Raja Ampat and Misool Dive Liveaboards
Liveaboard Diving in Raja Ampat
Planning a dive trip to Raja Ampat? Indonesia Dive Liveaboards is the ultimate resource to help plan a trip aboard a Raja Ampat dive liveaboard. Information on what to expect from the diving, water temperatures and recommended liveaboards in Raja Ampat. Raja Ampat, located in West Papua, Indonesia. This region goes by several names including the Bird’s Head Peninsula or “Four Kings” after the four main islands of the region: Misool, Salawati, Batanta and Waigeo. It is considered the crown jewel of diving and at the top of most diver’s bucketlist. The biodiversity of this region is unparalleled and draws divers from around the world.
What is the diving like in Raja Ampat?
Everyone always talks about the biodiversity of Raja Ampat, but what does that really mean? Biodiversity refers to the variety and volume of life across an ecosystem. Raja Ampat is at the heart of the coral triangle and home to over 500 species of coral and 1500 species of fish.
Abundance is one of the first words that comes to mind when asked about diving Raja Ampat. Giant schools of Chevron Barracuda, Striped Sweetlips, Batfish, Giant Trevally and Jacks are found swirling above the reefs. If you’re still not convinced about the health and biodiversity of reefs here, Cape Kri dive site currently holds the world record for most species of fish identified on a single dive with 374 different fish species!
Diving with Manta Rays
For those divers more focused on big stuff, you will not be disappointed. Indonesia is one of the top destinations in the world for diving with manta rays and Raja Ampat is no exception. Reef mantas (Manta alfredi) can be seen year round at feeding stations on dive sites like Manta Sandy or Magic Mountain. Raja Ampat gives divers a chance to see the less common Black Mantas, which have black coloration on both top and bottom. Giant Oceanic Mantas (Manta birostris) are more seasonal with the best chance to see them from November through early April, conveniently the same season most liveaboards operate in this region.
Diving with Sharks
Sharks will be spotted on nearly every dive in Raja Ampat. Blacktip, Whitetip and Grey Reef Sharks are quite common in these waters. Since the establishment of the Misool Marine Reserve reef shark populations have seen a 25x increase.
Walking Sharks hunt in the shallower waters of the reef swimming just above the bottom or walking on their pectoral fins. Part of the hemiscylliidae family, these sharks are often referred to as carpet sharks and primarily found in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Australia. This family of sharks includes species endemic to Raja Amapt like the Tasseled Wobbegong Shark and Raja Epaultte shark. The tasseled wobbegong sharks are often found in caves, under ledges or camouflaging while laying atop plate or sheet coral. Spotting these sharks can sometimes be tricky, but head in for a night dive and you will often see them out walking about hunting their prey.
Divers descend on reefs with vibrant hard and soft coral gardens, macro life including Pygmy Seahorses, 700 species of mollusks including nudibranchs, coconut octopus, wonderpus, blue ringed octopus, cuttlefish, decorator crabs and more! Mangrove and muck diving sites also provide a fantastic backdrop for macro photography.
The waters of Indonesia connect the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean with nutrient rich currents passing through the Dampier Strait and Sagewin Strait (also known as Pitt Strait). While manta rays, fish and macro are the focus of most divers visiting Raja Ampat; there are 16 species of marine mammals that inhabit this region or transit through making it a crucial protection area.
Whales, Dolphins and other marine mammals found in Raja Ampat:
- Blue Whale
- Risso’s dolphin
- Orcas (Killer Whale)
- False Killer Whale
- Short-finned Pilot Whale
- Dwarf Spinner Dolphin
- Bryde’s Whale
- Pygmy Bryde’s Whale
- Pymgy Sperm Whale
- Sperm Whale
- Dugong (Sea Cow)
- Rough Toothed Dolphin
- Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin
- Common Bottlenose Dolphin
- Spotted Dolphin
- Fraser’s dolphin
Best time of year to dive Raja Ampat – Water Temperatures
When planning your trip to Raja Ampat you want to shoot for the best conditions possible. After a bit of research you will quickly realize that most liveaboards only operate in Raja Ampat from around October-April.
