Some places in Asia may claim to be an ‘idyllic paradise island’ but when you get there, the reality is it’s often a concrete jungle overrun with tourists, pushy merchants and maybe even a Starbucks.
The Raja Ampat archipelago however, situated in West Papua, Indonesia, is more than worthy of that title. It’s pretty far from all the other tourist hot spots and therefore not on everyone’s radar, and the area appears to have maintained its natural charm and beauty as a result.
With pristine white sands, impossibly clear blue waters and a wealth of exciting adventures, Raja Ampat is the paradise you’ve been searching for.
Now before I begin, there is one thing you need to know. Raja Ampat is expensive compared to most of Indonesia. Getting here is a mission, and is pricey – but doing it within a reasonable budget IS possible.
How to Get to Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat is home to more than 1,000 islands located just off the northwest tip of Bird’s Head Peninsula in West Papua.
To access any of the islands you will first need to get to the port of Sorong. There are no direct international flights but you can fly into Sorong via Jakarta, Makassar, Ambon or Manado. Airlines include Lion Air, Xpress Airlines, Sriwijaya Airlines, Nam Airlines and Garuda Indonesia.
A return flight from Jakarta will cost you around $230-350USD, flights from Bali are possible (with a stopover) and should cost around the same, but check schedules and book things in advance as some airlines may not fly every day.
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One you land in Sorong, you’ll need to get to the port (a taxi won’t cost you much) and then jump on one of the public ferries to Waisai on the island of Waigao. Departure dates and times vary depending on the day and time of year, but essentially there are two ferries, a slow one and a fast one, and at least one should run each day. The fast ferry takes around two hours, and the slow one four.
To stay up to date with ferry timetables check out The Sorong Tourism Office, but be aware these times are just guides and delays/changes should be expected.
Prices vary again, but are normally no more than $10-20, depending on the type of boat and type of ticket. Top price will get you a VIP ticket on the fast ferry with a comfy seat in an air conditioned room, and best of all you’ll have access to a karaoke machine which is loaded with some amazing 90s pop hits!
Insider Tip: Make sure you get whatever cash you need in Sorong, there are ATMs at the airport and near to the port. There are a couple of ATMs in Waisai, but don’t rely on these being functional.
The final part of your journey will be to get from Waisai to your accommodation. This will normally be by speedboat which can be arranged in Waisai but a better option is to contact your accommodation so you don’t have to deal with the haggling.
If you are travelling to Raja Ampat as a group this will help share the cost here, so make sure you buddy up. Transport costs will usually be around $8-10 per way when arranged with your homestay.
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What to Do in Raja Ampat
It may be a mission to get to Raja Ampat, but once you’re there you’ll thanks us. You are surrounded by natural beauty and while relaxing on the beach is a superb option, for the more adventurous there is plenty of awesome stuff to do.
Venture Out to Piaynemo
Without a doubt the highlight of the area is Piaynemo. A collection of mushroom shaped rocks, floating amongst turquoise waters. It’s what ‘James Bond’ island on Phi Phi may have looked like 15 years ago before the boat tours ruined it. Piaynemo without a doubt has one of the best views in all of South East Asia!
Ask at your accommodation for a day trip out here. Boats can be a little pricey depending on how far away you are staying, so again make sure you have plenty of other backpackers ready to go and share the cost.
On arrival, climb the 340 steps to the viewpoint and simply stand there in amazement at what lies in front of you. This is panoramic bliss, pure untouched beauty from left to right. Get your camera out, take a few snaps, but then put it away and breathe in the sights. It in unreal!
When you’ve had enough of staring (I stayed up there for 30 minutes!), come back down the steps and take a leap off the jetty into the refreshing waters. Floating there and looking up at the rocks surrounding you is a real treasured traveler moment.
Diving and Snorkeling in Raja Ampat
We all know Indonesia has some great spots for observing marine life but nothing will really prepare you for what you’ll see underwater here in Raja Ampat.
Home to 1,000 types of coral, fish, manta rays and sharks you probably won’t see anywhere else, it can easily stake a claim for one of the best dive spots in the world. Reports suggest that around 75% of the world’s species live here and similar to anything else you do around these parts, you won’t be swimming past hundreds of other divers to get a good look.
The most popular dive spot around here is Misool where you can expect to see hard and soft coral, huge underwater beasts and amazing macro life. It can be expensive to get here due to the cost of the boat again, so if your budget doesn’t stretch that far there are plenty of dives closer to land that are equally as impressive.
If you’re staying at Arborek village, you can dive just off the island and see huge schools of tropical fish and even manta rays. Night dives are also available and are a great way to see some rare species. Just check up on credentials and equipment quality before jumping in with anyone.
If you’re not certified, grab a snorkel and a mask and dive in off the jetty, honestly you’ll see just as much this way and also save a lot of cash.
Look out for lionfish, angel fish, puffer fish, star fish, rare jelly fish and the occasional shark. Just go there, dive or snorkel, and then come back and tell me if you’ve ever been to a better spot.
The price of diving greatly varies depending on where you inquire. Some homestays offer diving experiences where you can expect to pay anything from $35-70 for a dive. However, Raja Ampat is known for it’s strong currents so we highly suggest going with reputable dive schools instead of some random guy with a tank.
