Possibly The Greatest Diving Site In The World
Two weeks ago, I travelled to the faraway island of Raja Ampat with the TSL team and my best friend Chelsea. Raja Ampat is an island paradise in Eastern Indonesia regarded as THE Mecca of Diving by divers all over the world. Surrounded by 40,000 km² of land and sea, it is home to over 1,500 small islands and over 1,200 fish species. The area is fiercely protected by the locals and we heard that even the locals are not allowed to do any fishing here. Fun fact about Raja Ampat - the name translates as ‘four kings’ and comprises four main island groups around the Bird’s Head Peninsula of West Papua in Indonesia. You can only imagine how majestic these islands are to be referred to as kings.
With such a complex marine ecosystem, many experts regard Raja Ampat as having the highest diversity of marine life on the planet. However, outside of diving circles, Raja Ampat is unfamiliar to most. Which is a shame, since Singapore is relatively near to this paradise!.
If you're looking for an experience unlike any other, here are ten good reasons why you have to make the trip to Raja Ampat. But first, here’s a look at what we got up to while we were there.
1. Snorkel in the middle of the Indian and Pacific Oceans
We were dropped off smack in the middle of the ocean for our snorkeling expedition. Our diving instructor jumped into the water without hesitation to check it out before we did and trust me when I say I was frightened to bits at the start, but one glance beneath the water surface and I was sold.
There were schools of fishes, multi-coloured corals, and more. So much more. It was a sight that I have only seen on National Geographic, and to have these wondrous specimens of nature within arm's reach was a surreal experience.
Hours flew by as I was utterly mesmerized by the marine life from the surface of the ocean. I remember spotting dolphins just metres away from us when I looked up! However, they were too swift to capture on camera. Seeing them was a magical experience forever etched in my memory.
Tip: Bring an underwater camera with a red-filter if you are going diving!
2. Dive among 75% of all known coral species in the world
Raja Ampat is an open secret in the diving community. If being among schools of tuna and in the company of sea turtles was not reason enough to visit, Raja Ampat is home to 75% of all known coral species in the world!
The sea bed was filled with pastel pink, purple, and blue corals among others. It was filled with a myriad of multicolored fishes which left us squealing like excited kids. Local divers take pride in keeping the ocean clean and pristine. It was heartwarming to see our dive master picking up rubbish he found on the corals to properly dispose of when he resurfaced.
3. Find the most beautiful seashells in the world
The exterior of our living quarters was decorated with shells so beautiful that I thought they were man-made. Boy was I wrong. Little did I expect myself to be finding huge seashells of all colors and designs on the beach a few mere steps from our living quarters. We even found hermit crabs by the beach while looking for seashells. Spot some footage of that in the travel video above!
4. Experience a one-of-a-kind homestay
Besides the lure of crystal clear waters, the helpfulness of the Papuan people stole my heart. If you're visiting Raja Ampat, the only accommodations available are resorts and homestays with the locals - and considering our experience, we would highly recommend homestays as they offer a more authentic experience on the island.
With so little information available online about the location, our host helped extensively with information about flights and ferry transfers. What was initially thought to be a one-island destination was in fact a huge cluster of islands that would take us 3 days to circle its perimeter in a boat.
The hospitality and warmth we received from the people at the village we lived in was incredible. Be it their welcoming smiles, helpfulness in ensuring that we were settled in to staying up to ensure that we were tucked into bed before turning off the electrical generator, living with the Papuans was a humbling and enriching experience.
5. Savour authentic local snacks and home cooked fare
Without mini-marts and convenience stores, I was worried about not getting enough snacks to last us the entire trip. I thought that only breakfast would be provided but to my surprise, our homestay hosts provided us with water, snacks and all 3 meals! We even had local snacks to munch on after coming back from our snorkeling trips.
Home-cooked Papuan fare is the best. A simple meal of rice, vegetable, and fish brought wide smiles to our faces as you can feel the effort and sincerity that goes into the preparation of each meal. There were whiffs of coconut, turmeric and chili.
On our last day, we had to leave our accommodations at 5.30am. Even then, piping hot buns were prepared for us. We left feeling touched, already planning our return to the island.
6. Wake up to the sounds of nature
Waking up to the sound of crashing waves on my doorstep was something I never thought I'd ever experience, having lived in cities my whole life. At Raja Ampat, gone are the days of depending on your smartphone’s alarm - you'll be coaxed out of your slumber by the sounds of crashing waves as light starts creeping into the bedroom. Stepping out to take a huge whiff of fresh air in the morning was so rejuvenating!
7. Experience a different island every day
At Raja Ampat, you can island hop among islands easily as the islands are minutes away from each other by boat and every island boasts a flavour of its own. There is a different sort of coral and marine diversity that surrounds each island. As we passed by several islands, it was interesting to note how starkly different they were - some are quiet villages where the people resided, others were polished homes to touristy establishments.
8. Live life without electricity
I had always been so dependent on WIFI, stable electricity and amenities - provisions that I too often take for granted. Having limited electricity and amenities at Raja Ampat showed me how comfortable I could be even without these modern luxuries.
Try living life without charging your phone, camera, or laptop. You will be amazed at how much life has to offer and how relaxed you'll be sans these modern luxuries for just a couple of days. There are no fancy restaurants here, but meals are prepared over a campfire, a reminder of how simple life used to be.
Tip: If you're totally, completely, and hopelessly addicted to your gadgets, bring enough fully charged power banks and camera batteries as electrical supply is limited.
9. Befriend the young ones and make their day
One of the best things about traveling has always been interacting with the locals, and the children we met at the home stay melted my heart. We taught them simple English and indulged in the simple games they played. They were an energetic bunch, whose smiles and laughter were utterly contagious. In their company on an island paradise over a thousand miles away, we relived our childhood a little too.
Tip: If you’re heading to Raja Ampat for a homestay, bring along some snacks and toys for the kids in the village!
10. You get a whole island to yourself!
"Silence is not the absence of something, but the presence of everything" - George Hempton
The tranquility of Raja Ampat is incredible. We woke up daily to the sounds of birds chirping excitedly to each other, to the cool ocean breeze, and to sunlight gently creeping in. The lack of cars rushing by, of MRT doors closing, or even the whirr of your computer as it starts up is disconcerting at first, but it is in these pockets of silence that you realise the true magnificence of life.
Between all the snorkeling, diving, eating, and singing along with the locals, the quietness of the island was in itself a joy. I loved being able to take long walks on the beach with just nature for company, or just spending quality time with my friends and hosts. You won't have to worry about unwanted distractions here - the only distractions you'll have are the ones you bring yourself.
Getting to Raja Ampat
Diving is the best part of Raja Ampat, but there's so much more to this tranquil haven than that. Raja Ampat is truly off the beaten path, so you’ll have to take two flights and a ferry to get here. We highly recommend that you land in Sorong a couple of hours before the ferry’s departure as the schedule may sometimes vary.
You’ll first have to transit through Makassar, made convenient through direct SilkAir flights from Singapore thrice a week. Makassar is the capital of South Sulawesi, and travelling to this lesser known, Eastern part of Indonesia is far more convenient through this gateway. From Makassar, you can catch a short domestic flight to Sorong, West Papua, and then you are another 1.5-2 hour ferry or speedboat ride away to one of the Raja Ampat islands!
Flights to Sorong are limited, but here's a list of available flights you can take:
The journey to the untouched corners of Indonesia may sound like a daunting task, but it's super worthwhile.
Visit Raja Ampat!
With the lack of modern technology here, your senses will be heightened, attuned to the sounds of the waves and hues of blue all around. Don't visit Raja Ampat expecting air-conditioning, stable wi-fi, and luxurious amenities - go there ready for the richest and best that nature has to offer. Find out more about homestays at Raja Ampat here.
Be sure to check changiairport.com/discoverindonesia for the latest travel deals, like attractive SilkAir promotional fares! Return air tickets to Makassar are currently from just S$299!
This post was brought to you by Singapore Changi Airport.