Scuba Diving in Raja Ampat: Everything You Need to Know
Raja Ampat and Misool and growing in popularity among scuba divers, often making it to the top of their bucket-list. Discover everything you need to know to plan a diving trip to this biodiversity hot spot!
“When is the best time to dive in Raja Ampat? Where is Misool’s marine reserve? Should I go on a liveaboard or stay in an eco-resort?” These are some of the questions you’ll finally get an answer to in this article.
What Makes the Diving So Great in Raja Ampat?
At the heart of the coral triangle, Raja Ampat hosts over 600 coral species, and 75% of the world’s coral species!
As Raja Ampat is still relatively unexplored and underdeveloped, reefs remain in excellent shape. The NGO Conservation International concluded that reefs in Raja Ampat are more resilient to temperature changes than the ones of the Great Barrier Reef, having “pre-adapted to climate change”.
Dr. Gerald Allen, one of the world’s foremost ichthyologists (famous for his Fish ID books - the ones you see most frequently in dive shops and on liveaboards), counted the world record number of species of fish in a single dive in Raja Ampat.
“In April 2012, I recorded 374 species on a single dive at Cape Kri near the Sorido Bay Resort in Raja Ampat (an archipelago within the Bird’s Head region). It was a perfect, sunny day with no current, 40-meter (131-foot) visibility, and importantly lots of habitat types within a relatively short swim from shore. The count reinforced my belief that the Bird’s Head region is definitely the world’s richest place for fish diversity."
Dr Gerald Allen
With up to 1427 reef fish identified in Raja Ampat, divers get to see large schools of tuna, trevally, mackerel, some batfish, surgeonfish, angel and butterflyfish, napoleon wrasse, bumpheads, giant sweetlips, damsels, fusiliers, anthias, etc. and also magnificent macro with the rare pygmy seahorses.
The pelagic life is abundant, with many species of reef sharks, white and black tips, wobbegong sharks, bamboo sharks, reef mantas at nearby cleaning stations, and majestic oceanic manta in open water.
Is Misool in Raja Ampat? Why Is Everyone Talking About It?
Misool is in South Raja Ampat. It is even more remote than Raja Ampat North (where Cape Kri is). The marine life there is thriving with plenty of manta rays, juvenile sharks …and all the rest!
In 2005, Misool Foundation managed to establish Raja Ampat’s first Marine Protected Area, and created Misool eco-resort to support the conservation efforts. Results are there and this award-winning operation for its conservation work and eco-tourism is now recognized all over the world.
To dive in Misool:
When Is the Best Time to Dive in Raja Ampat and Misool?
Overall, the best time of the year to dive in Raja Ampat is from October to May. That’s when you’ll be able to dive in the North and the South (Misool). You’ll also benefit then from good diving conditions, and you’ll have the most chances to see manta rays.
However, you should know that you can dive year round in Raja Ampat North that hosts some of the best dive sites of the area, such as Cape Kri, Blue Magic, Mioskon or the beautiful Melissa’s garden.
Misool, South Raja Ampat, is not accessible between June and mid-September, because of monsoon season. Most livebaoards leave for Komodo in April-May, while they can still cross, and they come back in October-November.
What Are the Dive Conditions in Raja Ampat?
Dive conditions are relatively good in Raja Ampat with warm waters years round (around 28-29 °C or 82-84 °F), even though you can experience thermoclines sometimes.
Visibility is best in shoulder and low season, from June to September, when there’s less plankton (and mantas) in the water.
Finally there are currents in some dive sites, and it’s recommended to bring a hook that you may use on rocks.
Is It Possible to Stay in Raja Ampat North, and Go on a Day Trip to Misool?
Misool is several hours away from Sorong with a speedboat, and it’s not possible to go there on a day trip. It is secluded, pristine, and wild.
The only way to dive in Misool and get to see some of its fantastic landscapes (including the famous heart-shaped “love lagoon”) is either to go on a liveaboard trip to Raja Ampat North and Misool (7 nights starting from ...), or to stay at Misool eco-resort (7+1 nights unlimited diving starting from ...). The eco-resort is an exclusive dive resort and conservation center, often booked several months to years in advance, so plan ahead.
