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Scuba diver´s best ever place to go

Indonesia is a great collection of islands or archipelago and Raja Ampat is a collection of islands located in Indonesia´s West Papua province. Raja Ampat or “Four Kings” archipelago, is formed by 1.500 little islands. Raja Ampat used to belong to the Sorong Regency but separated from it in 2004 to become its own Regency. It is the greatest and most beautiful place on Earth to go diving and its biodiversity is incredible.

 

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There are four main islands which are Misool, Salawati, Batanta and Waigeo as well as a smaller island called Kofiau.

According to a legend, a woman found seven eggs. Four hatched and these were kings that ruled in each one of the largest islands of Raja Ampat and the other three eggs were a ghost, a woman and a stone.

Raja Ampat was once part of the Sultanate of Tidore, which was in Maluku. When the Dutch invaded Maluku, Raja Ampat became part of their colony.

Europeans first came to Raja Ampat when Jorge de Menezes from Portugal sighted the islands in 1526. Later on, English explorer William Dampier gave his name to Dampier Strait which separates Batanta island from Waigeo.

The inhabitants of this archipelago are mostly dedicated to fishing and are mostly Ambonese. Religions are Christianity and Islam.

Raja Ampat has the world´s biggest biodiversity and it is a priority in global protection. The area is not very developed. It located at a 6 hour flight from Jakarta to arrive at Sorong and from there a boat takes one to the islands.

Among things to do in the Raja Ampat archipelago is of course, swimming and scuba diving. The best time of the year to do this is from October to November.

Raja Ampat is a place for people who really know how to scuba dive and do underwater photography. Aside from wonderful living creatures to be seen underwater, other activities that can be carried out in these islands is sailing, exploring the different islands by boat, making one´s own wooden sculpture aided by an Asmat craftsman, watching the Sea Ghost and on North and West Waigeo one can see a concert given by traditional bamboo flute players called “suling tambur”. This is a religious performance celebrated on the 17th of August, which is Independence day.

One can experience a unique natural phenomenon that takes place just once a year at the end of the year. This is a unusual light that comes out from under the water on the ocean to its surface and shimmers for around 10 to 18 minutes before disappearing again. This is the famous “Sea Ghost” of the natives.

Another thing to see is prehistoric cave paintings in Tomoloi. In North Waigeo it is possible to see WWII bunkers built by the Japanese and Dutch armies. Natives of the area perform a war dance. In Salawati one can view a waterfall that is quite unique in its own special way.

Sunbathing in an exquisite setting can be done in the Ayau Islands which have beautiful white sandy beaches.

By far, the main reason to come to the Raja Ampat archipelago is underwater diving and snorkelling so this is at the heart of any visit.

A pleasure to do on the beaches is collecting seashells which make great souvenirs back home. But the best souvenir of all is the experiences one has by relaxing in this Paradise on Earth, home to the largest diversity of underwater life on the planet.

Most scuba diving is organized with a professional diver guide who takes one out to the best spots to dive. It is not a good idea to dive alone because of not knowing the territory and accidents do happen so dive safely with company to help you in case of need or being able to help someone else if needed.

Nighttime in Raja Ampat

When visiting the archipelago of Raja Ampat, besides scuba diving, enjoying its divine beaches and seeing exotic birds. At night one might want to go out to dinner and perhaps enjoy a drink. This is possible in Manokwari, the capital city of West Papua, Regency of Manokwari. There are a few restaurants and bars in town that can be visited but this area is not at all like other tourist spots such as Kuta.

 

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Places to go in Manokwari are the Billy Café which is a restaurant that offers rather average food and has live music.

The RM Permata restaurant serves decent food and is centrally located. Another option to go out in Manokwari.

Alternative places to go out are the bars that can be found on the island´s hotels. Raja Ampat is a remote location with few places to go out at night because it is mostly a nature reserve and people visit this area for its natural beauty and relaxation enjoyed on its tropical beaches. The remoteness of this part of the world, which is accessed by a 6 hour flight from Jakarta, makes it a quiet destination without massive tourism and therefore, the nighttime scene is not very notable. However, if one does want to go out at night, the best thing is to go by boat to Manokwari and walk around the shopping mal where there is a disco or in any of the few nightclubs that cater to local residents.

Manokwari has less than 500.000 people.

