Where is Raja Ampat?
Practical information for organizing your trip to Raja Ampat. The Raja Ampat Islands, paradise on earth in West Papua, renowned for their seabed of absolute beauty, are considered to be one of the most beautiful diving spots in the world. The Raja Ampat Islands are located in the Bird’s Head Peninsula and constitute an Indonesian archipelago of 1500 islands at the limit of the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. Raja Ampat means “The Four Kings” and it is true that this place has everything royal.
Having trouble locating Raja Ampat? these are islands located in the far east of Indonesia. The archipelago, off the island of New Guinea, is part of the province or region called West Papua (Papua Barat in Indonesian). It’s here:
When to go to Raja Ampat to dive?
Good news: you can dive all year round in the north of Raja Ampat (the islands around the Dampier Strait, off Sorong). But to optimize your stay, there are subtleties to know about the climate and weather of this region, West Papua, which differs from the rest of Indonesia.
Be careful, the diving resorts in Raja Ampat are not cheap and in general, the prices charged in the archipelago for tourist services have nothing to do with the rest of Indonesia.
Normal, we are no longer really in Asia, but little bit in Oceania…
From October to April
This is the period considered optimal for diving. Corresponding to the northwest monsoon, this season is often described as “dry” by tour operators. In reality, it can still rain quite a bit (especially in December and January). No, the real difference with the so-called “wet” season of May-September (southeast monsoon) is that there is almost no wind or swell. The conditions are therefore ideal for sailing and it is the high tourist season for diving cruises. It is also a period when plankton proliferates: visibility under water is then less good (sometimes rotten), but there is therefore a greater chance of encountering manta rays, in particular the immense oceanic rays, and see them form a spectacular ballet at the Manta Sandy site.
Good to know for May-June:
It’s a bit of a slow tourist season, so it’s a good idea for divers to go there at that time, because the resorts regularly offer interesting promotions on their packages ” accommodation + diving”.
From May to September:
You can dive in the north of Raja Ampat but not in the south. We are at this period under the influence of the southeast monsoon, called “wet” (but in terms of precipitation, the difference is not very marked with the so-called “dry” season from October to April). In fact, what distinguishes the two seasons as I said above is the wind. Between mid-May and mid-September, it can blow quite a bit, with very choppy seas… further afield will depend on the weather and the swell (this is why there are few or no cruises organized during this period). On the other hand, the southern archipelago of Raja Ampat (Misool and its surroundings) is much more exposed to the winds from May to September: it is therefore difficult or even impossible to navigate and dive there during this period. The manta rays are also rarer, because there is not as much plankton near the surface, but the visibility under the water seemed to me to be better overall.
So when is the weather nice?
Whatever the season, the sky is very changeable in Raja Ampat. It alternates between the bright sun, the gray sky and the rain in an almost equal way, from what I was able to judge during my various stays (in December, in January, in March, in July), that the we are under the influence of one or the other monsoon. Showers are often very localized. It is not uncommon to observe a large cloud pouring curtains of rain on an opposite island just a few kilometers away, while it is very sunny on the island where you are, for example…
The air temperature is stable (25°C at night, 30°C during the day), that of the water is constant, around 28°C. We are at the equator, so basically it is always hot and humid. The climate is really “equatorial” all year round, with no big seasonal variation, except for the wind I mentioned above. Afterwards, the weather is not an exact science, and in addition the climate goes haywire. We can therefore come across a rotten week. Or several days in a row of great weather. Or not. Or have both seasons in the same day…
How to get to Raja Ampat?
STEP 1: FLY TO INDONESIA
To go to Raja Ampat, you will first need to organize your trip to Indonesia, or to a neighboring country with convenient connections to Indonesia (Bangkok in Thailand, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, or Singapore, for example).
Count €450 to €900 (depending on promotions, companies and seasons) for a Paris-Jakarta round-trip flight (at least that was the price range, before the Covid). Added to this is the price of the return flight Jakarta-Sorong, from €150 to €300.
In Indonesia, Raja Ampat is part of the province now called Papua Barat (West Papua), as I explained above, formerly Irian Jaya (name first given by the Indonesians).
It is far, very far, in the extreme east of the country, opposite the capital Jakarta. Remember that Indonesia stretches over three time zones, it’s huge… When you take off from Europe, the trip to Sorong can hardly be done in one go.
Count at least two days (Europe-Jakarta flights, then Jakarta-Sorong, then the boat crossing) to reach Raja Ampat from France. Which represents, counting the outward and return journeys, four cumulative days! A very long trip… To make it worthwhile, plan to stay enough time in Raja Ampat and/or combine the stay with other destinations in Indonesia.
STEP 2: ORGANIZE THE JOURNEY TO SORONG
Sorong, in West Papua, is the gateway to the Raja Ampat archipelago. To reach Sorong from the Indonesian capital Jakarta, there are several possibilities:
The duration of a Jakarta-Sorong flight is approximately 4 hours. Before the Covid, three companies offered direct flights: Batik Air (subsidiary of Lion Air), Garuda Indonesia, and, since September 2019, AirAsia (Malaysian lowcost which has subsidiaries throughout Southeast Asia). Xpress Air, which was the pioneer on this route, no longer operates. The direct flights of Nam Air (subsidiary of Sriwijaya), launched in 2015, no longer exist since the end of 2018 (Garuda bought Sriwijaya / Nam Air via its subsidiary Citilink and is gradually resuming their connections). Make sure when you book that you choose a direct flight (the list also includes flights with a stopover).
