Raja Ampat Itinerary: Thoughts and Tips
Remarkable archipelago and I recommend Raja Ampat (West Papua, Indonesia) for anyone who loves nature and water activities such as snorkeling and scuba diving.
Sorong is the starting point to reach Raja Ampat. Sorong’s small airport, Dominique Edward Osok Airport (SOQ), has 30 meters wide runway, and it will be widened to 45 meters (warning: not sure when it will be finished).
I don’t think the current track would fit big airplanes like Boeing or Airbus. We flew with Garuda Indonesia Airways (GIA) from Jakarta to Makassar then from Makassar to Sorong. From Makassar to Sorong, the plane changed from Boeing to smaller one, Bombardier CRJ1000. Besides our flight route, there are another route options to reach Sorong using other airlines like Lion Air.
- Singapore to Manado (Silk Air/GIA) then Manado to Sorong (Lion Air)
- Jakarta to Manado then Manado to Sorong
- Bali to Manado then Manado to Sorong
- Darwin to Biak (SilkAir/Qantas) then Biak to Sorong (GIA)
Option two and three are dominated by GIA and Lion Air with daily flight schedule. There are several local airlines that also offer flight connection to the eastern part of Indonesia like Sriwijaya Air and Express Air. By far only GIA website that allowed us to buy the flight tickets online from outside Indonesia. Personally I recommend GIA above other local airlines since it has excellent service and reputation to be on time. However, GIA meal from Makassar to Sorong (and return) was not appealing (read: sucks – sorry GIA).
If you have more time and would like to save money, you can also take the sea route. It could be an exciting experience! I have watched a remarkable documentary by a Dutch who traveled to the Eastern part of Indonesia by Indonesian ship, PELNI. It seemed very interesting to do it if you’d like to see the reality of Indonesians who travel around the archipelago per vessel. The ship and its passengers would be great subject for a documentary photos project. The downside is it would take five days to reach Sorong from Jakarta’s port, Tanjung Priok. Other opt ports are from Surabaya or Makassar.
Sorong is a small city. There is nothing much to do around Sorong. You can skip the city and travel directly to Raja Ampat. We choose to stay in Sorong for safety reason – after dive requirement before flying. During our stay in Sorong, we just walked around Sorong’s famous shopping center called Ramayana (which actually a clothing shop with small cafes and restaurants) and relaxing at our hotel. Some hotels do have wi-fi, with terrible connection (please note, Indonesia is ranked number eight as the slowest internet connection country – I am not proud of it and I would not lie how awful it was). We stayed at Belagri Hotel, booked it through Agoda website. It has good (Indonesian) food. While you were visiting Indonesia, I advise to try Indonesian or Asian menu, that’s mostly they are good at (better be!). Of course they can make and offer western food menu like pizza, spaghetti, or hamburger. If you were in Jakarta, please feel free to order such menu, but if you were in remote area like in Sorong, just forget it – it ain’t easy to get Mozzarella or Parmesan cheese in West Papua!
Raja Ampat is huge. Raja Ampat means Four Kings, and it is an archipelago of more than 1500 small islands with four big islands: Batanta, Misool, Salawati, and Waigeo. Raja Ampat regency capital city is located on Waigeo island: Wasai. The regions in Raja Ampat could be divided into North, Central and South.
We visited the Central and North area of Raja Ampat. The beautiful and Raja Ampat’s icon, Wayag Island, is located in the North part of Raja Ampat.
We have not visited the South area of Raja Ampat yet. The south part of Raja Ampat takes more time to access. The most beautiful eco-resort (in my opinion after looking at pictures in its resort website 😉 ) is located in this part of region: Misool Eco Resort. I wish I could visit the resort someday. My budget this year is not enough to stay in such resort 😉
All transactions with locals should be paid in Indonesian Rupiahs (IDR). Sorong and Wasai (Waigeo Island) have ATM machines. But there are possibilities that Indonesian ATM machines won’t accept certain foreign ATM/credit cards. I suggest to use ATM machines in Sorong since there are more ATM-Banks options than in Wasai.
Some accommodations in Raja Ampat offer transports to pick you up from Sorong. I would suggest asking the resort to pick you up, unless if they charge you an unreasonable price for the pick-up.
But if you wanted to go to the area by yourself then you can take ferries from Sorong Port to Wasai or charter a local boat in Sorong Port.
Please note Sunday is a religious day for Christians in Raja Ampat, majority locals will do their religious activities with their families instead working on Sundays. Please avoid Sunday to arrive and depart.
First, staying and sailing in a boat (liveaboard/LOB). LOB will travel around Raja Ampat. The route will depend on the season and the LOB companies. There are LOB that travel to all regions but some also focus on Central-North or just South area. LOB in Raja Ampat is mainly for a scuba-diving trip, but it is also open for non scuba-divers.
We booked our LOB through a diving travel agent that offers various LOB boats from various companies. The offering price includes the dives, meals, stays and picks up in Sorong to the port where the boat located. We took the-I’d-prefer-not-mention-its-name-here boat. I do not recommend this LOB for your diving trip in Raja Ampat.
Second, staying in a hotel/resort (land-based trip). Budget hotels and home-stays are available in Wasai, Waigeo Island. I found an interesting post in Lonely Planet on how to visit Raja Ampat on a budget, Baby Beluga’s 2011 Post. Her suggestion was to stay on Waigeo Island.
There are (dive) resorts managed by a Dutch, Max Ammer, who has been pioneering the marine conservation in Raja Ampat. Indonesian government acknowledged his contribution to Raja Ampat in a book entitled Beautiful Raja Ampat, published by Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries. Without his initiative perhaps the richness of Raja Ampat marine life would be left unprotected. Ammer is running two dive resorts in Kri Island, Northwest of Raja Ampat. I have heard good recommendations on his resorts.
There are numbers of resorts in Raja Ampat, and you may find them online. Just pay attention to the location of the resorts to ensure your travel to Raja Ampat is worthwhile.
September to April/May is perfect months to visit Raja Ampat. December and January could experiencing rainy days though but not as wet as in July and August.
June to August is a rainy and windy season in Raja Ampat. Usually, most LOB and resorts are stop operating. Central and North regions can still be accessed but with the possibility of storms/strong winds and choppy sea. South part usually harder to access during these months.
We visited Raja Ampat in June which was not advised by some scuba divers friends. And they were right. There were not many choices of LOB schedule. The-I’d-prefer-not-mention-its-name-here boat was the only LOB that matches to our June schedule. However we were lucky to have only half day of the storm during our trip and the rest of days were sunny with rains at nights.
- Current in Raja Ampat is (/could be very) challenging. I recommend bringing reef hook to help you in saving your air. But please ensure you know how to use a reef hook 🙂
- Underwater in Raja Ampat is too pretty to be missed. If you were not a camera addict like me, at least, bring a GoPro or borrow one.
- You have to pay Marine Park entrance fee in Raja Ampat. The price for non-Indonesian: IDR 500,000 and for Indonesian: IDR 250,000. You will get a tag that should be put in your BCD jacket. You may meet Sea Patrol, who ask you to show the tag.
Yes, most definitely. I would like to visit the Southern part of Raja Ampat on my next visit 🙂