The roaring engines fixed to a large wooden boat are finally quiet. Nothing can be heard but the rifting little waves, lapping against the vibrant paint on the sides of the vessel that gracefully slows down. Native birds hop on the tip of a small tree in one of the deserted islands in the distance.
Raja Ampat or ‘Four Kings’, is the name given to these islands and comes from a local myth. The four major islands found here are Waigeo, Misool (which is home to ancient rock paintings), Salawati, and Batanta.
Underwater enthusiasts flock to this region because it offers the world’s best marine sights. Two days earlier, some of these travelers had been at a deafening corner of a tourist trap in Bali. Once they took their flight to the bird head of the island of Papua everything changed as they embarked on a diving tour of a lifetime. In the Raja Ampat islands, divers can explore vertical underwater walls. The thrill of drift diving is another great challenge. These are the awesome experiences you will find in Raja Ampat.
Meanwhile, on this tour several divers were well equipped and looked advanced. The territory within the islands of the Four Kings is enormous, covering 9.8 million acres of land and sea, home to 540 types of corals, more than 1,000 types of coral fish and 700 types of molluscs. This makes it the most diverse living library for world’s coral reef and underwater biota. According to a report developed by The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, around 75% of the world’s species live here. When divers first arrive here their excitement is palpable. It’s common to hear people praise God as they take in the remarkable scenery. Others prefer to remain in silence taking in the overwhelming sight of so many islands with crystal clear water that softly brushes over the white sandy beaches.
“Disini bagus!”, says the friendly local guide who had been appointed by the tour operator who runs an eco-lodge in Raja Ampat, indicating that they have arrived at one of the most fantastic diving sites. On other days, this guide is just a simple fisherman. The local fishermen here are accustomed to foreigners and are friendly, especially when offered pinang (betel nuts) or some sweet candies. These are very popular and offering these sweets is considered polite and a good way to win an instant smile. The fishermen usually eat this snack during Para-para Pinang, or social chatting and exchanging funny stories while chewing Pinang. In many respects, like nature, culture, and history, these fishermen are closer to the Moluccas.
“No doubt about it, Raja Ampat is definitely the richest place for fish that I have ever been.” — Dr G.R. Allen
“I was like a five-year-old, seeing a reef for the very first time. I was awestruck, held by the incredible power of this richest reef. We must, with all available resources, preserve the beauty of Raja Ampat. This may be the last frontier.” — Michael Aw
“I love the people, I love the diving, it’s super! I’ve never been for a second time to the same dive destination but now I’m thinking about going back for the third time! Should I say more?” — Peter van Dalen
(These testimonials are taken from www.iriandiving.com)
While the landscape may look like a dream, this is not an illusion. As you embark on your dive, the phrase “Attention to detail” takes on new meaning as pigmy seahorses swim around your fingers. Manta Rays and wobbegongs will glide right by you. Tuna fish, giant trevallies, snappers, and even barracudas are there to complete your underwater “meeting list”. Not to mention the friendly assistant of the dugong, and a busy colleague, the turtle. Natural and untouched beauty is the main attraction here. With no unnecessary adages, the sky, the lush islands, the sea, and everything above and under it is genuinely saying “Welcome to Raja Ampat Islands; your personal Disneyland of diving sites”.
More facts about the Raja Ampat Conservation Area :
This area is home to 1,511 species of reef fish in the Bird’s Head Seascape;
1,320 species of reef fish in Raja Ampat;
75% of all known coral species in the world;
10 times the number of hard coral species found in the entire Caribbean;
In the Birds Head Seascape there 600 species of hard coral recorded;
5 species of endangered sea turtles;
57 species of Mantis Shrimp;
13 species of Marine Mammals;
And 27 species of endemic reef fish found only in that area.
Dining services are provided by the diving organizer, and range from an international menu to fresh traditional food made by the local people. Naturally, there will be a variety of seafood dishes. Do try the fish soup. There’s a local specialty called Sup Ikan Kuning (Yellow Fish Soup), served with local spices.
Many divers say that the best souvenir ever after visit Raja Ampat are the stories of your experiences that you will take home to tell. Of course, photographs are the eye-popping pictures to brag about. But to keep your friends or family entertained, try bringing them.
Asmat sculptures, Traditional cloths, Traditional music instruments: Suling (traditional flute) and Tambur (traditional drum). These are usually available in giftshops in many cities in Papua. This will save you the hassle of bringing too many things from Raja Ampat. Although, you may also consider buying plaited handicrafts in Arborek if you happen to visit the village while in Raja Ampat.
Presently on Saonek Monde, a Tourist Center and harbor are being constructed. In the near future there are plans for three resorts to be built on Nyandebabo, and Batbitiem, Waiwo, and Waigeo Selatan Islands. But in the meantime, you can choose from the alternatives below:
Sorido Bay Resort, which is famous for the house reef Kri Eco Resort, a traditional resort built over the water Island camp, Boathouse (most diving agents provide this service). And even though Raja Ampat islands have only few visitors, there are already hotels and homestays on Saonek, Mansuar, and Yenwaupnor islands.
The Raja Ampat islands are a truly natural phenomenon with enormous biological diversity. The amazing marine landscape means that underwater photography should be on the top your list during your stay.
