F.A.Q Raja Ampat Boat Trip
Raja Ampat lies directly across the equator, and equatorial weather is not so seasonally defined, and so we often get 4 seasons in one day, beautiful sunshine, amazing thunderstorms, wild winds for 30 minutes, then dead calm. If you are into spectacular weather, come to the equator. Living on the water keeps things a lot cooler… 31-33C. You never get super-hot, like 39C, nor too is it cold, but it does get humid. After rain, when it’s calm, humidity rises fast, and it can get sweaty, but be assured, weather changes fast, and it’s never too sticky too long.Raja Ampat lies directly across the equator, and equatorial weather is not so seasonally defined, and so we often get 4 seasons in one day, beautiful sunshine, amazing thunderstorms, wild winds for 30 minutes, then dead calm. If you are into spectacular weather, come to the equator. Living on the water keeps things a lot cooler… 31-33C. You never get super-hot, like 39C, nor too is it cold, but it does get humid. After rain, when it’s calm, humidity rises fast, and it can get sweaty, but be assured, weather changes fast, and it’s never too sticky too long.
But if you get wind and rain combo, naturally you need something plastic. They have season of more wind, bluer skies, and more wave action in the middle of the year, July- Sept, when South East winds are stronger. The dive boats all tend to migrate in and out from October to April, and they promote a story that the weather is best at Christmas, which is only partly true, given you still get good rains in peak season, but in reality, most dive boats head to Komodo mid-year, and have no idea what a lovely place they leave vacant mid-year.
Usboaties say there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad wet weather gear. But you rarely get weather that needs any fancy gear. A mild cloud cover at time, often adds a cooling effect that fun.
You will get spectacularly beautiful days, and rainy periods, and cloud, and then more sunshine, as this is just how it is, on the equator. Expect and accept a big variety of weather.
Many people see all the social media press about terrible things happening in West Papua.
The important thing is to check dates on atrocity photos, as since President Jokowi took over, Jakarta has been trying to build bridges to Papua, and Jokowi has good support in Papua, and pours money to West Papua.
The giant paranoia of Indonesia, even under Dutch rule, is that its Republic breaks up, as for example, what happened in East Timor ( which today is now ‘free’ but totally impoverished and subject to rampant corruption) and a break-up is Indonesia’s greatest worry, (with good reason, as many regions still want independence, driven by the usual local political aspirants).
So raising the OPM independence flag is a crime, albeit you can sew it onto your back pack, or wear it all over you T shirt, without issue.
For near on 30 years, there has been spirited armed separatist groups waging occasional armed attacks on Govt and contractor teams, with a ferocious response by the army. None of this armed stuff occurs in Raja Ampat, and Sorongis very peaceful.
We get annoyed when Australia, who governed the east side of Papua(PNG), criticize Jakarta for crimes in West Papua, when the Australian proxy rule of PNG created a far more dangerous, desperate, and semi failed state. We have lived on both sides of Papua where it is blatantly obvious, that life on the Indonesia side is way more easy going in terms or cost of living, crime, cuisine, housing and jobs availability. Ps Aussie activists, under proxy Aussie rule in PNG, 70% of women get sexually assaulted. Not so West Papua.
Indonesia is one of the safest countries on earth, in terms of crime stats. You will encounter littlerf no signs of the disputes from separatists on the islands of Raja Ampat, which are a Melanesian, Christian, and gentle society. A quirky survey of all nations on earth, recently put Indonesians as the most chilled mob on earth.
But in the past, terrible things have indeed happened under more militaristic ruler ship in Jakarta, under Suharto, then SBY, but times have changed.
Stories of phosphorous type bombs being used on insurgents, headlining around the world, were total nonsense. But hey, when 20 separatists launch attacks, the govt response is brutal, just as happenes all over the planet.
We invite you to come and see for yourself, and ask our Papuan crew, whatdo they think. For sure they will express desire for whatever extra autonomy they can negotiate, as is the case all throughout the Indonesian archipelago, but there are sizeable benefits of being part of an economy of such huge and low cost proportions. Please see things in their historical context, as maybe 70 years ago Indonesia was more diverse that Europe, with way more cultural and language groups than Europe, and if the difficulties inside the European Union are an example, the same applies in Indonesia, it’s not one big homogenous group of 260,000,000 people.
All eastern Indonesia has Malaria, but on the actual islands of Raja Ampat, the issue is very contained because there are very few mosquitos there, and also, they are fairly vigilant at a local level. We spend 80% of our time in fully natural locations, where human carriers do not exist.
