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A Guide to Scuba Diving Raja Ampat

When divers talk of their bucket-list drive destinations, you will undoubtedly hear the name Galapagos, perhaps Cocos Island or Malpelo, and almost without fail, in that list, you will hear the name Raja Ampat. Raja, or R4 as it is often referred to, is one of those locations synonymous with the world’s best scuba diving.

If you have the opportunity to come here and do not grasp it with both hands, your existence will be heavy with regret, young PADI-wan, so we put together this guide to diving Raja Ampat to help you in your planning.

Where is Raja Ampat?

Raja Ampat is located far east of Indonesia and is washed by the currents of the Pacific Ocean, which provide the nutrients that make R4 so rich in life. The archipelago sits just off the mainland, where the township of Sorong is located on West Papua and the tip of the Bird’s Head Peninsula. Raja lies south of Mindanao in the Philippines and east of north Sulawesi, where the Lembeh Strait is found.

The archipelago consists of four main islands: Misool to the south, Waigeo to the north, and Batanta and Salawati to the middle. These are home to different scuba diving experiences and a remote, vast and abundant region of marine biodiversity.

piaynemo, raja ampat. Iconic papua | Infinite Blue Dive TravelWhy Raja Ampat Should Be Your Next Dive Holiday

Why should you spend long hours of travel in flight and transits, on land and by boat, to get here? Simply put, It will likely be the best diving you have ever done. The story of Dr Gerald Allen, the marine biologist who during one dive at Cape Kri, counted the highest number of fish species in one dive, is one of legend. The archipelago is home to an estimated 1500 species of fish and 550 species of hard and soft coral, waiting for you to explore.

Raja is remote, which is one of the reasons it remains so pristine. That said, there are certainly more divers here than a decade ago. This is mainly due to the explosion in dive liveaboard numbers. Back in the 2000s, there were few liveaboard boats here. The epicentre was mainly Komodo, and some boats would sail to Raja during the Komodo monsoon season.

There used to be very few dive resorts here, too, the only real choice being on Kri Island, at Kri Eco Resort. Over the past five years, land-based diving in Raja has become a worthwhile consideration.

The diving here comprises hugely abundant coral reefs, passages, pinnacles, and some world-class macro at Batanta Island. There are also clear-water mangrove dives and coral-encrusted jetties to explore. You will experience large schools of pelagics and shy wobbegong sharks. There is a world-renowned healthy manta population that you can witness on scuba from October/November to April/May.

landing at sorong airport on the way to raja ampat | Infinite Blue Dive Travel

How to Get There?

Due to the increase in the number of visitors willing to make the sometimes long trip out here, travel has become simpler. You can fly to Sorong from Bali with a short stop in Makassar or from Jakarta via Makassar. Perhaps the easiest route is to transfer to the Scoot flight to Manado, north Sulawesi, in Singapore. From Manado, daily flights to Sorong take about an hour. I usually stop in north Sulawesi to enjoy the area and dive the Lembeh Strait for the best macro and muck in the world.

You can apply for a visa upon arrival at all international airports, but now there is an easy way to secure an e-visa online in advance. This will ensure you can avoid the crowds at the airport, especially if you are flying into Denpasar, Bali.

Once you have arrived in Sorong, your dive resort or liveaboard can arrange a transfer to a hotel before embarkation or to the island where your dive resort is located. To cut down on transfer costs, resorts usually put you on a public ferry (ensure you get the VIP ticket) to Waigeo, opposite Sorong. This takes a couple of hours, but the ferry is reliable and not uncomfortable.

If you are staying in Waigeo, perhaps with Dive into Raja @ Waiwo, you will take a quick car ride to the resort. If your resort is on another island again, Waigeo will be the pick-up point for your speedboat trip out to resorts such as Cove Eco on Yeben Island.

Dive resorts not on Waigeo often have a transfer schedule on certain days, the price of which is included in your dive and stay package. If you are checking in on non-transfer days, there may be a substantial charge for the speedboat.

