Raja Ampat Diving Overview
If you have been diving for some time and are an avid scuba diver, you may have heard of a very special marine wonderland in the Coral Triangle called Raja Ampat.
Never heard of Raja Ampat? Well, you are in for a treat because you are about to learn all the details to help you plan your trip to this magical place on earth.
Diving in Raja Ampat Indonesia is as every bit as impressive as they say. Aside from the fact that this region hosts nearly 76% of the world’s coral species, incredible creatures like mantas, wobbegong sharks, reef sharks, dugongs, dogtooth tuna, Napoleon wrasse, and giant trevallies are just a handful of usual suspects.
Located in West Papua, Raja Ampat means “Four Kings” in Indonesia Bahasa and represents four islands: Misool, Salawati, Waigeo, and Batanta. While each island offers a unique landscape, topography and underwater marine life, one thing is certain – Raja Ampat’s reputation as the best diving in Indonesia is well deserved.
Read on for a comprehensive Raja Ampat Diving guide, including fundamental diving information, how to best dive the archipelago, logistical tips and things to do during your surface intervals.
If you are on a fence about making Raja Ampat your next scuba diving destination – don’t be. It will blow your mind, guaranteed.
Basic Raja Ampat Diving Information
Below are some information that will help with your trip planning and packing!
Raja Ampat Diving Season
You can enjoy diving year-round in Raja Ampat islands, but the best time to dive is said to be between October and April. The winds and rain pick up from July to August, and you may experience rough seas on the way to the dive sites.
The great thing about Raja Ampat is that unlike other diving destinations around Indonesia, water temperature does not fluctuate drastically by seasons.
Warm temperature of 27-29C (80-84F) is average throughout the year. A 3mm wetsuit is sufficient for most divers.
For the majority of the year, the seas around Raja Ampat are very calm and flat. Transportation to and from the dive sites are generally smooth and comfortable, even in speedboats.
The calm surface conditions of Raja Ampat are not only fantastic for divers but snorkelers as well. Shallow lagoons and reefs are plenty with abundant marine life throughout the region, making Raja a perfect destination for non-divers. Check out this guide for other top snorkeling destinations in Indonesia!
Between July and August, however, the surface may become choppy depending on the amount of rain and wind.
Raja Ampat Diving Currents
Most dive sites around Raja Ampat experience some current. The local guides usually indicate in their dive briefing that you can expect current to be “mild to wild.”
Some dive sites in particular, such as Passage and Blue Magic, are notorious for strong currents.
Raja Ampat Diving Highlights: Top Dive Sites
As the mecca of marine biodiversity, Raja Ampat hosts an entire spectrum of marine life from the smallest pygmy seahorses to Oceanic manta rays.
Some of the most spectacular scenes of swarming fish are the main attraction at popular diving sites such as Cape Kri, Manta Sandy, Sardines Reef, Arborek, Blue Magic, and Kaleidoscope (how is that for a dive site name!).
With over 2,000 dives in SE Asia alone, I thought I had seen it all, but I was utterly blown away by the sheer volume of marine life at Cape Kri. It was just a nonstop action from the beginning to end, and I counted nearly 10 black-tip and white-tip sharks in one dive alone.
The hard and soft corals around Misool is renowned as the some of the most pristine, immaculate, and vibrant, while south Batanta is known to offer some of the best macro life in the archipelago. But don’t worry, macro lovers can expect to enjoy a heap of nudibranchs, frogfish, pipefish, blue ring octopus, seahorses and much more throughout the Raja islands!
Depths of Raja Ampat Dive Sites
2m to +30m depending on the diving topography, which can range from slopes, walls, seamounts, pinnacles, bommies, bays, etc.
Raja Ampat Dive Resort or Liveaboard?
Raja Ampat Liveaboard
With so many dive resorts and liveaboards offering scuba packages around Raja Ampat, it may seem overwhelming to determine which option will provide you with a trip of a lifetime.
According to Liveaboard.com, Indonesia has more inventory of liveaboards than any other diving destination in the world. That is no surprise, considering Indonesia is made up of nearly 18,000 distinct islands and many world-class dive sites in the country such as Alor and Komodo are separated by a large body of water.
With about +60 liveaboard cruises offering an ultimate scuba diving experience catering to a wide range of budgets and itineraries, there is a boat for just about every type of traveler these days.
But, life on a boat is not for everyone. If you have never experienced liveaboard diving, read this post first to get a glimpse into a life on a liveaboard and see if “eat, dive, sleep, and repeat” is for you.
I personally LOVE liveaboard diving trips. I have done several in Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
There is nothing more exhilarating than sipping my first coffee while looking into the horizon of a big blue sea, diving with some of the most passionate travelers from around the world, eating fresh seafood cooked on the spot, and sleeping under a star-lit sky on the deck while soaking in the sea breeze.
An advantage of liveaboards: You can cover a broader area with a moving vessel, so the liveaboard packages generally include Raja’s highlights, taking you to some of the BEST dive sites in the region.
Due to intense dive schedules (3 to 4 dives/day), liveaboards are better suited for mermaid wannabe’s who wish to grow gills and make the ocean their second home 😉
If you are going to dive Raja Ampat, I say go with a liveaboard!
To see my pick for the best Raja Ampat diving liveaboard, check out this post.
