Heaven is real and you can find it in Raja Ampat.
As a travel blogger, one of the questions you get asked most often is where is your favourite place in the world. Since my virgin experience in June 2015, my answer has always been the same, Raja Ampat, Indonesia. I cannot begin to express my excitement and love I have for this place. It’s easy to see why—the landscapes are spectacular and like no other, the waters impossibly blue and the sand, a blinding shade of white. However, it is the soul of Raja Ampat that draws me in. The pureness of its landscape and its people, untouched by the crass hands of technology. Life here is simple, unadulterated and as it should be.
“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), It’s always our self we find in the sea.” – e.e. Cummings
Raja Ampat, in Bahasa Indonesia, literally means Four Kings. The story is that the four main islands of Raja Ampat, Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati and Misool were ruled by four different kings. However, there are more than 1,500 small islands in total surrounding the area, making it the best place to find pristine, deserted, white sand beaches.
Raja Ampat is also the epitome of marine biodiversity, with insane sites like Cape Kri breaking the world record for 374 different species of fish in one dive. The extremely rare Oceanic Manta, the largest ray in the world can also be found in several dive sites here. Diving here is extraordinary, with over 200 dive sites in the archipelago alone, excitement and diversity is guaranteed. Raja Ampat is full of surprises, while excruciatingly uncommon, Whale Sharks and Hammerheads have been spotted. Because of the sheer diversity and the untouched nature of the reefs, you never know what you might find.
The corals themselves are a huge draw— aptly described as the rainforests of the oceans, the reefs in Raja Ampat are the finest in the world. When you make your first descent, the medly of colours overwhelms and mesmerizes you. How could something that looks so absolutely calm at the surface be so full of life? Soft corals, hard corals, giant corals which seem too large to be real, corals that seem otherworldly and alien, corals that are green, red, purple or bright pink, corals that dance to the tempo of the currents (and also of course corals that sting, nasty things). Silence. There are no sounds underwater to convey the excitement you might feel. Instead you rely on clumsy hand signals to communicate your astonishment to your diving buddies, badly. Raja Ampat truly, houses some of the best dive sites in the world.
Things are not so bad on land as well. You have the iconic wayag, the quintessential symbol of Raja Ampat. Strange mushroom islands in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by crystal clear waters and secrets beaches. The hike up is perilous (because there is no real hiking path and is more like a rock-climbing wall) and every few seconds you will question what you’re doing is the first place but once you reach the top, the view will leave you breathless, quite literally.
If the Wayag islands are a little too adventurous for you and the journey through the open ocean doesn’t seem too appealing, you can always make your way to the Fam Islands and climb up a less perilous but equally tiring flight of stairs to the viewpoint. It’s is not as big as Wayag but still beautiful in its own way.
Another major draw is the friendly villagers. You may have the good fortune of walking around several picturesque fishing villages. The people in Raja Ampat are mostly friendly and always offer a smile. Very few speak English but feel free to bust out some Bahasa if you’re fluent. The life is simple but happy. Children can be often seen jumping off jetties or frolicking around in the crystal-clear waters. Fishing is also a way of life here so don’t be startled if you see a few fishing boats around. However, as Raja Ampat is a protected area, fishing can only be done by local communities and not tourists or commercial operations to protect the fragile eco-system.
Forget dolphin watching tours, you can see these curious creatures almost daily as you make your way around the islands. Dolphins are mostly friendly and curious and occasionally follow boats.
So how would you be able to experience such a beautiful destination?
There are two options by liveaboard or by staying on a resort.
For those with sea legs, a liveaboard is certainly a better option as you can go as far as you’d like. The dive sites in Raja Ampat are quite scattered so its highly unlikely that you’d be able to dive in Misool if your resort is in the Dampier Strait (where most of the resorts are located).
In Dec 2016, I was aboard the Lady Denok, click here and had such an amazing experience. In my previous visit, I didn’t manage to visit Misool, for the reasons stated above and I’m glad I did it this time round. The diving in Misool is exceptionally breathtaking. There is only one resort there, Misool Eco Resort but the remoteness of the area guarantees high prices. Relatively new, Lady Denok offers spectacular diving without breaking your wallet. Inside, it is clean and comfortable. While it is relatively small, it has everything you might need. The meals are delicious and served 3 times a day with a scrumptious afternoon snack in between! But what made Lady Denok unforgettable were the crew and manager who were so welcoming and friendly. After 10 days with them, I consider them my friends and would definitely look forward to sailing with them again.
Another option would be to explore Raja Ampat through a resort. I’ve stayed in Papua Explorers Resort twice and cannot recommend it enough. The diving in Dampier, where Papua Explorers is located, is often considered as one of the best diving areas in the world, boasting sites such as Cape Kri and Blue Magic. However, Dampier can get a little crowded in peak season October-January with almost six boats in one dive site. Regardless, some good planning and maneuvering by the staff can avoid potential overcrowding situations. The dive boats in Papua Explorers seem to be the cleanest and most well-maintained as compared to other resorts that I have seen (oops) and the guides, phenomenal.
Paradise is real and it’s a place in Indonesia. Raja Ampat is absolutely spectacular and every time I return I fall even deeper in love. I hope this introduction to Raja Ampat has inspired you to scribble it at the top of your bucket list!
Share this article with someone you’d like to visit with! Happy travels!