If you are jumping on a liveaboard for your Raja scuba holiday, you will often get transferred from your hotel or the airport to the new marina in Sorong. This is an excellent place to chill out and has arguably the best restaurant in Sorong. For vegan and plant-based divers, this is the place to head for meals in Sorong.

What is the Best Way to Dive Raja Ampat?

When diving Raja Ampat, you now have a lot of choices, each with pros and cons.

Homestays and day dives:

There are now a number of homestays in the Raja Ampat area; they have even popped up on Arborek, the small island with the famous jetty dive. Homestays are a cheaper way to go about accommodation; they are more straightforward, sometimes just a mat on the ground, and will not provide the resources of a dive resort, service or food-wise. You will, though, experience a closer look at local life and culture. Scuba diving can be arranged from many homestays, although the price is usually higher than those incorporated in a dive resort package.

Dive resorts with dive and stay packages:

Dive resorts offering a range of dive and stay packages have sprung up in many parts of the archipelago. These offer you an opportunity to experience most of the best of Raja Ampat at a generally lower price than a dive liveaboard. Why ‘the most of the best’? Because you cannot reach the entire region through land-based diving. If you stay in Waigeo, you cannot reach the area around Misool, and vice versa.

That said, land-based diving in Raja Ampat is a fantastic experience. When choosing an operator, I suggest that their boats comfortably accommodate a two or three-dive day out on the water. We recommend dive boats like those found at Dive into Raja @ Waiwo, which are large, comfortable, stable, double-engined, and have enough power to get you out and around the marine park safely and safely.

Dive liveaboards:

If you wish to experience everything diving in Raja Ampat offers, then a liveaboard is still the way to go. Raja Ampat is often divided into the northern and southern regions. The north covers Waigeo, with Batanta to the south, Kri in the middle, and the Fam group out to the west (east from Sorong). The south area is situated below Salawati and heads south to Misool Island and the small chain of islands beneath where the dive site Boo Window is found.

You can traverse and dive into the Raja Ampat region on a liveaboard. We recommend boats such as the Tiare Cruise and the MSY Ilike. This will take you approximately 10 nights, and the price point will be higher than land-based diving. But if you have the budget, we do recommend it.

Dive boat @ Dive into Raja | Infinite Blue Dive TravelHow do Land-based Dive Operators Work in Raja Ampat?

When choosing a land-based dive operator, a good idea is to make sure of how the diving is run. This will largely be dictated by the distances involved. If they are smaller, then a one-dive and return-to-resort schedule can be followed; this is generally more comfortable (as long as your resort is comfortable).

If distances are further, this is mainly the case in Raja Ampat; your surface interval will likely be on the boat. In this case, choose comfortable boats or ask if your operator can drop you off on a beach, a jetty, or at one of the many homestays. Cove Eco is a dive resort that chooses platforms, piers, and beaches where you can relax between dives.

Scuba diving entries and exits will all be done with the speedboat. Currents can be strong in Raja, so having an experienced boat staff is paramount for your safety. A good crew will note where you are in the water while diving and be right there to pick you up when you surface.

Often, in Raja, two morning dives are scheduled within a specific region nearby. Three-day dives usually reach the further dive sites and are often subject to a surcharge due to fuel costs. If you stay on Waigeo, the further sites would be around the Fam Islands and Gam. If your resort is on Palau Yeben at Cove Eco, the further sites would be over towards Waigeo and Kri.

Indo Master Raja Ampat, Indonesia. Infinite Blue Dive TravelHow do Dive Liveaboard Operators Work in Raja Ampat?

If you decide a Raja Ampat dive liveaboard is the best choice, you can look forward to an action-packed dive itinerary with up to four dives a day generally scheduled. You can usually count on a try dive on the day of embarkation, with two dives in the morning on the day before disembarkation and four a day for the days between.

