Scuba Diving Raja Ampat last year, for me, was a major let down. After all it’s hype, and so many people telling me how amazing Raja is to dive, my trip was plagued with bad weather, worse visibility, poor guides, strong currents and more, to the point where I was pretty disenchanted by the location all together.
I came away with almost no useable footage, and a disappointing memory.
Since then I have dove all over the world, to some of the best dive locations on Earth, and scuba diving Raja Ampat again was low on my list.
To me, the diving at Komodo National Park, also in Indonesia but much more accessible, was basically the pinnacle for diving. I ran into my first Manta Rays, and had an unforgettable time, then topped it off with some diving in Bali on my way home.
That first trip to Komodo was so awesome that I placed it in my top 5 favorite locations ever, and I didn’t think any place would beat it any time soon.
Even on this year’s Raja Ampat dive trip, I first stopped at Komodo again (along with a few other dive locations in Indonesia), once again validating it’s position in my top 5 favorites. Its just an amazing location.
So when I hopped on a plane to head to Raja Ampat straight from Komodo, I was content with my trip and had low expectations for Raja and the rest of it.
In other words I was so happy diving Komodo that if I had another bad time in Raja, I would be content, and I expected just that to happen. At least the out-of-water sceneries, Piayanemo for example, never disappoint.
Luckily for me, just the opposite happened. I didn’t think I would find Komodo’s equal on this trip, but I did, and maybe even better.
I was so impressed by the various dive sites that we got to visit, that I remember numerous time where I would come out of the water completely shocked and my mind blown by what I had seen.
Not just WHAT I had seen, but the huge quantity of it all as well. Sure I’ve seen lots of elk horn coral before, but i had never seen a whole field of it, the size of a football field, all different colors.
I had never seen gorgonian fans so big they could wrap around a car, or schools so big they blot out the sun.
Before I ramble on about how amazed I was scuba diving Raja Ampat, I want to give a little context about where I am coming from, and what I am comparing to get my opinions.
As long term readers will know, I am on a mission to document the best diving in the world, and have been to a lot of the top 100 dive sites.
I’ve built my career around traveling to remote scuba locations and showing my readers what they are like, so I know a good dive site when i see one.
But its more than that..Ive been to so many places, all world-class, that I’ve almost become desensitized to them.
Yes, I still love and enjoy diving them, but sometimes I feel like I’ve seen it all, and it takes a LOT to impress me. Mantas and whale sharks? meh, thats a regular Monday.
Pygme seahorse, flamboyant cuttle fish and hairy frogfish? Just another day in the office. I want to be impressed. I was impressed greatly with every second scuba diving Raja Ampat.
Guide to Scuba Diving Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Only the intrepid, scuba diving fanatics come all the way to Raja Ampat to scuba dive, but those who do are rewarded with a lifetime memory of one of the last remaining, too-good-to-be-true, world-class underwater experience.
In this guide to scuba diving Raja Ampat, we are going to try to make that dream come true, by explaining what its like and what to expect, how to get there, where to stay and more.
Not all scuba diving locations are created equal, and I am guessing my enthusiasm is already bleeding through with my words for Raja. Its that good.
Highlights of Raja Ampat
Piayanemo Islands and overlook. I would vote this in as one of the best view points in the world.
You do NOT want to miss Seeing the most scenic above-water views in Raja Ampat, and dare I say, all of Indonesia.
Head here with your resort, and they will park the boat at the bottom of the stairway up the hill. Even the boat ride getting there trough the archipelago is amazing.
If you want to see what its like before you go, just look at the picture on the 100,000 Indonesian Rupia note.
Misool stingless jellyfish lakes. The diving itself around Misool is amazing, but if you want to try something different, take a hike up to Lenmakana’s Jellyfish Lake, said to have just recently been discovered, and take a swim.
Walking sharks. The epaulette shark, walks on its fins, sometimes out of the water onto reef at low tide. I had to find one of these, and I finally found 3! One of my favorites!
Koh Island. Another pretty little island to spot, and is amazing for droning, is Koh Island. Your resort or your operator will have to find that one for you, but such a great place to have lunch and chill on the beach or explore through the trees.
The Passage. Another scenic boat ride that is a aerial photographers dream, is simply known as The Passage, which from the air looks like a wide winding river, and from the water has intermittent jungle and sandstone cliffs. Very beautiful, and this is also where the dive site called The Cave or Passage Cave is located, and you have a chance of seeing crocodiles.
Insane reef dives. I will list the known dive sites below, but believe me, these are the real highlights here.
Wobbegong sharks. My goal for this trip, was to find my first wobbegong shark. I found no less than 8! Another amazing shark.
Arborek Village. Probably the most popular village in the region for tourists, where you can see a dance performance by locals in traditional costume. But Arbor’s jetty is also world-renowned for its giant school of fish, and is great diving.
Sawinggrai Village. Another iconic village on one of the 500 islands in Raja, that is similar, yet much less known than Arborek.
Sand bars and beaches. Another awesome aspect of scuba diving Raja Ampat, is all the awesome locations for surface intervals you’ll do. Near by to my current favorite dive site, Melissa’s Garden, is a crazy beautiful thin stretch of sand bar in the middle of the channel called Pasir Timbul. We park the boats and played in the sand until we we ready to dive again. Beautiful.
Macro heaven. I ran into so many awesome species, some that I had never seen before, and some that I had seen, but in different colors.
Mantas and whale sharks in season. There’s a dive site called Manta Point, that is pretty self-explanatory.
Clams the size of bathtubs. No one believes me except my dive buddy, but I saw a clam that could eat me, it was so big. I’ve seen ancient ones dug out of quarries and made into fancy bathtubs, but I had no idea ones this size were still alive today. mind blown.
Aerial photography heaven. You will be hard pressed to find a more photogenic aerial view, what with all the turquoise waters and tiny islands.
Pre historic wall paintings. Near the islands of Pef, Sumalelen and Sumbayo, there are ancient red hand prints and paintings, that to be 50,000+ years old. There are many local legends about how it got there, from aliens to a magical king (Raja), but no one I talked to had the real explanation of its origins or the people who put it there. It’s just cool to see history from ancient Indonesia.
Dive sites in Raja Ampat
Melissa’s Garden. I am putting this dive site first, with a little description, because it blew me away. It’s hard to impress me these days as I see so many dive sites, but I was completely and surprisingly in shock after this dive.
Expect fields and fields of colorful stag horn coral, wobbegong sharks, endless and countless coral species and reef fish. I even saw a clam the size of a bath tub that blew my mind.
Muck Bay 1 &2
Jef Fam Group
Sel Pele Bay
How to get to Raja Ampat
Sorong is the gateway to Raja Ampat, so you have to get here first. As of now there aren’t any direct flights from Bali to Sorong, and you’ll most likely have a stop in Makassar.
Also red: 101 Things to do in Bali, Indonesia
From Makassar you can then fly to Sorong. From Sorong you can either take the 2 hour ferry, or another 15 minute flight to Waisai, where your resort should pick you up to boat to your resort.
Why Scuba Dive in Raja Ampat
For me scuba diving Raja Ampat was one of the highlights of all my dive experiences.
I have my (metaphorical) Mount Rushmore for dive locations, where Komodo, Dauin (Philippines), and now Raja Ampat are sitting on top.
Raja is on my Mount Rushmore of diving, and experts say it is one of those rare locations where the reef is actually getting better, instead of dying.
Put it on your scuba bucket list, I recommend it highly.
Major thanks to the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism for bringing me down to experience Raja Ampat diving for myself, you guys put on a great trip!