Scuba Diving in Raja Ampat - Introduction
Raja Ampat diving is Indonesia's most pristine coral reef and unrivaled diving experience! As a result, it is one of the most well-known diving spots in the world and is sometimes referred to as the "last frontier" of diving in Paradise.
Raja Ampat, literally translated as "Four Kings" in English, is a regency in West Papua province in the eastern part of Indonesia. Four Kings refers to its four biggest islands from north to south: Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati, Misool.
Interestingly, the name of Four Kings comes from a local myth. It tells about a woman who finds seven dragon eggs near the bank of the Waikeo River and brings them home. During the night, she hears whispers from the eggs. The five eggs have hatched, becoming four boys and a girl dressed up in clothing that shows they are the descendants of the king. One egg that does not hatch becomes a ghost, and another becomes a stone. Later, the four boys become the four kings who occupy four Raja Ampat's biggest islands.
Raja Ampat has a vast area with 67,379.61 kilometers square or almost as big as the Republic of Ireland! With 88% seawater, it has over 1,500 small islands, cays, and shoals. The sea is home to 540 species of corals, more than 1,000 species of fish, and 700 species of mollusks. According to a report developed by The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, around 75% of the world's species live here! Raja Ampat’s sheer numbers and diversity of marine life and its vast pristine coral reef systems are a scuba dream come true. It is the most diverse living library for the world's coral reefs and underwater biota.
Raja Ampat's amazing wildlife doesn't stop in the water. There are several bird species, including Cendrawasih (Paradisaeidae) or the Birds of Paradise. Waigeou cuscus is an endemic species of couscous (Spilocuscus papuensis).
The landscape of Raja Ampat is equally breathtaking above the surface: lush green rainforest, mushroom-shaped islands made from karst, white sandy beaches, and turquoise water.
Although the capital of Raja Ampat district in Waisai, you will start your adventure in Sorong. It is the biggest city of West Papua province, and Raja Ampat gateway, where you fly in and out.
What are the highlights of diving in Raja Ampat?
Raja Ampat diving captivates and charms all who descend into waters. Known for having more than ten times as many coral species of Caribbean, this part of West Papua is legendary as among the best liveaboard dive destinations in the world.
A network of deep-sea currents carries nutrients to Raja Ampat's coral reefs, blue water drop-offs, mangrove flats, and seagrass beds, forming the foundation of the marine food web that supports a spectacular diversity of marine life.
Raja Ampat is one of the few remaining populations of coral reef biodiversity globally. There are 540 species of coral and at least 1,000 species of reef fish there. When you dive, you can find reef sharks, manta rays, as well as endemic species like the tasseled wobbegong shark. Not to mention the various small creatures.
When is the best time of the year to dive in Raja Ampat?
The northern and central parts of Raja Ampat are open all year round. However, the best time to scuba dive in Raja Ampat is from October to April, when the sea is calm with excellent visibility.
From June to September, the monsoon brings rough seas to Misool, in the south of Raja Ampat. During those months, dive resorts in Misool close down as the waves can make diving conditions difficult.
The time has come to pack your diving gear, but don't forget to shop our "Vaccinated and Ready to Dive" T-shirts for you and your buddy. Worldwide shipping is available.
Raja Ampat Climate
Located along the Equator, Raja Ampat's climate is hot and humid all year long. However, temperatures are stable throughout the year, with seasonal variations predominantly determined by rain. Although it is always possible to rain in any season, it is unlikely to rain continuously, even in the wettest months.
The humidity is always very high, exceeding 80%, and the climate is highly variable throughout the archipelago. In general, temperatures are around 25°C to 31°C.
Due to the sea temperature averaging 28-29 degrees Celsius all year round, a diver will only need a 3 mm dive suit to comfortably scuba dive in Raja Ampat.
Raja Ampat Scuba Diving Famous Routes
In Raja Ampat, three geographical regions are the north, the center, and the south. Most diving trips start in Waigeo in the north and Misool in the south. Therefore, when a liveaboard says it travels to Raja Ampat, it only travels around the north and up to the central region. Ask for a detailed itinerary from your dive operators to see which one is suitable for your plan.