The conditions in Raja Ampat are best for diving from November-April. Diving can be enjoyed year round, but West Papua does experience increased rainfall and wind from June through September. Fortunately, this is prime season for diving Komodo and most liveaboards will relocate there during this period.
Raja Ampat water temps maintain 80-86F (27-30C) year round.
Visibility remains pretty consistent throughout the year around 30-90 ft (10-30m). Currents are more moderate than Komodo, but some dive sites can experience stronger currents. It is advised that divers have an advanced certification or a minimum of 25 dives.
What’s the best way to experience Raja Ampat?
While divers can enjoy Raja Ampat by landbased dive resort or dive liveaboard our feeling is that this region is best experienced by liveaboard.
Raja Ampat is over 15,000 sq. mi. and more than 1,500 islands. Traveling by liveaboard allows you to cover a much greater area and experience all that Raja Ampat has to offer. Staying on one island will often limit you to diving the surrounding waters and every region has something amazing to offer, especially the diving around Misool.
Staying on a dive liveaboard helps maximize your vacation time. Divers can expect to log up to 4 dives per day and have the opportunity to explore a plethora of topside activities. Visit Pianemo lookout, jellyfish lake or a morning hike to see the ornate Bird-of-paradise.
Initial price tag of a liveaboard may be more expensive than staying at a landbased resort. However, remember that most liveaboards are all-inclusive. There is also range of options in Raja Ampat from budget liveaboards to ultra-luxury liveaboards. Check out our list of recommended liveaboards here.
Best Dive Liveaboards in Raja Ampat
Panunee Yacht – Accommodates 22 passengers in 12 cabins. Panunee Yacht is a 42m liveaboard with spacious accommodations and large camera room.
Carpe Diem is specifically designed and operated for small groups of passengers, there are only four cabins for our guests, all with private bath.
Panda Liveaboard – The Panda is designed and constructed following the style of Indonesian Traditional Phinisi boat, consists two main masts and seven sails, is a brand new luxury Phinisi hotel.
Aurora Liveaboard – This beautiful Phinisi-styled teak motor-sail dive liveaboard combines tradition with comfort and modern conveniences. Aurora accommodates 18 passengers in 9 private cabins, with a crew to guest ratio of 1:1, custom built tenders and small group diving.
Calico Jack combines the ancient traditions of the Bugis wooden shipbuilders with the new. Comfortable cabins, delicious food, friendly staff, charging stations and land based island/beach activities make your vacation onboard Calico Jack unforgettable!
Velocean Liveaboard – Brand new, ultra-luxury liveaboard designed by divers for divers and underwater photographers. Velocean is a 52m dive liveaboard accommdating 18 passengers in 10 private cabins. Single suites are available for solo travelers.
Damai II – MY DAMAI II has a deck length of 40 meters (131 ft) and a beam of 9 meters (29.5 ft) at its widest point. It has been built to an uncompromising standard and fitted with all the latest diving, navigation, and safety equipment to ensure the same level of service appreciated on our first vessel. And, where possible this service has been improved upon through additions such as satellite Wi-Fi capabilities.
Top Dive Sites in Raja Ampat
Located in the middle of the Dampier Strait. Blue Magic is a pinnacle reef starting just 25ft/8m below the surface and descending down to around 100ft/30m. As a result of higher currents found in the middle of the Strait, this pinnacle forms an underwater oasis. Gliding along the pinnacle at times feels like you are standing in the middle of Time Square. A school of Chevron barracudas, a swirling ball of jacks and giant trevally are seen feeding off the reef. Don’t forget to glance around or up to the surface as this is one of the top sites to see oceanic mantas.
It’s easy to get distracted and lose sight of the reef below. Giant coral heads and ledges provide protection or cleaning stations. For those divers trying to play “Fish ID Bingo” this is a great site to look for pygmy seahorses found on gorgonian corals.
The reef at Mioskon wraps around the island with giant clams, schooling fish and macro-life occupying the shallows. Coral shelves terrace down the reef to around 75ft/25m before reaching the sandy bottom. A school of yellow snapper can be spotted traversing up and down the reef. Divers should also keep an eye out for wobbegong sharks hiding under ledges. Mioskin is perfect for snorkelers or new divers, particularly because of light currents and abundance of fish in the shallows.
