Raja Ampat in Indonesian Papua is not one of the most frequently visited scuba diving areas in the world which is strange since almost everyone who knows anything about the area agrees that there can surely be nowhere better on earth. Boasting the highest marine diversity on the planet, beautiful topside scenery and awesome underwater topography, diving the Raja Ampat islands is as close as you can get to an underwater heaven.
Not many Indonesian liveaboards cover the Raja Ampat scuba diving sites around West Papua, making the exploration of this fabulous area even more special. Some of the highlights include the innumerable war wrecks, both ships and planes (with new wrecks being discovered constantly), encounters with dolphins, and the simplicity of drifting effortlessly over some of the most pristine and fascinating coral scenes imaginable.
Everyone has their own special spots but no liveaboard trip would be complete without checking out Cape Kri. If you want lots of big stuff and to be enveloped by fish then roll in here and both desires will soon be sated. Meaty Queensland groupers, sharks, snappers, Napoleon wrasse, barracuda, dogtooth tuna, trevallies, you name it ... They are all here and they are all here in numbers.
This is also a great place for divers to spot wobbegongs, the curious tassled shark mostly seen in Australia, but you should also take time to study gorgonian fans for pygmy seahorses clinging to its branches.
By contrast Misool Island, in the southern section of the Raja Ampat islands, is all about investigation through the holes and tunnels where lie all manner of macro wonders. No swirling schools here but rather soft corals galore and critters by the bucketful such as sea horses and ghost pipefish. Great by day, unbelievable by night.
Misool is home to an astonishingly colourful reef-scene, considered by some to be unbeatable. The slopes and walls are bedecked in soft corals in a kaliedoscope of colours.
Bird Wall is one of the best sites around Waigeo, an island that plays an important role in any Raja Ampat liveaboard that tours the northern region. On the south of the island, this sloping reef makes a great investigative dive with cuttlefish, pipefish, Indian lionfish and a variety of nudibranchs all waiting to be found.
Larger creatures known to frequent the area include green turtles, mappa pufferfish, Napolean wrasse and jacks, while the eagle-eyed may pick out a couple of pygmy seahorses and sea dragons.
Fabiacet is another dive site that you won't want to come up from. The 4 islets are home to large groupers and large schools of various snapper species. You'll be dazzled by the schools of fusiliers and surgeonfish, overwhelmed by the masses of triggerfish and bannerfish, and in awe of the numerous Napoleon wrasse, bumphead parrotfish, turtles and occassional great hammerhead.
Deeper sections are home to huge sea fans of purple, lilac and pink in areas where orange-spotted trevally hunt fusiliers in sudden flashes of motion. When the current is running the inter-island channels can be great spots for watching the big fish action.
The Jef Fam Group is in central region of Raja Ampat, to the west of Batanta Island, so it's quite likely that you'll visit it whether you are joining a southern or northern cruise route. It's quite a large area with some impressive cabbage corals, sheet corals and mushroom corals, and worth several dives. What makes Jef Fam special is its diversity of marine encounters.
At the larger sized end of the animal spectrum, it is the best place to find wobbegongs. You can also see huge giant clams, Spanish mackerel, great barracuda and manta rays. At the smaller end of the scale, Jef Fam hosts pygmy seahorses, mimic octopus, crabs and shrimps of every shape and size, and spine-cheek anemonefish.
Manta Ridge is a popular central site, thanks to a cleaning station which delivers some awesome manta ray action to scuba divers who lucky enough to be there. This is one of the best dive spots in Raja Ampat to see mantas with regularity, in such impressive numbers and partaking in interesting behaviour.
In current, you may have to hook into place at only about 6m depth, before enjoying the show which includes some almost pure black mantas, some barrelling, and all seemingly unconcerned by the audience. Bumphead parrotfish and turtles, which might otherwise be the stars of the show, often go barely noticed here.
When your small group stops at a site where there are no other divers you will feel like a pioneer slipping into waters that you feel you are the first to dive. Amazing quantities of fish as well as beautiful topside topography and critters in their millions, your memories of diving in Raja Ampat will stay with you forever.
Dive The World Indonesia's Recommendations: Fabiacet, Farondi Island, Misool and Manta Ridge.
More detailed information available on the Raja Ampat dive sites on our www.dive-the-world.com website.
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Raja Ampat is simply superb for diving just about all year round, although some of the liveaboards only operate here part of the year. Rainy season is generally May to September when showers and some surface swells are more likely. However, the weather is tropical so all times of the year can see occasional showers between sunny periods.
Liveaboards that visit the regions of Raja Ampat depart from Sorong. Sorong is also the town from which resorts will collect and transfer you to your vacation accommodation. Flights to Sorong can be accessed from Bali or Jakarta and are often via Ujung Pandang or Manado.
Great for: Reef life and health, large and small animals, underwater photography, advanced divers
Not so great for: Non-diving activities
Depth: 5 - >40m
Visibility: 10 - 30m
Currents: Can be strong
Surface Conditions: Calm
Water Temperature: 27 - 30°C
Experience Level: Intermediate - advanced
Number of dive sites: Unknown but >200
Distance: ~1,200 km north east of West Timor (60 hours)
Access: Liveaboard cruises from West Papua
Recommended length of stay: 10 - 16 days
Other sites that can be visited on a liveaboard cruise through Raja Ampat: