Anna’s Favourite Warm Water Dive Destination #8 – Raja Ampat, Indonesia
RAJA AMPAT – WEST PAPUA – INDONESIA
Where is Raja Ampat and what’s so special about it?
Technically you wouldn’t be wrong to say that Raja Ampat is situated roughly halfway between Madagascar and Mexico, and is an archipelago made up of the four (Ampat) Kings (Raja) islands (pulau) of Misool, Batanta, Salawati and Waigeo. In reality, however, there are more than 1500 islands here, with a total population roughly the same as the British town of Salisbury. You can spend a week anywhere here and spend time with pretty much only the people you’ll dive and stay with, either on a liveaboard or on land (I spent a week on Gam, one of the smaller islands. No roads, no mains electricity, no noise, no light pollution. Marvellous). Other advantages include its considerable and stunning marine life biodiversity and a reef system agreed as housing the richest ecosystems on earth. This area is also home to the incredible Birds of Paradise (for your entertainment – watch “Dancing with Birds” on Netflix, narrated by Stephen Fry).
Why should I dive there?
See above. What other reason would you need? You won’t run out of dive sites, nor things to see. Absolutely incredible. You will likely see the Tasseled Wobbegong shark, Giant Clam, Bumphead parrotfish, pygmy seahorse and many kinds of frogfish. Raja is also known for some fierce currents, so get some diving practice in before you go to fully appreciate it. All the islands will offer spectacular diving – Misool is considered the crème de la crème as it really is so much further (and less explored/busy).
When to go?
October to March has the calmest waters if you’re doing a liveaboard. Having said that I was there in November and some days were pretty choppy, but not blown out. Visibility is superb, and the water is always warm.
What to take?
There’s a fair bit of flying involved, so definitely trade out the heavy wetsuit for a dive skin. My favourite is the Sharkskin; it’s super light to pack, windproof, warm, quick drying and neutrally buoyant. Also buy a reef hook. Do NOT be tempted to buy one there or any other dive related item for that matter, as you will pay double or triple UK prices. Take a camera and learn how to use it before you go! If you’re going to be island based, particularly homestay, do take some snacks and favourite foods like apples, oranges and snackbars, as the food can sometimes get a little samey (in my experience). Drinking water is in good supply but don’t forget your reusable water bottle, and a good supply of electrolytes! Try to take as little packaging as possible, or plan to take it away with you.
Preparation, preparation, preparation!
It takes time to get there, so plan your time appropriately. You’ll fly into Sorong, and if you’re land based you will need to take a speedboat to your accommodation. It’s very easy to arrange one (just tell your accommodation and they’ll pick you up), but not particularly cheap (too many variables to list here – the exchange rate at a glance is…. Knock four zeroes off the end and divide by 2 e.g. 3,000,000 rupiah 🡪 3,000,000 🡪300 🡪 £150 approximately.) If you’re land based, you may need to pay cash (the bigger resorts will take cards, homestays don’t), and hence you’ll need to plan a larger than normal zipped bag/Ziploc to carry around your wad of notes.
Where to stay?
You can choose to spend as much or as little as you wish, from high end luxury liveaboards (the Dewi Nusantara, anyone?) which will give you a fabulous selection of incredible dive sites throughout a week or 15 nights, to basic beachfront homestays (from around £25 a night upwards, including board), up to beautifully appointed dive resorts (Raja Ampat biodiversity Resort for example). One salient point to note… the liveaboards boast photos of white billowing sails atop romantic Phinisi schooner style yachts… you may get a last morning photo op with the sails up, but don’t be fooled – you’ll be motoring around the dive sites, not sailing. Homestays are all grouped and managed under the “stayrajaampat” website since they’re remote and don’t all speak English or have internet. It’s a great website for info on all the islands and their attractions: https://www.stayrajaampat.com/ultimate-raja-ampat-guide/raja-ampat-islands/ It’s also run by volunteers who do an amazing and fair job.
Raja Ampat is definitely a splurge destination – but as much as you want to spend all your time underwater, do plan for a few days on land exploring the jungle and the magnificent birds of paradise on Waigeo, or plan to go further afield down to Misool which is 4+ hours by speedboat from the airport town of Sorong and may set you back over £300 (round trip) on top of your accommodation. You may want to plan a trip to the highly picturesque Piaynemo island lookout (below is a picture of my friend and dive guide Tommy precariously showing off there).
How to get there?
Sorong airport is your destination whether land or liveaboard based (there’s a smaller airport in Waisai but isn’t that useful for transfers). You get there via Jakarta, Makkasar, Manado, then a ferry (huge, busy, cheap, relatively comfortable, air conditioned, fascinating if you’re a people watcher) to Waisai, then a small boat to your destination. It’s a long, long trip and you will know you’re on the other side of the planet by the time you get there. Plan the length of your holiday accordingly. I only had an hour and a half flight from Manado but the transfers took all day from Sorong to Gam (see map below) and vice versa.
Good to know?
Overweight luggage isn’t actually that expensive on the local airlines.
Get your cash before you get to Indonesia, preferably! ATMs limit you to 1,000,000 at most (£50).
Bring a good first aid kit and make sure you have insurance (Dive and travel). Dive conservatively. There is a deco chamber in Waisai, but it’s expensive and doesn’t guarantee 24/7 operation. The nearest DAN approved chamber is in Manado (see above for my trip times to and from Manado).
I stayed at Yenros Homestay and dived with Raja Ampat Biodiversity Resort next door, on Gam Island.