Diving in the north area is more popular than Misool due to its proximity to Sorong, the hub city. However, Misool is the most southerly of the Four Kings, and there are only really two options for diving here: liveaboard or staying at the Misool Eco Resort.
Diving Raja Ampat or Komodo: which one is better?
Raja Ampat is located in almost the most eastern part of Indonesia. It's farther away than Komodo, so the flight is more expensive. Due to its remote location, the cost of living is also more costly. If money is a concern, choose Komodo because it is closer to Jakarta and Bali.
Since Komodo has a much smaller area than Raja Ampat, you can do land-based diving or liveaboards for only a few days. Diving safaris in Raja Ampat liveaboard will take 5-7 days to cover only the northern or southern regions. It takes 14-20 days on safari to explore the north and south of Raja Ampat.
Choose Raja Ampat for an ultimate scuba diving trip with breathtaking above and below surface views. But, again, because it's far away and more costly, Raja Ampat is still a virgin, quiet, and has never been packed with tourists.
Read the best diving in Indonesia according to local experts, Bayu Wardoyo (DAN Indonesia Representative) and Abi Carnadie (consultant for the PADI diving industry in Indonesia) on their point of view about Komodo and Raja Ampat here and IndonesiaDive in-depth guide about Komodo diving here.
Raja Ampat diving sites: what are the best ones?
It is tough to pinpoint the best dive sites in Raja Ampat. However, because each dive site offers a unique experience, we pick the best to provide you with some of the best diving in Raja Ampat for your itinerary.
1. Cape Kri
Cape Kri has the most diverse marine life in Raja Ampat's central region due to its location at the crossroads of various currents that pass through the channel. Moreover, Kri island itself is a perfect island surrounded by turquoise waters. This location is a submerged ridge off the east end of Kri Island in the Dampier Strait.
Everything is there: schools of jacks, batfish, large schools of snappers, cardinal, fusilier, sweetlips, butterflyfish, and angelfish are just a few of the fish you'll see swimming in the currents.
In addition, large schools of giant trevally, tuna, barracudas, sharks, hawksbill turtles, and massive groupers will also be present, feeding on the smaller fish and nutrient-rich plant life.
The current will increase from below or above the ridge at a specific point on the coral reef. It allows you to use your reef hook, be free to float, and watch the fish swim. Also, keep a lookout for reef sharks and a barracuda vortex.
2. Blue Magic
Blue Magic is a pinnacle reef hidden in the depths of the Damper Strait. The reef starts about 8 meters below the surface and falls to about 30 meters. For beginners, however, it can be a little intimidating. A strong surface current can push divers out into the open ocean, so you must descend quickly to reach the reef.
Here you can see Spanish mackerel, tuna, jacks, barracudas, eagle rays, grey reef sharks, giant napoleon wrasse, manta rays, and many different big schooling fish, sharks, turtles, including the rare sight of wobbegong sharks.
3. Manta Sandy
Manta Sandy is a manta-cleaning station near the Dampier Straits' west end, between Arborek Island and Mansuar Island. When diving at this location, your guide will usually coordinate with other dive operators to time their group's entry in advance to ensure it is not crowded underwater. The dive guide will brief you to kneel on the sandy bottom and wait patiently for the magic to happen.
The site is known for its consistent manta rays between October and April. Because the area is rich in plankton, these majestic marine giants can be found either feeding at the surface or hovering over the cleaning station.
4. Sardine Reef
It's not sardines you'll see there, but a fantastic variety of fish packed that you will experience to be surrounded by fishes all around you the entire dive. The place is named Sardine due to the fish density on the reef. However, it is located in the middle of nowhere, and the current can be pretty strong. Therefore, experienced divers are required to dive here.
The dive site is densely forested with vibrant soft corals, including massive gorgonian fans and other colorful soft corals. If you like pygmy seahorses, you can find them here, and you'll enjoy being surrounded by schooling Jack, snapper, fusiliers, and Barracuda. Also, look out for sleepy Wobbegong, white tip, and blacktip reef sharks at the bottom of the coral reef.
