Travelling is not only about the destination; the journey is sometimes just as incredible! This famous quote was definitely applicable to my trip to Raja Ampat. If you have read my blog Sailing through the Raja Ampat Islands with Mutiara Laut you know how I ended up on this amazing luxury sailing ship and that I had the time of my life.
Like anyone else I have always been dreaming to go to Raja Ampat and in 2016 I finally got the chance to visit. This island group is any scuba divers dream but there is more than that. This place on earth is so peaceful it could be like in heaven. So blue, so green, no pollution, hardly any human traces just raw nature at its best.
Off the beaten track Indonesia
When you mention this amazing place to someone who is interested in exploring remote areas of the world I am sure they will start getting excited. Raja Ampat is a very deserted island group in West Papau and the number one off the beaten track Indonesia destination. Its isolated location makes it a paradise for explorers, but the reality will tell you that to travel to Raja Ampat is not that easy.
Organize your own trip to Raja Ampat, a Raja Ampat Tour or a liveaboard?
An organized Raja Ampat tour is pretty exclusive and the reason is simple: there are hardly any facilities on the islands, most islands are inhabited, have no electricity, no natural resources, and no phone signal. If you decide to organize a trip to Raja Ampat by yourself be prepared to go back to basic. If you have unlimited time and are up for a big adventure go for it.
Where is Raja Ampat located?
Raja Ampat may be a paradise to visit, but it is a pain in the ass to get there. Raja Ampat is located of the coast of West Papua in northeast Indonesia.
How to get to Raja Ampat
As I said getting to Raja Ampat is not easy, but first you will have to get to Sorong on the mainland of West Papua. Sorong has the closest airport to Raja Ampat and is the hub for all those travelers willing to explore, dive and amaze the beauty of this off the beaten path destination in Indonesia.
How to get to Sorong, West Papua
From Jakarta there are direct flights nowadays:
- PT. Nam Air flies directly from Jakarta to Sorong in 4h 5min and is the budget option for around $80 one-way.
- Garuda Indonesia flies also directly from Jakarta to Sorong in 4h 15min but will cost 3 times as much: $250 one-way.
From Bali there are no direct flights to Sorong. Plan for a long journey!
- Sriwijaya Air is the budget option for around $80 one-way. The journey takes about 12 hours with a 8 hour layover in Makassar, Sulawesi.
- Garuda Indonesia has about the same journey. The stopover is an hours horter, but you will pay the double: $170 for one-way.
By boat to Sorong?
It is fairly impossible to get to Sorong by boat, unless you have a couple weeks and want to go island hopping along the way. There are for example boats from Manado in North Sulawesi to Ternate in North Maluku. From here there also is a boat to Sorong. I have not taken this journey myself but I have asked the help of some locals to explain me this route. Boats are slow, and can take forever. Schedules are weather depended and very irregular.
From Sorong to Raja Ampat
Once you made it to the airport in Sorong you have to get to the harbor to make your way to the islands. Best way to get from the airport to the harbor is to take a taxi. It will take about 10 minutes and should never cost more than $10.
Raja Ampat actually means 4 kingdoms and therefore consists of 4 bigger islands. All the 4 bigger islands are inhabited but have countless uninhabited little islands around them. From the harbor of Sorong you will have to choose where you want to go. Waisai is the most popular island to visit in Raja Ampat. It also serves as the capital for Raja Ampat and is the easiest to get to from Sorong. But there is also Misool, which is further away and even harder to get to, but much more of an adventure when you travel to Raja Ampat.
From Sorong to Waisai
From the public pier in Sorong there are express ferries to Waisai twice daily at 9.00am and 2.00pm. The other way around the same schedule applies. The boat is called Bahari Express and is a modern big white ferry with red letters. Tickets cost 100,000 ($6,5) for economy and 150,000 ($10) for VIP/AC.
Tickets can be bought on board and there is no need/possibility to reserve a seat online.
From Sorong to Misool
Taking a boat from Sorong to Misool is a little harder and ferries run infrequent. The boat from Sorong take 5 hours. Look in Sorong harbor for a boat to Yellu Village.
There are two different ferry companies:
Kapal Fajar Baru 8
- From Sorong there is a nightboat leaving every Monday at midnight 00.00.
- The boat back from Misool to Sorong goes on Thursday at 09.00 am.
Km Fajar Indah II
- Boat from Sorong to Misool: every Friday 00.00 (midnight).
- Boat from Misool to Sorong: every Saturday at 15.00 pm.
If you travel to Raja Ampat take in mind that boat schedules are just an estimate and change without prior notice. Changes in weather conditions will often result in changes. Ask your Raja Ampat accommodation to verify ferry times the day before your departure.
When to visit Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat obviously has a tropical climate with great temperatures all year round. But there is a wet periode with most rainfall between May to August. The dry season lasts from October to April and is the best time to visit Raja Ampat.
Liveaboard Raja Ampat
If you want to avoid the hassle then save up a little bit more money and join an organized liveaboard. From what I have seen I am afraid that this is the only way to get the most of your Raja Ampat tour. If you have read more of my blog then you know I am not a fan of organized tours, but if you want to see the real beauty of this fantastic natural wonder then travel to Raja Ampat with someone who knows where to go in Raja Ampat. I was among the lucky ones to enjoy this paradise in style on the majestic luxury schooner of the Mutiara Laut, click to see their website!