Infinite Blue will arrange your transfer from the airport to your hotel or the pier on embarkation day and likewise in reverse on the day you hop off the boat.

The cruise director onboard should schedule dives when the site is the best time to dive, and choose an entry time and location to avoid a crowd of divers in the water. Diving is commonly done from tenders, with the liveaboard acting as your main base. Liveaboards will also include night dives at great locations in their schedule, as well as land-based activities.

Safety tip: On a Raja Ampat dive liveaboard, you will be doing multiple dives over multiple days, so you must consider your decompression times when booking your flight out of Sorong. Most liveaboard operations will have you on the surface after your second dive on your trip’s second to last day. The crew will then wash and rinse your gear and let it dry before disembarkation the next day. Make sure you leave enough time between surfacing and flying.

Diving Safety in Raja Ampat

How can you be safe diving in Raja Ampat? Firstly, you need to consider your diving experience. The best dive sites in Raja are simply not for beginners. Many dive liveaboards will set 50 logged dives as the level required to dive with them. Land-based diving is often more flexible with logged dives, as they can change supervision ratios and bring in extra dive guides if needed.

I strongly recommend you have an advanced diver certification level or recent and sufficient experience diving below 18 metres of depth. Famous dive sites like Cape Kri, Blue Magic, and Mike’s Point, to name a few, can have pounding currents that are not to be taken lightly. Currents at Cape Kri can include up and down currents and washing machine-style ones at the point.

Ensure you know how to use an SMB (Surface Marker Buoy); your guide will have one, but it is a necessary skill just in case you get separated. Some liveaboards will provide a submersible GPS unit which attaches to your BCD. Dive insurance is mandatory on dive liveaboards and should also be considered mandatory for all land-based diving. The nearest recompression chamber is in Manado, which is a long, expensive speedboat and helicopter ride. For your peace of mind, protect yourself in the highly unlikely event of an emergency.

Underwater photography Raja Ampat @ Dive into Raja | Infinite Blue Dive TravelUnderwater Photography in Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat is a paradise for underwater photographers. With the largest marine diversity on the planet spread over coral and fish species, wide-angle and macro photography proponents will be spoilt. The wide-angle opportunities in Raja, with clear water and abundant underwater foliage on reefs, walls, mangroves, and growing jetties, mean many divers coming here will bring underwater cameras. This is by no means a prerequisite and is a much lower number than somewhere like the Lembeh Strait.

If you bring a camera, choose a dive resort or liveaboard with facilities for underwater photographers. Ensure your die resort has good rinse tanks with fresh water and some method to keep cameras and strobes from banging together. Check out the camera room, the workspace you will have, and power outlets for charging and drying guns. It is best if the space is airy with plenty of light. Dive into Raja @ Waiwo has a strong focus on underwater photography, with great facilities and the Lembeh Strait pedigree backing them up, they make an excellent choice for a land-based, Raja Ampat, underwater photography vacation.

The same goes for Raja Ampat liveaboards. Make sure your liveaboard has good rinse tanks and a place to keep your camera to work on. Space can be limited onboard, but there are some awesome choices for a photography-focused, live-aboard dive trip. Two of our perennial favourites are the Indo Master and the Tiare Cruise.

Is Raja Ampat Only for the Wealthy and the Underwater Photographers?

Absolutely not! Although diving in Raja, whether land-based or by liveaboard, is more expensive than many other locations in the region, this is due to the remoteness and the cost of procuring many necessities. You can make wise choices if your budget leans to the more restrained. If you have no budget, then some of the most luxurious dive trips in the world can be had here. Contact us for more information on diving prices in Raja Ampat.

Raja Ampat is undoubtedly not just for underwater photographers; there is so much to take in. Focusing on the reefs through a camera lens can cause you to miss out on the huge range of aquatic wonders that live and breathe before you.

Do I Need an Expensive Camera?

