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Updated: 24th November 2015
If you have never heard about Raja Ampat in Indonesia, you were in the same boat as I was. As soon as I had, however, I knew I had to get there pronto.
The best thing is that exploring Raja Ampat on a budget IS possible… (Update Jan 2023 – A lot has changed since my visit and when I wrote this, and much info might be incorrect. I’m currently in the process of researching and updating).
I think the pictures speak loud enough.
What I struggled with planning this trip was the time/cost and trying to find out information about it. It seemed to be too remote and too expensive to be possible on a budget but undeterred I booked a flight, spent a few days texting random phone numbers to try to work out accommodation then headed off to find my paradise. It’s all worth it to witness one of the best islands to visit in the world.
Here’s how you can do Raja Ampat ‘on a budget’ for under £300. That is for a week in paradise, without diving and if you are already in Indonesia… Becoming obvious yet? Yes, this will not fall into the same ‘Budget’ as much of SE Asia. However, the extra dosh is worth every penny.
It’s a bit lengthy, but if you are planning a trip, I hope this gives you some of the info I couldn’t find and expands on that of my Indonesia travel guide. If anyone else has been and has any more up-to-date budget tips, please add them to the comments below!
*IDR Prices are correct at the time of writing; currency conversion is estimated
To access Raja Ampat, you need to go via Sorong in West Papua. Makassar and Manado airports in Indonesia fly there, and you can connect to these from Bali / Jakarta or Singapore easily enough.
Garuda, Express Air, and Sriwijaya Airlines operate flights there. My advice, book in advance. I paid £170 for my flights with Garuda, but this was relatively last minute flying from Bali.
The ferry from Sorong to Waisia port (on the main island in of Waigeo) takes about two hours and costs 100,000 IDR (10$, £5. This leaves daily at 2 pm (usually 11 am on Saturdays), and an additional ferry is usually scheduled for 9 am on Mondays/Fridays. The ferry times to return are the same.
Your homestay will usually pick you up from there and take you to your Island. We stayed in Kri and paid around 80,000 IDR ($8/£4) pp each way to get there.
Stating the obvious – if you are coming from outside Indonesia, your flight costs are going to be the main killer here.
The reality is that a lot of the amazing scuba diving in Indonesia will involve a few slightly more expensive flights. Even if you opt to go scuba diving in Wakatobi (another incredibly diverse and rich marine life location) or simply the Gili Islands, getting there is usually going to be a big chunk of the cost.
Tip: Trying to tie up the flights and ferries is a bit of a challenge. Unless you want to spend a night in Sorong (My advice, don’t), you need to give yourself some time for delays, etc. This will probably mean arriving a good few hours before the flight/ferry, so head to the hotel opposite the airport for some food and Wi-Fi to kill time. Following a four-hour period of being detained in Immigration (even if you are flying domestic and have a Kitas/Driving license, etc, you must show a passport in Papua), we ended up staying the night and spending around £50 for a basic hotel room for 3 people.
The only real accommodations on most of the Islands are huts at homestays. These can range from ‘Luxury’ eco-resorts to more basic accommodations. The main Island of Waigeo also has a few concrete accommodations.
We stayed at Yenkoranu dive resort on Kri. As there were 3 of us, we paid for a larger private hut with an extra bed for 1 million IDR per night ($100/£50).
If you are two people, you can stay in one of the basic shared huts for as little as 200,000 IDR each ($20/£10) per night. This also includes three meals a day, so it is great value! Visit the website for contact details. We found texting the easiest communication.
As internet signal and phone signal is limited don’t be surprised if it takes a day or two and even then you only confirmation is a text message saying ‘Ok. Pick up Tuesday’. It’s all part of the adventure.
*Note the prices we paid varied slightly, some higher and some lower than those on the current website. Email for an updated quote in advance
For other accommodation options and more tips, make sure to check out: www.stayrajaampat.com
Food / Other Expenses
A simple one, really. If there are no shops, there are no other expenses. Our accommodation rate included all our food, so it was pretty impossible to go over our planned budget.
Beer (Large tin Bintang) costs around 50,000 IDR ($5/£2.50) on the Island and is probably going to be warm for sunset after a day of no power. As true Brits, we planned ahead and brought some from Sorong with us to save.
The only place I had seen photos this beautiful in SE Asia before was El Nido Palawan, another paradise you can’t miss on this side of the world.
Trips around the Islands are probably going to be your biggest expense, and costs will vary depending on where you stay. Wayag ended up being out of budget on our trip as we were so far away. The cost of fuel is high here, hence the price. From Kri Island, where we stayed, this was the cost per person of each trip based on 8 people on the boat.
Fam Island: 1 million IDR ($100/£50) – A full-day trip takes you to the Fam Islands, where this view is reason enough to visit:
A smaller version of the famous Wayag view. We also dived Fam Wall here (extra cost), which we weren’t too impressed with. Mellisa’s Garden is meant to be a great dive site here, but alas, the current wasn’t on outside. We stopped at beautiful beaches to eat, visited the Island of Arborek (My favourite!), snorkelled there where a ball of Sardines was already waiting under the pier, and found a shop! Manta Sandy is on the way back, and in seasons, you can snorkel here and watch them all float below. It’s around 2 hours each way, and we left just after Sunrise and back before Sunset.
