Raja Ampat – True Paradise
Imagine a place where sunsets are so vibrant and perfect, they look like they’ve come out of Salvador Dalí’s dreams.
A place where time is not counted by minutes or hours, but by the caress of each wave against the shore.
Where luscious, green forests are broken up by fine grains of sand and clear, aqua water. Paradise.
Well, my friends, you don’t have to imagine it, for this paradise exists. The place is called Raja Ampat in Indonesia.
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Raja Ampat isn’t a single island, but a group of approximately 1,500 small islands, located in West Papua. Known amongst divers for its excellent diving opportunities, Raja Ampat has spectacular beaches, friendly locals and views that will take your breath away (literally, as you have to climb a number of stairs to get to the best ones).
I’m a huge fan of Lost, and in some ways, Raja Ampat reminded me of the island in the tv series. It seems like it’s in the middle of nowhere, isolated from the busy world outside and once you’ve been there, you can never quite get over it. In fact, since leaving Raja Ampat, I have moments where I feel like the main character, Jack, with an ingrained need to go back. With every deep breath I take, I can feel the islands calling me and drawing me back into their enchanting existence.
Like the island of Lost, Raja Ampat has an almost mystical-like power to heal and restore one’s soul. I, for one, left Raja Ampat somewhat changed. I don’t know if it was the time spent bathing in the milky blue waters surrounding the islands, the late nights laughing with newly-made friends, or seeing the locals live a richer life than all of us, but it sparked a fresh vivacity in me that I’ve since held desperately onto.
Gazing at the stars from the pier, with only the sounds of gentle waves lapping into the wooden poles and a distant chatter from the beach was therapeutic. For the short time I was there, I felt so removed from the pressures and stresses everyday life places on us and completely at peace. I felt weightless. The fast-paced world of technology, bills and deadlines were meaningless here. When I asked one of the locals what stresses they faced, they responded with, “During the storm season, we don’t know when our food deliveries will arrive. They could be delayed by days or weeks.”
His response struck a chord with me and made me realise how much we take for granted. It also helped me realise that true paradise isn’t just an idyllic beach or place, but an attitude and positive frame of mind. That to find true paradise, you have to let go of the unnecessary stress and hold onto whatever it is that makes you happy – a Raja Ampat state of mind.
How to get to Raja Ampat
So how does one get to this paradise? Well, it’s not cheap or easy, but I can assure you, it is worth it. In general, the best things in life don’t come easy, and Raja Ampat is no exception. But if it were easy for everyone to get to, it wouldn’t be the perfect untouched paradise that it currently is.
The closest airport to Raja Ampat is Sorong. You can fly there from many Indonesian cities, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, via Makassar or Manado.
From Sorong Airport, you need to make your way to Sorong Pelabuhan Rakyat harbour, about 20 minutes away (approximate taxi cost: $12).
Depending on where you stay, you can arrange a boat transfer from the hotel to pick you up from Sorong harbour, or you can take a 2-hour ferry ride to Waisai and then a separate boat ride to your accommodation.
The ferry costs approximately $17 and operates daily (times seem to vary, so it’s best to contact the Sorong Tourism Office to confirm trip times when you plan to travel). It’s better to aim to depart Sorong during the week, as the ferries often don’t run on weekends and religious holidays. Be sure to check all travel times, as depending on flights and ferries, you may be required to overnight in Makassar or Sorong. The best advice is to contact your accommodation or the Tourism Office for advice. As it can take up to a day or so to get here, I suggest making the most of your time here and stay for at least a week (or however long your money or ability to go without social media can last).
It’s also important to note that there is an Entrance Fee, introduced as a way of supporting the conservation and community projects of Raja Ampat. The entrance fee is IDR 1,000,000 (approximately $100) per person and you can pay for the fee at the Tourism Office in Sorong or Waisai (or check if your accommodation or dive operator can organise it for you).
Where to stay in Raja Ampat
There are a few different options in terms of accommodation at Raja Ampat, from ‘budget’ to luxury. We were fortunate to stay somewhere towards the upper end of the spectrum, at Raja Ampat Dive Lodge. Think of air-conditioned bungalows facing the beach, luscious tropical gardens and water activities right at your doorstep. There are diving, snorkelling, kayaking and boat tours on offer, and they even have limited wi-fi, but really, who needs it when you are busy sunbaking and snorkelling, right?
For the budget conscious, there are ‘homestay’ options in various villages such as Arborek Village and Sawinggrai Village, and if you really want to treat yourself and splurge, there’s even overwater bungalows on offer in Raja Ampat! You can find a great range of accommodation choices here. For more in-depth information on accommodation, entry fees and getting to Raja Ampat, check out Stay Raja Ampat.
What to do in Raja Ampat
If you do start to feel a little stir-crazy from sun baking and swimming at pristine beaches all day (is that even possible?), I suggest the following:
- Kayaking – The waters are relatively calm for some lovely kayaking around the islands. Going at sunrise or sunset are my picks.
- Snorkelling – sadly, a lot of the coral close to the shore was bleached, but the further out you go, the more vibrant the coral and fish got.
- Diving – This will allow you to see more colour and marine life. You can also get your diving certificate here.
- Climb the stairs of Pianemo for the ‘money shot’ of the islands. The stairs are a little steep, but the view is worth it.
- Take a trip to the most stunning sandbank you will ever see – Pasir Timbul. At the right time of day, when the tide is low, you can walk along a picture-perfect sand bank. It’s hard to believe just how perfect it is, but once you are there, you will understand. It seriously looked like it was straight out of a movie scene.
- Meet the locals – The locals are very warm and friendly and always happy for a photo op.
- Bird-watching – The rare Bird of Paradise resides here, and if you are lucky (and an early riser), you might get a glimpse of its beautiful auburn feathers and unique tail.
- Explore the marine life – The walking shark also exclusively lives here, and we were lucky to get a glimpse of it one night, during feeding time. If you are a fan of marine wildlife, Raja Ampat is a great place to see it.
- Yoga – What better setting for some positive mantras than the backdrop of a pastel sunrise or sunset and soft rolling waves.
What do you think? Does this sound like paradise to you? How long could you leave social media and technological baggage behind? Do you think the destination is worth the effort? Give us your feedback below!
A huge thanks to the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism for inviting me on their #TripofWonders.
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