Raja Ampat: the ultimate travel guide

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Still untouched and undiscovered, the islands of Raja Ampat aren’t easy to reach and information about it are quite limited.

After going there we have put together in this Ultimate Raja Ampat Guide all the useful tips you need to know before to visit this piece of paradise.

SKIP AHEAD:

More about Raja Ampat

With over 1,500 small islands, cays, and shoals, Raja Ampat is an archipelago that still awaits to be discovered.

Located off the Bird’s Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea, in Indonesia’s West Papua province, Raja Ampat literally translates as “The Four Kings”, representing the four main islands of Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati and Misool. Each of these islands and all of the other islets in between are home to a multitude of species and critical marine and terrestrial ecosystems.

But what’s so special about Raja Ampat?

Here are some data:

  • Raja Ampat is the heart of the “Coral Triangle” and the global epicentre of marine biodiversity with the highest coral reef biodiversity for any area of its size in the world.
  • Total area: Over 4 million hectares of which 1,358,170 hectares are protected.
  • 1470 species of reef fish
  • More than 550 species of corals, 75% of all known coral species in the world
  • 8 species of whales
  • 7 species of dolphins
  • Regionally significant Green Turtle and Hawksbill populations.
Piaynemo Raja Ampat

How to get to Raja Ampat?

Raja Ampat is located off the coast of West Papua, which is a remote area of Indonesia.

The first step, from anywhere you are, is to get to Sorong.

sorong map

STEP 1 – GET TO SORONG

The easiest way to get to Raja Ampat is by flying to the city of Sorong, in West Papua.

If you come from another country the best option to reach Sorong is to fly to Jakarta first. Direct flights operate daily from Jakarta to Sorong, although the cheapest one would include a stopover in Makassar.

If you are already in Indonesia you might consider also the options from Surabaya (East Java) and Makassar (Sulawesi), from which direct flights operate daily as well.

Surabaya in East Java is the best option for those who don’t want to miss Mount Bromo. For our itinerary, we have opted for visiting Raja Ampat first and then we flew from Sorong to Surabaya for Mount Bromo.

If you are in Bali, the best option is to fly from Denpasar to Makassar and then get another flight to Sorong.

Once you get to Sorong, your next destination will be Waisai, the main city of the Raja Ampat islands.

waisai Raja Ampat

STEP 2 – FROM SORONG TO WAISAI

Unless you are going to stay in a high-end resort (which may include a private transfer directly from the city of Sorong), once you get to Sorong you will need to reach Waisai on your own.

Located on the island of Waigeo, Waisai is the main city of Raja Ampat and it’s basically a gateway to all the accommodations of Raja Ampat.

To get from here there are mainly two ways.

BY BOAT:

The first (and cheapest) one is by taking the Express Ferry that departs twice a day from the harbour of Sorong. Note: taxi drivers will ask you about 100.000 IDR ($7 USD) per car for the 3km ride from the airport to the harbour. You can bargain it down to 50.000 IDR or lower if you are patient enough.

Boats leave twice a day, 9 AM and 2 PM (Sunday-Friday) and 9 AM and 12 PM (Saturday) and it takes about 2 hours. Tickets cost 100.000 IDR ($7 USD) and they can be purchased directly at the port, or even into the boat.

BY FLIGHT:

The other option to reach Waisai is by air. Although websites like Skyscanner don’t show it, there are two companies that operate this route: Susi Air and Wings Air (Lion Air Group).

The schedules are the following:

Susi AirMonday, Wednesday and Friday09:40 AM
Wing’s AirEvery day10:20 AM

The flight duration between Sorong and Waisai is approximately 30 minutes.

* Flight times may change at any time and without prior notice, so it is always best to call and confirm the flight schedule prior to your travels.
** Due to the various dimension of aircraft, it is best to make sure of the maximum baggage weight allowed for each ticket holder.

STEP 3 – ONCE IN WAISAI

After you get out of the ferry you will have to walk to a different harbour (2 minutes walk) in which you will have to pay the “Environmental Service Fee” (we will talk about right after).

Here is where the boats from the different homestays come to pick you up. The price is always shared by boat so, although it’s not easy, it’s best to look for other people travelling to the same island/homestay. Our recommendation, however, is to arrange the first transport from Waisai with the first accommodation beforehand.

