Raja Ampat, an unspoiled biodiversity sanctuary

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Located off the northwest tip of Bird’s Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea, Raja Ampat is an archipelago comprising over 1,500 small isles, cays and shoals. It is a part of the newly named West Papua Province of Indonesia which was formerly Irian Jaya and is mostly the domain of liveaboards. Translated to mean “Four Kings”, Raja Ampat mesmerizes with the enigmatic beauty of its limestone island clusters, spawned out of legendary myth and continuing to bewilder and captivate explorers with dramatic landscapes that shelter secret lagoons, bays and beaches. The myth goes that each King reigns over one of four main islands, Misool, Salawati, Batanta, and Waigeo.

Raja Ampat’s world-class wildlife excursions are both on the ground and underwater. It is here that famous 19th-century naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace had stumbled upon species of the bird of paradise that exist nowhere else but in this region on Earth. Catching sight of the otherworldly beauty of the Wilson’s bird of paradise and the Red bird of paradise and their mesmerizing behavior is arguably one of life’s most rewarding wildlife experiences. These winged wonders live alongside 350 other bird species, including forest kingfishers and king parrots. Meanwhile, Raja Ampat’s many beaches are often the nesting ground for turtle species including the Pacific leatherback, the largest of all living turtle species on Earth, while the world’s most extensive network of mangrove forests support populations of dugong and juvenile fish. Raja Ampat is also a designed a Marine Protected Area (MPA) by the Indonesian government. Aside from its endless fascinating natural attractions, Raja Ampat also offers the distinct hospitality of the Papuan. At the Arborek Tourism Village, you can stay at a number of homestays and mingle with the locals whilst observing their daily life and unique traditions. When a group of tourists arrived, they usually perform a traditional welcome dance right at the dock and entertained the ‘guests’ with various Papuan folk songs.

As part of the Coral Triangle made up of Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and East Timor, the Raja Ampat Islands boast a tropical climate with constant mild temperatures. Weather and water conditions in the area are generally good year round. However, you should always plan ahead, given that, in addition to the usual wet and dry seasons of Southeast Asia, Raja Ampat also has a windy season. Raja Ampat in October to April is the dry season, though there can be some heavy rains in December and January. That said, these rains are usually brief and localized. May to October in Raja Ampat bring the wet season, but again, the rains usually do not last more than a few hours and are less dramatic than in other parts of Southeast Asia. June and July in Raja Ampat is unofficially known as the windy season, when waters may be rougher. This should not affect snorkeling conditions but may mean that small boat cruises will be moderately less comfortable, especially for travelers prone to seasickness. There is no best time to see wildlife or enjoy the snorkeling in Raja Ampat because there is always something to see all year round.

Raja Ampat has many great liveaboard options, from basic and mid-range liveaboard boats to some of the luxurious boats in the world. The liveaboard operations in the area are renowned for their service and hospitality. Most of the liveaboard vessels depart from the coastal city known as Sorong and Wasai, both located in the Indonesian Province of West Papua. To ensure maximum convenience for their guests, liveaboard operators usually offer transfer services from Sorong Airport and hotels directly to and from their boats or vessels.

Four main islands

Misool – The archipelago includes the main island of Misool along with dozens of karst islets. The base of these tiny islands has been eroded by water and time, giving them the appearance of giant stone mushrooms sprouting from the turquoise waters. At Tomolol Bay, visitors on Raja Ampat cruises can swim within the island’s fascinating cathedral-like cave, an unforgettable experience. To play Indiana Jones, drift among the islets in search of prehistoric cave paintings and undersea graveyards.

Batanta – Small boat cruises to Batanta take visitors into its lush jungle interior. Local guides from the coastal village of Arefi lead travellers through mangrove forests to a series of spectacular waterfalls. The more adventurous will hike deep into the jungle and see still taller and bigger falls, but all visitors will be given the opportunity to swim and relax in natural pools surrounded by mangrove trees and the sounds of island birds.

Waigeo – The archipelago’s largest island, is nearly bisected by the massive, fjord-like Mayalibit Bay. Here, visitors explore the island’s awesome caves, led by a guide from Lopinol village. Visitors will also trek to Sapoken village where they will not only enjoy a close look into local life on the island but may also learn about conservation and community-building efforts in the region. The village of Sapoken is also one of the best spots to see the Red Bird of Paradise and Wilson’s Bird of Paradise.

Salawati – The 3rd largest island in Raja Ampat, Salawati is a serene destination for those looking to unwind and relax. Dive sites are mostly shallow and in small bays or beaches and offer good muck diving and relaxed snorkeling.

Top Dive and Snorkel Spots

Blue Magic – Possibly one of the most abundant cleaning stations you will ever encounter. Blue Magic lives up to its name; you will not know where to look first.

Cape Kri – Drift Cape Kri’s sloping wall to see pygmy seahorses in ornate fan corals as turtles and reef sharks pass by in the blue, and then enjoy the schooling sweet lips on your safety stop. Possibly for more adventurous snorkelers, Cape Kri has a strong current. But for those willing to fight it, you will be rewarded with black and white tip sharks, huge schooling groupers and lots of sweetlips.

Sardine Reef – Soft coral and black coral bushes populate the entire Sardine Reef area. While barracuda, jacks and giant trevallies swirl overhead, schools of fusiliers, butterfly fish and snappers follow you along with the current.

Chicken Reef – You will not see any chickens, but we can guarantee a lot of sharks. White tip reef sharks are a common sight here. There is marine life in all shapes and sizes; you will see anything from pygmy seahorses to turtles to schools of bumpheads chomping their way through the reef.

Mioskun – It is a good reef for beginners, as the currents here are relatively light in comparison to other sites. Expect abundant yellow snappers, wobbegong sharks, octopus, morays, and walls of schooling fusiliers.

Tamaku Reef – It is a picture perfect coral reef hidden in the heart of the Manyaifun.

Sauwandarek Village – Jump in at the jetty and see schools of friendly angelfish, and the resident Napoleon Wrasse. A reef runs the length of the beach and is full of life. You could snorkel away a day here easily.

Friwen Wall – It is an alien underwater world. The overhang is home to all kinds of critters, bizarre and brightly colored corals, fans and fishes. It is like nothing you have seen before.

Arborek – Famed for its jetty, which is undoubtedly good. But swim 100m past it and you will find the sweet spot. There is fish frenzy just before sunset.

Average rating: 4.5 / 5. Evaluations: 2