RAJA AMPAT SCUBA DIVING: TOP DIVE SITES, LIVEABOARDS & RESORTS
Indonesia is one of the most naturally spectacular countries on earth. But there is one region in this beautiful country that manages to stand out from the rest. The region of Raja Ampat is the jewel of Indonesia. It is relatively untouched compared to other dive areas such as the Gili Islands, Komodo, which makes you feel like you are discovering paradise when you explore the best Raja Ampat diving sites.
In this article, I will share with you my experience of the best Raja Ampat diving sites, discuss whether a liveaboard or a resort/homestay is best for you and also give some tips on amazing viewpoints in the region.
How to get to Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat has a small airport called Waisai or there is another airport nearby called Sorong. These are the two options for getting to Raja Ampat.
I flew from Bali (Denpasar DPS) to Makassar to Sorong. This is the most common route to get to Sorong.
- There are no international flights into Sorong
- There are no direct (nonstop) flights from Bali to Sorong
Once I reached Sorong I then took one more flight to Waisai airport in Raja Ampat. It is important to note you can take a 2-hour ferry from Sorong to Raja Ampat.
Once at Waisai airport or the ferry terminal your liveaboard organizer or hotel staff should have arranged to meet you and organize the transit to your resort. For me, it was a short bus and a private boat to the Raja Ampat Dive Resort. For a full breakdown of travel options, ferry times and transit routes.
Best Raja Ampat Scuba Diving Sites
Raja Ampat is heaven for scuba divers and is often rated as the best scuba dive destination in the world and one of the best places to visit in Indonesia. The hard and soft coral is buzzing with marine life. You come across turtles, sharks, giant mantas and more on almost every dive! The Raja Ampat islands are a great spot to catch some of the big creatures underwater but are also home to some enthralling macro life.
Giant Trevally, Dogtooth Tuna, and other pelagic fish are known to frequent the region. Blacktip and Whitetip reef sharks are incredibly common in Raja Ampat and I almost became accustomed to sharing the water with them. Raja Ampat is also how to the famous Wobbegong Shark.
Encounters with Manta Rays and Dolphins are common in the warm waters of Raja Ampat. I also saw Mantas before arriving in Raja Ampat in an epic week of scuba diving in Komodo.
Cape Kri is the most famous site at Raja Ampat and most commonly ranked the best. This dive site holds the record for the highest number of species on one site, in one single dive. The feature of this Raja Ampat dive site is the pure diversity of species and color. You really don’t know what you may come across at Cape Kri, which makes it one of the most exciting dives in the region.
This is one of the best Raja Ampat diving sites to spot the famous Wobbegong, which is a large carpet shark. The corals here are actually quite unique because they form a 25m column, which is the perfect depth for most divers. I found this to be one of the most active dive sites in Raja Ampat.
This is one of the best Raja Ampat diving sites for beginners. There is rarely much of a current. Soft corals and sponges cover the ocean floor, which makes it a perfect location for a macro search. If you didn’t yet find the Wobbegong you will surely be able to spot him here at Melissa’s Garden and you may even be lucky enough to come across a giant Manta!
An underwater pinnacle that starts out at about 7m and heads down all the way to 30 meters where you can meet huge fish. This is also a great spot for macro photography and finding small critters. It is one of the most famous dive sites in Raja Ampat, which says a lot considering the quality in this region. Keep an eye out here for predator fish, pygmy seahorses, and even a giant manta ray.
The Raja Ampat Dive Resort house reef is actually the only spot on our trip we saw the endemic walking shark known locally as, Kalabia. This is also a great spot to snorkel during the day and night.
This is a great spot to meet the graceful Manta Ray. These majestic creatures can be observed year-round at Manta Sandy. It’s not uncommon to meet more than ten in one dive and you might even be lucky enough to come across the rare ‘Black Manta’.
With a sandy floor of 20m, this is a great spot to find some garden eels, huge schools of black snappers, fusiliers, and butterfly fish.
Aroborek is a small island village with a short pier. Below this pier is massive schools of mackerel. We dove and received in and out of the schools of thousands of Mackerel for the best part of an hour. In this area, we also found giant clams.
Raja Ampat Diving Accommodation – Liveaboard or Resort
With over 1500 islands making up Raja Ampat the best way to see as much as you can during your visit is to stay on a Liveaboard ship. You can explore a greater variety of locations and dive spots when you have the flexibility of staying in different locations each night. Liveaboards range from luxury vessels to budget sailboats but almost always come equipped with private rooms and a chef. When you are deciding between a liveaboard or a resort you will want to consider the following points:
- Price: A Raja Ampat liveaboard is usually more expensive than a resort per night. However, it includes all meals, dive guide, accommodation on board, snacks. Usually, the only extra expense is the diving gear, alcohol, and tips. In comparison, a dive resort may only charge for your room and then each dive is added onto your package. I know at Raja Ampat Dive Resort there was a package available, which included the accommodation and meals at the resort plus a full day of diving each day.
