Raja Ampat, also known as The Four Kings, is an archipelago located off the northwest tip of Bird's Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea, in Indonesia's West Papua province. This amazing archipelago covering 9.8 million acres of land and sea, comprising over 1,500 small islands, cays, and shoals surrounding the four main islands of Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati, and Misool.
For underwater enthusiasts, Raja Ampat definitely offers the some of the world’s ultimate experience. Raja Ampat boasts over 1,430 reef fish (25 endemic species), 13 marine mammals, 5 species of endangered sea turtles, 600 hard corals, 700 types of mollusks, and 75 % of all known coral species. This makes it the most diverse living library for world's coral reef and underwater biota.
The waters of Raja Ampat region are home to the most colourful, pristine and photogenic soft coral reefs, as well as a wide range of creatures from walking sharks (epaulette shark) to mantas to pygmies... Many species are believed to be endemic to the seascape, meaning that they are found nowhere else on Earth. Some areas boast enormous schools of fish and regular sightings of sharks, such as wobbegongs, whitetip reef sharks and blacktip reef sharks, grey reefs sharks and occasionally silver tip sharks. Dive also are likely to have memorable encounters with rays such as manta rays, marbled rays or even eagle rays.
Raja Ampat is all about diversity: not only diversity of species, but also of dive sites. There are some areas where soft corals and sea fans dominate, others with amazing diverse hard corals, seagrass beds, mangroves, shallow reefs, drop offs, caves, white sand…There are thousands of potential dive sites. Exploration is still continuing, and on every trip there are chances for new and amazing discoveries.
Diving in Raja Ampat, divers can expect to see: Stunning hard corals and exquisite soft corals, giant clams, sponges, fire urchins, sea cucumbers, barracuda, bumphead parrotfish, napoleon wrasse, frogfish (all colours), scrawled filefish, anemonefish, lionfish, unicornfish, flounder, angelfish, gobies, lizardfish, snapper, trevally, fusiliers, sweetlips, surgeonfish, cardinalfish, triggerfish (titan, clown, red-tooth etc), batfish, boxfish, cowfish, pufferfish, anthias, needlefish, glassfish, scorpionfish, jawfish, hawkfish, goatfish, bannerfish, moorish idols, robust and ornate ghost pipefish, waspfish (including the photogenic cockatoo waspfish), dragonet, seamoth, pygmy seahorse, pipehorse, cuttlefish (big ones, small ones and even the tiny but vibrantly coloured flamboyant cuttlefish), bobtail squid, mantis shrimp, squat lobster, zebra crabs, reef octopus, morays, banded seasnakes, turtles, wobbegong sharks, epaulette "walking" shark, reef sharks, manta rays (including some striking all-black mantas), rare colourful flatworms and even special nudibranchs like the unbelievably cute Pikachu...and much much more.
The water temperature in Raja Ampat tend to always be around 27 - 31℃, with visibility can vary from 10 - 30 meters. Visibility is often not amazing compared to other tropical destinations, but the turbidity of the water is caused from the high level of nutrients flowing through the park, which is exactly why this area thrives in biodiversity and density.
The best diving season in Raja Ampat is consider from October - April, during these months the sea is calm, the visibility is overall better and have less rain. From mid June - mid September, the winds pick up and can be ferocious sometimes, which leads to horizontal rain, most of the liveaboards will not be in Raja Ampat during this period, instead, liveaboard will operate in Komodo area, Dive and Cruise team sugguest to avoid go to Raja Ampat during these months to avoid disappointment.
Liveaboard Diving Regions :
Raja Ampat basically can be divided into two regions: the north and the south. It is possible to see both regions in one liveaboard trip but you'll only barely see the highlights. If you have the time it really makes sense to visit twice or do back-to back trips with different itineraries.
Raja Ampat Northern Area
Liveaboards will departe from Sorong, make the check dive around the Batanta area, then heading towards the northwest direction, reach the extreme northern island of Raja Ampat - Wayag Island, which lies west of Waigeo/Gam, then dive various sites all the way to Kawe Island and Aljuie Bay, Fam/Penemu area, as well as The Dampier Straight before ends in Sorong.
Diving in the Northern Raja Ampat, divers will be amazed by the graceful oceanic Manta rays gliding effortlessly through the warm clear water, above – the lush green islands rise from the sea like giant mushrooms. Children smile and dance as the sun sets over tranquil villages, the perfect segway into a balmy night dive under the islands jetty, with an astonishing abundance of nocturnal marine life.