You need to be cautious at dusk in Waisai, and Sorong, and for example,Waisai is set on the edge of a very wet jungle, so be a little more cautious there if visiting, but not paranoid.
Just bring some repellant for these nights, albeit most local and most visitors do not bother.
These days, Artemisa can quickly almost cure Malaria, but it is not easily available in Indonesia, so if you are worried, bring some.
We do not need mosi net on our trip, as their bites are rare, and should not be confused with a possible sand fly bite, on some beaches at dusk.
In short, be careful at dusk in Sorong, but once on the boat, the risks are super low.
Waisai has a fairly new built, ‘colonial verandah’ type of hospital, with maybe 20 building and reasonable equipment, and having used it ourselves, we found it very friendly, very cheap, quite sweet, an generally OK. There is a better hospital in Sorong, and if you are really in bad way, head to Bali, or back to your home city. Doctors in Waisai are rare, so head straight to the hospital for help. If it’s a big wound needing tending, it’s best to find the fastest boat in the area, and get them to zip you back to Sorong or Waisia, as the island clinics have next to know professional medical help.
Costs of medical help in the Indonesian hospital is very inexpensive, so if you stay away from insurers scam hospital like BIMC, you can be weeks in hospital, at very low cost. In fact the cheapest room and board in Waisai is at theirhospital .
Our boat carries a decent small first aid kit, but if you need stiches, it best to get a speedboat back to town. We have anepi pen, antibiotics etc.
The most common problem is ear ache from swimmers ear, and the solution is simple, do not come to Raja Ampat with dirty ears, have them cleaned, and if worried, rinse with ear drops, peroxide or whatever.
You will be snorkeling a lot, so whist many of us never clean our ears, it’s a good idea to give them a sparkle up before you come, so get a cotton wool bud.
If you get in a serious, semi unconscious state, you will need evac, and at maybe $US50,000, this is the primarily purpose of travel insurance. Do not think however, that Indonesia 2019, has no decent medical services. It’s changing fast.
The boat has a $1,000,000 public liability cover, but unless we are negligent, a normal accident or illness will not have any call on this cover.
Raja Ampat has a “Melanesian” population, a Papuan coastal community, unlike the highland Papans, and very similar to Pacific communities, and it has an enthusiastic, Protestant, Christian religious movement, with a little islander, evangelical theme.
The islands is all overlaid by an Indonesian regime, delivering the Indonesian diets, telecoms, cheap goods and services, and very active democracy.
We personally see this community as the most loveable in Indonesia, and it is nothing like the Muslim communities in terms of, for example, loud mosques at 5am, women in Arabic clothes, and male dominance.
There are now the start of communities of half Papuan, half Indonesian Asian, and some of the kids are nothing short of fashion magazine glams, albeit not giving a damn about beauty. These half Papuan, half Asian communities are more found in the cities, and less so on the islands, which tend to be traditional Papuan. Note, within Papuan society, there is a big difference between the friendly coastal Melanesian groups, and the traditionally more isolated and warring highlanders.
Most remote communities in Indonesia still have a strong streak of animism, spirit and ancestor worship and these are their imported religions, and for example Jesus meets a bit of local belief in Raja Ampat, in things like graveyards.
We will take you inside these sleepy, chilled villages, where kids are en mass, and we bet you will enjoy the calm vibe these lovely, orderly little villages give off.
The arrival city of Sorong and postWaisai have good 4G. About 85% of the Dampier Straight has 3 or 4G, and the last night island stay at Friwen Island has OK 4G if you are on the east or south end of the islands.
As we move up Kabui bay, we lose internet, and we get small hit of internet at we pass Mutus Island both coming and going from Wayag. There is sms signal and voice coverage even at Wayag’s ranger station, but not internet. On our trips, there will be 3 days without internet, and you would be amazed how it changes life aboard. So day 1 = 65% of the day with internet…Day 2 = just messages flooding in, Day 3 and day 4 = just SMS, Day 5, some small bandwidth internet, and Day 6 = full cover.
Can you cope with a few days offline ha ha?
It’s good we at least have sms nearly all the time. You can buy a local Telkom SIM card for under 5 Euros, and then buy over 10gig of data for a month for maybe 10 euros, so if you can use a local SIM, give ita try. They are sold at airports.
The boat has 220v from generator or solar with inverted, and we tend to charge by day when we have solar power, and not at night when batteries are busy.
The homestays have just a little generator power at night. The plug is a silly Indonesian, dangerously earthed plug, and so an adaptor is needed, noting on the boat, mots outlets are universal plug, and we have USB outlets for charging phones.
