Raja Ampat – A Paradise with all its Pros and Cons

I am sitting on the floor of the hut called restaurant that is like all the huts here built on piles and enjoy the view over the sea. Maybe I am lucky and get to see the dolphins passing by again in the distance or even the baby sharks in the shallow water just beneath me. Tobi and Etienne benefit from the low tide and are off looking for a coconut to crack. Kathi is swinging in the hammock in front of her bungalow and is digging her nose in an apparently interesting book. That’s about how we spend our afternoons in Raja Ampat. The mornings are usually filled with two absolutely impressive dives with and unbelievably rich biodiversity. We are entertained daily with reef sharks, turtles, barracudas, seahorses, octopus and thousands of fish playing in the beautiful corals. Sometimes we also get treated with lesser known animals like Wobbegong Sharks, Ebolek Sharks or Ghost Pipe fish. Even if there is a day when the underwater residents don’t feel like showing off, there are plenty of beautiful corals to marvel at. Sometimes you even feel like the coral gardens are artificially planted like this with the single purpose of pleasing their visitors. But of course, these corals are the natural living environment and give shelter to the seemingly eternal number of animals underwater. Meanwhile, Etienne and Tobi managed to open the coconut and are generously offering some fresh coconut water to Kathi and me. The sky is slowing changing its colors and paints the turquoise and deep blue water with layers of pink and purple. Slowly the „Restaurant“ at Corepen Homestay gets  livelier with the guests gathering around the big table. Dinner time is usually around 7.30pm but the really nice people at the homestay tend to appear early to chat, exchange the discoveries of this day’s dives or to speculate about Raja Ampat’s future development.

Kri Island

Kri Island

 

Accommodation and Transport in Raja

The archipelago Raja Ampat is part of Indonesia’s most eastern state West Papua. It can be reached through Sorong (on West Papua) by boat. Visitors can choose from three different accommodation options: Eco Resorts, Homestays or Liveaboards. The cheapest option and therefore the one we chose are the Homestays. Typically a homestay in Raja Ampat consists of bamboo bungalows for two people, a shared toilet, a shared „Mandi“ (Bucket of water for the daily shower) and a restaurant area where all the guests enjoy three meals a day. We think it is great that most of the Homestays belong to local people what makes them unique and gave us at least some insights in the Raja culture. Where we loved the fact, that these Homestay are not like the universally look alike resorts, we still could clearly feel tourism expanding and guess that these islands will change a lot. We came across several situations that lead us to this assumption. For example, were we quite surprised to find 10 bungalows on our arrival at Corepen Homestay instead of the expected two. We got the information about all the Homestays on stayrajaampat.com. The information there gets updated regularly, but it seems like the homestay just built more bungalows since the last visit of the site owners. Also, explained the dive master Sandy that there were a lot more visitors in Raja Ampat than last year and that he hadn’t had a single day off since the start of the season in November. He said that were there were last year not more than 10 Liveaboards at one spot, there might now already be 17 sometimes. So, we figured that the amount of people visiting increased a lot in the last year. However, tourism develops, we just hope that Sorong and Raja Ampat find a way for garbage disposal, preferably a sustainable one of course, so that despite the increase in tourism and the amount of garbage this under and over water paradise can remain exactly that.

Another indicator for the growth of tourism in this is the price for transportation. Prices for boat transfers vary regarding to distance and motor power/size of the boat. Transfer prices from Waisai to the Homestays are usually displayed on the homepages. These prices can be used as an indicator on how much another boat ride should cost. The transfer from Waisai to Kri for example cost us 800 000 Rupia ($55). In relation to prices on other places in Indonesia this price is extremely high. In addition, there are also homestays that try to get even more out of a trip to an island or snorkel spot. Almost at the end of our trip to Raja Ampat we stayed at Byrie Homestay for two nights and wanted to get to Dugong homestay on Batanta. The homestay wanted to charge us 1.2 Mio. Rupia for the ride in the small long boat. Luckily, we knew that this ride could not be more than 30 minutes and that this price was just not fair. We managed to bargain the price down to 700 000 Rupia (49$) and this was still way too much for the 20 minutes ride. But what else could we had done without any access to another place nor any phone reception? 🙂

 

Paradise without luxury

Meanwhile, it got dark at the homestay and soon after the light turned on. The generator will donate electricity until midnight and allows the guests to enjoy their dinner in the dim light of the three lamps hanging from the ceiling. For me this is the sign to put away my laptop and take the opportunity to charge all our devices. Dinner is served now anyway already and I join the others on one of the two long wooden benches at the table. For dinner there is rice, water spinach, fried tempe, fish and boiled eggs. The food is always very good and very similar. Raja Ampat indeed is an island paradise. The ones who expect luxury here though will be badly disappointed. Once arrived on one of the islands there are hardly any options to buy luxury goods like. cold drinks, milk powder or fruits. There is what the homestay offers. For breakfast, there is usually fried bananas, fried pancakes or cake. Two times we were offered fried rice and one time even toast with fried eggs. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the food we enjoyed. It just gets kind of boring after a while. But hey! We are in paradise! Who care if there is boring food.