This is a tricky one, as much of the underwater photography in Raja is wide-angle. Wide-angle photography requires a bit of lighting and is best with some specialised lenses. That said, a compact setup with simple strobes and a wide-angle wet lens will go a long way towards some great shots. Couple this with the clear Papuan waters and the colourful coral life, and you can get by with a fairly budget-conscious set-up.

For example, the Olympus Tg-5,6 and 7 with the Olympus or Seafrog housing. Add a wide-angle wet lens like the Inon UWL-95S XD, some basic strobes and you are ready to go!

Can I Learn More About Underwater Photography in Raja Ampat?

Yes, you should be able to learn a lot about underwater photography in Raja Ampat. The endless number of great capture opportunities aside, dive resorts and liveaboards often have photo professionals on the team who can give you advice and perhaps teach you a course. When choosing your dive operator, ask what is available to help you improve your skills.

Many resorts and liveaboards offer guest photographers’ courses you can attend for an extra cost. These can really up your photography game, from the basics to editing and workflow.

Diving the passage, Raja Ampat | Infinite Blue Dive TravelDive Guide Ratios and House Reefs

When planning your dive trip to Raja Ampat, you should check the dive guide-to-diver ratios offered by the dive resort or dive liveaboard. These are paramount to your safety and enjoyment. Due to the often strong currents in the area, a low ratio is essential for divers’ safety and protection of the marine environment. Having divers drift into coral fans, reefs, and walls is clearly not good.

As a general rule of thumb, you should start with a 1:4 dive guide to diver ratio, with some dive resorts offering even better numbers. Liveaboards, with the issue of space involved, may have higher ratios, but I recommend finding one that also offers the 1:4 as above. For more information about which dive resorts and liveaboards offer this level of service, get in touch here.

While liveaboards do not have a house reef, many Raja Ampat dive resorts do. Some even offer house reef dives as an inclusion in dive and stay packages. House reefs are not all created equal, so I recommend you investigate what is available. Some will have sandy or muck-type house reefs, and others will have a stunning coral reef right on the doorstep.

These are usually diveable for a certain period during the day and only diveable with a dive buddy; they can be a fantastic way to practice your underwater photography skills in the afternoon after your morning dives. Many dive resorts in the region will have their own pier that is home to corals, sponges and juvenile fish. Sorido Bay Resort is an example of a great free pier dive.

Dive Times and Nitrox

Due to the distances and time involved in travelling to dive sites and for diver safety in a remote area, dive times are usually limited to 60 minutes. If diving on a liveaboard, allowable dive times may be slightly higher, as sailing distances may not be an issue in some areas. To avoid decompression dives and diving to your limits, it always pays to keep a close eye on depth and dive times.

Diving on Nitrox can significantly improve your allowable bottom times, recovery times, and ability to keep away from decompression limits. This means greater safety, and it is highly recommended for those who are Nitrox certified. If you are interested in what is involved in Nitrox certification or why it is such a cool thing to consider for a dive holiday, take a look here.

Melissa's Garden, Raja Ampat | Best dive sites in Raja Ampat | Infinite Blue Dive TravelThe Best Dive sites in Raja Ampat

There are so many incredible dive sites in Raja Ampat that it is hard to pick just a handful, but here we go.

Four regions demarcate the diving: the southern area around Misool, the far west comprising the Fam and Gam islands, the central region around Mansuar and Kri, and the area closest to Sorong, just off Waigeo and bordered by Salawati and Batanta in the south. If you understand where the dive sites are located, it may aid you in choosing a dive resort based on boat time to where you would like to dive.

Region 1: Waigeo, Kri

These dive sites are generally easily reached through land-based diving. As Waigeo can be accessed by public ferry from Sorong, you can make the transfer any day of the week rather than relying on a pre-scheduled speedboat transfer. This gives you considerably more flexibility with your holiday planning. The fantastic thing is that these dive sites are also some of the best in the region.