Raja Ampat Dive Resorts
Alternatively, Raja Ampat offers dive resorts and eco-lodges that provide you with some extraordinary island experiences, comprehensive diving packages, and stunning house reefs in front of your doorstep.
There are basic yet comfortable accommodations like Raja Ampat Dive Resort for example, where you can experience a simple life on a remote paradise. But if Raja Ampat luxury resorts are more of your style, Papua Paradise and Misool provide western comforts with an island flare.
An advantage of resorts: Aside from being a cheaper option of the two, Raja’s eco-resort may be better suited for travelers who are sensitive to seasickness or who can feel claustrophobic in small spaces. The main advantage of land-based accommodations is that you can access stunning lagoons and reefs right off the shore in many of Raja’s remote islands. Your schedule would be more flexible, and thus ideal for travelers looking to unwind on a beach, catch up on some summer reading and work on the bronze tan.
TIP: When planning a land-based Raja Ampat diving package, keep in mind that most islands are located hours away from the closest decompression chamber in Sorong. Take extra precautions to prevent DCS such as staying hydrated, diving well within limits, diving with Nitrox (if certified), and taking plenty of rest (which is not hard on remote islands of Raja Ampat!)
How to Get to Raja Ampat
1. To Sorong
No matter where your final destination may be, you will first need to travel to Sorong (SOQ) to begin your adventure in Raja Ampat.
As Sorong is not an international airport, you will likely connect through Jakarta, Makassar, or Manado to reach Sorong. If you are traveling from Bali, you will most likely connect in Makassar.
If you are heading to Misool or onto a liveaboard adventure, you will be collected in Sorong. Contact your operator for details.
Want to know how to get to Sorong?
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2. To Waisai
Your journey may continue to Waisai if you want to base yourself in smaller islands for an ultimate paradise getaway or land tours around Waigeo.
Waisai is located about 70km northwest of Sorong and requires you to travel on a brief flight or a public ferry across the ocean. As there are more ferries available than flights to facilitate your transit to your final destination, I recommend that you look into Bahari express schedule. There are 2 ferry departures scheduled every day from Sorong to Waisai.
For more details on transportation, accommodations and things to do around Waisai, check out this post on Waisai Raja Ampat.
Things to Do in Raja Ampat:
Unleash Your Inner Tarzan and Explore the Remote Raja Ampat
Even though Raja Ampat is renowned for being the epicenter of marine biodiversity, the Four Kings offer incredible topside attractions as well.
Known to be home to some endemic Cenderawasih species (Birds of Paradise), Batanta and Waigeo islands offer bird-watching tours, as well as island-hopping tours and trekking packages to help you connect to nature and discover some magical Papuan treasures.
To be honest, I love animals but have never been into birds. But since I had read so much about the rare species of Cenderawasih that you can only find in Raja Ampat, I was keen on discovering these obscure birds.
But luck was not on our side on the day we set out on our tour, as the dark clouds quickly came in and rain began to pour. We could not see the birds but could hear them in the distance.
From what I can recall, the Cenderawasih appear only at certain times of the day.
I recommend that you hire a local guide who knows where to guide you to see these beautiful and colorful Birds of Paradise.
I’d have to keep my fingers crossed for my next trip to Raja to get my eyes on them!
On my last trip to Waisai, I met some members of a local Papuan tribe who offered to take me on a tour of Waigeo. In the jungle of Waigeo is a freshwater river called Kalibiru, which was the most stunning color of turquoise I had ever seen.
What was more incredible, however, was that this river was originating from the ground – the river was flowing out between the rocks and dirt at my feet! I had never seen anything like it, and it was the most mindblowing sight. My Papuan guide also took me to a little “cave” hidden on an island where skeletal remains of lost-warriors are left as their final resting place.
A bit creepy, I must admit, but their history was fascinating. For me, traveling is always more rewarding and fulfilling when there is an opportunity to connect with the local people, understand their history and culture, and learn new bits about the world I live in.
If you want to get a taste of this awesome adventure, you can contact the guides Alfred/Christine at +6281343435769 or +62085354179361 on Whatsapp. Alfred is a son of a current Papuan tribe leader and a descendant of one of the original Four Kings.
You can also find Alfred and Christine on Instagram. If you end up contacting them, be sure to tell them Mo sent you!
Aside from the four main islands that make up Raja Ampat, there are so many little islands that are scattered throughout the region. We rented a speedboat one day to hop around the nearby islands around Waigeo.
Our guide and captain took us around to some secluded beaches to walk on some pristine white sand, local villages to quench our thirst with fresh coconut, and shallow reefs to cool off from the tropical heat.
What’s impressive about Raja Ampat is that the waters are so clean and clear that you can usually spot a reef from the surface. Whenever we pulled up to an island and saw that there was a reef below, I jumped in with my mask and snorkel.
And the reef around Raja never disappoints. One time, I spotted a turtle and 2 reef sharks within the first 10 minutes of being in the water!
We also encountered a pod of dolphins and even manta rays as we cruised through some of the channels.
Getting off the popular traveler’s track, exploring some distant, remote islands and creating your own adventure is an experience you will never forget.
I encourage you to discover the magical islands of Raja for yourself.
You will thank me for it 🙂
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