Kri and Mansour Island

Kri and Mansour Island

 

 Adventurous Nights

After everyone had enough of the lovely food it is almost bed time already. But as everyone is getting up around 6.00am again, it is quite all right to be asleep early. On the islands, it never gets boring. Even at night there is a lot of entertainment. At the first homestay we stayed at, the rats in our bungalows and the Cuscus on the roof gave us a fright. But after the first night we were ok with them and just accepted that they belong to the beautiful islands just as much as the dolphins, fish, manta rays or butterflies. At the second homestay, our nightly rest wasn’t disturbed by animals. Only the waves clutching on the hut reaching half way over the water were quite loud. I know this sounds very picky and I don’t want to complain at all, but they are actually quite loud. The next homestay was quiet and didn’t have any big animals. Instead there were some nasty insects around. We didn’t expect the scorpion running away from the mosquito net as we lifted it at all! We had no idea wether this scorpion was venomous or not, but we didn’t want to take the risk and got rid of him. At the last homestay we stayed at we „enjoyed“ the probably loudest frog concert we ever heard. They started with the sunset and didn’t give up with their sounds until noon. Maybe their concert was for the full moon and not for us after all. Who knows. Anyways, on these islands you daily realize that you are in tropical nature.

Cuscus - © Etienne Baume

Cuscus – © Etienne Baume

Diving in Raja Ampat

We spent another good night’s sleep at Corepen Homestay, rolled off our memory foam mattress and crawled out of the mosquito net. After a piece of fried banana for breakfast and a coffee with a lot of grounds we headed over to the dive shop next to our hut. Raja Ampat’s dive sites just have to be some of the most beautiful ones in the world their richness of corals and kinds. In general, it is not advised to dive at these sites as beginners as there are often strong currents that require a minimum of dive experience and buoyancy. In fact, the currents are no problem as long as divers are instructed on what to do in a certain situation. During our stay, we went diving with two different dive shops and realized that the information provided by the dive guides about the sites as well as their support under water is very limited. However, on our first day with Yenkoranu dive shop we didn’t know about the diving habits in Raja Ampat and were a little surprised to say the least. The small boats get set up with tanks, BCDs and regulators. The rest has to be set up by the diver on his own. This of course wouldn’t be a problem at all, as long as you know what you are supposed to do. Once everyone is on board, we head out. Does everyone have their Nature Reserve Entry Tag? What we need to bring that with us today? Fine. We head back and let everyone lacking their entry tags get them. But now we really head out. We arrive at the dive site and the captain helps a few divers to get their tanks on. All set? Ok. One, two, three – jump. Everyone in the water? Ok. Go down. That’s about how our diving took place in Raja Ampat. What we would have expected was a briefing prior the dives to let us know how the currents are, in which direction we are going to dive, who we should buddy up with or similar information. We were four people and knew each other well. Like that it was easy to support us mutually. Anyway, as soon as we knew how everything was working there and we knew that we couldn’t rely on the guides it was no problem at all. We checked our air, let the guide know when we started to run out of air or just initiated the safety stop ourselves. So, we assume that it is more the lack of support while diving that makes Raja Ampat to a dive site for the more advanced divers. With a proper briefing and support underwater this underwater world is perfectly accessible for the less experienced divers as well. During our stay we met quite a few people that had only 7 – 15 dives of experience and they did manage. We recommend everyone travelling to Raja Ampat to check their dive shops carefully on the spot. Out of the two dive shops we were diving with, Corepen Diving (South Gam) was our favorite. The dive master Sandy and the dive shop’s co-owner Maria are very reliable and professional. So, we definitely recommend diving with them. Yenkoranu Diving on Kri was good as well and is to recommend for all the more experienced divers. There, we had with our 40 to 120 dives by far less experience than all the others. What I didn’t mention so far is the absolutely incredible snorkeling around Raja Ampat. You don’t miss out on anything as long as you don’t mind seeing it from above. While snorkeling we saw turtles, sharks, octopus, squids, huge napoleon wrasses, tiny pipe fish and of course an enormous amount of corals and small fish. You can even come across some manta rays while snorkeling! Therefore, it is not a must to dive in Raja Ampat. It is an amazing adventure to snorkel too and is even cheaper.

 

Soon, we return from two amazing dives and enjoy the already served lunch. In the afternoon, we have a look at the pictures, hoping to have taken some good shots from what we saw on the dives. We had an amazing stay on Raja Ampat and appreciate it a lot to have been able to experience almost a month with very limited consumption. We deeply hope that Raja Ampat stays as close to nature and rustic as it is now and that mass tourism doesn’t find its way to these beautiful islands for a looong time. Nevertheless, we are looking forward to tomorrow morning in Sorong, where there will be toast for breakfast.

Plan your trip

All the information on Raja Ampat we collected on stayrajaampat.com. The site owners give up to date information on all the questions about travelling there and are the best source of information for planning a trip.