Raja Ampat, located in the West Papua province of Indonesia, is home to 1,500 islands that comprise one of Southeast Asia’s most beautiful and pristine regions.
The area is known for its jungle covered islands, turquoise waters, hidden caves, and an unparalleled diversity of marine life.
This is a destination made famous by stunning views and until recently, a place only visited by avid divers.
But today, Raja Ampat Indonesia is gaining more and more popularity and is becoming a bucket list destination in Asia not just for divers, but those looking for an adventure off-the-beaten-path.
For us, the biggest reason to visit Raja Ampat was an opportunity to explore the underwater world of this biodiverse region, but we were pleasantly surprised to discover many other reasons to visit this lesser known of Indonesia destinations.
Why Visit Raja Ampat Indonesia
Tourism in Indonesia has grown exponentially over the last few decades.
But unlike Bali, Lombok and other popular places to visit in Idonesia, Raja Ampat has remained a hidden paradise, visited by less than 30,000 tourists per year.
Most visitors travel to Raja Ampat for scuba diving, but more and more non-divers are starting to discover the crystal clear waters, stunning views, and jungle-covered islands that are beaming with an abundance of unique birds and other species.
A trip to Raja Ampat offers a peaceful escape from the hectic tourist cities and popular destinations in Indonesia and an opportunity to connect with nature at its best.
Scuba Diving in Raja Ampat
For diving enthusiasts, the biggest reason to visit Raja Ampat Indonesia is the underwater world that lies beneath the surface.
A Marine Protected Area was established in the region in 2007 and now covers around 35,000 square kilometres and 45% of Raja Ampat’s coral reefs and mangroves.
Thanks to this and other conservation efforts in the region, the marine life diversity in the area is known to be one of the highest on the planet.
Scuba diving in Raja Ampat Indonesia is considered by many to be the best in the world.
The region boasts some 200 dive sites, particularly known for their hard and soft coral varieties, more than 1,000 types of coral reef fish, and 700 types of mollusks.
Dive sites in Raja Ampat offer an opportunity to see everything from manta rays, turtles, and sharks to tiny creatures like pygmy seahorses and nudibranchs.
Massive schools of tuna, giant trevallies, snapper, and even barracudas frequent the waters.
Raja Ampat diving is often considered to be more suitable for advanced divers with experience diving in strong currents and deep seas, but there are plenty of sites suitable for Open Water Divers and even those looking to discover scuba diving.
Snorkeling in Raja Ampat
The underwater world is not limited to those with a scuba diving certification. There are lots of snorkeling spots, particularly in Northern Raja Ampat that offer the same variety of marine life and corals but at much shallower depths.
In Central and Southern Raja Ampat, the best snorkeling spots are often found on the house reefs of resorts and local home stays.
The underwater world of Raja Ampat may be the main draw card of this region, but the scenery above the surface is no less spectacular.
The 1.500 Raja Ampat Islands are covered in lush jungle and surrounded by crystal clear waters, offering picture perfect views.
The most popular spot to admire the beauty of the region is Pianemo Island, located within the Fam Islands. The hike to the lookout is short, consisting of just 300 stairs leading to the lookout platform.
From there, you can admire the stunning views and snap beautiful photos of the landscape that made this region famous.
If you ask us, a day trip to Piaynemo is a must for anyone visiting this region.
Birds of Paradise
The biodiversity of the Raja Ampat Islands extends beyond the underwater world.
The islands are one of the few places in the world where you can spot Birds of Paradise, locally known as the Cendrawasih.
There are 42 species in the Birds of Paradise family but most birders travel to Raja Ampat to see Wilson’s and Red Birds of Paradise.
These beautiful birds are known for their vibrant colours and a unique and absolutely fascinating courting dance. Both birds can be seen on Waigeo island, as well as on Gam and Batanta Islands.
Waterfalls & Rainforest Adventures
Those looking to get active outside the water while on a trip in Raja Ampat will be happy to know that the islands offer plenty of hiking opportunities.