Lion Air, Batik Air, Sriwijaya Air and Garuda make the domestic connection Jakarta-Sorong with a stopover, most often on the island of Sulawesi, either in Manado (the big city in the North), or in Makassar (the big city in the South , also called Ujung Pandang).
Makassar and Manado on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi are indeed the two main air “hubs” for Sorong. These airports are easy to reach from Indonesia by domestic flights, whether from the capital Jakarta, or from Bali (Denpasar airport).
You can also reach Makassar and Manado by international flights from the air hubs of neighboring countries: for example Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, or even Singapore.
- Jakarta-Sorong direct flight: the only non-stop connections are operated by Batik Air, Garuda Indonesia and AirAsia.
- Jakarta-Sorong flight with stopover: Garuda and Lion Air / Batik offer connections, there is a stopover in Manado or Makassar generally, sometimes Ambon or other… Sriwijaya Air also offers flights with stopover.
- Flights to Makassar or Manado: from Jakarta, Bali-Denpasar, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore: there are plenty of possibilities on the websites of Air Asia, Garuda, Sriwijaya Air, Lion Air, Silk Air (subsidiary of Singapore Airlines), etc.
- Manado-Sorong flights: the Garuda now has a connection, in addition to those of Lion Air (or its subsidiary Wings or the associated company Batik).
- Makassar-Sorong flights: for my part, I have already flown with Sriwijaya Air and with Garuda… Now check the existing offers at Lion / Batik too… People who run hotels and resorts in Raja Ampat are generally well aware of the evolution of the connections airlines, check with them.
Here is the list of dive resorts that exist, to our knowledge and to date (we keep this list more or less up to date over the years):
- Kri Eco Resort – by Papua Diving (on Kri)
- Sorido Bay Resort – by Papua Diving (on Kri)
- Papua Explorers (on the south coast of Gam, opposite Mansuar)
- Raja Ampat Biodiversity Eco Resort (on the northeast coast of Gam)
- Raja Ampat Dive Lodge – by Grand Komodo (on Mansuar)
- Raja4Divers (on Pef, northwest of Gam)
- Papua Paradise (on Birie, near Batanta)
- Cove Eco Resort (on Yeben, near Piaynemo)
- Agusta Eco Resort (on the islet of Agusta, south of Mansuar)
- Misool Eco Resort (very large luxury, located in the south of Raja Ampat, in Misool)
- Waiwo Dive Resort (on Waigeo)
- MahaRaja Eco Dive Resort (on Dokri, near Batanta)
- Meridian Adventure Dive Resort (on Waigeo, near Wasai)
To get to the island with the nickname little Wayag, tourists can use sea transportation in the form of a speed boat or ferry from the city of Sorong or from the capital city of Raja Ampat, Waisai which is located in South Waigeo. James Mamoto, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Diving cruises in Raja Ampat
Diving cruises are an interesting option to discover a greater variety of sites and islands in Raja Ampat, over greater distances. But the quality of the dives can be affected: the guides on the boats do not always know the sites as well as those who are in the resorts all year round…
Short or long cruises, North and/or South… There are more and more operators, more and more choices. Do not necessarily go for the most attractive price and find out beforehand on the diving forums, to know a little about what to expect and if you will get your money’s worth. “You get what you pay for…” There are generally “short” cruises (5 to 7 days, itinerary in the north of the archipelago only, departing from Sorong or Wasai) and “long” cruises (10 to 20 days, including a route south around Misool, even as far as Kaimana and Triton Bay).
You should also be aware that the multiplication of diving cruises in Raja Ampat has a big impact on coral and reef fauna. This has started to become problematic in recent years, with the influx of boats and divers on the same sites…
Many people say the Pianemo Islands are miniatures of Wayag Island. This is none other than because the scenery on this island is very similar to Wayag Island. But the difference here is that tourists have to fight up to a small island to see the beauty of these islands. Rolandandika, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Move around within the archipelago
There are no regular connections between the different islands of Raja Ampat, except for the Sorong-Waisai ferry which allows you to reach the large island of Waigeo. Getting around the archipelago is therefore a bit complicated. I imagine that you can, from Sorong or Wasai, charter your own boat for a day or more. But you have to be a little resourceful, good at negotiation and know exactly what you want…
Diesel fuel is expensive, renting a boat with a guy to sail is very expensive and the rates are sometimes a bit “customer-driven”. Independent travellers, get together!
Otherwise, most homestays offer day boat trips, the prices vary according to the distance, the services.
The islands look close together on a map, but in reality it takes time to navigate. Local boats are slow, and even resort speedboats aren’t always that fast. All it takes is for the sea to form a little or for an engine to break down to double the journey time. Thus, the crossing between Sorong and Kri Island (where the Kri Eco and Sorido resorts of Papua-Diving are located), can vary from 1 hour 30 minutes to more than 3 hours…
Even more, perhaps, than in the rest of Indonesia, it is necessary here to tame the notion of “jam karet” (elastic time)!