From Backpacking to Luxury Living: The Ultimate Travel Guide to Raja Ampat
The turquoise and cobalt blue waters of the bay in Raja Ampat, Papua, shimmered under the light of the morning sun. Rocky outcrops, black as ink and sharp as razor blades broke through the warm tropical waters. Small beaches of golden sand broke up the jagged coastline, abutting the thickly wooded lowlands of Wayag Islands. In a semi-circle surrounding the bay and topped with sparse vegetation were sheer cliffs that rise hundreds of feet into the air. I sat there quietly on the peak, like an eagle, taking in the panoramic view below me. Moments like this is what travelling is all about I told myself.
Where is Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat, Papua, is like a modern El Dorado, except that this is no fabled city of gold, but an environmentalist and backpackers dream holiday destination. The region is located off the West coast of the province of West Papua in the far East of Indonesia.
The rich biodiversity, world-class diving, amazing landscapes, isolated golden beaches and awesome coral reefs are the perfect holiday destination from anyone who wants to get away from it all. The problem of course was that I had always been told that Raja Ampat in Papua, is expensive and that it is impossible to do on a backpackers budget. This is not true! My holiday in paradise cost me less than a $1,000. The truth is you can visit Raja Ampat on almost any budget. In this article I will explain the three options – budget travel, luxury holiday packages and the option in between – available to travellers who want to visit Raja Ampat.
The Three Travel Options In Raja Empat
Of all the different ways to explore Raja Ampat, Papua, on a budget, there are only three options I would consider; organise everything yourself, take a cruise or join a group tour. I will talk more about these three options in a bit, but first I want to focus on how to actually get to Raja Ampat.
How to Get There
The easiest way to get to get to Raja Ampat, Papua, is to fly to Sorong. There are no direct flights to Sorong from Bali and Jakarta. Instead all flights go via the Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi. Express Air, Merpati, Sriwijaya and Lion Air all have daily flights here from Jakarta (if you’re lucky you will see Bill Bailey at the airport like I did, but I make no guarantees). Return tickets cost between $150-$500, depending on when you book the ticket and the time of year you are flying.
Once you arrive in Sorong you will need to get to the commercial port, which is a short 20 minute drive away by taxi. From the port you can catch a public ferry to Raja Ampat from the Papuan mainland. Tickets to Raja Ampa from Sorong cost $15 and goes to Waigeo.
Once You Arrive
Any tourist who wants to travel in Raja Ampat, Papua, needs to buy a permit from the local offices of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Raja Ampat. A tourist permit costs $60 for foreigners and $25 for Indonesians. If you are joining an organised tour or a cruise then someone should arrange this for you (make sure to check). However, if you are travelling alone then you will need to go to the Departemen Kebudayaan dan Pariwisata by yourself.
Getting Around in Raja Empat
From Waigeo you will need to take a boat to explore Raja Ampat; a small vessel with crew and gas will cost $220 a day, while the larger ships used by group tours that can hold up to 20 people cost $800. Cruise ships, which normally have facilities for diving, cost a lot more if you want to rent it privately.
The only way you can explore Raja Ampat in West Papua, on a budget is by travelling in a group; $220 a day just for travel is simply not possible for backpackers. However, $45 per day, which is the price of five people sharing transport on a small boat is much more realistic. It is for this reason that you should must travel in a small group. Additional costs for independent travellers include food ($10 per day) and accommodation ($40 per night if you sleep in a bungalow, free if you decide to camp).
Group tours are the cheapest way to explore Raja Ampat, Papua. The best place to find information about group tours of Raja Ampat is on the Internet. Prices start from as low as $400, however most group tours cost between $600-$1,000. This price does not include the price of airfare.
The Middle Way
If you have a larger travel budget, there are a lot of different options available for you to consider. The two main choices are between liveaboard sailing ships and hotels. Liveaboard diving ships are the more popular of the two options.
There are a lot of companies operating in and around Raja Ampat, West Papua, offering liveaboard packages for tourists. Packages normally last between one to two weeks and will cost between $1,400 (six nights seven days) – $3,000 (10 nights 11 days) per person. This is an all inclusive price and includes the cost of on average two dives per day. Make sure to check what facilities the vessel has before you make a booking with a company.
There are three main travel itineraries offered by travel companies operating around Raja Ampat in West Papua. These are:
Flores – Raja Ampat Average trip length between 7-14 days
Maluku – Raja Ampat Average trip length between 7-10 days
Raja Ampat Average trip length between 5-7 days
Hotels and Resorts in Raja Empat
In the past, hotels in Raja Ampat have catered more towards luxury travellers, however over the past five years a number of mid range hotels and resorts have opened around Raja Ampat, Papua.
