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...Highlights: shark action, manta rays, turtles, schooling fish & big pelagics, great macro life/ marine diversity...
...Diving environment: healthy reefs, wall dives, drift diving, caverns, advanced divers...

Simply put, Raja Ampat is the bees knees in the world of scuba diving. 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 isles, 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 Indonesian liveaboards, however there are also a very limted number of dive resorts available too.

If you don't enjoy the diving in Raja Ampat, you may as well sell your equipment! According to the Conservation International Rapid Assessment Bulletin and their more recent 2006 scientific surveys, the marine life diversity 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!

Diving in Raja Ampat with wobbegongs and glassfish - photo courtesy of Stephen Wong and Takako Uno
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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 the Raja Ampat islands. 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.

Scuba diving in West Papua mostly takes the form of 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 boast enormous schools of fish and regular sightings of sharks, such as wobbegongs. At 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 scuba 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

Central Region

Jef Fam Group

The Jef Fam is a picturesque group of a dozen or so limestone islands and islets, lying directly west of Batanta Island. There are many channels with shallow, aquamarine inlets, bays, lagoons, beaches, cliffs and coves. They are a perfect setting from which to explore Raja Ampat's premiere hard coral dive sites.
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Northern Region

Sel Pele

This is a very large bay located on the western side of Wayag Island, and is renowned as the best place in Raja Ampat for critter hunting. The bay has a large mouth with a small islet in its centre, and an inner bay with pearl farms that can be visited on request.
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Southern Region

Boo Island

From the surface there are 2 rocks separated by a short stretch of water, beneath which there is a wealth of marine life waiting to be explored. The first thing you'll notice as you deflate your BCD and descend onto this vibrant reef, is a large swim through in shallow water which several divers can penetrate at the same time. This is usually done at the end of the dive and there is much to see before doing so.

Firstly you will work your way along a wall which features much of what makes Raja Ampat special. Gorgonians, barrel sponges, dendronephtya soft corals and various forms of acropora all compete for space of this colourful seascape. Be sure to inspect the sea whips here as you may be able to spot small commensal shrimps attached to them, camouflaged in an identical green to that of their hosts.
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How to Dive West Papua

This all depends on what type of vacation you want to have here. There are 2 main options:

Raja Ampat lies at the heart of the world's marine bio-diversity. For this reason it is the many diver's liveaboard destination of choice who want nothing but the best. The dive sites and surrounding area are spread over huge distances. There are many excellent liveaboards in the region covering large areas of sea.

But land-lubbers may prefer to stay in a dive resort to witness this specatular underwater show.

The Diving Season

Most Indonesian liveaboards dive in 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 scuba diving in West Papua all year round since several boats leave the islands of 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 May to August. Sea temperatures are pretty constant, ranging from a low of about 27°C between May to October, to 30°C in the November to April period. It can rain here at any time, not just during rainy season. For more on the climate of Sorong, visit Weather & ClimateOpens in a new window.

October to April is a time when plankton blooms reduce visibility but bring greater numbers of manta rays to the area.

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Where is Raja Ampat and How Do I Get There?

Review our maps below of Indonesian Papua, showing the location of the Raja Ampat islands, and its host country Indonesia. Here, you will find information on how to get to Raja Ampat.

Map of Papua/West Papua (click to enlarge in a new window) Map of Indonesia (click to enlarge in a new window)

Reef Summary

Depth: 5 - >40m
Visibility: 10 - 30m
Currents: Moderate
Surface conditions: Calm
Water temperature: 27 - 30°C
Experience level: Intermediate - advanced
Number of dive sites: Unknown, but >200
Recommended length of stay: 10 - 16 days

Useful References

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... Many many thanks for doing the bookings again for this wonderful experience. The only problem is that after Raja Ampat, where else can we go that won't be a disappointment by comparison? Anyway, we'll start saving for our next trip ... -- , Australia.  [More customer reviews]