The last paradise on earth?

Raja AmpatRAJA AMPAT, also known as the Four Kings, is the world epicentre of marine biodiversity.

This secret paradise lies off the north-eastern coast of Indonesia’s West Papua. The Four Kings consist of the islands Misool, Salawati, Batanta, Waigeo and over 1300 islets – most of them uninhabited.

Raja Ampat is home to 75% of the world’s stony corals and has the highest variety of marine life on earth. More than 1500 fish species thrive in these warm waters washed by the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In April 2012, Dr G Allen smashed the world record count of 374 species during one dive!

Above sea level, this remote wonderland delivers equally stunning scenery. Steep-walled emerald-topped limestone karsts guide visitors to turquoise bays and vanilla beaches. A secret world waiting to be discovered!

How to get there?

Fly into the Indonesian capital Jakarta, Makassar or Manado airports and from there to Sorong. Arrange for your accommodation to collect you from the airport. Alternatively, catch a cab to the Sorong ferry harbour and onto a ferry for Waisai. Arrange for your accommodation to pick you up from Waisai.

When to go?

Raja Ampat is a year-round destination, but October to April (the dry season) and particularly mid-October to mid-December is the best. Summer months are a bit more windy, but underwater visibility is usually best. Winter months might be more rainy and visibility drops, but plankton attracts manta rays.

Average maximum daytime temperature is 31°C and nightly minimum is 25°C. Humidity is high at 83%.

Most rain falls between May and September with July the wettest month.

Mid-June to mid-September is windy.

What to bring?

At the airport:

A valid passport (30-day on-arrival tourist visa available for nationals from 63 countries, cost US$25 or IDR equivalent in cash), a valid departure ticket from Indonesia within 30 days of arrival, cash in Indonesian Rupiah for airport departure tax (about US$10 domestic and US$20 for international), extra cash for excess baggage (about US$5 per kg; stipulated allowance usually 10-20kg).

At the resort:

3 passport copies and 3 passport photos (for registration and travel permits), cash for Marine Park Tag (about US$45), sunscreen and headwear, light waterproof wind-breaker, walking shoes or sandals, your favourite alcoholic drink, camera, binoculars, headlamp, electronic gadget or choice, extra cash and lots of insect repellant.

Under the water:

Dive certificate, BDC, regulator, wetsuit, torch, computer, mask, snorkel, fins, booties, proof of diving insurance covering emergency evacuation, spare parts.

What not to bring?

Resorts follow a no-glove policy to protect the reefs.

Raja AmpatAccommodation?

Travellers to Raja Ampat have a choice of three types of accommodation.

Home stays:

Budget accommodation, but not home stays in the strict sense of the word. Visitors will not reside with a family, but in a timber-framed, palm or pandanus thatched bungalow on land or over water. Single room to large four-bedroom huts with verandas and windows may be in villages or on an uninhabited island. Accommodation and facilities are basic – don’t expect a toilet, bathroom or even kitchen. Most bungalows are completely unfurnished with rolled bedding the only creature comfort.  Bathing is by fresh water drawn from a drum into a bucket with ladle. Toilets are usually pit style. The thatch roof and building construction is not designed to keep small critters out.

Resorts:

These are foreign and Indonesian-owned accommodation catering mostly to divers or visitors interested in snorkelling. While a lot more expensive, they range from basic to deluxe. On Waigeo Island you’ll find Raja Ampat Dive Resort and the HamuEco Overwater Lodge; Kri Island has Kri Eco Resort and Sorido Bay Resort; Raja Ampat Dive Lodge is on nearby Mansuar Island; Swan Diving and Raja Ampat Biodiversity Eco Resort is on Gam Island; Raja4Divers is on Pef; and the more distant Misool Island has the Misool Eco Lodge.

Liveaboard:

Predominantly catering for divers and underwater photographers, a range of liveaboard vessels cruise from Sorong north-west towards Wayag or south-west past Misool. While liveaboards are not exactly ‘budget’ they range in price from ‘cheaper’ vessels (US$1450 for a 6-day cruise and dive package) to luxury liveaboards (at more than US$5000 for a 10-day cruise and dive).

Food?

Resort and liveaboard food is generally included in the price and consists of Indonesian, other Asian and Western cuisine. Fresh seafood is obviously the star on the menu.

What to see?

Raja Ampat is one of the world’s premier diving and snorkelling destinations, many claiming it the best. However, there is also much to see above the waterline. Activities include low-tide beach-combing, boat and kayak tours, romantic castaways, overland trekking, cultural tours, village visits, bird-watching, traditional fishing and even historical sightings, such as World War II bunkers, stone relics of former kingdoms, ancient burial caves and Neolithic wall art.

Raja Ampat is perhaps the last paradise on earth. Now is the time to visit – before the natural beauty is swamped by the inevitable creep of commercialism.

Image attribution:

First image: Jonathan Chase [CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Second image: See-ming Lee 李思明 SML

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