Raja Ampat Diving
The archipelago of Raja Ampat is identified as one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, with an incredible range of marine life, including 16 species of whale and dolphin regularly seen in the region. Reef and oceanic manta rays gracefully dance at current-swept sites while pygmy seahorse and bobtail squid are found in sandy bays. It is truly one of the best places to dive on the planet.
Diving in Raja Ampat
In Indonesia’s West Papua province, Raja Ampat - the Four Kings - is an archipelago comprising over 1,500 small islands, cays and shoals surrounding the four main islands of Misool, Salawati, Batanta, and Waigeo. It has been described by scientists as the place with the richest marine life on Earth, with over 1,500 known fish species and 75% of the world’s corals found here - and there is still more being discovered!
Raja Ampat diving has been described by many as ‘truly unforgettable’, with hard and soft corals competing for space on reefs that are bursting with life and colour and drift dives in sweeping currents. The warm waters are home to manta cleaning stations teeming with manta rays - both reef manta ray and oceanic - as well as abundant numbers of shark. In addition to the endemic species called the walking shark (epaulette shark), you’ll find rare species of wobbegong shark and black-tip, white-tip and grey reefs. The macro-enthusiasts of the group will also be delighted to find nudibranch of almost every colour, as well as a whole host of shrimps and crabs. There are relaxed diving conditions for those who like to take it easy as well as strong current diving ideal for those who like a little adventure.
The journey to Raja Ampat can be tough but it is guaranteed to be worth it. Wherever you fly from you have to get into Sorong, which is the closest Indonesian city in West Papua and the gateway to Raja Ampat. From Sorong, divers need to make their way to Sorong harbour and then to their island of choice. Scuba diving in Raja Ampat is mostly based around Waigeo, the main island, and where most of the dive resorts and guest houses are located. Misool has an eco-focused dive resort with a dive centre but usually, the southern region of Raja Ampat is accessed via liveaboard. There are plenty of liveaboards to choose from.
Best time to dive
Most Indonesian liveaboards visit Raja Ampat during the months of October until the end of April, although it is possible to find a few boats running trips throughout the year. The Papua provinces of Indonesia have two rainy seasons - one in November through to December and again in May through to September. Although the November - December period has little impact on diving in the region, during the months of July to mid-September, strong winds and rain can cause rough seas, causing boats to schedule different areas to visit and some of the dive resorts to close.
It is possible to enjoy scuba diving in West Papua all-year-round since several boats leave the islands of Raja Ampat and move to Cenderawasih Bay - where divers can find whale sharks at any time of the year. October through to April is the period when plankton blooms reduce visibility but bring greater numbers of manta rays to feed in the nutrient-dense waters.
Types of diving
Raja Ampat is a huge area and home to innumerable dive sites which offer diverse topography and marine life. The archipelago is in the middle of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and as a result, significant currents run through the region. Experienced divers will be thrilled to have the opportunity to drift in currents at sites such as Cape Kri and Keruo Channel where it is recommended to be at least an advanced diver before tackling the currents - become advanced and soon you’ll find yourself flying while underwater!
In the central region, at Manta Ridge divers can expect the appearance of from 5 to 30 manta rays, where the mantas come to be cleaned by cleaner wrasse and black eye thick lips. While sailing the waters surrounding Misool, Magic Mountain is the manta cleaning station, where the mantas utilise a submerged pinnacle at 7-metres as their not-so-private bathing spot. To get your fill of macro life, Sel Pele is a very large bay located on the western side of Waigeo Island, and renowned as the best place in Raja Ampat for critter hunting.
Surrounding the Fabiacet island group, deep pinnacles, coral-encrusted walls and sandy plateaus can be explored while elsewhere, there are caverns, tunnels and canyons. Liveaboard diving in Raja Ampat is mostly conducted around Misool, where several water caves can be witnessed. Visits to the northern region of Raja Ampat are less common yet there are some boats that travel there.