Mid range hotels in Raja Ampat cost between $90-180 per night and include three meals a day. The price day trips are obviously not included in this price. If you are interested in diving you can normally book package holidays from the resort or pay per dive (around $90 per dive).
Luxury Travel in Papua
Therer are a lot of resorts and hotels in Raja Ampat that cater to luxury travellers. These resorts are normally located on private islands and have everything that you would expect from a world class five star facility. Of course, given how isolated Raja Ampat is and the poor infrastructure, costs are high and many places do not offer overnight accommodation.
A week stay at a luxury resort in Raja Ampat will costs upwards of $2,500 per person. This will include the cost of dives while you are at the resort, but excludes the cost of day trips.
There are also companies that offer luxury liveaboard package tours. These package tours start at $2,500 per person and can go all the way up to $10,000 per person for a week long personally tailored package tour.
What to Do While You are There
Raja Ampat, Papua, is one of the best diving spots in the world divers can swim with whale sharks, manta rays (incredible creatures to dive alongside), dolphins, turtles or just gaze in wonder at the pristine coral reefs. If you want to learn more about diving in Raja Ampat, then click this link.
Why to Go
Raja Ampat, Papua, is one of the few places in the world that I would recommend to anyone, because it is truely a holiday of a lifetime. If you are interested in a real adventure holiday in a tropical paradise then you should definitely visit, and I hope this information proves to you that it is possible to do Raja Ampat on a budget. As I said before, if you want to learn more about holidays in Raja Ampat, then check out my guide to diving in Raja Ampat, West Papua.
Diving in Raja Ampat: You Would Be Crazy to Miss It
If you ask me about my dream diving destination, I can happily say I have already visited it. In fact, Raja Ampat in Papua, consistently comes up as one of the top ten diving destinations from around the world and if you ever get a chance to visit you will quickly understand why. A marine survey conducted by Conservation International – a major conservation NGO – concluded that the region has the highest marine life diversity on Earth. It’s a grand statement, but what does that actually mean. Well, let me make a quick list of just some of the marine creatures you can expect to see if you come here on a diving holiday; sting rays, whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, reef sharks, wobbegongs – a crazy looking type of shark, and the list goes on… In fact, just to put it in perspective, in an area no larger than four olympic sized swimming pools, scientists discovered six times as many coral species as can be found in the entire Caribbean Sea.
“The marine life diversity is the highest on Earth” – Conservation International
So now that I’ve convinced you – I’m sure few of you needed convincing – why it is such a good idea to go on a diving holiday in Raja Ampat, you want to learn how to get there and what diving packages are available. I actually explain how to get to Raja Ampat in Papua in my in depth budget travel guide. However, I don’t cover diving in Raja Ampat. There are essentially three choices, so let me show you what’s on offer.
Best Option to Dive in Raja Ampat
Liveaboard,- Liveaboards are one of the most popular means of exploring Raja Ampat and diving within the region. The key benefits are the range of dive sites and stunning locations that you can visit on a liveaboard ship. In fact, many Raja Ampat liveaboard packages, start in Flores or even the Maluku Islands, meaning that you will get the chance to see plenty of sites on your diving holiday.
There is a huge range of options available for anyone interested in taking a liveaboard dive holiday in Raja Ampat. You could for example book yourself onto an old fashioned wooden sailing ship or a state of the art engine powered yacht and prices vary accordingly. The cheapest package I could find was for a six day liveaboard was US $1,450, with Wicked Diving. Mermaid liveaboards, who have two modern luxury yachts in their fleet, charge €2,900 for a nine night trip, included in the cost are two dives a day.
Hotel Packages, There are dozens of luxury resorts and hotels scattered around the archipelago of Raja Ampat and almost without exception, every resort and hotel has a dive centre. Most of the resorts offer dive packages and the prices vary tremendously. At the top end, resorts like Raja4Divers charge €2,350 per person for a weeks full board accommodation plus unlimited diving. Other resorts, like Raja Ampat Dive Resort, charge €90 per person per night and €90 for a single dive. While you can find some budget hotels and homestays in Raja Ampat, these places normally do not have a dive centre on the premises.
Private Dives, The last option available is to go directly to the dive centre yourself to arrange dive trips. This is a good option for anyone who is interested in diving, but doesn’t want to spend their whole holiday under the waves. As I stated previously, with the average cost a dive being around €90, this is an expensive option.
Of the three available options, I would personally suggest staying on a liveaboard if you want to go diving in Raja Ampat. The reason for this is simple, Raja Ampat is absolutely enormous and if you want to make the most of being there then a liveaboard is the perfect way to explore the region. While hotel dive packages are good, they just don’t give you the same freedom to explore. However, regardless of what option you choose, you are bound to have a great time.