Cape Kri is best known for holding the world record – 374 species of fish identified on a single dive. In 2012, Dr. Gerry Allen set the world record which still holds today. The site runs along the eastern side of Kri Island. The currents from the Dampier Strait pull in abundant fish life. This site never disappoints with its rich biodiversity, vibrant corals, huge schools of fish, blacktip and whitetip reef sharks.
Located to the south of Raja Ampat near Misool. Farondi is a cluster of islands with spectacular reefs covered in soft corals and magnificent macro-life. A full day of diving can be devoted to diving around Farondi. For instance sites like Goa Besar also known as Farondi “Cave”. Farondi Cave is more of a tunnel under the island popping out along the wall. Once inside the tunnel look around at the ceiling above for stalactites. An experienced guide will be able to help you spot pygmy seahorses, whip coral shrimp and mimic octopus.
Arborek is a small island in Raja Ampat. It is a popular excursion to visit a local village or walk the beach. The jetty starts out in around 5ft/2m sloping down to a reef around 35ft/11m. This is a favorite spot for underwater photographers as the light shines through the boards of the jetty creating a unique effect. The pilings have brightly hued corals growing up them. Schools of jacks and pinnate batfish huddle underneath. Descending down toward the reef you can spot giant clams or a disco clam tucked into the reef. If you’re lucky, divers often report sightings of a Black Manta cruising just off the reef.
The site is located just off Batanta Island in between the Jet Fam islands. The reef has a giant plateau around 15ft/5m. It is covered in staghorn coral, giants clams that are 70+ years old and banded sea snakes weaving through. This is a site for macro lovers. For instance an abundance of anemones, tomato clownfish, harlequin shrimp and pygmy seahorses. The reef drops off to around 60ft/20m with large schools of sardines, batfish and barracuda. This is also a great spot for seeing wobbegong sharks.
Boo Window is one of the most famous and recognizable sites in Raja Ampat. This site is located off the a rock island known as Boo Rock within Misool. There are two large holes in the rock allowing sunlight to shine through. Therefore creating a perfect backdrop for underwater photographers looking to capture the rainbow of colors. The reef quickly drops off with a pinnacle located just south of the rock. Currents will pick up as you navigate away from Boo Rock. Once you reach the pinnacle you can find shelter from the current around the backside. Striped grunts and sweetlips school around the pinnacle. Whitetip reef sharks and wobbegong sharks are often spotted here.
Misool is considering to be home to some of the best diving within Raja Ampat. In particular, Magic Mountain is at the top of the list for Misool diving. Divers regularly vote this as one of their favorite dive sites in Raja Ampat. This is because of the sheer variety of life combined with the volume of manta rays seen here. Traffic can get quite busy so liveaboards often coordinate with Misool Eco-Resort to ensure it’s never too crowded.
The site is a submerged ridge starting around 25ft/8m and descending down to around 80ft/25m. With the swift currents you want to make a quick descent down. Watch the fusiliers, napoleon wrasse and barracuda swimming in the water column. The current will subside a bit once you get down to the ridge. If your main goal is photographing manta rays a reef hook may be desired. Before using a reef hook make sure you have been instructed on how to use them without damaging the reef. This is one of the most thrilling dives in Raja Ampat so hook-in and sit back for the show.
How to get to Raja Ampat
Getting there can take 3 or more flights and over 24 hours of flying but it’s well worth the wait. The easiest way of getting there is flying through Jakarta airport (IATA:CGK) and on to Sorong (IATA:SOQ). Flights can also be found from Bali – Denpasar (IATA:DPS) to Sorong but often require layovers in either Sorong or Makassar (IATA:UPG).
Some choose to arrive into Indonesia a few days early to acclimate to the time change. In this case check out recommendations here for a few pre-trip options that include both diving and non-diving options.
Topside Excursions in Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat is hands down one of the world’s best dive destinations and it’s probably your primary reason for booking a trip to this famed destination.
However, this should not keep you from exploring all this area has to offer. Our recommendation will always be to join a Raja Ampat Dive Liveaboard as you will get to see and do more when traveling this way. Check out our blog for a list of non-diving activities you won’t want to miss!