Raja Ampat, or the island of Four Kings is located in the extreme far eastern corner of Indonesia – at the edge of bird’s head island of Papua. One should that half the island of Papua comes under Indonesia and the other half is a separate country called Papua New Guinea (PNG). Overall, the island of Papua has been (in)famous for its last cannibal tribes (not sure if they still do it) but they definitely have the highest concentration of different tribes. And being discovered much later in the 20th Century, way later than the Amazon tribes, and not much interferance by westerners (except for conversion to christianity in some places) their customs, beliefs and language are still very much alive. They are also known for some amazing Bird life (read Birds of Paradise) and called the most bio-diversity rich spot for marine life on Earth. Raja Ampat is that place, and that’s why we visited it in April 2017.
Visa : none (Indonesia is visa-free for 30 days on tourism for Indians)
Flights : To reach Raja Ampat, one must fly into the airport at Sorong and then take a three hour ferry across to Waisai (the biggest island of Raja Ampat). From there one must arrange pickup from their homestays/resorts as a smaller boat transfer would be done and there are no ferries further.
How to reach Sorong is a bit tricky – there are now direct flights to Sorong from Bali, Jakarta (quite long 6hrs+ flight), Manado and Makassar (in Sulawesi island). Flying in from Bangalore we got the cheapest deal on this route : Bangalore-Chennai-Kuala Lumpur-Makassar-Sorong (4 flights one way) and same way return. We flew on AirAsia which gave us the cheapest deal at around 30k INR return for all flights. However going via Bali might be faster/much better option as town of Makassar has nothing much to do and Bali can be a good stopover to spend few days sightseeing. Internal Indonesian flights are best searched through an indonesian flight search engine (I recommend nusatrip.com) and if you are getting good fares on Garuda Indonesia (which is the official carrier of Indonesia and operates a full meals flight) take that as compared to other smaller operators. Flight from India (or your country) to Jakarta/Bali/Makassar can be checked on any reputed search engine as they are international routes.
Cash: It is advised to exchange your USD/EUR to Indonesian Rupiah before reaching the islands, even better to get it done on Bali or Makassar to get better rates. There is no ATM/money exchange on the islands – some homestays might exchange USD but at a poor rate. So better keep some estimate of your spendings and exchange accordingly. Since we were mostly diving and our homestays prices were also known beforehand, we exchange as much as we could.
Day by Day plan:
Day 0 : took BLR – Chennai – KL late night flights
Day 1 : KL to Makassar flight, reached Makassar, went to city and stayed there. already had a hostel booked which was decent enough. Nothing much to do in Makassar except walk to the beach.
Day 2 : early morning flight to Sorong – we flew via Batik Air (small planes but they served food which was good). Reached Sorong around 10am, took a yellow shared taxi (walk outside the airport and take it from the main road) to the ferry point. We got to know that there was a ferry at 9am which already left and the next one is at 2pm. So we decided to do a few more things – got local simcard with preloaded data since thats the only way to get some internet on the islands. Homestays are pretty basic and its better to carry something of your own. Get some drinks and snacks which will we hard to find on the islands as well. We took the 2pm ferry which put us in Waisai by 4:30pm, our homestay guys were already waiting there and we hopped onto their boat and reached homestay on Kri Island in another 30 minutes.
Day 3-6 : diving around Kri Island. most of the best sites in Raja Ampat are around the Kri island hence it was a good and cheap base to visit them. Highly recommended are Cape Kri, Melissa’s Garden and our favourite – Mike’s Point. The more dives you do the more chances to see Wobbegong sharks – for which Raja Ampat is famous. We first saw them on our second dive and then kept seeing 2-3 in every dive. Would also recommend to do the night dive as there are photo-plankton in the water which light up during night as the boat moves – its a magical experience in itself. On Day 6 evening we had coordinated with our homestay/diveshop in Arborek island to pick us up from Kri island. He arrived in a motor-driven-longboat at around 4pm and we reached Arborek 2 hours later. Why we took so much time? Because on the way we spotted a whale and a manta ray breaching, somersaulting and playing around and took a lot of time making videos. That was an amazing memory! 🙂
Later we found out that it was a rare variety of whale called the Omura Whales.
Day 7-9 : diving around Arborek island – best sites are Manta Sandy and Manta Ridge. Also we managed a trip to Fam Islands – which are beautiful cluster of Karst islands and even more amazing locations to dive at. On 9th day we managed to do a special trip to The Passage and Mangrove forests scuba diving which was another amazing experience. We then took a long boat to Waisai and reached at around 5pm. Some impromptu contacts made in the past days has landed us up with contact of a birding guide who could take us for spotting Birds of Paradise, somewhere deep in Waisai. We met him at the port and drove to Waisai in a taxi. He had his own homestay and we stayed there for the night.
Day 10 : woke up really early morning (4am) for the bird spotting. After walking for 2 hours in dark in the deep rainforest, and two unsuccessful attempts of catching it, we managed to spot a juveline Wilson’s Bird of Paradise. While returning we saw loads of more bird life like cuckatoos, parrots, hornbills and much more. All in all it was a worthy sidetrip from diving. We reached back Waisai by taking another taxi and took the 2pm ferry back which put us un Sorong by 4pm. Checked into a hotel right infront of the airport and relaxed.
Day 11 : Sorong – Makassar – KL flights
Day 12 : KL- Chennai – BLR morning flights
Kri Island – Yenkoranu homestay, can be reached and booked via here. diving is also done with the in-house dive shop. Their dive masters are all local and highly recommended.
Arborek Island – Arborek Dive shop, stay can be arranged through them. contact via here