Diving in Raja Ampat
West Papua, New Guinea Island
Located off the northwest tip of Bird's Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea, Raja Ampat, or the Four Kings, is an archipelago comprising over 1,500 small islands, cays and shoals surrounding the 4 main islands of Misool, Salawati, Batanta and Waigeo. It is a part of the newly named West Papua Province of Indonesia which was formerly Irian Jaya and is mostly the domain of liveaboards.
Simply put, Raja Ampat scuba diving is the bees knees in the world of scuba. If you don't enjoy your dives here, you may as well sell your dive gear! According to the Conservation International Rapid Assessment Bulletin and their more recent 2006 scientific surveys, the marine life diversity for scuba diving in West Papua is considerably greater than all other areas sampled in the coral triangle of Indonesia, Philippines and Papua New Guinea. It is quite simply the cream of the crop in world diving!
Over 1,200 fish species - a world record 284 on 1 single dive at Kofiau Island, the benchmark figure for an excellent dive site of 200 fish species surpassed on 51% of Raja Ampat dives (another world record), 600 coral species (a remarkable 97% of all scleratinia recorded from Indonesia are likely to occur in these islands), 699 mollusc species - again another world high. It is believed that the region will soon receive protected area status.
The term "Frontier Diving" seems to have been invented for Raja Ampat. To visit these waters is to feel at the edge of the earth. To gaze over the crystalline seas from onboard a liveaboard at the beehive-shaped, largely uninhabited islands is to be as far away from it all as you can imagine. At many places on the sea in Asia, the night sky is lit up like Piccadilly Circus by fishing boats. At night time in Misool you can peer out at the horizon and maybe see one or two distant specks of light.
To dive in West Papua is mostly drift dives due to the moderate currents prevalent in the area, which provide nutrients for the myriad fish and coral. The variety of marine life can be staggering. Some areas of Raja Ampat boast enormous schools of fish and regular sightings of sharks, such as wobbegongs. In Mansuar, it's highly likely you'll encounter large groups of manta rays and turtles. From the boat and often close to shore you may get the chance to don your snorkelling gear for some unforgettable interaction with resident pods of dolphins or even some passing whales.
Due to the sometimes strong currents, diving in Raja Ampat is not really considered a good choice for absolute beginners, rather for divers with a few dives under their weightbelts looking to get away from the crowds. Visibility is normally very good but can vary and is normally at its best earlier in the day so your pre-breakfast dives are not to be slept through!
Dive Site Descriptions
There are many Raja Ampat highlights and everyone has their own special spots but no liveaboard trip would be complete without checking out:
Cape Kri - You want lots of big stuff? You want to be enveloped by fish? Roll in here and both desires will soon be sated. Meaty Queensland groupers, sharks, snappers, Napoleon wrasses, barracuda, dogtooth tuna, trevallies, you name it ... They are all here and they are all here in numbers.
Misool Island - By contrast Misool, in the southern section of Raja Ampat, is all about investigation through the holes and tunnels where lie all manner of macro wonders. No swirling schools here but rather soft corals galore and critters by the bucketful such as sea horses and ghost pipefish. Great by day, unbelievable by night.
Fabiacet - Fabiacet is another Raja Ampat dive site that you won't want to come up from. The 4 islets are home to large groupers and large schools of a variety of snapper species. You'll be dazzled by the schools of fusiliers and surgeonfish, overwhelmed by the masses of triggerfish and bannerfish, and in awe of the numerous Napoleon wrasse, bumphead parrotfish, turtles and occassional great hammerhead.
Jef Fam Group - As this area is in central Raja Ampat, it's quite likely that you'll visit it whether you are joining a southern or northern cruise route. It's quite a large dive area and worth several dives. What makes Jef Fam special is its diversity of marine encounters. At the larger sized end of the animal spectrum, this dive site is the best place to find wobbegongs. You can also see huge giant clams, Spanish mackerel, great barracuda and manta rays. At the smaller end of the scale, Jef Fam hosts pygby seahorses, mimic octopus, crabs and shrimps of every shape and size, and spine-cheek anemonefish.
How to Dive West Papua
The dive sites and surrounding area are spread over huge distances. There are many excellent liveaboards in the region covering large areas of sea. However land-lubbers may also enjoy a stay in a Raja Ampat dive resort.
Got a question?
Have a look through our Frequently asked questions
Most Indonesian liveaboards visit Raja Ampat during the months of October until the end of April, although it is possible to find a few boats running trips all the year round. During the months of July to mid-September, strong winds and rain can cause rough seas, causing boats to schedule other areas to visit and closing some of the dive resorts in this period.
However, it is possible to enjoy West Papua diving all year round since several boats leave Raja Ampat and move east along the north coast of Papua into Cenderawasih Bay. Here you can find whale sharks at any time of the year and many of the dive sites are sheltered from rough seas.
The Papua provinces of Indonesia have 2 rainy seasons - in November/December and again in July/August.
Good for: Reef life and health, wrecks, underwater photography and visibility
Not so good for: Non-diving activities
Depth: 5 - >40m
Visibility: 10 - 30m
Surface conditions: Calm
Water temperature: 27 - 30°C
Experience level: Intermediate - advanced
Number of dive sites: Unknown, but >200
Access: Raja Ampat liveaboard cruises
Recommended length of stay: 10 - 16 days
Dive Site Descriptions
For more on the detailed Raja Ampat dive sites:
• West Papua travel information
View a map of:
• Papua/West Papua - Indonesia
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