What to see
Raja Ampat dive sites are thriving with diversity and abundance. There are a variety of cephalopods found in the Raja Ampat waters, with everything from the beautiful but lethal blue-ringed octopus to the intricate flashing patterns of cuttlefish. The 5-cm long Berry’s bobtail squid can be found on sandy areas noticeable by its iridescent blue-green body. In fire urchins, zebra crab can be spotted while sandy rubble can be searched for peacock mantis shrimp, flying gurnards, gobies, and blennies.
Pygmy seahorse can be found clinging to gorgonian sea fans, the full range of ghost pipefish - robust, harlequin, halimeda -, as well as a vast array of nudibranch, can be spotted. Look out for frogfish sitting motionless in their host sponges and several crustaceans including, big coral crabs, porcelain crabs and spiny lobsters. Night dives promise additional rare finds such as orangutan crabs and the beautiful Spanish dancer nudibranch.
While scuba diving in Raja Ampat, divers will find many areas which boast enormous schools of fish and regular sightings of sharks, such as the wobbegong shark. White-tip, black-trip and grey reef sharks are also known to the area as well as the endemic walking shark, which scoots along the seabed using its pectoral fins. At areas like Mansuar, it’s highly likely to encounter large squadrons of manta rays and sea turtles, including the hawksbill turtle and green turtle.
Some of the most sought-after species to get a close-up look at Raja Ampat are the shy and gentle dugong. Spotting a dugong in the wild is a rare and wonderful experience but with luck, you’ll find one grazing in Raja Ampat’s seagrass meadows. Often while on a liveaboard, divers will get the chance to don their snorkelling gear for some unforgettable interaction with resident pods of dolphins and perhaps even some passing whales.
Best places to dive
Located in Raja Ampat’s northern region, Cape Kri holds the world record as the dive site with the largest number of species found in one single dive! The reef is a kaleidoscope of colour with vibrant soft and hard corals that create an incredible coral garden. Situated at the crossroads of different currents, diving here is drifting effortlessly with the current surrounded by abundant fish life, such as dogtooth tuna, barracuda, and white-tip reef sharks. Also with sweeping currents, The Passage dive site in southern Raja Ampat is a corridor between the two islands of Wayilbatan and Walib. Pygmy seahorse and various nudibranch are seen at the coral-encrusted wall while schools of yellowtail barracuda, mobula rays and passing squadrons of eagle rays are witnessed in the channel.
Found in the Jet Fam Islands, Melissa’s Garden is the best spot in the area for regular sightings of the weird and wonderful tasselled wobbegong shark, as well as great barracuda and the occasional manta ray. The dive site features an oval-shaped reef with a flat top and extended areas of the coral garden that impress divers with their intense colours. A site with the chance to see the incredible oceanic manta ray is Blue Magic. Located in the Dampier Strait, the pinnacle reef in the open ocean finds oceanic manta ray visiting the site to feed on the plankton-rich waters. Huge tornadoes of jacks, swirling schools of hunting barracuda, and even the wobbegong shark can be seen.
The Cross Wreck is one of Raja Ampat’s most accessible wrecks. The dive site takes its name from the cross, buried 18-metres deep in the sand, that marks the landing of the first Christian missionaries to Raja Ampat. The Japanese boat sunk during WWII and now lies upright, encrusted in coral and home to a plethora of marine life. Critters that have made the wreck their home are lionfish, moray eel, numerous nudibranch species and the Napoleon wrasse. It’s possible to enter the operations room and the pantry of the wreck.
Sardine Reef, located on Kri Island, is the site of a very large underwater pinnacle, with a reef top at around 5-metres and gentle sloping sides that end on the sandy seabed found at 25-metres. The current splits at this site, inviting large schools of fusilier, jacks, rainbow runners, batfish and trevally but surprisingly - no sardines! When you’re not looking at the tightly packed schools of fish, this is a great site for macro life including nudibranch, pygmy seahorse, octopus and cuttlefish.