1. Boo Windows
Boo Windows is the area's most famous dive site and is located on a small Boo Island southeast of Misool. A relatively easy dive, the reef around the island descends 5-10 meters and then turns into a transverse wall that drops to the sandy bottom about 35 meters deep. South of the reef itself is a plateau with many rocks covered with soft coral. Many macro animals are here too.
There are two rocks connected underwater by a wide underwater passage that divers can pass through simultaneously on the surface. Spend the end of your dive around the window as it is pretty shallow and gives you a fantastic view underwater. If you are a freediver, this place is fun.
2. Magic Mountain
Magic Mountain is a massive underwater reef just a few kilometers from Misool southernmost tip. A large, almost circular pinnacle 5 meters below the surface is east. Dive along the western up to the end of this ridge for fantastic coral reefs and nonstop fish action at depths of over 25 meters.
This area is one of the best places to see Manta Rays in Raja Ampat's south, as there is also a cleaning station where manta rays come, so you'll see them dancing around, flaunting their bellies, and swimming around each other at breakneck speed.
The site is densely packed with anthias, batfish, sweet yellow lips, groupers, and Napoleon. Schooling jacks and trevallies are scouting for baitfish in the area. Whitetip and grey reef sharks are frequently seen cruising in the currents that arise from deeper waters on the pinnacle's west side.
3. Cave Farondi
A stunning cave that does not require cave diving certification to explore. Swim through the wide tunnel, then light your torch and follow the coral and fan-covered wall up to the surface, where you'll find a large cave with stalactites. At the surface, there is a large hole in the cave's ceiling through which sunlight enters; open your mask and regulator to breathe normal air while admiring the view of the top cave.
Raja Ampat is magical day and night. Most night dives occur near the marina and piers, where you can see lots of small creatures illuminated by bioluminescent and fluorescent colors. Night dive is the perfect time to spot your favorite small critters and get your macro lenses up and running.
Raja Ampat diving for beginners
Because Raja Ampat is best enjoyed by scuba diving, some people get their scuba diving license just to dive in Raja Ampat. But actually, many dive spots are not for beginners due to the strong current, and some of the dive sites are required to have negative entry.
It is still possible for beginners to do land-based diving and work out closely with in-house instructors and dive guides to find the best dive spots suitable for you.
However, most liveaboards will require you to have advanced dive certification. Therefore, we recommend having your Advance certification and at least 50 dives log before you come to Raja Ampat to maximize your experience here.
Which is the best Raja Ampat diving experience? Liveaboard or on the resort?
Raja Ampat comprises many islands in an area almost as big as the Republic of Ireland. So, of course, a liveaboard is the best Raja Ampat diving experience! Bayu Wardoyo (DAN Indonesia Representative) explained, "Liveaboard in Raja Ampat is a must because no other better way to explore the diversity in a vast area like that!" Read the full article here.
The liveaboard in Indonesia uses phinisi schooners. Phinisi, or pinisi, are two-masted, timber-built sailing ships that were, and still are, used by the Buginese and Makassarese for fishing and cargo transportation around the archipelago. The Konjo people from South Sulawesi played the most influential role in the design and construction of the early phinisi, which were hand-built using traditional methods. In modern times, the construction methods have changed very little and still include choosing suitable trees for each part of the vessel.
Before booking your liveaboard trip, make sure that you meet all of the prerequisites of the operator. For example, some liveaboards request that divers are of at least Advanced Open Water level. Others also have Nitrox filling facilities, so a nitrox certification is required if you plan to dive with Nitrox. Other prerequisites may include having DAN insurance, diving within the last 12 months, or taking a refresher course.
But if you prefer to stay in the resort, choose the island wisely. The most exclusive resorts are located in the best islands with the best beach and access to the best diving sites.
