Raja Ampat in a nutshell
Raja Ampat is remote, exotic, beautiful, and literally pulsing with life. The fish life explodes in front of you. Is Raja worth the time & money? Yes it is. Don't do a short trip.
Intro to Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat, which means "four kings" in the Indonesian language, encompasses a large area just west of the island of New Guinea, in an Indonesian province called West Papua. The diving is usually done via liveaboard, although there are a few excellent land-based resort options. Raja Ampat boasts incredible numbers of medium to large size fish, good macro, and great hard and soft coral reefs, along with some muck and mangrove sites. The underwater diversity of this area is amazing, and the topside beauty is stunning.
Among hundreds of islands, Raja's warm waters offer the dive traveler some of the world's most spectacular scuba diving. Being so remote, reaching Raja Ampat is no easy task, as it requires three or more flights. But you should do it. In fact, Raja Ampat is one of the few dive travel destinations that many people say they would definitely go back to - the Bluewater Travel staff included!
Typical Raja Ampat Dive
A good dive in Raja Ampat will involve a large number of fish circling you, and a small or possibly large amount of current. Healthy reefs often extend much deeper than 100ft, and are also healthy in 10ft of water. A tender boat will often drop you at the dive site, and do a live pickup wherever you surface. Although there are around 40 liveaboards currently in Raja Ampat, they cover an enormous area and generally you will have dive sites to yourselves.
Depending on tide movements, some dives can involve strong currents, and some divers will use reef hooks to tether in place. Otherwise, an open water ascent may be required. In such cases, tender crew need to be vigilant to ensure safe retrieval of every diver. A safety sausage is highly recommended, so crew can easily identify distant, drifting divers.
Raja Ampat Marine Life & Photography Subjects
Raja Ampat has one of the highest number of fish species of any place on the planet. Wobbegong sharks and (skittish) reef sharks are commonly seen, especially once you learn where to look for the Wobbegongs. The rare walking shark is also found on certain night dives. The endemic Raja Ampat Epaulette shark (walking shark) is also found on certain night dives. This small, harmless carpet shark only comes out at night. While appearing to walk on the ocean floor with its fins, it can actually move surprisingly fast!
Jacks, barracuda, Napoleon wrasse, trevally, and bumphead parrotfish are seen on many dives. Pygmy seahorses are found at most dive sites, along with a good variety of nudibranchs. Macro diving at the piers is excellent. You will also see lots of juvenile fish such as batfish, angelfish, butterflyfish, barramundi cod, parrotfish, etc.
If you look a little deeper when the current picks up, you can see reef sharks at most sites, especially at places like Blue Magic and Sardines. These are also prime locations for schooling fish, which tend to gather when the current is running. At such times, it’s not unusual to be surrounded by clouds of fusiliers and surgeonfish in mid-water, while legions of sweetlips completely obscure large coral heads below.
Although not a muck-diving location, you will see a large range of macro subjects such as shrimps, eels, squid, jawfish, blennies, gobies, etc. There are some muck diving sites in Raja, but we think it is better to plan a dedicated macro trip somewhere else.
The fortunate diver may encounter the remarkable golf-ball sized Blue Ringed octopus. These highly venomous cephalopods rank as one of the most deadly animals on earth. A single bite from this diminutive octopus means quick and almost certain death. However, these creatures are rarely aggressive and present no danger to divers as long as a respectful distance is observed.
Watch this 45 minute webinar to learn more about Raja Ampat, it's marine life, main diving destinations, and to see if this destination is right for you!
Big Animals in Raja
Although Raja is not known as a big animal place, there are a couple of locations like Manta Sandy that are very reliable for mantas. Schools of large bumphead parrotfish are frequently encountered, especially at sites like Cape Kri and Boo Windows. Great barracuda and Napoleon wrasse can also be seen at several sites.
This Raja Ampat video shows a turtle, manta, barracuda, sweelips, a very nice wobbegong at 2:27, and a walking shark at 3:45
This video gives a pretty good idea of what diving in Raja Ampat is like. The manta ray action starts at 3:04
Best Time To Dive Raja, Water Temps And Visibility
October to April is considered the best diving season - when you'll find less rain and better visibility. Visibility generally ranges between 30 to well over 70 feet. Raja has a lot of nutrients in the water, so don't expect stellar vis, but it will generally be good enough for wide-angle photography.
