Located to the northwest of the New Guinea island of Indonesia, the Raja Ampat archipelago is comprised of over 1,500 small, beautiful and isolated islands. It’s also considered part of the Coral Triangle which contains the richest marine biodiversity on Earth. Its beauty, diversity and abundant marine life is what makes a Raja Ampat liveaboard trip the ultimate dream of any diver.
When it comes to what you can see underwater, Raja Ampat surprises even the most well-traveled diver. Diverse is the best adjective to describe this place. It has soft corals, hard corals, caves, WWII wrecks, drop offs, shallow reefs, black and white sand bottoms, currents, calm waters, macro diving and big fish. In other words, if you don’t like diving here, you might not like diving at all!
Diving in Raja is not for budget travelers. However, most of the expenses are related to logistics and transportation, not the diving itself. However, if you are going to pay to come all this way, you better get to dive and explore what the islands have to offer and that’s when a liveaboard is your best option.
Being a prime destination for scuba diving, there are many diving liveaboards operating in Raja Ampat. To help you choose the right boat for preferences and budget, we’ve put together this quick guide that shows you the best boats and some things to consider when it comes time to book.
QUICK ANSWER – THE BEST RAJA AMPAT LIVEABOARD TRIPS
BLUE MANTA → For Photographers
KIRA KIRA → For Budget
INDO SIREN → For Luxury
PINDITO → For Extended Itineraries
CALICO JACK → Best All Around
DAMAI I → For Wrecks & Whale Sharks
Photo Credit: Kira Kira Liveaboard
BEST FOR → BUDGET
With a maximum of 8 guests onboard, this is one of the region’s most relaxed boats. If you can forgo a few creature comforts, it is without a doubt Raja Ampat’s most affordable option, too. Small dive groups, family style meals, and a flexible dive schedule complete the casual atmosphere.
© Copyright by Tomas Reich, used through Pindito Liveaboard
BEST FOR → EXTENDED ITINERARIES
For many liveaboard divers, Raja Ampat is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. If 10 days in the park just isn’t enough, this boat’s incredible 17-day journey might be your top pick. With four dives a day and free Nitrox on offer, this is an excellent value for adventurous divers with time on their hands.
Photo Credit: Blue Manta Liveaboard
BEST FOR → PHOTOGRAPHERS
Individual camera rinse tanks, a state of the art indoor photo production room, blow-dry area, cabins equipped with extra charging stations, and small dive groups make this boat the region’s best pick for divers traveling with camera equipment. The best part of diving on this vessel is spending time with other photographers and veteran divers.
Photo Credit: Damai I Liveaboard
BEST FOR → WRECKS & WHALE SHARKS
This boat operates more trips to Cenderawasih Bay than any other. And, their diverse itineraries include options that focus exclusively on Cenderawasih’s whale sharks and wrecks or combine the region with a classic Raja Ampat itinerary. This boat also offers support for tech, sidemount, and rebreather diving.
Photo Credit: Calico Jack Liveaboard
BEST FOR → ALL AROUND
One of the region’s top-rated boats, the Calico Jack offers a wide variety of trips in Raja Ampat. Itineraries range between 6 and 12 nights, exploring some of the park’s most remote northern and southern dive sites. And, with only 10 guests onboard you are guaranteed plenty of personalized service. This liveaboard is an excellent choice for charters and groups of divers traveling together.
Photo Credit: Indo Siren Liveaboard
BEST FOR → LUXURY
If you’re hoping for a perfect blend of serious diving and creature comforts, the Indo Siren is your best bet. This boat offers itineraries lasting 10 to 14 days, stopping at the region’s very best sites. Real thrill-seekers can make the most of their time in Indonesia with a seasonal transition trip. Sailing between Raja Ampat and Komodo, these expeditions traverse the entire Banda Sea. And, they visit secret, exploratory, and uncharted dive sites along the way. Above water, guests on this boat can expect to be pampered. Perks include massage service, fine dining, and some of the region’s most comfortable cabins.
CONSIDERATIONS – SCUBA DIVING IN RAJA AMPAT
Intermediate. Raja Ampat is one of the most exciting liveaboard destinations on the planet, but it isn’t for beginners. Divers should be comfortable with rough and unpredictable surface conditions, fast-paced currents, and open ocean conditions. Advanced certification and a minimum of 50 logged dives are recommended.
7 to 10 days. While it’s possible to book shorter itineraries, you should plan a minimum of one week to explore Raja Ampat. More distant dive sites are some of the region’s best, and well worth the extra day or two.
The liveaboard diving season runs from October through April, with some flexibility. During the monsoon, boats explore other nearby areas like Cenderawasih Bay.
No matter what time of year you visit, plan for hot weather and rain. Sea temperatures range from 81 to 86° F (27 to 30° C), but cold currents make a 3mm wetsuit your best bet.
Visibility in Raja Ampat ranges from 49 to 98 feet (14 to 30 meters) throughout the year. Blooming plankton, a favorite meal for visiting mana rays, reduces visibility between October and April.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Raja Ampat is the beating heart of Southeast Asia’s Coral Triangle. Liveaboard divers can expect stunning biodiversity, thrilling drift dives, well-preserved historical shipwrecks, and plenty of big fish.
Your liveaboard will most likely explore a variety of reef habitats like plunging walls, massive pinnacles, and shallow coral gardens. Photographers should pack for both macro and wide-angle photography.