Diving Highlights in the North
Waigeo and Kawe : Waigeo’s dive sites include mangrove bays, a saltwater river, coral garden surrounded by white sand islands, and current-fed underwater ridges. The large Aljuie Bay is almost 20 kilometres long and features numerous macro opportunities near the resident Pearl Farm. The smaller island of Gam is separated from Waigeo by only a few metres and takes on a river-like appearance. “The Passage”, as this separator is known, is a shallow channel with overarching jungle and small eddies and bays that feature soft corals and caverns. Islets such as Wofo off Waigeo’s west coast are known for their picture postcard appearance above water and immaculate coral gardens below. “Black Rocks”, off Waigeo’s western neighbour, Kawe, is easily spotted by a group of jagged rocks slicing through the swells. Here, sea fans, soft corals and fish all compete for your attention when the current is running.
Jef Fam : Stretching out into the Halmahera Sea are the island groups of Fam and Penemu. Penemu’s small neighbour, Keruo, features channels with sea fan covered miniwalls and a coral garden at the southern tip that is unbeatable for over-under shots, especially at sunset. Just east of Keruo, “Melissa’s Garden” is a vast shallow reef plateau that spans the area between and around three large rocks that break the surface. The branching hard corals pulse with anthias and damsels as they rise and fall with the larger fish passing overhead. Several large clams hide amongst corals, many of which have grown so large they’ve collapsed onto themselves. Wobbegong sharks are common and often rest on one of the many large hard corals.
Dampier Strait : The Dampier Strait separates the mainland of West Papua and nearby Batanta from Waigeo to the north and contains well-known sites such as “Sardine Reef”, “Manta Sandy”, “Aerborek Jetty” and “Cape Kri”. A large amount of water passes through the strait and is known as the Indonesian Throughflow. Due to the strait’s topography, this flow is constricted upon entry, causing currents in the strait to be quite strong at times. These currents are what set the reefs alight, bringing large numbers of schooling fish to “Cape Kri” and “Sardine Reef”, feeding vibrant corals and schooling scad around the pilings at “Aerborek Jetty”, and enticing the mantas to the cleaning stations of “Manta Sandy”.
Raja Ampat Southern Area
Liveaboards will departe from Sorong, cruising all the way down to the southern island - Misool. From Sorong, liveaboard will usually make their check dive around the Batanta before heading down south to dive various sites around the large island of Misool. Then on the way back to Sorong, liveaboards will visit/dive the Penemu Island, the Gam Island, as well as the The Dampier Straight. Sometimes for longer cruise, liveaboard will even visit the island of Kofian before going back to Sorong.
Diving in the Southern Raja Ampat brings booming currents washing over colossal seamounts rising from the ocean floor. Kaleidoscopic blooms of purple and orange soft corals. Schools of massive bump headed parrot fish, effortlessly devouring chunks of the reef.
Diving Highlights in the South
Northern Misool : Encompassing the areas of Tamulol, which borders Misool’s lush green mainland, out to the islets of Farondi and Daram, the northern region is one of the most diverse in its underwater offerings. Near Tamulol lies one of Raja Ampat’s many marine lakes, with its thriving population of stingless jellyfish. Farondi’s “Three Sisters”, “Teardrop” and “Killer Cave” can be some of the most exciting and challenging diving, as the topography amplifies the currents that nourish the omnipresent soft corals and fish. Mobula rays are a common sight here, especially when the baitfish aggregate in October. Daram, the easternmost island group, has meandering reefs such as “Andiamo” and “Love Potion” that feature unforgettable mini-walls and shallows.
Southern Misool : This southernmost island chain is home to some of Raja’s most iconic dive sites: “Boo Windows”, “Wayil”, and the trifecta of “Whale Rock”, “Tank Rock”, and “Nudi Rock”, which are connected by an underwater ridge. With similar topography, these sites all feature a small karst islet that has been undercut at the waterline by wind and waves and from which extends a pristine shallow hard and soft coral garden that drops to steep sea fan covered slopes. The soft corals and reef fish life in Southern Misool are some of the most prolific anywhere and begin just below the surface as soft corals appear at a few metres deep. Just offshore, the seamount of “Magic Mountain” is one of the best sites for oceanic manta encounters, as the roving giants come in for a cleaning on the reef top.