There are many things that are wondrous about the Raja Ampat Islands, but perhaps the biggest wonder of all is how a place this mystically beautiful has largely remained a secret.
But it won’t be for long. The Raja Ampat Islands was deservedly voted as one of the best trips for 2013 by National Geographic and described as an ’emerging island Eden.’ Truth is, that’s not an overstatement – Raja Ampat really is an underwater Eden.
Located just off the northwest tip of West Papua, Raja Ampat is a cluster of over 1,500 small islands, cays, and shoals surrounding the four main islands of Misool, Salawait, Batanta, and Waigeo, as well as the smaller island of Kofiau.
It is these four main islands that give Raja Ampat its name, which translates to ‘four kings’ in Bahasa Indonesia. The entirety of the Raja Ampat islands includes over 40,000 km² of land and sea, including the Cenderawasih Bay, which happens to be the largest marine national park in Indonesia.
Underwater, Raja Ampat has a reputation as the Amazon of the Oceans. That’s not a stretch, either, considering that there are reefs here containing more species than the entire Caribbean.
There is a richness in wild marine life unparalleled elsewhere and here, divers have the opportunity to come face-to-face with recent discoveries such as Raja Ampat’s walking shark and pygmy seahorse, as well as the whole array of more familiar underwater creatures such as manta rays, leatherback turtles, and bumphead parrotfish. Did we mention that Raja Ampat is also home to three-quarters of all known coral species?
Raja Ampat is not so shabby above water, as well. Imagine lush rainforests, sandy islands formed atop coral reefs, wild mangroves, and stunning beaches. On the Wayag islands, you’ll find steep limestone cliffs blended with dense jungles jutting out of cobalt oceans and lined with pristine white sand.
The lush jungle canopies mean you’ll get a chance to glimpse rare bird species while you’re above water. It’s worth waking up at before the crack of dawn to witness the wonderful mating dance of the endemic red bird of paradise.
There’s no doubt about it – the Raja Ampat Islands are paradise. And it won’t remain unspoiled for long – get here before the crowds do.
Fun Facts about Raja Ampat:
- Raja Ampat’s name comes from a local myth of a woman who finds seven eggs. Four of the seven eggs hatch and become kinds that occupy four of Raja Ampat’s main islands while the other three become a ghost, a woman, and a stone.
- The main occupation for Raja Ampat inhabitants is fishing since the area is dominated by the sea. Inhabitants live in small colonies of tribes that spread throughout the area.
- Although Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, the inhabitants of Raja Ampat are mostly Christian.
- On Raja Ampat’s Um Island, you can bear witness to bats circling the skies during the day and seagulls flying around at night. This little island is home to diurnal bats and dotted with caves.
Best Time to Visit Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat is close to the equator so you’ll find the temperatures don’t vary much year-round. Air temperatures range from around 25oC (78oF) to 31oC (89oF) but it can feel quite a bit hotter since the region’s average humidity is 83%.
The ocean is warm year-round, too, with an average surface temperature of 29oC (84oF). But in terms of best times to visit for water-related activities – like diving – is October or November since the sea is very calm during the autumn months.
Overall, though, the best time to visit Raja Ampat starts from October and extends until April. The best months during that period is from October to December. Try to avoid the summer months – June through September is monsoon season in this area and you’ll find yourself experiencing a lot of rainy afternoons.
How to Get to Raja Ampat
Papua is not as well-serviced as other parts of Indonesia, so getting to the Raja Ampat Islands is going to be a multi-leg trip.
You’ll first have to fly in to Sorong, one of the largest cities in West Papua. There are flights into Sorong from several domestic destinations, such as Jakarta and Bali, as well as from a few other cities in Southeast Asia such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, or Davao.
Flights are offered by:
- Sriwijaya Air
- Express Air
- Batavia Air
- Lion Air
- Wings Air
- Silk Air
- Garuda Indonesia
- Pelita Air
Including transfer times at either Makassar or Manado, the total travel time is around 7 hours.
Once you land in Sorong city, you’ll have to make your way to Waisai, which is the capital of Raja Ampat. There are speed boats available to take you there and it takes around one and a half hours to reach Waisai. There are also public boats that make the Sorong-Waisai route. There are 2 a day – one in the late afternoon and one in the afternoon.
You can either stay on Waisai Island or hire small boats to get to the other islands.
How to Get Around Raja Ampat
Wasai is the main island and there are longboats, speedboats, motorboats and dive boats that connect Wasai to all the other islands. If you want to get from one place to another on the island, you can either walk or take an ojek (motorcycle taxi).
Things to See and Do on Raja Ampat Islands
Dive, Dive, and then Dive Some More
There’s good reason why Raja Ampat is called the ‘Amazon of the Oceans’ – according to Conservation International, the marine life diversity in the Raja Ampat area is the highest recorded on Earth! Raja Ampat is repeatedly named as one of the top ten best dive spots in the world for this precise reason.
Thanks to the islands’ remote location, the coral reefs here are pristine and relatively undisturbed by humans. As for underwater life, marine life diversity is considerably greater than any other area sampled in the entire Coral Triangle, an area composed of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste. Considering the Coral Triangle is the heart of the world’s coral reef biodiversity, that makes Raja Ampat the richest coral reef ecosystem in the world.
Raja Ampat is a must-dive spot.
If you’re not diving, snorkeling can be just as good. You won’t go as deep, but you’ll see plenty of underwater wildlife anyway. Swim with Manta Rays, sea turtles, and huge schools of fish – the Raja Ampat area is home to 1,508 fish species, 537 coral species and 699 mollusk species!Don’t forget an underwater camera!Catch a Glimpse of the Birds of ParadiseThese birds are beautiful. See them – it is worth every lost minute of sleep…and then some.
There are around 1,500 islands here so you probably won’t get to them all – unless you’re highly motivated with a motor boat and an open schedule. Most people will get to several of the islands – find out the best ones and how to island hop around Raja Ampat. Kayak Through MangroversEnough said.
What to Eat in Raja Ampat
If you’re not staying in an all-inclusive resort or on a dive package, your dining options on Raja Ampat will consist of small restaurants, outdoor markets, and warungs (family-run cafes and stores).
A good option is to stock up on ready-to-eat, pre-packaged food in Sarong before heading to Wasai.
Raja Ampat Travel Tips
There are hotels and homestays on several of the smaller islands – if you’re staying on one of them, make sure you take your essentials with you! Many of the smaller islands don’t have shops so pick up things like toilet paper, snacks, and drinks!
It’s also always a good idea to make sure your adventures and possible travel mishaps are covered. We highly recommend World Nomads. They cover cover travelers from over 150 countries around the world, offer great rates, and cover a range of travel-related costs from the more commonplace – lost baggage and cancellation costs – to the more severe – emergency medical and evacuation assistance as well as coverage for a wide range of adventure sports and activities. Click here for rates!