However with Raja Ampat’s natural conditions, high endemic level of land, sea biodiversity, coastal ecology, and local culture & tradition the islands offer more than just amazing landscapes to photograph. So you may also consider:
• Wreck diving
• Exploring the islands by boat
• Visiting the Red Bird of Paradise
• Enjoying the Karst islands around Wayag Island
• Exploring the bat caves (literally, not the Dark Knight variety)
• Make your own wood sculpture guided by an Asmat artisan
• Fishing using traditional Papuan techniques
• Trekking to discover waterfalls
• Feeding couscous
The Sea Ghost On North and West Waigeo, you can see a traditional bamboo flute (suling tambur) performance. This traditional performance usually takes place during religious festival, on Independence Day, (August 17th), and during visits from important officials or leaders. If you are interested in anthropology, this is something to definitely consider in your agenda.
In East Waigeo, particularly in front of Urbinasopen and Yesner villages, there is a very interesting and unique natural phenomenon, which can only be seen every year-end. A light comes out from the ocean and wanders around on its surface for about 10 – 18 minutes. After that, it disappears and can only be seen again at the following years-end. Local inhabitants in both villages call this phenomenon the “Sea Ghost”. This is more than just a sunset view, overlooking from your liveaboard. In Tomolol, you’ll be amazed by the caves in the area, where you can see paintings of huge human palms and animals which were painted by ancient cave dwellers.
While on North Waigeo, you can also take in some history with a visit to the World War II caves where the Dutch and the Japanese army built bunkers. The locals will sometimes perform a war dance. There is also the ever-flowing waterfall of Salawati, which is a sight you should not miss.
In addition, there are also exotic locations such as the Ayau islands consisting of small islands on a very large atoll. Many islands in this archipelago have white sands with a large seabed connecting one island to another. But there are also islands with unique sands that the local community calls “zandplaat”, which are a unique habitat for local vegetation. On these islands, mothers and children of local tribes collectively catch sea-worms (insonem).
For diving enthusiasts the favorite destination is usually South Waigeo. But while you are here, why not take the chance to visit Kabui Bay with many karst islands, goa tengkorak (cave of skulls), and the historical sites of Raja Ampat in Kali Raja. You can see a variety of birds in Yenwaupnor and Sawinggrai village, the Salay dance in Saonek, and plaited handicrafts in Arborek. In Arborek, visitors can dive and watch groups of stingrays. In Sauwandarek, there’s a white sand beach with sea ducks and beautiful corals. In addition, there is a traditional village where you can walk around in and enjoy the unique slow paced atmosphere.
You can also dive in West Waigeo, Batanta, and Kofiau. These potential destinations are great places to visit by houseboats. The Karst islands in Wayag, especially, have very interesting natural attractions to enjoy.
Commonly, divers will join a tour and live in a diving resort during their stay in the Raja Ampat Islands. To access diving spots, please contact and use the professional diving organizers, who can be conveniently found in Sorong. Several tour operators also offer the option of liveboard tours.
Before going to a dive spot, you’ll need to obtain a permit from the local Papua police station. You will need to bring your passport and three (3) copies of the passport page with the Indonesian Visa. The diving organizers can help you with these formalities.
From Sorong, there are two type of boats available; Speed Boat (40 minutes – 1 hour boat trip, carries 15 passengers and costs Rp 2 million / US$ 208.55); Long Boat (2-3 hour boat trip and could carry 10 passengers for the cost of Rp 1,2 million / US$126). Please note that all rates are subject to change without notice.
You may rent a small boat if you wish to stop and make personal discoveries along the line of the beaches. As the Raja Ampat Islands have four mountainous main islands and hundreds of small islands in their vicinity, you may want to take this opportunity to explore. In addition, the Karst area is a beautiful and original natural phenomenon, as it has various unique flora and fauna as its attractions e.g., Bird of Paradise (Cenderawasih) Botak, Red Cenderawasih, Maleo Waigeo, Kus-kus, orchids, palm etc. You can also trek around the islands to find hidden beauties, like waterfalls and ancient caves.
If you are flying from Jakarta, you can take a six hour flight to Sorong with a stopover in Manado. Alternatively, you can join a diving tour in Bali and fly from there. You will find Sorong just like any other city where you can get almost everything, although prices are higher due to its remote location. Usually only divers come to Raja Ampat, so you will not find many other tourists around. Joining a tour is the most common practice when visiting Raja Ampat. You do not have to be a professional diver to join a tour, as tour operators sell tours ranging for both for divers and non-divers.
Flying from Jakarta / Bali to Sorong, with connecting flights in Makassar or Manado are offered by :
1. Express Air
2. Lion Air
3. Wings Air
4. Silk Air
5. Garuda Indonesia
6. Pelita Air
There are daily ferries available between Sorong and Waisai, capital of the Raja Ampat district on the island of Waigeo. Ferries leave Sorong at 13.00 hrs and the journey takes between 1.5 to 2 hours. The return ferry from Waisai to Sorong leaves around 11.0 am. There are also speedboats for rent at Sorong.
October or November is the best season for diving in Raja Ampat because the ocean is typically flat and perfect for photography
Bring your underwater camera AND underwater photography know-how. Because taking underwater photos is not that easy
To organize your travel you use travel agents with services in Indonesia. Just contact the agents in any international gateways in Indonesia (Bali, Jakarta, Medan, Batam, etc)
Sun blocks, sunscreens and hats are required
Bring anti-mosquito repellants and anti-malarial medicines
For more information, you can contact Raja Ampat Tourism Office at Kampung Waisai, Distrik Waigeo Selatan