HIGHLIGHTS – DIVING IN RAJA AMPAT
For liveaboard diving with whale sharks, Cenderawasih is the ultimate thrill. Divers can gather beneath local fishing platforms to observe the sharks feeding. This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for underwater photographers.
Raja Ampat’s southernmost dive sites offer some of the region’s best locations for encountering great hammerhead sharks. Frequently found at depths below 100 feet (30 meters), these graceful hunters are easiest to spot out in the blue.
Manta rays frequent these waters year round, but your best chances for spotting them are during fall and winter months. Dive sites like Manta Ridge and Magic Mountain feature cleaning stations where groups of up to 30 rays gather.
Many boats visiting Raja Ampat also visit the famous WWII wrecks of West Papua. Allied and Japanese boats sunk in the region and make an exciting addition to your liveaboard itinerary. Wreck diver specialty certification is a must for divers who wish to enter any shipwreck.
It’s no secret that Raja Ampat isn’t a liveaboard destination for beginners. If you’re planning to dive the region, you should have experience with strong currents and drift diving. Cleaning stations may require you to use a reef hook, and advanced skills like negative entries may be necessary. Don’t forget to pack multiple surface signaling devices.
ITINERARIES IN RAJA AMPAT
Raja Ampat is a large geographic area, and there are endless possibilities for liveaboard itineraries in the region. Where your boat goes will depend on the season, trip duration, price point, and goals of the divers onboard.Many liveaboards venture outside of Raja Ampat, and not only during the monsoon. If you’re hoping to pack a little bit of everything into your trip, look for “best of Papua” itineraries. These routes visit historic WWII shipwrecks, Papua’s pristine reefs, and the famous whale sharks of Cenderawasih.
Traditional routes in the park include northern itineraries, focusing on the remote waters north of Sorong and southern courses exploring the area around Misool. Both options are excellent for experienced divers and offer a variety of environments like reef and muck.
Northern voyages exploring the Dampier Strait are perfect for a wide-angle photo safari, fast-moving currents, and manta cleaning stations. Divers can expect plenty of big fish, and all around challenging dive conditions. Visibility in this region varies greatly.
Southern trips around Misool often voyage into the Bana Sea and take on world class macro “bug hunts” around Ambon. The south is known for up-close encounters with wildlife of all sizes, including hammerheads in the Banda Arc. High-speed currents, rare wildlife, and quickly changing dive conditions define this stunning region.
VIDEO – SCUBA DIVING IN RAJA AMPAT
BEST DIVE SITES IN RAJA AMPAT
Though not officially a part of Raja Ampat, this marine park is visited by liveaboards during the monsoon season. The main attraction is a guaranteed chance to dive alongside feeding whale sharks. But, historical WWII wrecks and vibrant coral reefs make the region 100% worth a visit.
THE FAR NORTH
If you’re serious about spotting a pygmy seahorse, these northern walls are a good bet. Multiple species reside here, with some individual fans housing groups of six or more. This area is also reliable for nudibranchs, clingfish, squat lobsters, and crinoid shrimp. Photographers should plan for an extra-tiny macro shootout. Consider a snoot for super macro shots. A photographer’s favorite site, The Passage, is one of this region’s most spectacular.
THE FAR SOUTH
The Banda Sea, and Raja Ampat’s most southern sites are some of the region’s most remote. These waters are an excellent place to spot large pelagics like hammerheads and mantas. But, anything can happen out there including encounters with orcas, dolphins, and whales. Photographers should plan for a wide-angle adventure featuring plenty of schooling fish, and supersized subjects. The most dived site in this region is Boo Rock.
This stretch of cleaning stations promise manta sightings on nearly every dive, often in large numbers. You should expect strong currents at this shallow site, and most operators secure their groups with reef hooks. Photographers should plan for non-stop wide-angle action. Popular dive sites include Manta Ridge, Manta Sandy, and Sardine Reef.
With some of the best visibility in Raja Ampat, this region is a great place to take in the intense biodiversity of Indonesia’s coral reef. It is also a favorite for photographers in the park. Great hammerhead sharks patrol in deep water, while the shallows are home to a stunning variety of coral and reef fish. If the current allows, slow down and search for macro life. Ghost pipefish, pygmy seahorses, nudibranchs, and flatworms are among the most exciting finds. Misool’s best-known dive sites are Kaleidoscope and Fabiacet.
BEST WRECKS IN RAJA AMPAT
If you’ve ventured out of Raja Ampat to dive the Shinwa Maru, you’ll most likely stick around for more than one tank. This massive Japanese freighter is a photographer’s favorite thanks to its natural bomb damage, unique historical artifacts, and wealth of macro life. Qualified divers can choose between a variety of penetration routes and super-deep exterior dives.
This is the region’s most accessible shipwreck, lying on a sandy bottom in 60 feet (18 meters) of water. Penetration routes through this WWII era Japanese navy patrol boat feature plenty of artifacts, including ammunition. The ocean floor surrounding the wreck is great for muck diving too, with plenty of rare and fascinating macro finds meters away from the hull.
Multiple WWII planes litter the sea floor around Cenderawasih Bay, and new ones are found all the time. Most liveaboard itineraries visit at least one airplane wreck, and the P40 is the most popular. These dives offer unique photo opportunities for both macro and wide-angle shots, as well as muck diving in the sand around them.
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