Most people visit at the end of the year, but this can also be wet, but note please, this is the equator, and weather can deliver 3 or 4 seasons in one day.
It’s windier and sunnier mid-year, so clear skies, more bumpy seas, and less rain.
The reality is, it is hot on the equator, and a little cloud cover can cool things perfectly, plus, we are in the water so much, and it always warm, so to some extent, who cares about the weather anyway.
If it gets far too windy in August, we have a lot of options to find calm areas, which may mean no trip to Wayag, but it can open up great spots at Batanta and Pyaenemo. It would take a boat 3 months to see all of Raja Ampat, so if it blows, we have lots of places to get shelter.
We operate year round, and so we almost have the place to ourselves mid-year, albeit, even in high season, we go to places where there are few if any other boats to be seem.
Come anytime or the year, but in December Jan, be prepared for peak season booking pressure.
Raja Ampat is in eastern Indonesia, on the equator, 75km off the coast of a Papuan city called Sorong.
Papua has two halves, one a former Australian colony, and semi failed state called Papua New Guinea, and the west side once known as Irian Jaya, and this Western half of Papua is ruled by Indonesia.
Geographically, Raja Ampat is at the tip of what’s looks, on a map, like a birds head , on the west side of Papua. Anawful lot of water, being pushed westwards across the Pacific, swirls past Raja Ampat, giving it the most fabulous coral diversity on planet earth.
Raja Ampat is about 1800kn north east of Bali, which is a common jump off point for what is about 5 to 6 hours of flying time, plus a transit stop in Makassar or Manado.
Flights from Jakarta are sometimes direct, and the same is true from Surabaya.
Coming in from the Northern hemisphere, you often hub through Jakarta or KL, and then fly to Sorong via Makassar or Manado. You can fly direct from outside Indonesia to Manado, the gateway airport.
When shopping for a good ticket price, DO NOT just ask, for example, Paris to Sorong. Better to target hub airports first, like KL or Singapore, as the best deals are always through the busiest airports, and then shop for the leg into Indo,( www.tiket.com is a good resource for tickets inside Indonesia).
The most reliable and comfy airline is the more expensive Garuda. There are many airlines flying into Sorong each day. Lion, Batik and Wings are all the one company, making up about 60% of the airline fleet in Indonesia, and in this group, Batik is beast, serving food, and showing videos. Lion is often the cheapest, and most cramped. Will you die on a Lion air flight? Maybe best to ask Boeing who sold them the plane that went down with faulty speed indicator, and incomplete pilot training manuals of how to deal with the plane’s fault. But yes, Lion does have issues.
Sadly there are no direct international flights into Sorong yet, albeit that will likely change, as the airport at Sorong is quite modern. Sorong airport is conveniently only 3.5km from the fast ferry to Waisai, the port for Raja Ampat, 2 hours and 75km from Sorong, (price about 6 euros). Beware there is a bit of a cartel price imposed by taxis from airport to ferry of 100,000rp, or maybe 6 Euros. You can jump on the back of a scooter for less… it’s more fun, and cheaper.
The air trip into Sorong usually involves an overnight flight that gets to Sorong between 0630, and 0730, so grab bed at one of the cheap hotels inside Makassar or Manado airport ( Ibis), if your flight from Bali/Singapore/ KL or Jakarta gets you in, in enough time to grab some sleep before the early flight take off.
To get out to the islands of Raja Ampat, there is a really great, big fast ferry, which is cheap, comfortable, sometimes crowded, and pretty reliable, unlike those useless Gili island ferries. Inside the ferry are rows of airline type seats, its air-conditioned, and for another 2 or 3 euros, you can watch daft karaoke videos of Sinead O’Conner singing, Nothing Compares 2 U…. and this is deemed first class ha ha.
The regular seat cost is 100,000IDR.
These ferries leave both Sorong and Waisai, in opposite directions, at 0900 and 1400. So if your flight is delayed, do not sweat, but be ready for a bill of about 80 Euros to get a catch up long boat, assuming if you miss the 0900, then 1400 will do. Planes a rarely late, as they are not cued up after a full day’s delay, and nearly all are the first flight out for the day, and that helps keep them ontime.If you do miss that 0900 ferry, we can arrange a pick-up, catch up long boat, but it will cost 70-90euros, as it’s a long chase.
