Raja Ampat is a spectacular place for anyone who wants to dive, snorkel, or just hang out on remote Indonesian atolls.
This fantastic travel destination is spectacularly beautiful, lightly touristed, and nearly inaccessible. So if you’re going to venture out on a Raja Ampat journey, here are some things you need to know.
1) Getting There
Our travel required the following steps: a plane, a smaller plane, a taxi, a ferry, and a speedboat. Yup, that’s five forms of transportation (plus a very long layover in Jakarta). We started in Singapore, so we had only two flights; if you’re coming from regions further afield, you may have even more. This is a travel commitment.
To get to most places in Raja Ampat, your first travel step is going to involve making your way to Sarong, the largest city in Southwest Papua.
Getting to Sorong is more challenging than it sounds — flights are few and seem to be available only at awkward times. You might need to stay overnight in Sorong in one direction or another in order to make the timing work.
If you’re heading out on a liveaboard (more about that later), the next step is easy: get on the boat. But if you’re staying at a resort or a homestay, you’ll probably have to get a taxi from the Sorong airport to the Wasai-bound ferry. If you’re staying at a resort, they’ll likely organize the taxi and ferry tickets for you; if you’re at a homestay, there’s a high chance that you’ll have to figure this out on your own.
The ferry takes about one-and-a-half to two hours to get to Wasai (this depends on the route and the seas). The seats are comfortable enough, though it’s nothing fancy.
Once you make it to Wasai, you’ll have to spend four or five minutes carrying or dragging your luggage around to the speedboat pier — and from here, you’ll be whisked away on a speedboat to one atoll or another.
2) Where to Stay
You pretty much have three options: a live aboard, a resort, or a homestay. Here are the pluses and minuses of each:
Liveaboard: These are big, beautiful ships with everything you need on board. They’re wonderful because they can cover a lot of territory, and when you wake up in the morning, you’re right where you want to be for snorkeling or diving. Rumor also has it that the food is great. The drawbacks are that they’re wickedly expensive and generally require at least seven nights’ commitment (often more).
Resort: These are pretty much what you’d expect: individual huts strung out along the beach, with a central area that has a restaurant, dive shop, and maybe a pool.
We stayed at Agusta Resort, but there are plenty of small resorts to choose from. The advantages to a resort are that you have more personal space and the ability to get out and walk on the beach or snorkel the house reef whenever you like. You may also have amenities like AC and WiFi (though you should check the fine print for both). The disadvantages are that (1) they’re still pretty pricey and (2) you need to take a speedboat any time you want to go anywhere, which usually takes at least half an hour (or more), so you lose a lot of time in getting from point A to point B.
Homestay: This is usually a collection of anywhere from two to six traditional Papuan huts lined up along the water.
The advantages of homestays are that they’re fantastically cheap, and you’re supporting the local economy because they’re run directly by individuals in small villages. Some of the homestays are also in stunningly beautiful locations. Rumor has it that food is a mixed bag — you have to choose your homestay carefully. The downside is that homestays are pretty rudimentary: beds on the floor, no AC, often no WiFi or electricity or hot showers. Only a few have dive operations.
If you want to check out homestays, Stay Raja Ampat is a great association that has all sorts of useful information.
3. What To Pack
In lieu of providing a complete list of packing items here — and thereby recreating the wheel — I’ll refer readers to the excellent list provided by Papua Explorers resort. But here are three key tips:
- Remember to bring coral-friendly sunscreen! If you think you’re going to find any in Raja Ampat, you’ll probably be disappointed.
- Snacks are key if you think you’ll find yourself craving mid-day nuts, dried fruit, or anything sweet. Your accommodations may not have much in the way of extra foodstuffs.
- If you like a rum & Coke while watching sunset or a touch of whiskey as a nightcap, you might want to pick up some liquor at duty free.
4. What To Do
Dive and/or Snorkel: This is the most obvious way to spend your time, because some sort of underwater fun is the main reason most people end up in Raja Ampat in the first place. The fish, corals, and other sea life are out of this world.
As a snorkeler, my favorite locations were Cape Kri (so many fish!!!) and Pinnacle. But there are dozens of spots to choose from.
Visit the Pianemo Islands: A trip to Raja Ampat would not be complete without a visit to this famous set of karst formations.
You need to hike up a significant set of environmentally-friendly stairs to get up to the view, but it’s worth it.
Greet the Morning With Birds of Paradise: Raja Ampat is one of the only places in the world where you can see a red bird of paradise. You’ll need to be up and out the door incredibly early to see them (our wake-up was 4:45 a.m.), and then you have to hike in the dark through the muddy jungle — but wow, what an amazing thing to see (and hear).
If you’re lucky, you might also catch a glimpse of a common spotted cuscus (a possum-like marsupial) or a Papuan hornbill (aka Blyth’s hornbill).
Walk on a Beach: If you get tired of swimming or diving, it’s good to stretch your legs by walking along one island shore or another.
Of course, if you’re tired of walking, you can plop right back in the ocean with the fish. There’s always water somewhere!