The four islands of Raja Ampat, Waigeo, Salawati, Misool, and Batanta are particularly famous for an incredible range of wildlife found in diverse habitats.
But many of the smaller islands offer hiking opportunities, rainforest explorations, waterfall trails and some, like Misool Island, even caves.
The rainforest is lush and thick, so wandering without a guide is not recommended, but organizing a trip with a local expert is easy and something that can be arranged through any home stay and at most dive resorts.
A chance to interact with the local community should not be missed while visiting Raja Ampat.
A number of local villages, like the popular Arborek Tourism Village, offer an opportunity for travelers to visit the village and learn more about its people and their culture.
With only 40 families, Arborek Village isn’t very big, but the residents here are friendly and very welcoming.
Most women in the village make handicrafts which are sold on the island and a number of villagers also put on traditional performances.
The trip to Arborek Village usually takes no more than 2-3 hours, but it offers plenty of great opportunities to interact with locals, see their traditional houses, and meet the cute kids who love to welcome visitors to their shores.
How to Get to Raja Ampat
Getting to Raja Ampat is not an easy feat, but that’s probably what’s keeping the crowds away from this pristine hidden paradise.
To get to the region, you’ll need to fly to Jakarta or Denpasar and take a domestic flight to Sorong, the capital of West Papua.
Most flights layover in Makassar or Manado, although Air Asia recently added a new non-stop flight from Jakarta.
Upon arrival in Sorong, you can take a 2-3 hour ferry from the port to one of the islands or arrange a 1-2 hours fast boat transfer directly to your dive resort.
The city of Sorong is not a very pleasant place to be, so we recommend limiting your time there and transferring to your final destination shortly after your arrival to the city.
Best Time to Visit Raja Ampat
If you’re asking yourself when should I go to Raja Amapat Indonesia, it can be visited year round, but the best time of the year for diving is between October and March, when the waters are calm and warm.
In our experience, visibility underwater was much better in October than in March, but that of course depends on the weather patterns, currents, and temperatures.
Rainfall in the region is at its highest from May to September. Many operators will actually close down for the season between July and September.
Where to Stay in Raja Ampat
Despite its remote location, Raja Ampat accommodation options are plentiful, ranging from simple but comfortable home stays to luxurious resorts.
Staying at one of the local home stays will give you an opportunity to experience the local way of life and the incredible beauty of the region for a very affordable rate, while spending a few nights at a luxurious dive resort will provide all the comforts along with great food and excellent on site dive shop operations.
Raja Ampat Dive Resorts
During our visit, we stayed in the beautiful Papua Paradise Eco Resort, located on Birdie Island in Central Raja Ampat.
Our overwater bungalow overlooked the house reef and spoilt us with amazing sunset views. The resort had an on-site restaurant with a delicious menu of international and local buffet style meals.
There was also a fully equipped 5-Star PADI Dive Centre that offered daily dive trips to local sites as well as more remote destinations like Fam or Kri Islands.
Most of the staff at the resort were from the local villages and were very friendly and welcoming during our time at the resort. Our stay at the resort was a perfect blend of diving, activities and relaxation.
Raja Ampat Liveaboards
Those looking for a more dive focused trip and wanting to cover more ground, can also consider joining a Raja Ampat liveaboard.
There are over 50 of them available in the area, ranging from 5-14 days on board.
The comfort levels on liveaboards vary dramatically based on the luxuries available and on the price point, with most mid-range boats offering spacious cabins, comfortable AC rooms and great food.
No matter what accommodation option you choose, we guarantee that you’ll love your time in one of the best places to visit in Indonesia.
Our biggest advice – don’t cut your trip too short.
Plan to spend at least 5-7 days in the region to give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the underwater world and take part in some activities on land.
Time flies by here and the worst part of any trip to Raja Ampat is the day when you have to say good-bye to this beautiful paradise!
For more information to plan your trip to #WonderfulIndonesia, visit www.Indonesia.travel.