Raja Ampat Travel Guide has been written in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia. A big thanks to them for inviting Drifter Planet for a press trip to their beautiful country.
A group of islands that are far away from the mainland with pristine beaches, spectacular viewpoints and the richest marine biodiversity on earth – this is Raja Ampat.
Two months back I died and I went to heaven. Heaven looks like something like this…
Yes, it’s true that there are countless destinations around the world that are famous for beaches and marine biodiversity, but there is nothing like Raja Ampat. Why? Because Raja Ampat doesn’t get many visitors and it is easy to enjoy the beauty without the crowds. Moreover, it is a part of the famous “Coral Triangle” that every marine enthusiast and scuba diver knows of. The coral triangle is also called the “Amazon of the seas” because it covers only 1.6% of earth’s oceanic area but has more than 76% of all known coral species in the world.
I spent a few days in Raja Ampat and I got to see some of the most beautiful beaches, colorful marine life, remote villages, and spectacular sunsets and met many wonderful people. Wouldn’t you wanna know more about this slice of paradise?
- Where is Raja Ampat
- How to Get to Raja Ampat
- Where to Stay in Raja Ampat
- Things to do in Raja Ampat
- 01 | Scuba Dive / Snorkel
- 02 | Visit Pasir Timbul and Witness Nature’s Magic
- 03 | Climb up to the famous Pianemo Viewpoint of Raja Ampat
- 04 | Meet the beautiful locals of Arborek Village Island
- 05 | Visit the School Kids at Taman Bacaan Pelangi
- 06 | Visit Sawinggrai Village (or Sawing Ray Village)
- 07 | Go for Bird watching to see the Birds of Paradise
- 08 | Visit Kabui Bay
- When to visit Raja Ampat
- Travel Tips for Raja Ampat
- Travel Costs for Raja Ampat
- Have you visited Raja Ampat already?
Where is Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat is in Indonesia. If you look at the map, you will notice that Indonesia is highly spread out. Raja Ampat is the east most part of Indonesia and is a part of the island group of New Guinea. These set of 1500 islands that collectively form Raja Ampat are in Indonesia’s West Papua province.
How to Get to Raja Ampat
Here’s the thing, good things in life are never easy. That’s the case with Raja Ampat because getting there can require a bit of patience and determination. It took me more than a day to reach Raja Ampat from Yogyakarta with a night stay in Makassar.
To get to Raja Ampat, you need to reach Sorong. Flights to Sorong can be taken from Jakarta or Bali or Yogyakarta or even Singapore (Silk air). These flights will most likely stop in either Manado or Makassar. Once you reach Sorong, you will need to get to the main harbor of Sorong for your ferry to Waisai, which is on the island of Waigeo and is the capital of the Raja Ampat. You can take an express ferry or a slow boat, and both leave in the mornings at 9 am or 11 am, depending on the day. The express ferry takes around 2 hours and the slow boat takes around 5 hours. The white and orange Bahari Express ferries are the fast boats and Fajar Mulia is the name of the slow boat. To reach your final destination, you will need to have your hotel (or homestay) send a boat to Waisai to pick you up.
To recap, refer to the below table:
Flight to Sorong -> Taxi to Sorong Harbor -> Bahari Express ferry OR Fajar Mulia ferry to Waisai -> Boat Transfer to be arranged by your Hotel / Homestay
Where to Stay in Raja Ampat
I stayed at Raja Ampat Dive Lodge, which is on Mansuar Island. Raja Ampat Dive Lodge has a long stretch of private beach right. This white sand beach is right outside this resort’s cute wooden bungalows. If you like to snorkel, you can rent one here and snorkel around the bungalows. The water is crystal clear and I saw a lot of nemos and one lionfish here.
While I was here, I woke up every morning with a smile because I could here birds singing. As soon as I would open my door, the sight of a spectacular beach would greet me. Perhaps it sounds really cliché, but I had to pinch myself to believe if it was real. It was amazing having my own space and my own private white sand beach right outside the door. Pretty often, I would see a cute little family of ducks out for a morning walk on the beach outside my cottage.
My bungalow at Raja Ampat Dive Lodge was very big and airy. It had a sitting area outside where I spent a few mornings. I was happy to see a hair dryer in the bathroom because I never carry one. The room also had a little backyard, which I used pretty often to dry my clothes.