Getting to your homestay in the actual islands of Raja Ampatfrom Waisaican be a bit confusing and expensive, as whilst the local homestays are great, and good value, getting to them is certainly not good value. So the reason why we think a boat is the best way to see Raja Ampat, is because a boat is the ONLY way to see it. Stuck in a homestay would like being kept in a waiting room for heaven.
You need a visa to enter Indonesia, and nearly all visas are issued on arrival at the airport entry. No you do not need a special permit to go to Raja Ampat, albeit maybe 20 years ago that was different. If you pay for a visa on arrival, ( as opposed to going through free) then you get the right to extend your visa to 60 days. You can buy a tourist visa in your own country’s Indo embassy, that will give you 2 months, that can then be extended to 6 months.
Every conservation group on the planet, got together with divers and locals to come up with a scheme to put an end to fishing, forestry and mining in Raja Ampat. It then got priced, with the Govt distributing monies to all effected sectors, and the hefty, but needed price to throw this layer of protection across a vast marine park ended up at 1,000,000 rupiah, or around 62 euros per visitor, per year.
The permit looks like a credit card, and you can buy it at the “Tourist Info” office, 200m from the ferry arrival dock in Waisai, where you need your passport, and you can pay with cash or card. It’s a nuisance, but once you have spent time in Raja Ampat, you may see the worth in the money, as god knows, we desperately need more protection of our oceans, so save the best bit first.
When we go to the exceptionally beautiful lagoons of Wayag, the local tribe levies another 150,000rp per person ( 1,000,000 divided by the boat guest number) and we have to show our Park entry ‘PINs’, as they call them. So we cannot dodge this requirement, sorry.
Indonesians pay half price. Young kids are free…I think under 6.
Once you buy a PIN, it is valid for a year.
The normal Indonesian rupiah is the currency of Raja Ampat, and please note, money changers are rare, and non-existent in the islands, and there are no ATMs on the actual islands, so cash up in Sorong or Waisai (10 minute taxi ride from wharf to ATM).
100,000 rupiah notes are not so handy in the small island shops selling noodles, sugar and packet goods….as smaller notes are more common.
There is a Mandiri and BNI bank branch in Waisai, with limited capacity. If you fly in at 0630, best to have go you cash needs sorted at Manado or Makassar airport.
In a word…it’s expensive. There is a sort of a vague policy in Papua, that discourages drinking, and for anyone who has been to the former Australian run Papua call PNG, it’s for a damn good reason, as cheap alcohol and Papuans are not a good mix. Just try surviving 2 hours on the streets of Port Moresby, and you will see why. By contrast, Sorong is completely safe by comparison at night.
So a box or beer that might cost say 4 units in Bali, costs 6-7 units in Sorong, and 8 units in Waisai.
Sprits or wines are very hard to come by, so bring your own, or buy from the boats, or resorts, but expect a much higher price than Bali. The local price for a tall can or beer, at one of the maybe 2 or 3 shops in Raja Ampat islands where you can buy it warm, is 50,000rp. Just beware that Raja Ampat is not one big bar restaurant like Bali.
Most of the flights out of Sorong are mid-morning, so that means most people spend their last night in Sorong, and after a week at sea, it can be fun to pamper yourself with some TV, endless shower, and arctic AC. The best hotel, in the best location, inSorong, is the Swiss Bell. The Fave is pretty good, but it’s in a drab location. The Meridien, next to the airport, is not too bad, a bit old school, but OK.
If you are on a tight budget, the 35 Inn about 150m outside the gates to the harbor is 250,000-350,000, depending on AC choice.
The resorts in Raja Ampat islands are expensive, and they are few in number, but if you have the budget, try maybe Biodiversity. ( its close to our kick of point).
On the other hand, for about 350,000 to 400,000rupiah, per person per day, including very basic meals, you can get one of a choice of nearly 100 divine little water front homestays. The fabulous website, www.stayrajaampat.com has all the homestays, and a wealth of info, all laid out in not-for-profit, truth speak.
These are our favorite homestays… on Friwen Island…not too far from Waisai, and at the entrance to Dampier straight, with a gorgeous set beaches, 20 homes, and two churches is this lovely spot.. https://www.stayrajaampat.com/accommodation/nyandetor-homestay/( next door to our boat base).
If you want the best host, great food, and a lovely village location, stay with the lovely Makusi family here on Gam https://www.stayrajaampat.com/accommodation/dore-atri-homestay/ Here you will learn all about Raja Ampat, as Martin your host, has great insights, and great English.
Kri Island has a dozens of cool homestays, as does the cute little island of Arborek.