Is It Better to Stay in an Eco-Resort or Book a Liveaboard to Dive in Raja Ampat?
It all depends on your favorite ways of traveling and diving, and who you’re going with.
Eco-resorts are perfect to reconnect with nature and get to know the local community. If you want to own your schedule, make plenty of excursions, and have a better idea of what the local life looks like in West Papua, then eco-resorts are better suited.
This eco-resort in North Raja Ampat (7 nights unlimited diving starting from ...) is an excellent option with overwater bungalows suiting individual travelers, small groups and families.
Liveaboards are the most efficient way (time-wise and budget-wise) to see it all in one trip: Raja Ampat North and South - Misool.
If you prefer to “eat, sleep, dive, repeat” then you should go for a liveaboard. In most liveaboards, you’ll also get to do 2 or 3 excursions along the way.
Some liveaboards offer trips between June and September, however, they can’t do the crossing to Misool at this time of the year, so it means you’ll only get to dive in Raja Ampat North then, which is already an amazing area for divers!
Is Raja Ampat a Good Destination for Non-Divers and Families?
Yes, Raja Ampat is an excellent destination to explore with non-divers and the family!
While you go diving, non-divers can do snorkeling, kayak, or Stand Up Paddle sessions, have a massage, or simply enjoy a swim on a beautiful beach. Excursions opportunities are plenty, from local villages nearby to deserted island, treks to viewpoints or birds watching tour for instance.
Can I Hop From One Island to Another in Raja Ampat?
Everything in Raja Ampat is remote… It’s not a backpacker destination like Bali or Thailand.
The islands are a little developed. It is often difficult to hop on from one island to another. There’s no ferry except the one that goes from Sorong (SOQ) to Waisai.
If you like a little adventure, go ahead. Make sure you’ve got plenty of time ahead of you, and are open to changing plans last minute.
What Should I Bring on a Trip to Raja Ampat?
We recommend you to have your dive equipment if you travel on a budget, as there might not be all sizes available wherever you go, or the maintenance of it not so good. Don’t forget a hook and a SMB as currents can be strong in some areas.
Buy a local sim card in Sorong as WIFI is often not available or weak in some areas.
You can also bring a few snacks if you go there for a few weeks as there’s little food variety, even less when you travel on a budget.
Bring plenty of sun protection (reef-safe sunscreen, a rash guard) and some walking shoes to go to the different viewpoints.
Mosquitoes do carry several diseases in Raja Ampat (malaria, dengue, chikungunya), so make sure you pack long-sleeve tee-shirts and pants for dawn and dusk, some Malarone tablets, and some mosquito repellent.
Last but not least, have travel, medical, and dive insurance!
How Do I Get to Raja Ampat?
Raja Ampat is remote, get mentally ready for a long journey!
From Jakarta (CGK), Indonesia, take a direct flight to Sorong (SOQ), West Papua. In Indonesia, we recommend flying with Garuda Indonesia, the safest airline there.
From Bali (DPS), Indonesia, you’ll have to make a stop in Makassar (UPG) or Manado (MDC), in Sulawesi province.
A good idea if you have time and the budget for it, is to combine Bunaken and Raja Ampat. There are direct flights from Manado (MDC) to Sorong (SOQ) a few days a week. Ask us for a quote to do both!
Should I Ask a Dive Travel Agency to Organize My Trip in Raja Ampat?
The offer is very diverse in Raja Ampat. You may have better deals if you book with an agency, and you’ll definitively gain time in planning.
To receive a recommendation that fits your expectations and budget, don’t hesitate to contact SeaCrush. We’re only working with the most responsible dive eco-resorts and liveaboards as we want to protect this area of the world we know, and love so much!
SeaCrush Pick: 👉 if you’d like to join a small group of reef-friendly divers, check-out SeaCrush trip to Raja Ampat North and Misool (7 nights starting from ...) from January 5-12, 2022! We’ll be going on Coralia liveaboard, awarded Best Liveaboard in 2019 by Dive Magazine UK.