Our recommendations for a dive resort in Raja Ampat are as follows:
- Misool Eco Resort
- Raja Ampat Dive Resort
- Papua Explorers Dive Resort
- Papua Paradise Eco Resort
- Meridian Adventure
- Papua Diving Resort has two resorts in Kri Island: Sorido Bay Resort and Kri Eco Resort
Raja Ampat Luxury Liveaboard
The perfect way to enjoy diving in Raja Ampat is by taking a luxury liveaboard where you don’t even have to lift your fingers due to a high crew-to-guest ratio. It’s not just a luxury cabin, but also the facilities and the services are luxurious.
Here are some of our recommendations:
Alila Purnama, belongs to Alila Luxury Hotels & Resorts chain. The 46-meter-long phinisi consists of 5 suites air-conditioned with queen-size beds, en-suite bathrooms with shower, separate toilet, double wardrobes, and writing desk.
Arenui offers divers some of the most high-end liveaboard facilities in Raja Ampat. With 8 cabins catering for up to 16 guests.
Coralia offers 8 spacious cabins with air-conditioned and a spacious private bathroom equipped with warm freshwater and shower amenities that are friendly to the environment.
Dewi Nusantara accommodates 18 guests in 8 staterooms and 1 master suite, all spacious and individually designed.
Raja Ampat Budget Liveaboard
If you're on a budget, there is currently a liveaboard that suits your pocket. Budget liveaboard means using the smaller boat. The cabin is simple, sometimes without air-conditioning and a shared bathroom. However, most of these liveaboards don't cater to Nitrox.
Although we have not been diving in Raja Ampat with budget liveaboard, our friends mentioned these:
- Empress II is a 22-meter long phinisi accommodating 9 guests in 5 bunk bed lower deck cabins with shared bathrooms.
- Pearl of Papua is a 30-meter long phinisi with 7 cabins for up to 15 guests.
- Shakti is a 32-meter long phinisi that caters to 10 guests in 6 cabins with shared bathrooms.
Underwater Photography Raja Ampat Diving Tips
Raja Ampat's best dive sites are ideal for wide-angle and macro lenses. Always be ready to shoot as abundant marine life in Raja Ampat keeps coming in front of you. We have seen divers obsessed with photographing Orang Utan crabs with macro lenses while missing out on Manta Rays swimming above them.
So definitely, you'll need both macro and wide-angle lenses or a small camera that can do both. Diopters and snoot are required to zoom in on super-macro species. Before diving into a new dive site, ask the dive guide what to expect to see underwater so you can prepare your lenses.
Raja Ampat visibility is excellent, but to enhance the color of the reef, a set of strobe lights will be helpful too, and It's also useful for deeper, darker dives where natural light isn't allowed in.
Bring extra memory cards and batteries to make the most of your time underwater. If you don't have many memory cards, bring a laptop and hard drive to transfer out every night after your dinner. We can tell you that a single dive can drain your battery or memory.
Most likely, you will do the liveaboard in Raja Ampat. If you need to charge many devices, bring plugs and extension cords as you can share an outlet with other guests. Please note that Indonesian plugs and sockets are standard European type C and F plugs or 2-pins to charge the camera. If you have different types, bring an adapter.
What to do when you don't dive?
Raja Ampat is well known for being a place for scuba divers. However, non-divers staying in the resort can just go to the beach to swim or soak in the sun. You can also go hiking, snorkeling, board paddling, kayaking, or hire a boat to take you around. If you are a non-diver in a liveaboard, ask the captain to take you to a nearby island if possible while waiting for the divers to do their things.
Here are some activities in Raja Ampat during your dry days:
Hike up to mushroom-shaped karst of Wayag islands.
Trekking in Piaynemo wilderness.
Visit Telaga Bintang, a star-shaped lagoon.
Photoshoot at a white-sand island in Mansuar.
Birdwatching in Sawinggrai Village to see the bird of Paradise, which locals named Cendrawasih.
Visit Karawapop, a heart-shaped lagoon in Misool
Snorkeling at Lenmakana island with stingless jelly fish in a hidden lake
What are the must-eat foods according to locals?