- Experience: What sleeping conditions are you comfortable with? Do you prefer to get onto dry land and the comfort of a villa at night or are you up for the adventure of sailing the seas for a week aboard a liveaboard? I have personally had both the liveaboard and dive resort experience and they are both awesome. However, the dive resort is a much more comfortable option unless you can afford the most luxurious liveaboard. However, I have always had the more memorable overall experience aboard the liveaboard.
To book a liveaboard you can go to a website like Liveaboard.com and they list all of the different boats and trips available. They show you the cabins on each boat and also the list of activities and dives each trip includes. They are generally the most reliable site rather and are a global brand with a good reputation.
Check rates and availability: Raja Ampat Liveaboards
Raja Ampat Dive Resort (Where I stayed)
The accommodation often makes or breaks the vacation and in this case, Raja Ampat Dive Resort was one of the highlights of the trip. From the moment our boat pulled in towards the long wooden pier, I knew this was going to be one of the most incredible resorts I’ve ever stayed in.
Raja Ampat Dive Resort is a luxury dive resort centered around creating the ultimate Raja Ampat diving experience while enjoying the comforts of hot showers, air-conditioning, sunset drinks on the beach, buffet meals and a well-organized resort.
By the time we had our welcome drinks, our bags had already been delivered to our rooms. My room was a spacious wooden bungalow called the Dolphin I. Inside were two four-poster queen size beds covered by mosquito nets. A hot shower in a large bathroom, air conditioning and a large balcony with a sitting area meant we had everything we needed.
We did all of our diving with Raja Ampat Dive Resort and I will cover where we went and how the dives were later in this review of the resort and this article about Raja Ampat diving and things to do.
I like to keep any accommodation reviews I do transparent so I always try my hardest to come up with a few deficiencies or problems despite how good the property was. At Raja Ampat Dive Resort there were only a couple of issues.
Check rates and availability: Raja Ampat Dive Resort
Best time for diving in Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat Diving is something you can enjoy all year round. The water is so warm, I often went diving in just shorts and I am someone who gets cold easily. From May to September there is more rain but the temperature and humidity remain high all year round.
Because Raja Ampat is a bit more expensive, harder to reach and isolated than other diving hotspots the high and low season is less noticeable. Dive Resort owners mentioned there is a pickup in visitors at the end of the year but visiting Raja Ampat all year round is a peaceful getaway.
Scuba Diving Conditions
I already mentioned that the water is very warm, in fact, it is in the high 20’s all year round.
You can expect the visibility to be anywhere from 10-30 meters depending on which dive site you are at.
Raja Ampat has several dive sites with notoriously strong currents such as ‘The Passage’. However, many sites have slower or no currents. Depths range from 10m to 40m.
Raja Ampat Snorkeling
Although Raja Ampat is known for its amazing diving sites, there is some great snorkeling to be done also. There are many shallow coral gardens next to many of the resorts such as Raja Ampat Dive Resort, Kri Eco Resort, and Sorido Bay Resort. Many of our dives also finished above beautiful shallow reefs that were often the highlight of the dive. Another beautiful Raja Ampat snorkeling spot is at Arborek Pier, where thousands of schooling mackerel hang around the pylons. We snorkeled and went free-diving here and it was one of the highlights of my time in Raja Ampat.
Things to do in Raja Ampat (That aren’t scuba-diving)
Pianemo Island is one of the most epic spots in Indonesia and the world. In fact, I had been waiting over two years to tick this spot off my bucket list. A collection of islets are scattered in the cerulean blue waters. It truly is one of the most beautiful spots in the world.
The water at Pianemo Island was crystal clear and has an amazing turquoise color, which reminded me of Kawasan Falls in the Philippines. You can swim at the bottom in the calm water and explore the islands. When I was flying the drone I found a few cool spots with a pier and hidden beaches. We also did some small cliff jumping from one of the islets in the middle of the lagoon.
If you choose the right liveaboard your tour should include a visit to Pianemo Island. Make sure you check this on your itinerary when you book.
Full Blog Post: Pianemo Island – What you need to know
The sandbar apparently has no name according to the locals who refer to it as ‘Pasir Timbul’, which means sand surfaced. We stopped here for our surface interval and it is literally a sand island in the middle of the ocean. It’s quite a strange feeling to be on a stretch of sand surrounded by water. Definitely, ask your guide if you can find the Pasir Timbul while you are in Raja Ampat.
Our tour organized a visit to Arborek Village. We boarded along the pier, which we would later dive under, as the locals prepared to perform a traditional dance for us. After watching the children perform a traditional dance on the pier we walked further into the village. I was somehow elected by my group to be our leader all of a sudden and before I knew it, in front of the whole village, I was taking on the village leader in a traditional battle-style performance. It was a high-energy minute and a crazy moment from my time in Raja Ampat. We then made a huge parade through the whole village singing and dancing with the men, women,
We then made a huge parade through the whole village singing and dancing with the men, women, elders, and children of the village. After this crazy entrance, we had time to sit and chat with the locals. Some of the women showed me the baskets they were weaving and even brought out the traditional ‘Manta Hat’ only found in Raja Ampat.