In Sorong one can go out to a discotheque called “The Mona Lisa”. For a place with only three hotels, this is quite good as an option. It is the only disco to be found.

The hotels in the islands are mostly resorts that are quite expensive and this is due to their remoteness and exclusivity.

Manokwari, the capital, has a little more to offer but don´t expect much more.

Hotels in Raja-Ampat

As one can imagine, staying at any of the resorts in the Raja-Ampat area is a dream come true. Shimmering crystal clear waters, palm trees offering shade on pristine pure white sand beaches, hammocks and liveaboards, scuba diving and relaxation on the deck of a boat are all normal things to do in this Paradise. This is far from being a mass tourist destination so few people will be here if you get to this remote part of the world which is only reached by plane after a six hour flight leaving from Jakarta or Manado.

 

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The places to stay are kind of expensive which is to be expected given their exclusivity, however, it is possible to stay in “Homestay” accommodations which are economic in comparison to luxury resorts.

Some of these are the Miosba Homestay which is a tropical island hideaway enabling one to explore Penemu and the Fam Islands.

If one would rather have a stay in a private bungalow, an option could be Tapor Aikos Homestay which is surrounded by gardens where exotic orchids grow. The views are great and one can visit the island in a little while. In the area of the karstic islands the Prajas Homestay is the closest place to Wayag Prajas.

Gam Bay also has a homestay called Beser Bay Homestay.

What is a “homestay” in Raja-Ampat?

This is the ultimate experience in spartan living. A homestay is basically a thatched hut or small bungalow built in the property of a local family who rents it out to visitors. Accommodation is reduced to the bare minimum with many only fitted out with a mattress on the floor, mosquito netting and a toilet outside in a little hut. People staying here must be willing to share their accommodation with insects, small animals that come in during the night and mosquitos. Beware of malaria. Get a malaria vaccination before coming to this part of the world. Food and drink is brought daily by the owner of the homestay but you must cook your own meals. Electricity is supplied by a generator and one needs to be careful about fire as the whole structure is made of timber and coconut roofing. Many homestays don´t even have a ceiling but this is part of the charm of coming to the “last frontier” so be prepared to fend for yourself “a la Robinson Crusoe” if you choose to stay in a homestay. There are many to be found and they are also kind of expensive in comparison to what they offer. Don´t expect air conditioning, furniture, wifi… Those things belong to the remote and distant Western world.

Another option is to stay aboard a boat, a “liveaboard”. There are many liveaboards to choose from and these boats can lodge up to around 16 people and are great for scuba diving and sailing around the many islands. Some of these are Phinisi ships that have arrangements for onboard living, others are yachts. The MV Raja Ampat is an Indonesian wooden ship for 14 people and it tours the Raja Ampat islands.

SMY Shakti is a traditional “Phinisi” boat, it is quite economical and can host 12 guests.

Ten people can stay in the Putiraja, a large Phinisi boat that is 34 meters long offering lots of leg room in its berths.

If you want to go over the top and stay in a resort, this can be done at a rather expensive rate in the Amawana resort in Moyo Island which is 15 kms. away from Sumbawa at the east of Bali. This place offers accommodation in a wildlife preserve in the middle of the forest where the endemic and endangered “Rusa Deer” which the establishment and the government is trying to recover. Stay in this wonderland and sleep in a tent like structure in green forest and experience nature at its best. This makes a great change from scuba diving enabling one to do something as pleasurable as sea diving but inland.

Most private islands don´t have accommodation as found in the West so be prepared to rough it out a little by doing without creature comforts because one doesn´t come to the most remote place on the planet to do what one does usually at home.

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Things to do in Raja Ampat

The main attraction of the Raja Ampat Islands is scuba diving and enjoying its wonderful sandy beaches in what anyone would consider as a Paradise. But besides this, there are quite a few other things that can be done and that shouldn´t be missed. So while you are here, search out some alternate things to do such as visiting local villages and being part of the civilization in Manokwari for example.

Rent a boat and visit Um Island which is um… wonderful it is in the village of Makbon across from Malaumkarta and is a lagoon with bats and seagulls. Here bats fly by day and seagulls fly by night… Part of being in a Paradise! To get here, depart from Sorong and use a Bemo or Angkot make a day trip to Um Island. It takes about 4 hours to drive to Makbon to see the lagoon and the price is of 30.000 IDR going and coming.

