With greens and blues as far as the eye can see, deserted beaches and an underwater ecosystem to delight the most seasoned snorkellers and scuba divers, the Raja Ampat archipelago is Indonesia’s quintessential island getaway. There are many ways to explore this remote paradise, only one guarantees a trip you’ll never forget.
Located in the far-flung reaches of Papua, Indonesia, Raja Ampat is a place with raw natural magnetism. Above and below the shimmering ocean, the archipelago’s 1,500 islands and cays buzz with life: birds of paradise flit and flounce through lush jungle canopies and 75 percent of the world’s known coral species intermingle beneath the waves. The sheer magnitude of the archipelago is astounding and its beauty irresistible but, as holiday destinations go, it could be more straightforward – for local buses, think local boats; for sightseeing, you’ll need a snorkel and binoculars, not just a pair of sunglasses and a sense of direction. But fear not. This travel guide contains everything you need to know to make your stay in Raja Ampat the trip of a lifetime.
How to get to Raja Ampat
First, you’ll have to fly to Sorong, the hub for most Raja Ampat travel plans. Garuda Indonesia and Sriwijaya airlines have daily flights from Jakarta to Sorong, though some routes may require you to make a connection.
You need a permit to visit Raja Ampat and you can purchase one at the Tourism Information Centre in Sorong or at designated spots in airports and ports. Usually, if you sign up for an organised tour, the operator will secured a permit for you but it never hurts to check.
From Domine Eduard Osok airport, head to the harbour and catch a public boat to the island of Waigeo. The journey costs approximately 145,000 Indonesian rupiah (£7.50) per trip.
How to get around the archipelago
From Sorong onwards, your journey’s most likely going to involve a boat. At the harbour, you’ll see boats with varying fees and capacities available for rent. Travelling alone will always cost more than joining organised group tours, though it does come with its own advantages. If you have the cash to spare, a liveaboard sailing ship is a luxurious and practical option, giving you transportation and accommodation in one.
Always ask about transportation arrangements when booking accommodation, especially if you aren’t travelling with a tour operator.
Where to stay in Raja Ampat
If getting a massage on the terrace of an oceanfront villa is your thing, Raja Ampat’s luxury resorts are certainly worth the splurge. Opting for a humble homestay or a few nights in a traditional hut, meanwhile, will grant you a glimpse of Papuan life. There are also a few inhabited islands where camping is permitted – just make sure to get a permit from the local community, which you can acquire for a small fee. And there’s always the liveaboard option, which makes your doorstep your next diving spot.
What to pack for your island getaway
In addition to the usual island getaway essentials – suntan lotion, swimwear, hat, sandals, sunglasses – throw some comfortable walking shoes and mosquito repellent into your luggage. The risk of contracting malaria isn’t high, but it’s a possibility, so wear light long-sleeved clothes in the evening and sleep under a mosquito net at night – these should be provided even in homestays.
Make sure you have all relevant legal documents – passport, visa, proof of a return ticket, insurance policies, dive certifications – with you, and keep them waterproof. Many resorts accept credit card payments but make sure you have rupiah bills for things such as food on the go and tipping. Remember to withdraw or exchange money in Sorong, if not before, as ATMs and money changers can be scarce on the more remote islands.
If you have it, bring your own dive gear, especially things like safety whistles and mask straps. A dry bag or waterproof pouch for your electronic devices is another Raja Ampat must-have. It’s also advised to have a pair of binoculars at hand – bird watching is an activity in the archipelago that’s sorely overlooked.
If you’re going to bring your own toiletries, among which dry shampoo is probably a necessity, make sure they are environmentally friendly. The hospital in Raja Ampat has only the very basics so make sure to pack enough of any medication you need for the duration of your trip.
Where to go in Raja Ampat
Trek on Pianemo
With jungle-clad rock formations scattered in turquoise waters, Pianemo is Raja Ampat in miniature. Across the archipelago, you can find sweeping vistas of green and blue, but few compare to those on Pianemo. For the best of the best, trek up the 340 steps to the viewpoint on the main island.
Experience local culture in Arborek
Not far from Waigeo’s port, Arborek is a village on stilts where you can expect a warm welcome from local people, one involving dancing, singing and feasting on traditional food. Its coastline is renowned for its unspoiled beaches and snorkelling spots. Don’t leave without buying a locally made hat or noken (string bag).
Kayak around Kabui Bay
White-sand beaches and dramatic karst formations divide lush tropical greenery and the sparkling ocean at this Gam Island nook. Kayaking is a popular activity in the bay, promising encounters with exotic fish, birds of paradise and, if you’re lucky, dolphins. The area is also home to Goa Tengkorak, a cave that contains the skeletons of the island’s ancient inhabitants.
Dive at Manta Sandy
Squadrons of mantas roam the waters of Manta Sandy, an area whose rising popularity means that diving is now regulated. Only twenty or so divers are allowed in the water at a time, which, though it requires a little more planning and waiting, makes for a far more intimate, not to mention sustainable, experience.
Dive deeper at Mike’s Point
This is one for more experienced divers. During World War II, the US Air Force kept confusing Mike’s Point with a Japanese ship, bombing it repeatedly. The resulting blown-off chunks and caves now form a unique underwater landscape that is home to hundreds of marine species. Whitetip sharks, turtles and sea snakes are among the creatures who inhabit this colourful coral garden.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.