Raja Ampat Dive Lodge has a dive shop inside, which is one of the most reputed one here. Not just dive tours, they can also organize island-hopping tours for you. The restaurant serves very good food, which isn’t as spicy as the rest of Indonesia. My best meal here was an amazing seafood barbecue with massive prawns. Yum!
Honestly, this resort is so pretty that I did not want to leave. They have limited number of cottages, so I highly recommend you book it well in advance before it gets sold out. While we were there, it was sold out and some of us had to share rooms. If you’re visiting Raja Ampat, please do yourself a favor and stay in Raja Ampat Dive Lodge. Click here to book.
Things to do in Raja Ampat
01 | Scuba Dive / Snorkel
The first point is pretty much obvious. The marine life in Raja Ampat looked like it was right out of a documentary. I saw many different kinds of fish, in a lot of and colors and sizes. If you are not a diver, then please at least spend a few hours snorkeling to because here, it is the BEST in the world.
Right outside Raja Ampat Dive Lodge, I got to see clownfish, angelfish, parrotfish, and lionfish. Obviously I saw many more but I’m not so good with fish names. When we went to our first dive site, I was amazed at the density of marine life. Orange, purple, green, blue – I was surrounded by different colors as I snorkeled around. Sadly, I couldn’t scuba dive here because it was necessary to have finished 20 dives but I had just done just two (Yes, it sucks)! Even then, the snorkeling experience was extraordinary because of the density.
As I mentioned before, Raja Ampat is a part of Coral Triangle, which has the most diverse marine life on the planet. It has obviously been mentioned as one of the top scuba diving locations in the world by a lot of travel guides. Oh and btw, we also spotted a walking shark (epaulette) in the mangroves near the pier of our hotel. (Don’t worry, they are harmless)
02 | Visit Pasir Timbul and Witness Nature’s Magic
If someone asked me to describe paradise, I’d narrate a picture of Pasir Timbul. Any words that I say won’t do any justice to the beauty but I’ll try my best. It is the most beautiful beach that I have ever seen in my life. Too bad, my GoPro lens was foggy and I wasn’t able to get the best shots.
Pasir Timbul is an area in the ocean where the sand emerges out for a few hours a day to form small sand patches. This happens when the tide is low and gradually disappears as the tide moves high. Our boat anchored at a distance of around 500 meters from here because the ocean bed is shallow here.
As the boat stopped, the view made me jump with joy. I’m not exaggerating, so here’s a picture that you can see and judge for yourself.
After this point, we had to walk (or swim) in order to reach the beaches. And yes, there was more than one beach because the sand had emerged to form mini islands. There were sandbars that connected these islands and it was fun to walk on them. I will stop describing now because you should read my travel guide for Pasir Timbul if you want to know more. 😉
03 | Climb up to the famous Pianemo Viewpoint of Raja Ampat
Pianemo Viewpoint is the most famous viewpoint of Raja Ampat and is usually the cover image of most of the travel guides and magazines about this destination. I’m sure you would have seen a picture of this at some point somewhere. Yes, it is as beautiful as those pictures.
Reaching here took us around 30 minutes on a boat from the hotel. My hangover disappeared as we anchored our boat outside the entry point where the steps began, because it was so goddamn beautiful! Everywhere around us the water was clear greenish-blue.
The steps were many but I was in a hurry to get there so I literally ran up. When I reached up, it was empty and I got some amazing pictures without anyone in them. This kind of reminded me of the amazing viewpoints in Palawaan that I a little less than a year back. Click here if you want to decide which one you like more?
After the viewpoint, we walked back down and jumped into the water for a swim. To be honest, the water was not clear here so we couldn’t see any marine life.
04 | Meet the beautiful locals of Arborek Village Island
Honestly, I knew nothing of Arborek Village and neither was I expecting too much. But I was so happy when I reached here because it was an experience to remember.
There were easily 100 village people waiting for us as our boat reached Arborek Village. Which was surprising because that’s literally half the population of the island. Several smiling children stood outside and were dressed in their traditional attire. We were informed that they had prepared a welcome performance for us.
As we stepped on the pier, those children came forward and started singing and dancing for us. It was the sweetest and the most beautiful welcome that I have ever received in my life and I had to hide a tiny tear at the end of their performance.