Most likely, you will only have time to explore Sorong before or after your Raja Ampat trip. Sorong is the place for local culinary adventure; many small restaurants along the roadside serve fresh, grilled fish, each with its own distinct Indonesian chili sauce or “sambal” as locals say. Try grilled snapper at Kitong Papua Restaurant and various crab cooking styles in Dapur Berkat Restaurant.
Try Roti Gulung Abon (meat floss bread roll) at Billy Bakery on Ahmad Yani Street if you love bread. The meat floss is made from beef, chicken, or tuna. Roti Abon in Billy Bakery is the most delicious in Indonesia, and we keep buying this when we are in Sorong.
Raja Ampat souvenirs: what should you bring home?
If you want to buy traditional Papuan souvenirs, here are some recommendations:
Noken, a knotted net or woven bag handmade from wood fiber or leaves by communities in Papua.
Tifa, a single-headed goblet drum.
Papuan sea pearls.
Papuan Batik cloth with patterns of Cendrawasih bird and Asmat.
Koteka, a penis sheath traditionally worn by native male inhabitants of some ethnic groups in Papua to cover their penis.
There are several souvenir stores in Sorong, such as Irian Jaya Art & Souvenir, Toko Dahlan, Toko Kaokanao, Toko Batik Aneka, Supermarket Saga, Toko Batik Ilham. Our favorite is Toko Tembok Production because it’s the complete one that sells all kinds of souvenirs, from T-shirts and stickers to handmade keychains and bracelets.
If you don't want to get hassled with the souvenir, buy yourself or your loved ones a Raja Ampat diving t-shirt at IndonesiaDive Shop here.
How to go to Raja Ampat?
You need to fly to Domine Eduard Osok Airport (SOQ) in Sorong to get to this Paradise. Depending on your flight, but for a direct flight, the airlines will take 4 to 5 hours direct flight from Jakarta (CGK). However, it may feel longer because Papua has a different time zone, so that it will be 2 hours behind Jakarta.
If you stay in the resort on one of the islands in Raja Ampat, you need to go to the harbor and take an express ferry for another 2 hours from Sorong to Waisai. From there then you can take a boat to the island. Alternatively, there are small aircraft to take you to Marinda Airport (RJM) in Waisai.
If you already have a booking with a liveaboard, you will board the boat from Sorong. They will arrange everything from pick up from the airport and transfer you to the boat. Since the liveaboard starts in the morning from Sorong, you need to stay a night in Sorong if your flight arrives in the afternoon.
Please be aware that the regional government requires all divers and non-divers visiting Raja Ampat to pay an annual entrance fee for the Marine Park. The current cost is IDR 700,000 per person (approximately USD 48) for foreigners or IDR 425,000 (USD 29) for Indonesian. Kids below 12 years old are exempt from paying the fee.
Diving Raja Ampat has always been on many local and international divers' bucket lists as one of the most famous scuba diving destinations due to its remoteness, abundance of marine life, and high biodiversity.
Both land-based diving and liveaboard are options for exploring Raja Ampat. Still, we recommend scuba diving with a diving liveaboard if you want to explore the vast area of Raja Ampat. You can take the North route, the South route, or both.
Most Raja Ampat's dive sites are suitable for experienced divers, but beginners have options. There are also budget and luxury resorts and liveaboards available. Scuba diving in Raja Ampat is an experience you will remember and want to repeat.
Other than Raja Ampat, do you know there are 99 Scuba Diving Places in Indonesia? You can get instant access to the free eBook here. And, before you book your diving trip to Raja Ampat, make sure you check the updated Indonesia’s entry requirements here.
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The best & most comprehensive article I’ve come across for those who’re looking to go to Raja Ampat. Enough to get you started with your research to cater to your own needs.
Been there once. There’re also locally operated dive outfits that you could try & connect with….much cheaper options, IMHO. Spent US$1500 for a week of stay plus 12 dives, 3 meals a day etc. Just a thought. All the best & enjoy your time there.
Thank you for making our day with your kind words, Bart. Our hard work paid off when you complimented us.
Feel free to share the diving operator in Raja Ampat that you connect with here, so that more people who enjoy budget-friendly options can benefit from it.