The turquoise and cobalt blue waters of the bay in Raja Ampat, Papua, shimmered under the light of the morning sun. Rocky outcrops, black as ink and sharp as razor blades broke through the warm tropical waters. Small beaches of golden sand broke up the jagged coastline, abutting the thickly wooded lowlands of Wayag Islands. In a semi-circle surrounding the bay and topped with sparse vegetation were sheer cliffs that rise hundreds of feet into the air. I sat there quietly on the peak, like an eagle, taking in the panoramic view below me. Moments like this is what travelling is all about I told myself.
Where is Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat, Papua, is like a modern El Dorado, except that this is no fabled city of gold, but an environmentalist and backpackers dream holiday destination. The region is located off the West coast of the province of West Papua in the far East of Indonesia.
The rich biodiversity, world-class diving, amazing landscapes, isolated golden beaches and awesome coral reefs are the perfect holiday destination from anyone who wants to get away from it all. The problem of course was that I had always been told that Raja Ampat in Papua, is expensive and that it is impossible to do on a backpackers budget. This is not true! My holiday in paradise cost me less than a $1,000. The truth is you can visit Raja Ampat on almost any budget. In this article I will explain the three options – budget travel, luxury holiday packages and the option in between – available to travellers who want to visit Raja Ampat.
The Three Travel Options
Of all the different ways to explore Raja Ampat, Papua, on a budget, there are only three options I would consider; organise everything yourself, take a cruise or join a group tour. I will talk more about these three options in a bit, but first I want to focus on how to actually get to Raja Ampat.
How to Get There
The easiest way to get to get to Raja Ampat, Papua, is to fly to Sorong. There are no direct flights to Sorong from Bali and Jakarta. Instead all flights go via the Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi. Express Air, Merpati, Sriwijaya and Lion Air all have daily flights here from Jakarta (if you’re lucky you will see Bill Bailey at the airport like I did, but I make no guarantees). Return tickets cost between $150-$500, depending on when you book the ticket and the time of year you are flying.
Once you arrive in Sorong you will need to get to the commercial port, which is a short 20 minute drive away by taxi. From the port you can catch a public ferry to Raja Ampat from the Papuan mainland. Tickets to Raja Ampa from Sorong cost $15 and goes to Waigeo.
Once You Arrive
Any tourist who wants to travel in Raja Ampat, Papua, needs to buy a permit from the local offices of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Raja Ampat. A tourist permit costs $60 for foreigners and $25 for Indonesians. If you are joining an organised tour or a cruise then someone should arrange this for you (make sure to check). However, if you are travelling alone then you will need to go to the Departemen Kebudayaan dan Pariwisata by yourself.
From Waigeo you will need to take a boat to explore Raja Ampat; a small vessel with crew and gas will cost $220 a day, while the larger ships used by group tours that can hold up to 20 people cost $800. Cruise ships, which normally have facilities for diving, cost a lot more if you want to rent it privately.
The only way you can explore Raja Ampat in West Papua, on a budget is by travelling in a group; $220 a day just for travel is simply not possible for backpackers. However, $45 per day, which is the price of five people sharing transport on a small boat is much more realistic. It is for this reason that you
should must travel in a small group. Additional costs for independent travellers include food ($10 per day) and accommodation ($40 per night if you sleep in a bungalow, free if you decide to camp).
Group tours are the cheapest way to explore Raja Ampat, Papua. The best place to find information about group tours of Raja Ampat is on the Internet. Prices start from as low as $400, however most group tours cost between $600-$1,000. This price does not include the price of airfare.
The Middle Way
If you have a larger travel budget, there are a lot of different options available for you to consider. The two main choices are between liveaboard sailing ships and hotels. Liveaboard diving ships are the more popular of the two options.
There are a lot of companies operating in and around Raja Ampat, West Papua, offering liveaboard packages for tourists. Packages normally last between one to two weeks and will cost between $1,400 (six nights seven days) – $3,000 (10 nights 11 days) per person. This is an all inclusive price and includes the cost of on average two dives per day. Make sure to check what facilities the vessel has before you make a booking with a company.
There are three main travel itineraries offered by travel companies operating around Raja Ampat in West Papua. These are:
Flores – Raja Ampat Average trip length between 7-14 days
Maluku – Raja Ampat Average trip length between 7-10 days
Raja Ampat Average trip length between 5-7 days
Hotels and Resorts
In the past, hotels in Raja Ampat have catered more towards luxury travellers, however over the past five years a number of mid range hotels and resorts have opened around Raja Ampat, Papua.
Mid range hotels in Raja Ampat cost between $90-180 per night and include three meals a day. The price day trips are obviously not included in this price. If you are interested in diving you can normally book package holidays from the resort or pay per dive (around $90 per dive).
Therer are a lot of resorts and hotels in Raja Ampat that cater to luxury travellers. These resorts are normally located on private islands and have everything that you would expect from a world class five star facility. Of course, given how isolated Raja Ampat is and the poor infrastructure, costs are high and many places do not offer overnight accommodation.
A week stay at a luxury resort in Raja Ampat will costs upwards of $2,500 per person. This will include the cost of dives while you are at the resort, but excludes the cost of day trips.
There are also companies that offer luxury liveaboard package tours. These package tours start at $2,500 per person and can go all the way up to $10,000 per person for a week long personally tailored package tour.
What to Do While You are There
Raja Ampat, Papua, is one of the best diving spots in the world divers can swim with whale sharks, manta rays (incredible creatures to dive alongside), dolphins, turtles or just gaze in wonder at the pristine coral reefs. If you want to learn more about diving in Raja Ampat, then click this link.
Why to Go
Raja Ampat, Papua, is one of the few places in the world that I would recommend to anyone, because it is truely a holiday of a lifetime. If you are interested in a real adventure holiday in a tropical paradise then you should definitely visit, and I hope this information proves to you that it is possible to do Raja Ampat on a budget. As I said before, if you want to learn more about holidays in Raja Ampat, then check out my guide to diving in Raja Ampat, West Papua.
Here are some useful resources that I would recommend to anyone planning to visit Raja Ampat. Remember, I only recommend resources I find interesting or would use myself.
A great site that for cheap homestays in Raja Ampat.