Raja Ampat Ready to Charm Sail`s Participants
“Dont die before going to Raja Ampat,” West Papua Governor Abraham Octanianus Aturury recently stated while promoting Sail Raja Ampat 2014 in Jakarta.
He is not exaggerating while describing the panorama of Raja Ampat, which has abundant natural resources and underwater beauty that has been included in the list of the worlds ten best underwater paradises.
As a marine tourism destination, Raja Ampat offers maritime attractions, but visitors can also indulge in activities such as bird-watching.
Raja Ampat has rare species of birds such as King Cockatoo (Palm Cockatoo) and Cendrawasih or Bird of Paradise.
Raja Ampat has alluring scenery extending from the deep sea to the sky.
Raja Ampat offers unforgettable adventure activities such as diving, snorkeling, trekking, hiking, fishing, and fish-feeding at certain spots.
Aryati, a domestic tourist from Surabaya (East Java Province), recalled her experience while holidaying with her children, Nino and Dio, in Raja Ampat.
As a dean of Pathology of the medicine faculty of the University of Airlangga, she decided to take a leave and brought a tourism package offered on an Internet website.
She chose a three-day stay package to explore the beauty of the Piainemo Isle, Hidden Bay, Arborek and Pasir Timbul tourism kampongs, which have distinctive features.
One has to climb a 35-meter-high wooden stair to reach the top of a cliff in Piainemo. From the top, tourists can enjoy fascinating views of several green isles spread across the blue sea.
Piainemo is also dubbed as “Little Wayag” because its panorama is similar to Wayang Isle, the icon of Raja Ampat District. Tourists, however, prefer to visit Piainemo as it is closer than Wayag.
Wayag is located in the northernmost area and takes six to seven hours to reach.
“Wow! It is worth it to climb such an exhausting flight of stairs for this amazingly beautiful scenery,” Aryati breathlessly remarked.
In Hidden Bay, tourists can enjoy a cluster of hundreds of coral isles, which feels similar to walking into a labyrinth.
Another interesting destination is Arborek tourism kampong, which is also a good location for snorkeling and diving.
“Actually, a three-day stay is not enough to enjoy the beautiful panorama of Raja Ampat. Ideally, it should be one week to explore every location,” Ranny Tumundo, a tourist guide in Waiwo Resort, Waisai, emphasized.
Coordinating Minister for Peoples Welfare Agung Laksono earlier explained that the objective of organizing Sail Raja Ampat is to accelerate regional development, improve infrastructure, and boost investment in West Papua.
“In Raja Ampat, there is a geopark that is more beautiful than the one in Halong Bay, Vietnam,” Minister Agung Laksono claimed.
Raja Ampat is also often called “Heaven on Earth”, “Miracle of Papua”, “Underwater Paradise on Earth”, or “Real Wonder of the World” for its mesmerizing marine panorama.
Raja Ampat, which literally means “Four Kings”, is derived from a local myth and has one of the most beautiful marine panoramas in the world.
The archipelago comprises around 1.7 thousand islands and encompasses more than 9.8 million acres of land and sea off the northwestern tip of the West Papua Province. It has four major islands: Waigeo, Salawati, Batanta, and Misool, which are home to ancient rock paintings.
In 2012, Raja Ampat has been included in the Real Wonder of the World list. It has been recognized as one of the worlds 10 most beautiful diving sites and rated number one for its rich diversity of marine flora and fauna.
It has 1,320 fish species; 75 percent of the worlds coral species, 10 times the number of corals in Caribbean; five species of rare turtles; 57 species of mantis shrimps; 13 species of marine mammals; and 27 species of rare fish.
There are also 60 varieties of crayfish, 699 types of soft animals or species of mollusks, comprising 530 species of snails (Gastropoda), 159 species of shells (bivalva), two species of Scaphopoda, five species of squid (Cephalopoda), and three Chiton species.
Dr John Veron, Australias noted coral expert, has acknowledged that Raja Ampat has the best coral reef in Indonesia. During a two-week research project in Raja Ampat, he identified around 450 species of corals.
As part of the Sail Indonesia series, Sail Raja Ampat is the sixth event after Sail Bunaken in 2009, Sail Banda in 2010, Sail Wakatobi-Belitung in 2011, Sail Morotai in 2012, and Sail Komodo in 2013.
The international maritime events are organized with the objective of promoting tourism in the regions, accelerating the development programs, improving access to isolated or remote areas, and improving the welfare of the people.