitiem, Waiwo, and Waigeo Selatan Islands. But in the meantime, you can choose from the alternatives below:

  • Sorido Bay Resort, which is famous for the house reef
  • Kri Eco Resort, a traditional resort built over the water
  • Island camp
  • Boathouse (most diving agents provide this service)

And even though Raja Ampat islands have only few visitors, there are already hotels and homestays on Saonek, Mansuar, and Yenwaupnor islands.

Tips:

  • October or November is the best season for diving in Raja Ampat because the ocean is typically flat and perfect for photography
  • Bring your underwater camera AND underwater photography know-how. Because taking underwater photos is not that easy  
  • To organize your travel you use travel agents with services in Indonesia. Just contact the agents in any international gateways in Indonesia (Bali, Jakarta, Medan, Batam, etc)
  • Sun blocks, sunscreens and hats are required
  • Bring anti-mosquito repellants and anti-malarial medicines