If you’re an experienced diver looking for some of the best diving experiences in the world, we suggest hopping on a liveaboard trip. With a liveaboard, you’ll get access to some of the more remote areas where the diving is absolutely unparalleled.
There are a range of liveaboard trips in Raja Ampat, from budget to luxury, so you can find a trip that fits your budget. It’ll definitely be worth every penny!
Raja Ampat Island Hopping
There’s so much diversity around these parts. Each island is unique its on own way, offering incredible isolated beaches and towering jungle landscapes. The people around these parts are what truly make it special though and arriving on any of the islands you can expect to be mobbed by an army of local fans.
Check out Arborek Village where upon arrival, I was greeted by a singing clan who marched us around the whole island, dancing along the way. Then they treated us to some traditional island grub and continued to play and sing as we relaxed in the beautiful sunshine.
Everyone here had a smile on their face and they were so happy to see us. I guess that’s what living on an adorable island will do to you!
For another adventure, check out Sawinggrai island where you can sit with the local children and feed the fish. Get there later in the day and you may even be lucky enough to see the birds of paradise, incredibly beautiful birds with the most marvelous feathers used to attract the opposite sex.
Budget Tip: If a speedboat trip doesn’t fit into your budget plans you will be able to rent a kayak for a fraction of the price and go explore some gorgeous beaches, while at the same time working on your upper body strength. Also, try to gather up a larger group to split costs of traveling around. Local pump boats do the trick as well!
Raja Ampat Jungle Trekking
Ask at your accommodation for guide and get your hiking boots on.
Many of the bigger and some of the smaller islands have amazing jungle treks where you can see an incredibly diverse range of wildlife. Walks can be done without a guide, depending on which island you’re staying, but it’s not recommended and a local will happily take you around and show you the sights for a small price.
Overnight camping trips can also be arranged if you really want that castaway island experience.
Read: Hiking the Baliem Valley in Papua on a Budget, by our friend Miguel.
Raja Ampat has to be one the most relaxing places in all of Southeast Asia.
Grab a book and lie down, for hours on end and just listen to the silence. Wifi and mobile data is never going to be great in a place like this so just enjoy the digital detox for a bit- it will be good for you!
No matter how many nights you stay, you are pretty much guaranteed a beautiful sunset every evening. Watch it from the comfort of your sun lounger as the sun slowly descends behind the horizon, spraying hues of orange and purple up into the sky. You honestly won’t get bored of this.
Imagine secluded dive spots, incredibly rich marine life, and all the diving you could dream of. This is liveaboard diving!
Check out the link below to find the best lifeaboard deals all over the world and start planning the adventure of a lifetime.
Where to Stay in Raja Ampat
There are a lot of fancy hotels and lodges around Raja Ampat, but for price and experience you won’t beat a good homestay.
For homestays, we recommend staying at Arborek Village. You’ll pay around $30 a night for a basic bed, but you’ll get the chance to hang out with the locals and sample the local cuisine. The people here are amazingly friendly, plus you can do some really great diving and snorkeling right from the island and keep the cost of that way down.
However, apart from homestays, here are a few recommendations on where to stay while in Raja Ampat.
Alter Native Stay
They offer basic sea view bungalows with breakfast at decent and affordable prices. (Prices start at $45 for one person for a private bungalow.)
HamuEco Raja Ampat
The place is very basic but the calm waters right below your bedroom will lull you to sleep in no time. (Prices start at $150 for full board (all meals) for two people)
Waiwo Dive Resort Raja Ampat
This dive resort is located right by the beach, giving you full access to the sea and all of its glory.
Within a few steps, you can dive and snorkel as you experience what makes Raja Ampat so famous. Although the place is pretty expensive for what you get, the location is pretty unbeatable! (Prices start at $250 for full board (all meals) for two people.)
Raja Ampat Dive Lodge
Last but not the least, located by the beautiful island of Sorong, Raja Ampat Dive Lodge is one of the most beautiful and convenient places to stay in Raja Ampat. Jump straight out of the pier and experience their vibrant snorkeling and marine life.
To see prices and read reviews, check: Agoda | Booking.com
For more recommendations on where to stay, check out Stay Raja Ampat for a list of recommended homestays in the area.
Permit Info for Raja Ampat
Please be aware there is also a marine park permit fee for visitors to Raja Ampat, and at the time of writing this was around $100USD for international travelers, and $50USD for Indonesians. The cost of the permit is used to help preserve marine conservation in the area.
You will need this in advance and it can be bought from the Tourism Information Center in Sorong, which is opposite the airport access road. You will need cash for this so please be prepared.
You may also be asked to pay additional permit fees when visiting certain sites in Raja Ampat, such as Piaynemo. This may be included as part of your boat fee, but may not, so just check in when booking a tour.
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Is Visiting Raja Ampat Worth It?
Visiting Raja Ampat isn’t always going to be first choice for any budget conscious traveler, but we feel the experience is so unique and so authentic that it’s worth all the hassle it takes to get here.
So is it worth it? 100% yes!
My advice would be to go now. If transportation options improve then it might not remain the idyllic little secret it is now. I doubt it’ll ever go full ‘James Bond Island’, but if your version of paradise is pristine beaches and untouched waters, then Raja Ampat is the spot for you.
Disclaimer: This guide was written in partnership between Adventure in You and the Indonesian Tourism board as part of the 2016 Trip of Wonders tour.
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