  • Mike’s Point
  • Blue Magic
  • Chicken Reef
  • Mioskon
  • Cape Kri
  • Sardine Reef

Region 2: Mansuar, Batanta, Gam

The dive sites here are a bit further from most dive resorts besides those on Kri, so some resorts may charge a surcharge to access them. However, surcharges will not be a concern if you are diving Raja by liveaboard. The middle section of Raja also contains the most well-known and reliable manta ray sites.

  • Manta Sandy
  • Manta Ridge
  • Arborek Jetty
  • Mayhem
  • Citrus
  • The Passage

Region 3: Fam, Gam

The Fam Islands sit far west of Raja Ampat, with the dive sites most often accessed by liveaboard. This area is often the third section for dive resorts in Waigeo, although close to resorts such as Cove Eco on Yeben Island. The Fam group is also home to Pianemo. Here, you can climb up to a series of platforms, which provide you with one of the most easily recognisable and iconic of Raja Ampat views.

  • Melissa’s Garden
  • Keruo Channel
  • Barracuda Reef
  • Rainbow Reef

Region 4: Misool

The Misool area is situated in the south of Raja Ampat. It is most often visited by liveaboards who will offer a purely southern Raja Ampat experience or combine it with a best-of-Raja trip. There is one well-known resort in the area, Misool Eco Resort. This is both on the luxury tip and generally full. It is also, what can be, quite a tiring 4-8 hr speedboat transfer from Sorong, weather dependent. If you have diving southern Raja in your plans, consider a liveaboard to experience some of the best diving in the archipelago.

  • Boo Window
  • Nudi Rock
  • Tank Rock
  • Andiamo
  • Candy Store
  • Magic Mountain

Wobbegong-Shark-Raja-Ampat-@-Dive-into-Raja | Infinite Blue Dive TravelWhat Can I See Diving in Raja Ampat?

Well-recognised for its incredible biodiversity, Raja Ampat offers a wide range of scuba diving opportunities. From muck to walls, sandy bottoms and reefs, wrecks, and blue-water drifts, divers can explore a variety of habitats inhabited by the densest array of species on the planet. Over 30 fish and more than 40 coral species are endemic to the region, and many can be spotted on scuba.

Some scuba divers’ favourites:

  • Tassled Wobbegong Sharks
  • Manta rays
  • Reef sharks
  • Tuna
  • Trevallies
  • Barracuda
  • Bumphead Parrotfish
  • Napoleon Wrasse
  • Groupers
  • Salt Water Crocodiles
  • Epaulette Walking Sharks
  • Pygmy Seahorses
  • Abundant soft coral gardens
  • Incredibly healthy hard corals
  • Large schools of reef fish

To ensure you make the most of your diving in Raja, I recommend choosing an experienced dive operator who understands the area well. They will have you on the best dive spots at the best times to make the most of your scuba diving in this underwater paradise. Get in touch for more information about our favourite Raja Ampat dive operators.

Combining Diving in Raja With Other Locations

Even though R4 is remote, and having made the, perhaps tough, decision to travel there. You will probably want to spend the bulk of your diving holiday in the area, making the most of it. If you have more time available or like the idea of transversing a large area by liveaboard to even less scuba-dived locales, there is some choice.

One option, which I highly recommend, is the Lembeh Strait. After witnessing Raja’s wide-angled, panoramic majesty, you may feel like diving at the undisputed region of the macro, small and mysterious. The Lembeh Strait is just over an hour’s flight from Sorong to Manado, followed by a quick car ride over the new tollway. I suggest staying with one of the most inclusive and experienced teams in the strait @ Dive into Lembeh.

Another choice available over four months of the year is the Raja Ampat to Ambon trip by liveaboard. With this itinerary, you will get to dive Raja Ampat’s best sites, then traverse and scuba the Banda Sea and the Malukus, and end up in another macro hot spot, Ambon.

