As you already know, Raja Ampat is insanely beautiful and offers exceptional diving. However, as with all things too good to be true, getting there is a little bit of a hassle. Fret not! I’m here to help! Here’s my Ultimate guide to Raja Ampat dealing with how to get there, the million dollar question of live-aboard or resort and the best diving sites Raja Ampat has to offer.
(Here's an introduction to Raja Ampat, if you're not already familiar)
Now that you’re interested in visiting one of the most beautiful islands on the planet, let’s go into a bit more detail.
How to get there:
To get to Raja Ampat, you would have to fly to Sorong. More specifically, Sorong’s Domine Eduard Osok airport.
Presently, there are no international flights (*long cry*) from Singapore, you would need to transit at either Jakarta, Makassar or Manado. These three stopovers should be quite easy to get to from Singapore. If you’re a die-hard SQ customer (or sucker, depending on how you look at it) like me, Silkair flies to Makassar and Manado, and Singapore air has an insane number of daily flights to Jakarta.
These are your options:
Manado: Nam Air, Garuda, Wings Air/Lion Air (3 flights/day, ~1hr30mins)
Makassar: Batik Air, Sriwijaya, Xpress Air, Garuda (8 flights/day, ~2hrs15mins)
Jakarta: Nam Air, Xpress Air (2 flights/day, ~4hrs)
There is also another option of taking Garuda from Singapore-Jakarta-Makassar-Sorong, which would be three flights in total. Personally, I’ve done the former version and the Singapore-Jakarta-Sorong via Xpress air. The flights are tedious to say the least but I would still prefer the Singapore-Jakarta-Sorong route. However, do note that the flights from Jakarta to Sorong are all overnight (Nam Air departs at 12am and arrives 6.10am, Xpress Air departs 1.10am and arrives 7.20am), so transfers may be a little problematic if the resort you are booking with only has one transfer boat. Which means that you might need to wait for another 5 hours in a hotel. Not fun.
If you would like to do the Xpress Air route, don’t forget to bring a jacket as their flights can be quite cold! (Personal experience)
For Xpress air, the additional baggage charges are at 40,000 IDR/kg or about 4 SGD/kg. That being said, the counter staff are quite lax and are open to price negotiations if you get what I mean. For Nam Air, I’ve heard that you can get away with baggage charges if you simply state that you’re travelling with diving equipment.
From Sorong, your resort or liveaboard should pick you up.
Liveaboard or resort?
I understand that some guides have noted the possibility of a homestay. HOWEVER, from personal experience, I wouldn’t recommend staying in a homestay for the simple reason that Raja Ampat is extremely remote and the standards of backpacker’s accommodation are simply not up to par. You may be able to survive on a $8/day hostel in Vietnam or god-knows-where but trust me this is a whole different ball game together. First of all, in my experience, freshwater is limited. The water used for washing and showering etc. are likely to be drawn from a well which would still retain its briny character. Secondly, in most cases electricity is scarce and only run at night which can be a huge inconvenience to charge your devices. Cleanliness standards are not high and the wild nature of the place makes it more difficult to keep things clean. For that reason, I would HIGHLY, HIGHLY suggest staying in either a liveaboard or a reputable resort. Sure, it might cost more, but how much do you value your holiday? So in my opinion, I simply see no point in making such an arduous journey to such a beautiful place and have the experience tarnished by sloppy accommodation. You’re going on holiday, not on boot camp.
Now that we’ve ruled out the possibility of a homestay, let’s look at resort or liveaboard.
Both have its draws. In a liveaboard you can explore wherever you want, literally. Especially if you have a great cruise director (big shout out to Eric and the crew from Lady Denok) who is open to suggestions. Misool is THE place to be in Raja Ampat. Its nature in its rawest form. Misool as compared to the other islands is untouched, pristine and simply breathtaking. Don’t get me wrong, the Dampier strait is beautiful too but years of diving have taken its toll on the corals. As Misool is very remote and is home to only one resort (Misool Eco Resort), the corals are incredibly dense and simply phenomenal. As Misool is quite a distance away from Sorong, most liveaboards may not even venture that far. So do check the itinerary of your liveaboard before you make a choice. I highly recommend Lady Denok.
One downside of a live-aboard is that you’re literally stuck on a boat. If you don’t have sea legs, you might have a bit of a problem adjusting to the constant ebb and flow. The engine sounds may be a little noisy, so if you’re a light sleeper you might not be accustomed to it. However, if you’re diving, let’s be real, you’re not going to notice it after 4 dives in a day.