June 15th to September 15th can be very, very windy and rough - monsoon season.
Raja water temperatures
Water temperatures are a consistent 80F~86F degrees year round
Raja Ampat areas and top dive sites
This is "classic" Raja Ampat - Cape Kri, Manta Sandy, Mios Kon, Mike's Point and Arborek Jetty. Sites like Sardine's Reef, Mike's Point and Blue Magic are considered "epic". These world-class sites should be dived early and often. Currents can be strong, but the currents bring the fish out. Wobbegongs are more common in this area. There are also good mangroves with archerfish near Citrus Ridge that are worth a visit.
Cape Kri is known as perhaps the most diverse dive site in the world, with respect to fish life. Dr. Gerry Allen documented 374 species of fish at this one dive site in a single dive, a world record!
Batanga has several muck diving sites that may produce weird critters, macro subjects and various cephalopods. These sites are fairly close to Sorong, and are often done on the first or last day of a Raja Ampat trip.
Misool is known for its exceptional soft corals and forests of healthy mangroves. In some places, soft corals are actually growing on mangrove roots in very shallow water, which makes for some excellent wide-angle photography. There are also archerfish in the shallows, which look hunt for insects on low-hanging branches, then knock them into the water by spitting water at them! If you want great soft corals, make sure Misool is on your itinerary. There was a saltwater crocodile attack in the mangrove area of Misool in 2009, so please note that some boats are avoiding the mangrove area, check with your operator. The dive sites around Misool, such as Boo Windows, are full of fish, color and are simply outstanding.
Waigeo Island and "The Passage"
On the south side of Waigeo island is a famous dive area called "The Passage", also known as Kabui passage, where mangroves and soft coral exist in very shallow water. Overhanging trees meet sea fans here, and it is considered heaven for shallow water video and wide-angle underwater photography. Not all trips stop here - check with your particular trip.
Triton Bay is actually several hundred miles southeast of Raja Ampat, and boats usually sail out of Kaimana, not Sorong. This area is quite remote, and not many boats go here. Visibility is usually only 15-30ft due to nutrients in the water, but the life here is fantastic, with a profusion of soft corals and fans along with incredible fish diversity. Fak fak and Kaimana are also in this area. In some years, dive boats have not been allowed into this area because of permission disputes.
Raja Ampat is a bit difficult to get to. The only direct flight is from Jakarta, though traveling from Manado is a good second choice. You'll fly into Sorong, West Papua, which is the departure point for most liveaboards. The current recommended route is to overnight in Jakarta, and then catch a direct flight to Sorong in the morning. Please note that baggage allowances on the flights to Sorong can be small, and excess baggage charges are strictly enforced. The Bluewater Travel staff can help you plan the best route for your trip.
Bali, Manado, Bunaken or Lembeh would all be natural combinations with a Raja Ampat trip. You may also want to combine a Raja Ampat liveaboard with a few days at a land-based Raja Ampat resort. Most liveaboards will do one-way trips between Ambon or the Banda Sea to or from Raja Ampat, which is a great way to see a larger more diverse area, as the boat transitions from one region to another.
Hikes on some of the islands can offer outstanding vistas. The trek to the top of a small island can be sweaty and steep, but once you reach the top, the stunning panorama of sweeping ocean, dotted with picturesque islets, will make you forget your burning legs and lungs! Bring sturdy hiking shoes, not flip-flops for these hikes. There is not much to do in Sorong.
Raja Ampat essential facts
- Money - Indonesian Rupiah. A dollar or Euro will get you a lot of them.
- Electricity - generally is 220 volts, with 2 round pin plugs (European Standard)
- Vaccines - none are essential for US visitors. It is recommended that you are up to date with Typhoid, Tetanus/Diphtheria, Hepatitis A and Polio for any trip to the tropics. Malaria prophylaxis is strongly recommended if you plan to go ashore around dawn or dusk, especially for land-based resorts. Check with your doctor for specific recommendations.
- Visa - most countries can receive a 30-day visa ($25) upon arrival to Indonesia. Make sure your passport has a blank page, and is valid for 6 months. Many airports are have now phased out the $25 visa.
- Language - Bahasa is the language of Indonesia. It is very easy to learn, and we suggest you learn hello, thank you, how are you, and what is your name before your trip.
- Safety - Raja Ampat is fairly safe; just use common sense as you would in any remote area.