TRAVELLING TO KRI ISLAND

If you are travelling to Kri, which is the most popular of the islands out of Waisai, you will find other boats going there quite easily, so you may save some money by sharing the transfer instead of booking your own transportation.

STEP 4 – INTER-ISLAND TRANSFER

After you reach the first homestay, there is no inter-island public transport. However, it’s quite easy to arrange private transport with your own accommodation or with the ones nearby. Once again, try to share this transport if you are on a budget.

Fam Island Raja Ampat

The environmental service fee

In 2014, the Raja Ampat Environmental Service Fee was introduced to generate the significant funding needed to effectively manage Raja Ampat’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

This means that each traveller has to pay a consistent fee upon arrival. You should keep proof of purchase of the E.S.F. on you at all times to show the officers from the management unit during random patrol checks.

The entrance permit is valid for 12 months from the date of purchase.

  • International Visitor’s Fee: 1.000.000 IDR ($65 USD)
  • Domestic Visitor’s Fee: 500.000 IDR ($32.50 USD)

Where to stay?

In Raja Ampat, you have two options when it comes to accommodations: Luxury Resorts and Homestays.

LUXURY RESORTS

If you are looking for a comfortable stay and you are not on a strict budget you may want to check out one of the many Luxury Resorts present in Raja Ampat. Each resort has a different website and you can easily browse them on google and choose the one you like the most, according to their services and your needs.

Note: we haven’t been in any luxury resorts so we don’t have particular information about them other than what you can find online.

HOMESTAYS

For those on a budget, as well as for those looking for an authentic experience, staying in a homestay is the best choice.

Raja Ampat provides a very useful service that groups all the Homestays of the different islands into the same website. Basically, homestays are very basic bungalows built on the beach or overwater and run by local families.

Staying in a homestay is a very deep and authentic experience.

When you are looking for the right homestay in Raja Ampat you have to check www.stayrajaampat.com. All homestays are listed on that website and you can filter them by location, price, activities and other features. The most common price is 350.000 IDR ($23 USD) per person per night, including 3 meals.

Bear in mind that when you stay in a homestay you will have no other options when it comes to eating so you want to look for a place that provides good food.

There is something interesting about this “per person per night” thing. Check out the TOP TIPS section to know more about it.

Raja Ampat Guide

Cost of life in Raja Ampat

How much does it cost to travel to Raja Ampat?

The overall cost of a trip is usually the most uncertain variable. It’s highly dependent on what your lifestyle is and on how many activities you are doing.

However, we made a rough estimation of the basic costs of a trip to Raja Ampat, in the case you are flying from Jakarta and you are travelling to Surabaja (East Java) after your stay. The prices will be similar also in the case you’re flying from other airports.

COSTS BREAKDOWN:

  • 1.500.000 IDR ($100 USD) per person, one way (Flight Jakarta – Sorong)
  • 100.000 IDR ($6.5 USD) per car, one way – Taxi cost (Sorong Airport – Sorong Harbour)
  • 100.000 IDR ($6.5 USD) per person, one way – Express Ferry (Sorong – Waisai)
  • 1.000.000 IDR ($65 USD) per person – Environmental Service Fee
  • 350.000 IDR ($23 USD) per person, per night, including 3 meals – Average Homestay cost
  • 100.000 IDR ($6.5 USD) per person, one way – Express Ferry (Waisai – Sorong)
  • 100.000 IDR ($6.5 USD) per car, one way – Taxi cost (Sorong Harbour – Sorong Airport)
  • 1.500.000 IDR ($100 USD) per person, one way (Flight Sorong – Surabaya)

To these prices, you must add the costs of transportation within the islands.

Getting around is pricey in Raja Ampat. The reason why it’s so expensive is mainly that distances are big and fuel is very expensive. For example, the journey from Waisai to Piaynemo will cost you about 2.000.000 IDR per boat, one way. The journey from Waisai to Kri Island will cost you about 600.000 IDR per boat, one way.

Considering the case of 2 people travelling on one boat, doing the journey Waisai to Piaynemo – Piaynemo to Kri – Kri to Waisai (sleeping in both Kri and Piaynemo islands, for a total of three boat rides) the total cost of transportation will be around 4.300.000 IDR, which is equal to 2.150.000 IDR ($145 USD) per person if it’s two of you. Remember, the more you are the less you pay.

