Crystal clear waters as far as the eye can see, spectacular natural scenery and friendly locals greet you as your speedboat hops from island to island through Raja Ampat in eastern Indonesia.
Located in the “heart of the coral triangle”, the archipelago within an archipelago comprises more than a thousand islands, including the main islands of Waigeo, salawati, Misool and Swing — which are home to more than 500 species of coral, 600 species of molluscs and 1,300 species of fish.
Since Raja Ampat encompasses such a vast region, this guide serves as a starting point containing the essentials of traveling to the region, not an exhaustive list of things to do. If you’re planning on visiting the Indonesian slice of heaven, here are five things to know about Raja Ampat:
How to get there
Sorong, a large city in the Indonesian province of West Papua, is the starting point for excursions to Raja Ampat. Flag carriers Garuda Indonesia and Batik Air fly direct to the city from Jakarta in a trip that takes about four hours. If you’re coming from Bali, you’ll need to transit through Jakarta and/or Makassar before continuing to Sorong, and the journey will take at least nine hours, including layovers.
From Sorong, you will need to take a speedboat – on a charter or as part of a group tour – to one of the Raja Ampat islands.
Local authorities require people visiting Raja Ampat for ecotourism and recreation to purchase a TLPJL (Environmental Services Maintenance Rates) card via email or phone prior to departure. The card costs IDR 425,000 for local tourists and IDR 700,000 for international tourists, and is valid for one year.
Where to go
Aditya ‘Adit’ Dwi Saputra, an independent tour guide who has been taking visitors to Raja Ampat since 2014, recommends the spectacular tourist hotspot called Piaynemo. Described as the miniature version of the iconic Wayag Islands further north, visitors are encouraged to climb 320 steps to a viewing platform, where they can enjoy panoramic views of the islets rising from the turquoise waters.
Another place to visit is the lagoon of love in the southern district of Misool. As the name suggests, one will be rewarded with stunning views of a heart-shaped natural lagoon – again, only after climbing hundreds of steps.
What to do
“In Raja Ampat, the diving definitely stands out,” said Herry N. Legi, manager of Raja Ampat Dive Lodge on Mansuar Island. Coconut on the tourist attractions of the archipelago.
Adit, the tour guide, says Arborek village is a recommended dive point. Raja Ampat is also a paradise for snorkeling, with the village of Sauwandarek – also spelled Sawandarek – in the district of Meos Mansar, a particularly pleasant place to take the plunge.
Where to stay
The archipelago offers a wide range of accommodation options – from homestays to resorts.
Yalapale Homestay in the district of South Misool is a family accommodation with 13 rooms on land that can accommodate up to three visitors each, and six more on sea that can accommodate up to five people each. You can snorkel around the homestay while enjoying three daily home-cooked meals and a free canoe. Each visitor must pay IDR 450,000 for a room with a fan and IDR 650,000 for an air-conditioned room per night.
Raja Ampat Diving Lodge, operational since 2011, offers 20 deluxe rooms and seven standard rooms. Room rates range from IDR 1.6 million to IDR 2.8 million for solo travellers, IDR 2.4 million for two people and IDR 5.7 million for three people. You can also snorkel in the surrounding waters.
What you should know
Despite the beauty of Raja Ampat, its marine ecosystem remains fragile to human activities. mongabay reported that a foreign cruise ship in 2017 damaged more than 18,000 square meters of coral reef in the archipelago, about 3.5 times the size of an American football field.
And Raja Ampat still faces various environmental challenges.
“Even though it has a clear legal framework, in practice there are still irregularities in activities such as garbage disposal, hunting for sharks, turtles and other biota, and mass tourism is still rampant. at various tourist sites in Raja Ampat,” said Samuel Wospakrik, a field officer at the EcoNusa Foundation working on environmental sustainability – with a team on site in the archipelago – in a statement to Coconut.
“Even though it is designated as a conservation area, it cannot be denied that there are still destructive fishing activities which periodically impact the declining quality of coastal ecosystems.”
The Indonesian Climate Change Trust Fund (ICCTF) said in March that it had rehabilitated 1,000 square meters of mangroves, 500 square meters of seagrass and 100 square meters of coral reefs in Raja Ampat since August 2020.
Finally, the Adit tourist guide recommends that all tourists travel with a guide for personal safety and expert knowledge. In an extreme case of aimless and misinformed travel, Adit recalled the story of a tourist who snorkeled in Wayag and fed a shark up close instead of throwing the food towards the predator. The shark, tragically, bit off the tourist’s finger.
Moreover, the pristine beauty of Raja Ampat really should not be experienced alone.
The ICCTF, which falls under the Ministry of National Development Planning (Bappenas), invited journalists, including the author of this guide, to visit Raja Ampat on a media trip in March 2022. The photos featured in this article were taken during the said trip.
The prices indicated in this article are subject to change. USD 1 = IDR 14,679