A Guide to north Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat is a group of islands located off the very west of the island of New Guinea, in Indonesia. It has grown into a world-class diving destination since the 90s.

It also offers stunning sceneries of karstic rocks emerging in the middle of lagoons and great birding opportunities.

The local population has long maintained ties both to Biak to the east (many Biak dialects are spoken daily in Raja Ampat) and the Maluku to the west (especially the kingdoms of Bacan and later Tidore).

The name Raja Ampat is a deformation of Indonesian Raja Empat (Four Kings) itself translated from the local language Kalana Fat referring to the fours kings that used to dominate the area : one in Waigeo, one in Salawati, the king of Misool in the west of Misool island and the king of Waigama in east Misool.

Understanding Raja Ampat

From an administrative point of view, Raja Ampat is a really large area that encompasses many islands off Sorong.

Only a small part of Raja Ampat has significant infrastructures to host visitors :

  • North Raja Ampat : the area around the Dampier strait : South coast of Waigeo, Gam, Mansuar and Kri.
  • South Raja Ampat : the area around Misool.
Update 2022 : the yellow circle should go now at least until Waisai

95% of accommodation in Raja Ampat are located within the yellow area on the map above. In this article I’m going to focus on this part of Raja. It doesn’t mean it’s the best one, it’s just the only one I know.

I visited Raja Ampat twice, first time in July 2017, second time in October 2022, staying in homestays both times.

Map from 2017, many resorts have opened west of Wasai and along Gam coast since then.

Diving (or snorkeling in Raja Ampat)

This is what brings most visitors here. The diving in Raja Ampat has historically been spearheaded by expensive resorts but it is also possible to dive for much cheaper with local operators.

Raja Ampat is hands down in my top 3 diving destination in Indonesia. It has lots of arguments : good walls, good reefs, manta rays …

But for me Raja Ampat stands out because of the diversity of fish you find there. You see so many species of butterflyfish, angelfish or parrotfish.

The common Indonesian reef fishes, they are of course all there but in Raja Ampat you see them schooling all the time : schooling jacks, barracudas, moorish idols, sweetlips, batfish, fusillier, redtooth triggerfish …

Snorkeling is also pretty good. Actually I do think that the snorkeling of Raja Ampat easily beats diving in many parts of the world.

I snorkeled only a little bit in front of Corepen Homestay in 2017 (and it was good).

Otherwise you usually see snorkelers near the jetties (Cape Kri, Yenbuba Jetty, Arborek Jetty …).

Where to dive in Raja Ampat ?

You can dive in both Misool and North Raja Ampat (Dampier Strait). I will talk only about what I know, ie diving the Dampier Strait. As far as I know, there is no cheaper alternative to dive Misool but expensive resorts and liveaboards (update 2022 : it’s worth making further research as I sometimes hear about homestays in Misool).

  • The beating heart of north Raja Ampat diving is northeast of Kri island (sites like Blue Magic, Sardine, Chicken Reef) … It’s there that I both times really experienced the typical fish explosion of Raja Ampat.
  • Between Mansuar and Arborek, you have 2 sites good for manta rays : Manta Sandy and Manta Reach.
  • Other sites can be dived near Fam islands (Melissa’s Garden for instance) or west of Gam. I tried them a few times and found them less impressive than northeast Kri’s (but still pretty good).
  • Liveaboards can take you diving even near Wayag, not the land-based operators.

All diving shops / resorts based anywhere between south Gam, Waigea, Kri or Arborek will take you diving to northeast Kri and the Manta’s during the season.

When to come to Raja Ampat ?

You can come pretty much year round. I came first time in July, stayed on Gam and had great conditions for both overland weather and diving.

During my second visit in October, I got sometimes not so good visibility (especially around Arborek) or too little current near Kri.

I understand that Manta Ray are usually around from October to March. Liveaboards are more numerous at this time of the year too.

Diving with homestays in Raja Ampat

I dived both times with small local operators. They were good and I saved significantly compared to resorts.

Diving with Corepen Homestay on Gam

I dived in 2017 with Maria that was operating from Corepen Homestay on Gam. She was great. Back then prices were 450’000Rp per dive (400’000Rp if more than 10 dives) and 150’000Rp per day for full equipment rental (not including computer).

I couldn’t reach her or Corepen Homestay on the phone number I had in 2022 and wanted to try diving on Arborek anyway. From Gita at Arborek Dive Shop I understood that she had split ways with Corepen but recents comments on stayrajaampat.com seems to say otherwise.

Update June 2023 : someone confirmed in the comments that Maria is back offering diving at Corepen. You can reach her by WA at +62 853-9904-0888.

Diving with Arborek Dive Shop on Arborek

I dived with Arborek Dive Shop (run by Gita and Marcel) in October 2022. They really know what they are doing. We did lots of interesting dives around Arborek and Gam but visibility was sometimes not great.

Prices was 3’300’000 IDR per 6 dives (equipment rental included) so 550’000Rp per dive. They usually charge an additional 500’000 per boat to go diving around Kri (to be split between all the divers of the day). You can pay by credit card at Arborek Dive Shop as of October 2022.

Gita can be reached by Whatsapp on (+62 8 22 3873 4552).

As I find the dive sites of northeast Kri the most impressive, I will definetly stay near Corepen or Kri for my third stay. Either with Corepen again if Maria is confirmed to be back or maybe with Warahnus Dive Homestay behind Kri (haven’t tried them myself but like the setting of the homestay).

You can find other homestays offering diving through stayrajaampat.com.

Typically Arborek Dive Shop charges a surcharge to go diving near Kri and operators near Kri charges a surcharge to take you diving with the Manta near Arborek (unless the boat has enough divers to make the trip profitable for them anyway).

Diving with resorts or liveaboards

I don’t have experience with both options. If you are not familiar with the area, here are the resorts that comes on top of my mind :

Expect to pay at least 2000 USD per week per person.

If I was to splurge, I guess I would be more inclined to dive with a liveboard and explore more remote areas like Misool or Wayag. Trips are usually 7 to 10 days starting and ending directly in Sorong.

Sightseeings in Raja Ampat

The postcard views : Pianemo & Wayag

By far the most famous views of Raja Ampat feature those impressive karstic rocks sprouting out of the pristine water.

There are actually 2 sites :

  • Pianemo in Fam islands (closer to accommodations)
  • Wayag (far off Gam, more impressive but expensive to reach)

Pianemo viewpoint

Pianemo makes a good day trip (which I did in 2017, combined with 2 dives nearby). Back in 2017, boats from Kri/Gam to Pianemo were charged somewhere between 3 and 6 millions IDR.

Near Pianemo, Rufas island has grown in popularity on Instagram. You can stay in a homestay in the lagoon (look for Rufas island on stayrajaampat) :

Wayag viewpoint

This is the view that you see all the time on official campaigns by the Ministry of Tourism. It’s taken by drone :