In the case of a 10 days stay, we would get a total cost of:

  • 3.000.000 IDR = Flights
  • 100.000 IDR = Taxi Rides
  • 200.000 IDR = Public Ferries
  • 1.000.000 IDR = Environmental Service Fee
  • 10 x 350.000 = 3.500.000 IDR = 10 Days Stay (Room + 3 Meals per day)
  • 2.150.000 IDR = (hypotetical Waisai to Kri – Kri to Piaynemo – Piaynemo to Waisai ) Transportation

Which is equal to a total amount of 9.950.000 IDR ($667 USD), per person.

(avrage $66,70 USD/day, per person – or about $46,50 USD/day without flights, per person)

To this price you should add day trips and dive costs.

A day trip can cost anything from 100.000 IDR to 10.000.000 IDR per boat depending on where you are staying and where you are going. Usually, if you are planning to stay for a few nights on different islands and to do day trips nearby your homestay (10-15km), the average cost of a day trip would be about 400.000-600.000 IDR ($27 – $40 USD) per boat.

Diving in Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat is a divers haven.

There are so many spots it would require months to visit all. Check out the following map to have an idea about where they are located.

Diving spots, Raja Ampat Guide
Source: nomads-expeditions.com

Kri Island is one of the most popular places of Raja Ampat and it is so for a good reason! The reef in Cape Kri is just amazing and there are so many great spots nearby as well as a few dive centres on the island we would recommend.

The average price we have found for one dive was about 450.000 IDR ($30 USD) per dive including equipment rental, plus additional fuel if the dive site is far from the dive centre. The lowest price we have found was 350.000 IDR ($24 USD) including equipment rental per one dive in front of the dive centre.

Having so many diving spots, it’s hard to make a list of the best ones since probably not even local divers have explored all of them.

Snorkelling in Raja Ampat

Snorkelling is as great as diving in Raja Ampat. For a snorkelling trip, we have paid as low as 50.000 IDR ($4 USD) per person, so it’s just about trying to find the best deal and to share the boat with as many people as possible (don’t worry, they never get too crowded).

For both snorkelling and diving, remember those ocean currents are very strong in Raja Ampat. Do not go snorkelling by yourself if you don’t know the area very well.

What to expect?

COMFORTS

Raja Ampat is WILD. Most homestays have no 24-hours electricity. Electricity in most cases is produced from 6 PM to 11 PM with electric generators. The water usually comes from wells and it is then pumped and collected into big buckets. The shower is in the “bucket shower” type and the water might be salty.

Don’t expect to have Wi-fi. Wi-fi doesn’t exist unless you are staying in a luxury resort.

Raja Ampat Guide

GET AROUND

The only way to get around is by boat. Usually, the best way is by joining a snorkelling/diving tour Even to move around the same island you might need to hire a boat since roads are basically not existing.

The sea might be rough so make sure to cover your bags with a waterproof sheet.

Boat in Raja Ampat

LOCALS

Local people usually don’t live near homestays. Most of them live in villages located on different islands and come to their homestay only when they have reservations, so we’d recommend you to book your stay at least a couple of days in advance.

If you are willing to visit local villages, there are many of them in Raha Ampat and they are quite easy to visit and you will most likely be welcomed by the smiles of the kids playing near the jetty. Some we would recommend are Fam island village (location here), Arborek village, (location here), Sauwandarek village (location here) and Yenbuba village (location here).

FOOD

If you are staying in a homestay, your food will be whatever “mama” will cook you. As always, reading the reviews of the different accommodations before going can save your stomach. Remember, you will have no other options.

Food always (and we mean, always) include steamed rice and vegetables, with the addition of eggs or fish. Breakfast is what we have struggled the most with and it might be anything from fried bananas to white bread (with literally nothing else).

TIP: a jar of jam might save your breakfast!

