Maybe you have never heard from Raja Ampat, a tropical archipel of deserted islands in the most northern part of Papua New Guinea, Indonesia. The first time we traveled to Indonesia, we wanted to visit the best spots outside the major tourist destinations. With over 17.000! islands, it’s not an easy task to decide where you want go. An even when you decide where to go, you have to explore all the options to get there, preferably the quickest and cheapest way possible. Usually it’s either the slow and cheap way, or the fast and expensive.
Anyway, Raja Ampat is one of those Indonesian destinations that takes a little effort to get there. And we are glad it takes some effort, otherwise it would already be overrun by tourists. Loving Raja Ampat is easy, the nature under water and above is breathtaking, the food amazing and locals smile and wave at you. After the two weeks we stayed, we didn’t want to leave…
1. It has the world's largest biodiversity
The Archipel of Raja Ampat is mainly discovered by divers and snorkelers. More travelers are making their way to the islands every year. It is one of the top liveaboard dive destinations in the entire world. Thanks to its splendid location in the Coral Triangle and unique position between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. To name some stats: Raja Ampat has more than 1,400 fish species and 550+ species of corals (75% of the world’s coral species).
If you are not into snorkeling or diving, Raja Ampat is still an amazing destination to visit. We can highly recommend to put your face in the water or you would be missing out. The archipel lies in the Indonesian province of West-Papua. If you have a look on the map you will see there are four big main islands: Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati and Misool. To which island you should go, depends on what you like but we choose for the island Gam in the Waigeo area.
2. The best mega & macro fauna
We are not kidding, literally every big or small sea creature you can find in Raja Ampat. The most impressive ones are whalesharks, manta rays, sea turtles, dugongs, wobbegong sharks, orca’s and whales. If you are after a specific animal you want to see, keep in mind that they are more abundant during the right months or season. For example manta rays can be found in Raja Ampat from October to May. The best opportunity to dive with these majestic creatures is from December till March.
As for macro, how about the cute Pygmy seahorses? Our dive guide found several during our dives as they like to hide out in Gorgonia fans. Still hard to find as they are the size of your finger nail. The mantis shrimp is for most divers a special sight too. There are over 8 species of shrimp in the Raja Ampat waters. Besides the above you can find so much more like clownfish, nudibranches in all colors, blue ringed octopus, frogfish and the rainbowlike mandarinfish. There is so much to see, that you wish you had more eyes!
Another special animal to watch for around night time in the mangrove and seagrass area is the walking shark, also named Epaulette shark. These little sharks are easy to recognise by there leopard pattern and “legs”. It can “walk” between corals at low tide and even on land when needed.
3. Amazing scenery with few tourists
In addition to the extraordinary ocean, the landscape above the surface is exceptional and equally beautiful. The landscape can best be described as rugged, wild and lush with deep rainforests, amazing rock formations and white sandy beaches with clear turquoise waters. It truly feels like paradise!
One of the best natural features of Raja Ampat is Piaynemo, which offers such a spectacular view that you will pinch yourself to check if you’re not dreaming. These rock islets are blessed with blue waters which make an huge contrast with the cliffs that rise out of the sea. To find these views at an even bigger scale, visit the impressive Wayag Island.
Besides the small islands and limestone rocks, rainforest and beaches, there are also mangrove swamps. But not the muddy ones, these mangroves are surrounded by crystal clear water and great to snorkel! Every island is different, where Waigeo has amazing beaches, Misool has less beaches but dramatic limestone cliffs and super clear waters.
4. Unique mammals, reptiles & birds
The amazing wildlife of Raja Ampat does not stop underwater. Because of the dense jungle there is a lot of space for rare species to live in peace. There are animals and birds that you will only find in Raja Ampat, how special is that! Curious how a bird of paradise looks like? Wait no longer and go check it out yourself. This bird is really shy and you need to get out of bed early to spot them. Go with a guide for the best shot at seeing them.
There is also an endemic species of cuscus. The Waigeou cuscus or Waigeou spotted cuscus which is a species of marsupial. There happens to be one at the Beser Bay homestay, which comes in during dinner time to steal your food, if you would like to have a close look at one. Other species you can find are giant tortoises and lizards, Indonesian cranes and honeyeaters (beautiful birds only found in Asia).
5. The always smiling Papuans
Traveling through Indonesia is most of the time fun with all the friendly people we meet. Everywhere we come, people are smiling, waving or trying to help. The Papuan offer some great hospitality and will try their best to give you a memorable experience and stay in their country.
If you are willing to give up a little bit of luxury, staying in homestays is the perfect opportunity to connect with the locals, while directly helping the local economy. Most Papuans don’t speak very good English, so it’s advisable to learn some words of Bahasa Indonesia or bring a small dictionary. We absolutely loved to interact with the friendly children