Most divers have heard of Raja Ampat in Indonesia. In the heart of the Coral Triangle, the reefs here are bursting with biomass, from macro to mantas. Clouds of baitfish swarm healthy coral heads and turtles cruise the crystal-clear water. If scuba diving in Raja Ampat isn’t on your bucket list yet, it should be. Here are a few tips on how to start planning a trip and what to see once you get there.
How to get there
Sorong (SOQ) in West Papua province is the closest and most convenient airport to reach Raja Ampat marine park. There are no international flights to Sorong, so you’ll have to fly through Jakarta, Denpasar, Makassar, Ambon or Manado. The last two are especially convenient if you’re diving in Sulawesi or the Maluku Islands as well. Once in Sorong, your diving arrangements will determine your next step. Some liveaboards depart from Sorong; others depart from the neighboring island of Waisai, reachable by ferry. If you are diving from land, your resort will help organize your transfer.
Choosing a dive operation
Most of the dive operations in Raja Ampat run on the pricey side. If you can afford a liveaboard, this is the most convenient way to travel, as the marine park is quite big. You’ll also have access to more remote sites on a liveaboard. You will find plenty of liveaboard options with a bit of internet research.
There are also good options available for those on a budget. Choose from plentiful affordable accommodation here and dive from one of the islands, such as Kri or Gam, with the local dive shops.
I dove with Scuba Republic, which offers a four-day safari package that takes you through the park while you stay in local homestays on different islands. In this way, you can both experience the local lifestyle and see most of the main dive sites. Although accommodations are basic, the value overall is very good.
Other need-to-know tips
Scuba diving in Raja Ampat can involve strong currents, so if you are not confident in that environment, it’s best to get some practice before the trip.
If you are photographer, you’ll want to bring both your wide-angle and macro lenses. Good eyes (and good guides) will help you spot tiny nudibranchs and plenty of other macro life as well, perhaps even the shy and minuscule Pontohi pygmy seahorse.
Favorite dive sites
The name is spot-on for this site where the magic does truly happen. This reef features several manta cleaning stations, which means you’ll often spot these gentle giants on a dive. Both species of manta rays visit the marine park regularly. If no mantas are around, don’t worry — reef sharks, barracuda, tuna, schools of jacks, fusiliers and snappers will provide the entertainment, and the vibrant corals create a luscious backdrop.
A popular dive site where mantas come to feed, this shallow plateau drops down very fast, hence the name. Beware of currents that can be quite strong here and go down along the ridge. When mantas come to feed on the surface this can also be a great snorkeling spot.
Stuck between two islands, the boat ride alone makes this site worth a visit. Although the dive doesn’t have the world’s best coral, there several caves that you can explore, including a couple where you can surface in the middle of the jungle trees. Currents can be quite strong here as well, as tidal water will come in and out of the channel depending on tide.
Melissa’s Garden is arguably one of the best coral dives in the park. The dive takes place along three small islands, and the surrounding reefs are nothing short of spectacular, with a huge variety of corals as far as the eye can see. This is a good spot to search for nudibranchs and pygmy seahorses, but keep your eyes peeled for wobbegong and blacktip reef sharks, as well as schooling fish. Prepare to be amazed.
This reef is also covered in beautiful corals and fish life. Watch for grouper, napoleon wrasses, wobbegong sharks, more blacktips, schools of snappers, fusiliers and barracuda. There’s so much fish life at this reef, it’s hard to know where to look.