Visit Sawinggrai Village in West Papua. It has 36 families living in it and here is where the Bird of Paradise is located and is the icon of this ideal village located in Meos Mansar district. It is best reached from Sorong which can be reached by plane from Jakarta or Makassar. Here one can see birds of Paradise doing mating rituals in the mornings or late afternoons. Groups of visitors are taken to the spot where the birds called Cenderawasih.

A visit can be done to the capital of Raja Ampat which is called Manokwari at the top of Bird´s Head Peninsula in Papua. Here one can trek up to see the Japanese War Memorial near the Gunung Meja Forest Park and the view here is of the town. Another place to visit is Doreri Bay and the Arfak mountains. Nearby are Leman Island and Manesam Island which are reachable by longboat. An interesting place to go inland in Manesam Island is a cave which has “flying foxes”. While in Manesam visit the traditional housing built on stilts and see traditional dancing Magase style. The flowers and plants that grow here attract native rare butterflies which can be photographed. To get to Manesam it is necessary fly from Blak to Manokwari on a daily flight that connect Manokwari with Makassar.

Animal lovers can go to the Aru Islands of the Moluccas to see Cassowaries which are birds that do not fly, sort of like ostriches. These birds are rare now and are a protected species. They are considered shy but if intimidated they lash out with their claws and can kill a dog or wound a person so if one decides to photograph a cassowary, be sure to be careful as they can be dangerous. Cassowaries eat fruit and when they find a tree that has a bountiful amount, they will stand ground and defend it for several days as they eat the low hanging fruits. In most birds the male is the showiest partner but in the case of cassowaries, it is the female of the species that is most distinctive. Cassowaries are no longer hunted and are a protected species.

If visiting Raja-Ampat in October, one can see the Raja-Ampat Festival which is held in Waisai. This Festival includes native performances and dancing, musical events and competitions for underwater photography, seminars and conferences on different subjects related to Raja-Ampat´s wildlife and traditions. There is also an exhibition of traditional sailing that inhabitants have passed on from generations to today. One can see Lalayon dancing, ritual Woor Dance, Yospan Dance and others.

Transportation in Raja-Ampat

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Getting to Raja-Ampat is done by plane or by boat and reaching Sorong or Manokwari. There are daily flights leaving from Jakarta that take 6 hours or from Manado airport. There are no international flights to arrive from the rest of the world to these remote islands. Transport from the different islands is done by boat or “liveaboard” ships which dock in the harbor. One can take a motorized longboat to Sorong. There is an airport in Sorong and one can fly here and from here visit the rest of the islands by boat.

Other forms of transportation are ferries and Phinisi boats which sail from most of the larger islands and one can live in these “liveaboard” ships that can hold 10 to 16 passengers who can scuba dive and sail.

In the city of Manokwari, the capital of Raja-Ampat, there is the possibility of renting a car, using a traditional “bemo” mini-van that seats between 6 and 9 people, or renting a bicycle to ride around the city which is not very large and has a population of around 400.000 people. Most of the islands don´t have transportation on land and walking is a pleasurable experience so put on your sandals and walk around.

There are also mopeds or “ojeks” in Manokwari or Sorong that can drive one or two people around for a low price.

Tours can be done to some of the islands that are large enough to feature vehicles but these are not found in most of the smaller islands.

The best thing to do is rent a bicycle which is ecologic and also enables freedom of choice. Riding around is fun but if one wishes to drive around it is necessary to have an international drivers license.

In the islands of Raja-Ampat there is no roads or any type of land transportation and the only way to get around from one island to another is by longboat which can be motorized or have a sail and a paddle. Liveaboard Phinisi ships go from the different islands too.

There is a great variety of boats and ships enabling different travelling options and these can be hired in the harbor of Sorong.

The possibilities of transportation in this remote part of the world are flying to Sorong or taking a ferry. A taxi can be hired to take one from the airport of Sorong to the Sorong harbor. A ferry leaves from here to Waisai or one can go in a small plane. Once one reaches Waisai one can charter a local boat.

First one needs to arrive at Sorong and this is done by flying to the Domine Eduard Osok Airport from Jakarta or Manado. There are no international flights arriving to Sorong. So the best thing is to fly to Jakarta and from there fly to Sorong or take a ferry.