Many of our guest stay at the FAVE in Sorong when transiting, but if you can afford it, try the Swiss Bell.
Bigkanu is not a scuba boat, we sort or pride ourselves as being a boat for the fitter, funkier, freedive crews, and we love hosting freedivers, and they love us. Good energy all around.
In reality, if you can get down 4m with mask and snorkel, you can see 80% of the underwater beauty on offer. Even if all you want to do is drift along on the surface with a snorkel, you will see amazing stuff, and so prepare to spend hours in the water, just taking it in.
Our snorkel guests actually end up being in the water, having fun, much more time that the scuba guys.
But for those who really must get a tank on, but who do not have 250-350 Euros a night for a dive liveaboard, we recommend you stay at a homestay for a couple of days, and use one of the many local dive teams, and their outboard dive boats, and go see some of the prime sites in Dampier Straight for around 40Euros a dive.
Some can survive in Raja Ampat, with a sarong and a toothbrush, but for others, try these suggestions.
If you are out in small boats, or on our stand up paddle boards, a nylon ‘rashy’ or shirt for surfing, is handy.
Bring every camera you can get your hands on. Obviously Go Pros are a winner, with underwater capacity. Raja Ampat is amongst the world’s best place to carry a drone, and DJI have models is many price brackets now, and even the cheapest one, will produce min blowing footage. We carry two.
If you fancy a comfy dive mask, spend $50 and get your own nice soft silicon mask, and you maybe want fins, but if not, do not worry as the boat has a load of fins and masks available free. On our trips, we climb 30 minutes up a rough and steep limestone gully, to that famous Wayag view, and shoes better that thongs are needed…just something you will not slip out on, when descending, otherwise, ouch ouch.
Bring music on your phone, or flash drive, and maybe a small portable speaker, or headphones, to drift off into a beautiful whatever.
A local SIM card is fun, if you want to upload photos as you travel, and chose only Simpati or Telkom SIMs, at a cost (with 10gig of data ), under 20 Euros.
In terms or clothes, don’t bring much, as most of the time, we all live in swimwear. It’s the equator.
A light rain jacket can be handy.
A hat of some kind, is a must. Best if it cannot blow off your head easily.
We supply bathroom towels, but bring a second light beach/salt water towel if you like.
We only do rinse off showers, so no need for elaborate bathroom kit, in fact, try just coconut oil for a week, no soap, and use sand on the beach, to rub on skin, and you will come away looking like a sex god/goddess for a 5 buck cosmetic spend.
Ooops, obviously sunblock is important. On the medical front, if you have ever had swimmers ear, clean your ears before coming, and bring drops of simple peroxide. Coconut oil neutralizes sand fly bites, and eating vitamin B, keeps sand flies away. We have a first aid kit, but it’s always handy carrying some antibiotics, in case you geta skin break that won’t heal. Antibiotic powder is handy too.
If you want to wander around in the shallow waters back from the reef, some of those reef walking shoes can be handy, albeit on our trip, we generally avoid anywhere we have to walk on the grungy ( and dangerous) areas between reef and beach.
Ok then, lets talks about the scary things. Theoretically, a distant remote location that few visit, could be totally risky, but the reality could not be more different, and infact Raja Ampat is to us, gentle and inviting, the mother’s bosom of nature.
So Crocodiles? Yes, crocodile live right across the equatorial belts in Australia, Papua and Eastern Indonesia. But crocodiles live in muddy, estuarine locations where we do not visit. But what about that Russian tourist that was ‘taken’ a few year back? Well, first, there is contention as to whether the ‘body’ had drowned before being taken, and secondly, do not swim near mangroves where a croc is well-known to live, and swim there at sunset.
It is possible that a lonely, horny, croc will lose a turf battle, and will be seen motoring through the Gam Waigeo jungle river passage, but give the poor guy a break. You will not die.
Sharks with white or black tips on their fins, are everywhere, and are generally highly sought after critters to be spotted, and they do not eat us. We have never yet seen any other sharks other than these cool reef sharks. There are a thousand divers and snorkelers in the waters every day in Raja Ampat, and we have not heard of an attack, and if you are and Australian, well, Raja sure ain’t like Oz with its two attacks per month.
Sea snakes are prolific, but let us explain, as sea snakes have their tiny fangs so deep inside their mouth ( to get fish ) that the only way you could be hurt by a sea snake, it to stick your finger down its throat. There are sea snakes, sure, but they are also super curious, ballsy, and quite cute, as snakes go.
So sure, there are scary things in Raja Ampat, but we are happy to suggest, you will not be got.