We were told not to click any pictures or to make any videos during their performance. For whatever reasons it may be, it was a good thing because everyone saw them through their eyes, instead of the camera screens.
After the welcome, the kids held out hands and led us inside their village. Everyone else followed us, and walked behind us singing. Many of us danced while walking so it felt like we were a part of a parade.
As we walked, we saw a continuous strip of beach on our right. On our left were a few colorful huts and I wish that one was mine. Considering the welcome that we received, I would have still liked this place if it wasn’t pretty but just like everything in Raja Ampat, this was magical. The beach here was actually very beautiful because it was wide, long and shady. As you can see the the picture, the sand was sugary white and the water was very blue. Due to the abundance of trees on the beach, it was possible to find many shady spots.
We must have walked for just 500 meters when the beach became wider. We decided to sit here to enjoy the beach for most of our time in Arborek.
The island is very small so it is easy see pretty much everything by walking. We saw a church, a school and a few homestays. After exploring and swimming around, we saw under a tree and listened to the villages sing songs while playing their handmade instruments. After while, it was time to enjoy a delicious lunch that the locals had cooked for us. Obviously there was a lot of fish.
05 | Visit the School Kids at Taman Bacaan Pelangi
Taman Bacaan Pelangi or Rainbow Reading Gardens is a non-profit group that builds libraries for children in remote villages of Indonesia. We visited this place as soon as arrived in Raja Ampat and met 100s of school children.
These children were very excited to meet us and just like the ones in Arborek, they welcomed us by performing. Right after that, we sat with them and read some of their books with them and answered their army of questions.
I knew Bollywood was big in other countries, but I never realized the magnitude till the time I reached Indonesia. I was presently surprised when I saw how the children at Taman Bacaan Pelangi School sang songs from Hindi movies.
I met Nila, the girl whose passion led her to start Taman Bacaan Pelangi. Not just Raja Ampat, but her organization has made 38 more children libraries in remote parts of Indonesia. Aren’t these kids cute? You can help Nila build more such libraries and provide resources for many other children in Indonesia by donating.
06 | Visit Sawinggrai Village (or Sawing Ray Village)
Sawing Ray or Sawinggrai Village is a tiny fisherman village in Raja Ampat. It is a typical authentic Papuan village with slow life. There is a lot to see above and below water here. I visited this village twice when I was in Raja Ampat and was surprised to see how the color of the water looks different on both sides of the jetty as the sun moves. Exactly for this, this village’s main pier is an excellent spot for both, sunrise and sunset.
In Sawinggrai Village, there are many colorful huts above the water and small walking paths. Below the water I saw some amazing corals and many colorful fish. I carried some bread with me to feed the fishes near the pier and I was amazed at the density. I don’t know the name if this black and white stripped fish but I saw it all over Palawan too! Do you know the name?
The best time to come here is late evening to catch the sunset or early morning to see the sunrise or for birdwatching. Yes, birdwatching, which brings me to my next point.
07 | Go for Bird watching to see the Birds of Paradise
If you’re a fan of Planet Earth series like I am, chances are you have seen the dance of Birds of Paradise. Red bird of Paradise and Cendrawasih (a kind of Bird of Paradise) can be sometimes spotted in Sawinggrai Village. So how do you find these pretty creatures? Pretty much every hotel or homestay can arrange to take you on an early morning tour to the spots inside the forest where these birds perform their famous mating dance.
08 | Visit Kabui Bay
While Pianemo Viewpoint is the more famous one, Kabui Bay viewpoint is also quite pretty. You can visit here along with Pasir Timbul, one after another on the same day. Unlike Pianemo Viewpoint, you don’t have to climb really high for the view. There is a little standing platform on one of the limestone rocks that can easily fit 20 people.
Personally, I prefer the view from Pianemo Viewpoint over Kabui Bay because we got a bird eye view. I highly recommend you check the weather forecast beforehand because it doesn’t look very nice when it rains.
When to visit Raja Ampat
Since it is a tropical destination, Raja Ampat can be visited throughout the year. However, the best time to visit Raja Ampat is from the months of October to April. If you’re visiting just to scuba dive, then you need to know that many dive shops don’t operate from July and September due to heavy rains.
Travel Tips for Raja Ampat
I want to share a few travel tips for Raja Ampat based on my experience there. I’m not mentioning the obvious ones like carrying a sunscreen or a waterproof bag, etc., because I assume you know that already.