More locations are becoming reachable within this region, such as Cenderwasih Bay, Alor, and Triton Bay, although currently, these require extra time and some reasonably difficult travel.

on route to the blue river, raja ampat | Infinite Blue Dive TravelTopside Activities in the Birdhead Peninsula

If you would like a break from scuba diving, and the abundant marine life, there are some incredible, land-based activities for you to consider.

Kali Biru:

Kali Biru, or the Blue River, is a gorgeously refreshing body of water. Its source is a spring in the jungle of Waigeo, and getting there is a beautiful journey in itself. A 45-minute car ride from Waigeo or the port of Waisai will bring you to a river, where you hop into a boat and take a 20-minute boat upriver. Out of the boat and a short walk over the stony bank and into the jungle, where you will come across the river made blue by the stones and the sunlight. It’s well worth the cool plunge.

Bird Watching:

Another topside activity in the area is birding on the island of Waigeo. Early morning tours can be arranged, and involve a car ride and a jungle trek. Most commonly, the tour is to spot and photograph the Red Bird Of Paradise and Wilson’s Bird of Paradise.

Arborek Village:

This village is located on a small island not far from Waigeo and can be reached by local taxi boat or visited on a day tour. Initially a stop-off for local fishermen, Arborek has become a popular tourist destination due to its friendly local population, stunning beaches, and incredible snorkelling and diving. The pier is a popular dive site for the unique habitat of sponges and corals that grow on its wooden supports and is home to many species of juvenile fish.

Staying in Touch | Connectivity in Raja Ampat

Previously, any phone communication, let alone the Internet, was simply unavailable. Times, though, have changed, and now it is reasonably easy to stay connected. You can do this by purchasing a Telkomsel data SIM on arrival at the airport or pre-purchasing a Telkomsel Esim and registering your phone’s EMEI number with customs once through immigration.

Connectivity in the south of Raja Ampat is still limited, so you must make the most of those moments when you get a few bars.

What Can You Expect From Your Papuan Dive Holiday?

You can expect to do some of the best scuba diving of your life. Witness the greatest number of fish, coral and mollusc species in a single region while being cared for on some of the world’s best dive liveaboards. Scuba some of the best spots on the planet while staying at a well-appointed dive resort with plenty of experience and superb facilities. Capture some of the greatest underwater photos of your life, or even upgrade your current dive cert level in paradise. Your Raja Ampat dive vacation will certainly be one you will never forget.

Amira liveaboard, Raja Ampat | Infinite Blue Dive TravelInclusivity in Raja Ampat Dive Resorts and Liveaboards

Luckily for vegan divers and plant-based scuba enthusiasts, Raja dive operators are becoming increasingly inclusive in a region where these choices are not largely understood. Many of the protein alternatives you find elsewhere are not readily available and hard to source. Still, tofu, tempeh, fresh fuits and vegetables are, and some operators have been learning how to use them.

If you are looking for an inclusive dive trip in Raja, you need to do your research and query every operator. Many will nod yes, then create a shitty salad on the fly served with rice. Food inclusivity can be accomplished in this remote area if the operator is willing to take the time to learn, and we have some experience dealing with this. Pick our brains about inclusive dive operators here.

To Wrap it Up

Remote and rich with life, the Raja Ampat archipelago is a destination you should grasp with both hands if the chance arises to visit. Both below and above the water, the region is mind-bogglingly beautiful.

With a greater number of flights available and more reliable transportation, it is now easier than ever before to plan your your dive holiday here. Whether you decide that land-based diving is for you or a liveaboard to cover the entire region is more your style, there are now inclusive dive operators offering both.

If you have enough time, you can consider combining Raja with some of the world’s greatest dive destinations or just spending it exploring the beauty that R4 topside has to offer.

The Infinite Blue team has visited Raja Ampat many times over the last 15 years, and we would love to help you make the most of this remarkable place. Contact us for more information.


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