Raja Ampat is a world-famous diving destination in the eastern-most part of Indonesia. It’s also a very hard region to get to, and once there, expensive to get around.
So even though visiting Raja Ampat has always been a dream of mine for years, I waited until both Jack and I got scuba certified and have gotten some dives under our belt. I want to make sure the visit worth it, you know?
P.S.: You don’t need to be a scuba diver to enjoy Raja Ampat. Jack and I are not hardcore divers ourselves. My mom who’s plenty terrified of the ocean LOVED Raja Ampat.
So was it worth it? ABSOLUTELY. Despite the expense and the horrible sunburn, it was such a memorable trip.
Among many once-in-a-lifetime moments, one in particular stands out: the day I went diving with giant mantas. It was one of those experiences that was seared forever into my brain. I’ll never forget the feeling. It’s hard to describe, you just have to take my word for it.
Our Raja Ampat Itinerary
We visited 2 different regions of Raja Ampat.
We spent the first part of our visit in the Waigeo region in the North. After 3 days, we went back to Sorong – the capital – to meet up with Anne, our local guide for our next part of the journey. After an overnight in Sorong, we picked up the ferry to Misool.
Misool in the southern part of Raja Ampat looks far out there on the map. In reality: it felt much, much further. Our ferry was delayed for a couple of hours because some guy was loading barrels after barrels of god-knows-what. I was watching it from the window and the lack of urgency (smoke break? Really, guys?) would test even Dalai Lama’s patience. The AC wasn’t working. On top of that Misool IS truly way out there. A 6 hr ferry ride ended up being closer to an all day affair.
But it’s worth it. We had some of our best underwater encounters in Misool.
Where We Stayed in Raja Ampat
We stayed at Biodiversity Eco-Resort for the first part of our visit to Raja Ampat. It’s a short boat ride from Waisai, the main port city on Waigeo island.
When I was doing my research, I wanted to find the best value Raja Ampat resort, but also one that fits my values of sustainability and giving back to the community. I thought Biodiversity was it. The ocean-facing cabins are built using sustainable materials sourced from neighboring villages. The architecture fits in with the region, and with a max of 18 guests at the resort, the service was excellent.
By our (cheap) standard Biodiversity was a splurge. It was the cheapest of the “luxury” resort, but was still without a doubt the most expensive place we’ve ever stayed (that’s why we only stayed for 2 nights, lol). But it was Jack’s birthday. Besides, we just traveled 40+ hours to get here. A little splurge is well deserved. Check prices.
(Besides, we didn’t know it at the time, it was the last international trip Jack and I took before COVID).
In Misool, we stayed at a local homestay called Yefgag Homestay. It was basic – a far cry from the eco-resort: a small room big enough for a fan and a mattress, and shared bathroom with water coming out a pipe on the wall. Pretty much what you should expect if you stay at a local homestay. But it was relatively clean and the food was delicious.
For us, it was comfortable enough. Besides, if you do Raja Ampat right you’ll spend most of your time exploring the regions’ rich biodiversity and very little time in your room.
Honestly, I love the experience of staying in these 2 different places. I don’t think I prefer one over the other. They’re just… different.
If you can swing it, Misool Eco-Resort is a gorgeous resort with a worthy cause. Their charity arm, Misool Foundation, run great preservation projects: from hiring rangers to patrol the water from illegal fishing to trash collection (big issue here).
Things to expect when staying in Raja Ampat homestay or resort:
- Nighttime only electricity, powered by generators (genset).
- No WiFi. Cellphone coverage if you’re lucky.
- Food is buffet style most likely consisting of fish, vegetable, and rice. As a pescatarian, this suited me just fine. If you don’t like fish, bring packets of instant noodle or freeze-dried food.
- Price includes 3 meals/day, bottled water, tea and instant coffee for drinks.
- Occasional insects (ants, roaches, rats, mosquitoes, etc).
Disconnected ferry and flight schedules made staying in Sorong necessary. I’m sure Sorong has its own attractions, but for us – it was simply a place to wait for the next leg of our journey. We stayed in Swiss-Belhotel, which was really nice, centrally located, and reasonably priced.
What We Did in Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat is one of the most popular diving destinations in the world. We met divers from all over the world coming to this corner of Indonesia just for the diving. Rightly so. The underwater biodiversity of Raja Ampat is beyond amazing. People warned us that we’d be spoiled forever after diving in Raja Ampat and they are probably right.
The reefs are home to 96 percent of all hard-coral species found in Indonesia, and 75 percent of any found around the world (source). The sharks in these waters are protected. Therefore, the whole marine food chain has remained largely intact.
A note on the current
We’re certified divers but I’m a pretty nervous diver. I was concerned about the current. A lot of the dive sites in Raja Ampat have strong current – something about its location between two major oceans.
But don’t let it deter you. I always inform the dive master that I’m new to the sport, so they can keep an eye on me. Make sure that you have a very good dive master and go with a small group. Alternatively, get a private dive master if that’s an option.
Having said that, if you have an advanced open water certification, more of the underwater world will open up for you.