Fam Island Raja Ampat Guide

Top tips for travelling to Raja Ampat

  • Phone & Internet: The best (and only) telephone company that works in Raja Ampat is Telkomsel. It’s not an ad, it’s just the only way to have calls and data while on the islands. Forget wifi unless you are staying in an expensive resort.
  • Most homestays charge you per person, not per room. For this reason, it might make sense to rent more than one bungalow if you want to be more comfortable, also considering that usually, most bungalows are empty and the price would be per person anyway.
  • Bring your own beers and drinks! There are almost no places where you can buy beer in Raja Ampat, so if you are a beer lover make sure to pack some before to leave Waisai.
  • Go with friends! Raja Ampat can be expensive but the best way to cut the costs down is to travel with friends. Transportation and day trips are the biggest expense, and if you share it among 5 or 6 people can make visiting Raja Ampat very cheap.
  • Check manta season before heading to manta points. The best time to see Black Mantas is between the end of the year (late October at the earliest) and April when they migrate to the area in large numbers. At this time of the year, they are attracted by a high concentration of nutrients and plankton. They are spotted year-round, but it’s not uncommon to see them leaping above the surface of the water when the plankton is in abundance.
  • Avoid sunburns! Even if you are used to the beach life, the sun is stronger in Raja Ampat. Cover yourself while snorkelling and wear sunscreen if you are not planning to enter the water. (Note: Sunscreen should not be used, as they are proven to cause damage to coral.)

BONUS TIP

Overwater bungalows! Overwater bungalows are awesome, but besides being just beautiful they have a couple of practical advantages. It’s more windy, which is a real uplift during hot days and nights, and mosquitoes don’t really come that far. Also, they usually come at almost the same price than regular ones.

Smiles, kids Raja Ampat

Health risks in Raja Ampat

Since this is a very important subject and we are not medical experts, we highly recommend you to ask your doctor for any questions you may have.

If you want to read a more in-depth guide about health risks and medical FAQ in Raja Ampat, we would also recommend the article you can find at www.stayrajaampat.com.

These guys made an awesome job about this topic.
However, if you are just looking for some overall info, remember that in Raja Ampat the following risks are present:

  • Malaria
  • Poisonous snakes and spiders
  • Sharks, saltwater crocodiles and sea snakes
  • Sandflies, ringed octopus, fire corals, jellyfish, insect bites
  • Dehydration, sunburn, ocean currents, gastrointestinal diseases, skin and wound infections, ear infections, Japanese Encephalitis and Dengue Fever, tuberculosis, tropical diseases.

From our personal point of view, after we have been there for ten days, the only problems we had were with sun and sand flies. Although all those risk factors are real, Raja Ampat is such a vast area and chances to encounter dangerous animals aren’t so high. Just be careful at any times, and you’ll be fine.

Packing list: what should you pack for Raja Ampat?

This is a list of things you definitely want to have with you once you are in such a remote place. Besides regular things such as swimming suits, flip flops and your personal belongings, make sure to pack also:

MUST-HAVE:

  • Mosquito repellent: Mosquitos, as well as many other insects, are present in Raja Ampat and the best way to avoid itchy bites is by using a repellent.
  • Reef-safe Sunscreen: Remember not to use sunscreens before entering the water since they are proven to cause damage to coral. However, if you are not planning to swim, by wearing sunscreen you will avoid getting a sunburn.
  • Headlight: You definitely need one. Some homestays turn off lights at night and even going to the toilet might be a challenge. You can always use your phone, but having a headlight is much more practical
  • Enough cash: Don’t expect to find ATMs in Raja Ampat. A few businesses like some diving centres or some luxury resorts may accept payments with a credit card, but most of the others do not. The only way to pay for homestays, transportations and any other thing you need during your stay will be cash, so remember to withdraw enough before to leave Waisai. You can find ATMs in the towns of Sorong and Waisai

OTHER USEFUL ITEMS

  • Snorkelling gear: Although you may be able to rent it from your homestay or from any diving centres, having your own snorkelling mask will save your day in many situations. Some places are so remote that even renting it might be a hard challenge.
  • Reusable water bottle: Every homestay in Raja Ampat provides drinking water through a water dispenser. Packing a reusable water bottle is essential, and eco-friendly.
  • Waterproof bag: If you need to carry any electronics during your day trips, such as cameras or any other electronic devices, you need a waterproof bag. You might get very wet during your boat rides, and you don’t want your devices to get wet too.
  • Drone & GoPro: Both of these are perfect in Raja Ampat and there are no limitations nor concerns when it comes to using them.

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