16 Things to do Raja Ampat
In total I sailed around for 7 days and although I was constantly at sea, time was flying! You might think staying on a 46-meter long boat for a week there will be moments that you are finding yourself lost at sea, but there was never a dull moment. With hardly any phone reception and therefore no Internet, it was a bit of a rehab for me I can tell you, but I totally loved being disconnected from the world and may be that was one of the best things about my sailing trip to Raja Ampat. Every day I enjoyed doing all the amazing activities, then it was time to watch the sunset, catch up with great stories of that day, eating catch of the day and watching stars while sailing in the middle of the night!
1. Scuba Diving
Of course scuba diving is one of the best things to do in Raja Ampat, This is what draws people from all over the world to this underwater paradise. All my dive friends on Facebook were sending me messages like: ‘stop posting pictures, we are jealous!’ Diving in Raja Ampat is every divers dream because of the incredible underwater world and marine life. Diving with Manta Rays, whalesharks, seahorses, and dolphins all in one dive is possible!
Don’t worry if you are not a scuba diver, snorkelling is just as great. The shallow reefs around the islands are untouched. Sometimes there is even no need to gear up and get your self in your scuba gear, just a snorkel and fins are enough to see amazing things. While snorkelling I also saw big tunas, barracuda’s, and yes also sharks! We even tried to snorkel with dolphins, but ended up seeing the reef sharks in the middle of the ocean hunting for sardines!
3. Island hopping in Raja Ampat
It means a lot when an avid scuba diver like me says that the true beauty of Raja Ampat not only lies underwater! I have been to places like El Nido and Halong Bay that are in essence very similar, but my trip to Raja Ampat totally stands out. In 7 days sailing I saw may be a 1,000 islands but only 3 other boats and a handful local sea gypsies. This area is so remote that building a sustainable village is almost impossible. There are a couple islands that are inhabited but don’t expect more than a couple stilt houses and some hidden wooden sheds between the palm trees. More than 99% of the islands are uninhabited and a pristine paradise. Some have beaches, some only coral gardens, some are accessible, some not. Exploring the Raja Ampat islands for sure is my coolest island hopping tour ever and together with diving the best things to do in Raja Ampat.
4. Wake boarding
One of the most amazing things about the Mutiara Laut is that it has two tenders available for anything the guests are up to. When I heard that there was the possibility to go wakeboarding I got really excited! I only did it once in a cable park, which was big fun! If you ask me now where I really learned how to wake board I can say: Raja Ampat! :)
5. Watching the most amazing sunsets
Who is not a fan of sunsets? Out on the ocean they get even better, the horizon is endless and there are always some clouds around. Here in this paradise the only thing that could spoils your unobstructed view were the karst shaped Raja Ampat islands! Sunrises were equally stunning but I am not a big fan of them! ;)
6. Sailing in Raja Ampat
I have done a sailing trip before from Panama to Colombia and it was amazing, but it was in a small catamaran and because there was hardly any wind we only sailed once for a couple hours. Now I found myself on a two mast Schooner, build to perfection by a renowned shipper from Holland. Putting up all the sails up was a long process and all the 18 crew members were involved. I think it took a little under an hour but wow what was it impressive to see the Mutiara Laut with all the sails up. The motor was turned off and the only thing you could hear was the wind in the sails and the ship breaking through the waves. Such an amazing experience lying in the nets on the bow of the ship. I am in doubt now, may be sailing is the best thing to do in Raja Ampat! I don’t know anymore, my trip to Raja Ampat was so phenomenal, everything was cool!
7. Deserted islands
For the ultimate Robinson Crusoe experience you have to explore a little island that has some cliffs for a lookout, a little beach for a fire, some trees for shelter and a house reef to fish. The ultimate survivor islands are easy to find here and from what I heard is that they filmed a couple seasons of the French survivor here. I know exactly why they chose this location!
8. Heavenly beaches
On a Raja Ampat tour you gotta find yourself that picture-perfect tiny little island with a white sand beach and some palm trees. There are plenty around so I chose my own to get dropped off. I brought some drinks, sat in the sand, looked around, sipped my beer, felt the crystal clear sea water coming in at my feet, smiled, sipped again on my beer and thought: wow this is fucking amazing!
9. Eating fresh seafood
On the ocean every journey is a food journey. I love catch of the day and whatever it is it has never been disappointed. Of course the amazing crew on board the Mutiara Laut prepared some fantastic dishes but the best thing still is the fresh seafood caught just before dinnertime!
10. Wayag Viewpoint Raja Ampat
Probably the most famous spot in Raja Ampat is the Wayag Viewpoint. It was the only place where there were some kind of touristy activities going on and we saw a couple other boats that were doing day trips from Sorong. Local tourists, no foreigners by the way. There is a staircase that leads you to a magnificent viewpoint on top of one of the islands overlooking the absolutely stunning bay.