Biodiversity Resort runs daily diving trips out of their in-house dive shop. The itinerary varies. We went to Melissa’s Garden and Fam Slope – 2 famous dive spots – as part of their Fam Islands excursion. We chose to snorkel at these locations because we were told that the current was not beginner friendly. That and the fact that we hadn’t dived in over 6 months.
Even from the surface, we could see that the sites were just on a different scale altogether in terms of the reefs’ health and the fauna.
The divers on this trip saw a wobbegong shark and they were really excited about the sighting. Wobbegong shark is a flat-ish fish with bold spotted patterns on their skin. Sporting what look like carpet tassels on their face, they are quite striking and rare. No wonder these divers wouldn’t stop talking about it, causing everyone at dinner to have major FOMO.
We did 4 dives around Misool. At the Manta Ridge, I was so awestruck by the gentle, floating giants I didn’t notice the current was taking me away. One of the guides luckily saw what was happening and pulled me back to the group. I would’ve been on my way to Australia otherwise. In the end, I had to be attached with a “drift hook” for the rest of the session. Every now and then, the guide would come and move my tether to a different location so I could get a change of scenery. It was rather comical looking back at it.
Despite the mishap, the giant mantas was without a doubt, the highlight of the whole trip.
Sightseeing Boat Trips
What if you don’t dive? There are lots of sightseeing trips you can do in Raja Ampat that don’t require diving.
Many of the islands are surrounded by hundreds of small limestone islets that rise from clear waters like emerald-colored haystacks. Others hide hidden white beach coves, begging to explore. We visited various lagoons and viewpoints. Explored tide pools and rock formations. We even swam in a lake filled with sting-less jellyfish. Which was SO COOL!
The best way to see these sights is to charter a speedboat. We met a Belgian couple through our guide Anne, and we were able to share the cost. Your homestay host family or guide should be able to help you with getting a boat and finding other people. It’s best to arrange this beforehand especially if you don’t have much flexibility in your schedule.
Have you seen the documentary David Attenborough’s Paradise Birds? Known for their beautiful plumage and spectacular mating dance Birds of Paradise are endemic to the region. Our time in Raja Ampat would have been a good opportunity to see them. Unfortunately we ran out of time.
I have regrets. With the loss of habitat due to logging and climate change, it might’ve been my last chance to see these birds in the wild.
Don’t make the same mistake I did. Try to see these birds if you ever find yourself in Raja Ampat. Biodiversity Eco-Resort offers birdwatching jungle walks, guided by local villagers.
Raja Ampat is such, such a special place. It’s one of the most unique places we’ve been to and I fervently hope it’ll stay that way forever.
It’s truly a privilege to have been able to witness its beautiful and bountiful nature.
Misc Tips and Resources
When visiting Raja Ampat, please keep a few things in mind:
- Wear reef-safe sunscreen. We’ve been using TotLogic mineral sunscreen for a number of years, but any mineral-based or physical sunscreen will work.
- As of the time of this writing, there is NO direct ferry from Waisai to Misool. You’ll have to go back to Sorong and most likely spend the night there. We stayed in Swiss-Belhotel in Sorong ($45/night).
- Bring your best anything-goes mentality. Things might not always happen according to plan, but they’ll work out.
- I love traveling independently but I thought it was worth it getting a local guide in Raja Ampat, esp if you’re not staying at a big resort. I’d recommend reaching to a few and see if they can match you with other travelers going your way. We found our guide, Anne, here and can recommend her. The site is invaluable in helping you plan your Raja Ampat trip. They also FB group where you can connect with other travelers.
- Reduce your metaphorical footprints. Pack out your trash whenever you can.
- When you swim with jellyfish, don’t wear fins, and don’t trash around. You will damage these delicate creatures.
You should not expect the level of service like you’d get in Bali or other more developed tourist areas in Indonesia. There are no co-working coffeeshops. Or cocktails on the beach.
It would also be a more enjoyable visit if you can count on being more independent (bring your own toiletries, study up on activities and diving spots you’d like to visit, etc) and adopt a go-with-the-flow kind of mentality. Things run on island time. Don’t count having a corner store nearby for sunscreen, snacks, or alcohol. The motto is: if you can’t live without it, bring it with you.
Sample Raja Ampat 4D/3N Itinerary and Cost
This was only for our Misool part of our trip.
09:00 We start from Sorong to Misool with Marina express.
15:00 Arrived in Yellu continue to Yefgag Homestay and check diving equipments
08:00 We start diving to Magic mountain, Nudirock, and Bowindow.
12:00 Lunch in Island. 14:00 Going to Karawapop (Big Love Lagoon).
17:00 Prepare back to Homestay
08:00 We start trip Davalen (small love lagoon), Love stone, Christmas stone, Harfat peaks, Jelly Fish lake, Putri Termenung caves, Banos islands.
17:00 Prepare back homestay
08:00 Ferry to Sorong.
14:00 Arrived Sorong
Total for 4D/3N including ticket Sorong-Misool (2 ways-economy), food and meals, boat charter: Rp 5.300.000/person or $376/person.
Diving price: Rp 750.000,-
Included: 3 dives + Equipment.
Exclude: Dive guide Rp 500.000/groups/day. tips for guide