The Ultimate Travel Guide to Raja Ampat, Indonesia

A clamp shell washes up on a Raja Ampat shoreline
A clamp shell washes up on a Raja Ampat shoreline | © Erry M Subhan / Alamy Stock Photo
Edira Putri

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.

Most journeys to Raja Ampat begin in a taxi queue on the Indonesian island of Sorong

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.

From Sorong Harbour, it’s a trip by boat to reach the archipelago

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.

Liveaboard sailing ships are a two-in-one travel and accommodation solution

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.

The coral reefs around Raja Ampat contain 75 percent of the world’s coral species

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.

A 340-step climb will give you a panoramic view of Pianemo

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).

Indigenous culture is still going strong in the village of Arborek

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.

Dolphins sometimes come to say hello to kayakers around Kabui Bay

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.

Diving with black manta rays is restricted to ensure an unforgettable 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.

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