I would have loved to go Live at this viewpoint and show my social media followers this absolutely breathtaking spot while I was exploring it, but I can tell you there is absolutely no phone reception in Raja Ampat. Once you get phone reception you might want an indonesia prepaid sim card with data.
11. Watching marine life
Watching the giant gentles of the ocean will never get boring, staring the horizon on the lookout for fins popping out of the water. According to the captain we were not really lucky on this trip to Raja Ampat, but we still saw a pod of dolphins and some whales a little bit further away.
12. Bird watching
It was not really my favourite thing but apparently there are many bird species around. I saw a ton during the trip and tried to catch some rare ones that only exist in West Papua with a binocular. If you are a bird watching fan inquire about the Bird of Paradise to add to your Raja Ampat tour.
13. SUP boarding
With so many islands around there are many calm places to jump on a stand up paddleboard and paddle around. In and between the islands where the water is so crystal clear that you don’t need a snorkel to see clearly what is going on under the surface. I mostly tried to paddle out just before sunset, at least those times when I was not shooting sunset pictures.
14. Exploring caves
Most Raja Ampat islands are uninhabited and therefore unexplored as well. Though there are a couple tourist spots that a handful tourists every month! LOL. We went to a place that was hardly accessible as the waters were super shallow, but zigzagging through a maze of islands we found a old wooden ladder that lead us over a rock and into a cave filled with water. Swimming in a cave in Papua is a must do on your trip to Raja Ampat. It was an amazing adventure and the further we got inside the dark it became. Without our torches it would be pitch black. To make it even more excited we weren’t there alone: spiders, bats and hell knows what lives there. After swimming for 15 minutes there was light at the end of the tunnel and a little climb lead us to a hidden lagoon surrounded by 50m high limestone cliffs. There are no words how to describe this, but I swam to the middle of this small lagoon floated on my back and looked around. This is how I imagined Raja Ampat to be, something I had never seen before: a magical place so far away from civilisation! My mind was zooming out like Google Maps floating here in this lagoon. I wish I had a 360 camera! This is the real off the beaten track Indonesia destination.
15. Mangrove tours
We all know mangroves are a vital breeding ground for marine life and around the Raja Ampat islands there are a lot of mangroves to explore. Best to be done on a paddleboard, but we were warned there are salt water crocodiles that live in this part of the world. Unfortunately I did not see any! :)
16. Watching shooting stars
Another magical phenomenon is to watch the stars at night. There is no better place to look for shooting stars than in the middle of the ocean. Did you know that it is really easy to see shooting stars on a clear day? You just gotta be a little patience and you will always see some!
If you have any specific questions I am happy to answer them personally!
6 Tips for traveling to Raja Ampat
These are vital things to know when you travel to Raja Ampat.
1. No alcohol
West-Papua is a dry province in Indonesia, that means alcohol is forbidden. This is in contrary with the rest of Indonesia where alcohol is legal. According to the stories that I heard is that in West Papua alcoholism became such a huge problem that they declared it a dry state to solve the problem!
2. Religion in Raja Ampat
What is the religion in Raja Ampat? Christian! Another remarkable fact is that the people of Raja Ampat are not Muslim like everywhere else in Indonesia. There are some mosques in Waisai and Sorong, but because of the colonized history most of the people are Christians.
3. Very few ATMs
The only place in Raja Ampat where you can find an ATM is in Waisai. Here you have four different bank companies that let you withdraw money. My tip for traveling to Raja Ampat is not to rely on these machines. Often they don’t accept foreign cards or are out of service. Bring enough cash in advance. You can bring dollars there is always somewhere to exchange them, but it is better to bring Indonesian Rupiah.
4. Bring warm clothes
Although there is a tropical climate in Raja Ampat, during and after rain showers it can feel a bit chilled. Especially when there is some wind it feel much better wearing some warm clothes. Rain comes unexpectedly at times, so always bring a rain coat.
5. Meet the people of Raja Ampat
Locals are extremely friendly and love to see foreigners visit Raja Ampat. Of course they also understand that tourists bring money and these people most probably live a very simple island life. They may not have much, but they are super friendly and welcoming. Try to give something back, leave some stuff you can miss or buy some before your trip. Pencils and books for kids are always a good idea to bring to Raja Ampat.
6. Dive and snorkel with whale sharks in Cenderawasih Bay
If you travel to Raja Ampat you might want to combine your visit with another divers dream destination: Cenderawasih Bay. If you want to snorkel with these amazing creatures you have to head here. This bay is partially declared a marine national park and with 8 square kilometers the largest in Southeast Asia. Cenderawasih Bay is located on the east coast of West Papua. Whale sharks are around all year long.
Trip to Raja Ampat too expensive?
Is a trip to Raja Ampat a bridge too far? Travelling in Indonesia is captivating, so you might want to start with a trip Bali. I have been to Bali numerous times and totally loving it now. I can easily give you 12 reasons to visit Bali, or what about an adventure on the stunning Nusa Penida Island. Want to try magic mushrooms in Gili Trawangan? I can tell you were to get them! More off the beaten path destinations in Indonesia? Go to the burial caves of Tana Toraja and see dead people! ;)
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