01 | Travel Expenses and Budgeting
I will be honest – Raja Ampat is not a cheap destination, but is a luxury destination. Not only is the cost of getting there is high but so is the internal boat transport. I wouldn’t have been able to afford visiting a destination like this on my own if the Indonesian government didn’t sponsor me.
Although staying in Raja Ampat can be cheap if you book village homestays, it is the cost of getting there is what makes Raja Ampat an expensive travel destination. I went two months back (November 2016) and it took us two flights, two boats and one bus to reach here. Obviously if you total up all the costs, it’s not cheap.
If you can afford the cost of getting there, that’s amazing because you can find a homestay to make the rest of your holiday affordable. You can reduce your costs further if your homestay is centrally located so that you don’t have to spend a lot on internal boat transfers. Pick one in Arborek Village or Sawinggrai Village so that you’re closer to the places which I have written about.
Normally I don’t like planning things before my trips but Raja Ampat is one such destination where planning is essential if you want to save money. Make sure you speak to your hotel / homestay about boat transfers while booking.
02 | Diving
If you are a newbie diver (like me) and want to travel to Raja Ampat just to scuba dive, I’d recommend you speak to a few dive shops first. Most of the dives sites in Raja Ampat are for advanced divers with at least 20 dives in their logbook. It is because the currents are very strong and can take to the edge of the reef. But don’t be disappointed if you can’t scuba dive there because the snorkeling experience there is something you will remember for life.
03 | Prepare to be in a Remote Area
Raja Ampat is not like Bali or Palawan where you will find shops that sell basic needs. Most of the areas in Raja Ampat are so remote that you won’t find anything apart from your hotel. Pack strategically and carry everything that you may need for the time you’re there. The closest city like area is in Sorong, which will be a few hours boat ride away from your place of staying.
04 | ATMs
I’m sure you would have realized by now that Raja Ampat is really remote and yes, there are no ATMs here. A few hotels do accept cards but you need to plan and carry more than enough cash because the card machines may not always be working.
05 | Mosquito Repellent
Like most of the tropical island destinations, the mosquitos in Raja Ampat are vicious. Carry an herbal insect repellent with citronella or coconut so that you don’t cause any damage to the marine life when you swim. Using a coconut oil really helps but you need to reapply it often.
06 | Time Zone
I have never mentioned time zone in any of my travel tips for anywhere, however I think it’s important that you should know. Indonesia has three time zones because it is spread out over many different longitudes. The time zones of Jakarta, Bali and Raja Ampat are all different. Due to low network connectivity, your phone clock may not auto update, so please check with the locals and adjust your clock. It was hilarious how many of us were confused with the time while we were in Raja Ampat because to reach here we had to change three different time zones. If you don’t want to miss your early morning bird watching session or sunrise photography, do keep this point in mind.
Travel Costs for Raja Ampat
To help you get an idea, I have divided the travel costs for Raja Ampat in different sections. You can use this as a ballpark figure to plan your travel expenses. I will try to update these costs on a regular basis but I suggest you do a little bit of your own research as well after reading this article.
- Flights: Return flights from Jakarta / Bali to Sorong: USD 200 – 250
- Permit Fee for international visitors: USD 75 (or IDR 1,000,000)
- Ferry from Sorong to Waisai: USD 10 (or IDR 130,000) for one way.
- Room: Hotel: USD 150 – 200 per night (usually includes diving) ; Homestay: USD 50 per night
- Boat Tours: USD 55 – 105 per person (depending on the route)
- Cost of a beer at Raja Ampat Dive Lodge: USD 5 (or 60,000 IDR)
So are you ready to see some of the most beautiful beaches, corals and marine life that’s on our planet? Plan a trip to Raja Ampat today.
Have you visited Raja Ampat already?
Considering there are 1500 islands in the archipelago of Raja Ampat, I have probably seen just a fraction of this wonderland. If you have been there already then please share your tips and recommendations with me in comments.
You may also like reading about the below destinations:
Yogyakarta, Indonesia – 13 Things I did here that I had never done before
Palawan, the Philippines
Bohol, the Philippines
Havelock Island, the Andaman and Nicobar Island Group
Neil Island, the Andaman and Nicobar Island Group