In a resort, you are limited to diving in its surroundings (unless you opt to go for day trips) but you get to stay on land. As much as I love the sea, I am a land-dweller and being on land gives me comfort of some kind. (Of course, you can also request to head out to some beaches and explore villages if you are on a live-aboard. I did that!). A resort also means that you might have more personal space. This is especially important if you are on honeymoon or would like a little bit more privacy. Rooms on board would be smaller than that of a resort.
At the end, it really depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re a hardcore scuba fanatic who wants to do 4 dives a day, then definitely take the liveaboard. However, if you’re an old soul who likes to take things a little slower, then a resort may be the option for you. Or if you’re like me, then just do both! Most liveaboards will usually accede to your request to be dropped off at a resort if the dates fit.
Out of my meagre 128 dives, 97 are in Raja Ampat. I’ve been extremely lucky to have been able to spend prolonged periods of time there. The season for diving is October to March/April with the possibility of torrential rain from May-August. However, in my experience the visibility was much better in July as compared to December and it was less crowded. While I’ve never been there in February (curse you school term!) I’ve heard that the visibility is insanely good then.
The main areas of interest for scuba (that I have been to and remember) are the Dampier Strait, where most resorts are located, Wayag/Kawe, Penumu/Fam and Misool.
Each area is incredibly beautiful and unique and it would be extremely unfair to compare dive spots like this. Let me just tell you my favorite dive sites and to-dos in every area:
Dampier Strait: Cape Kri is definitely a site to check out, it holds a world record of 374 different species of fish to ever be seen in one dive. My personal favourite is the Crossover where its home to a school of Bumphead parrotfish (They’re so goofy looking!). Mayhem and Lalosi are huge reefs that are out-of-this-world as well. No two dives there will be the same due to current changes etc. Sardine’s reef is also always a good idea—It’s so jam-packed with fish, hence the name Sardine’s reef. A side note: currents must be relatively strong to guarantee a fishy dive. Remember, no currents, no fish!
To be honest, I would skip diving at the famous Manta Sandy because it’s incredibly overcrowded. Closer to Batanta, Manta Wai is a good option! We saw 6 mantas the both times we were there and practically no other divers! To see Oceanic Mantas, do check out Blue Magic. However, the odds of spotting the rare giants are quite low at 10%-20%. But hey, if you’re feeling lucky, give it a go!
On land, don’t forget to check out the charming village of Arborek. Diving there is pretty good too!
Wayag/Kawe: I’ve only done two dives here, Eagle Rock and Black Rock. While I’ve not personally seen mantas the two times I’ve been in Black Rock, they are also apparently a common visitor. The iconic Wayag islands is the quintessential symbol of Raja Ampat. The mysterious, slightly odd mushroom islands spread out across impossibly blue turquoise water is the epitome of paradise as we know it. Although the climb up to the viewpoint is steep and dangerous (you will need shoes as the rocks are sharp and WILL cut), you will be rewarded with a view like no other.
Penumu/Fam: Melissa’s Garden is stunningly breathtaking. I remember the first time I saw it I was absolutely taken away by the density of the corals as well as its myriad of colours. Although its been recently bombed (unfortunately), the coral garden still appears spotless. Fun fact: there has ever been an accidental sighting of a Whale Shark in Melissa’s Garden. Fam Wall (also known as the Channel) is also an amazing dive site offering plenty of fish.
Misool: MAGIC MOUNTAIN IS INSANE AND BY FAR MY FAVOURITE DIVE SITE IN ALL OF RAJA AMPAT. It is also the only site where Oceanic and Reef mantas are known to be present at the same time. I’ve had the privilege to dive there thrice (!) and all three times we saw beautiful Oceanic Mantas frolicking with Reef Mantas. The corals there are also incredibly beautiful. Just in case the mantas don’t show up, which I’m sure they will, the corals are also something extraordinary. Mantas aren’t the only ones to visit Magic Mountain, there have also been sightings of Whale Sharks, incredibly rare in Raja Ampat.
Raja Ampat is a fascinating archipelago that remains as one of Indonesia’s best kept secrets. While it might be a little pricier than the rest of Indonesia, I can assure you that its worth every cent. My two visits here (1 month and 20 days in total!) have left me in awe and lost for words. No words or adjectives are adequate to describe the beauty of Raja Ampat. I return to Singapore pining for the next opportunity I have to visit again, Raja Ampat will always have a piece of my heart!
I hope this ultimate guide will be useful to you in highlighting the best dive sites of Raja Ampat, how to get there as well as helping you decide between a liveaboard or a resort (or maybe both).
What are your thoughts? Have I missed out any of your favourite dive sites?
Share this with someone who’s been planning a visit!
*All underwater photos taken by my friend, Speedyredfins