Wayag: The famous ‘view’ of all the beautiful green-covered rocks sticking out the water would have set us back around 2 million ($200/£100), though it would be cheaper from the main Island. In the end, the boat wasn’t full so the cost would have shot up for everyone else planning to go. It was also a 5 hours trip each way, with only a few hours in Wayag to snorkel and do the trek to the viewpoint. It’s on my list for next time now I know how to go around it.
Diving / Snorkelling
The best time to visit for Diving is around Nov/Dec when the Mantas head to the cleaning stations and Orca whales can be seen. Dolphins swimming past the boat is no surprise, either.
At out home stay we paid 350,000 IDR per dive ($35/£18) with our own equipment, it was 450,000 for those hiring equipment. The local dive sites around Kri were brilliant and included the boat and a guide with 4/5 divers per group. To go further, additional fuel costs need to be added. Cape Kri on Kri island was the most incredible dive of my life – it has, according to some surveys, the most diverse marine wildlife in the world.
Warning: The currents here can be crazy. I had my first out-of-air experience at 33 metres after getting sucked into a down current only 16 minutes into a diver. I am a PADI advanced diver; however, I have never experienced full-on current dives. There are also some calm dive sites here, and the current changes regularly, but my advice is to bring a reef hook and try and get some current experience before heading here.
Snorkelling is another incredible option here. From the house reef of our homestay at the end of the pier, we had schools of fish, turtles and reef sharks swimming around you. It was honestly better than much of the diving I have done in my life.
Entry Cost: All those going to Raja Ampat will need to buy the conservation tag for 500 000 IDR ($50, £25) either from the port on arrival or the hotel opposite the airport – [UPDATE: I have been informed by a reader as of March 2016 the park cost is now 1Million IDR]
Getting there: Boats: Another route of getting around the larger islands and saving big bucks is the Pelino ferry. These big boats can take a day to get between destinations and usually leave once every few weeks but can be dirt cheap and great to hang out with local life – visit www.pelni.co.id for timetables and bookings (Side note: The waters around Indonesia can be crazy, and it’s not unheard of for boats to regularly sink or go missing though these bigger ferries are generally seen as pretty safe).
Electric: Expect many of the smaller islands to be running on a generator, potentially having electricity as little a day as from Sunset to 1 am, though many run throughout the night.
Shops: Forget it. Bring whatever you need or pick it up in Sorong before coming. A few islands like Arborek have small shops, but you might be an hour’s boat ride away. Waisai
Phone Signal: Limited. I had no internet and sometimes no signal, so enjoy the peace and silence of no outside world!
Raja Ampat is a true paradise; I just hope it stays that way!
Photos from Raja Ampat and my personal experience
A collection of Indonesian islands off the coast of Papua. When you touch down at Sorong airport after two flights from Bali seven hours later (Yes, the same country), you know you still have one hell of a boat ride to follow.
Or four hours in Papua’s immigration department (See: Here). This is one place, however, where it is all about the destination and nothing about the journey…
As far as ‘backpacking’ goes, this is pretty off the radar. In fact, it is in the arse end of nowhere. You can’t really afford it on a backpacker’s daily limit, though it’s the remoteness that builds up the costs: find out how to do Raja Ampat on a budget.
The days of it being exclusively for luxury live-aboard and dive fanatics, however, are behind us. Which, in my opinion, is a blessing? The pure paradise lifestyle of limited electricity, no phone signal and Tuna for breakfast, lunch and dinner has put many off.
I have shown so many people the photos to cry that we must visit, only for them to cancel the plans once they heard the reality. But should you want to get lost in the middle of nowhere, not be able to get to a shop in a week and cut off your Facebook connection, then you will be rewarded like no other. Plus, the diving, hell, even the snorkelling off the house reef. It’s another level!
Sorong: The gateway to Paradise. A city with limited bright lights and even more limited tourism skills. The scent of the days catch haunt the port, beetle nut is spat at the floor around you, people come and go offering you quail eggs and dried Mango. It feels like the past. Embrace it, for it won’t be long until you take the cheapest ferry of your life to true Paradise. Located in Papua, Sorong is a fishing and market town. You feel like you have left Indonesia. The only telltale signs are the same flags flying.
The limited transport is a blessing, for it means once you arrive at the hub of this islands ‘activity’ and await your boat transfer a sunset like no other will be warming up in the wings ready to serenade you. Boats shimmer along the glistening sea in front whilst birds glide effortlessly above, occasionally skimming the water. It is almost like this sun has been waiting a lifetime to put on a performance.
You are in the front seat, a private show shared with a few others. Oh, maybe a few Dolphins might gatecrash the party.
As darkness sets and you settle into a ‘luxury’ cabin shared only with the odd rat, you can truly let go. Phone signal was something from another lifetime; anything you didn’t buy on the mainland is two hours away. The staple diet of rice and today’s catch becomes part of who you are, and you are rewarded with a beautiful starlit sky and a tropical lightning storm on Islands around you to dine under.
This is Kri Island. No matter which island on this beautiful archipelago you end up on, the rewards are sure to be the same. You can try to understand the beauty of this place from the few Raja Ampat travel guides that dot the internet, but nothing will prepare you for its breathtaking landscapes.
I always thought showers were overrated, so the lack of a 24/7 hot water option here is another godsend. Bleary-eyed and without coffee, the stumble from the door to the crystal waters provides the most idyllic wake-up call.
Only a few feet from your private ocean swimming pool. Diving into warm, movie-like clear waters to bathe away the night amongst reef sharks and turtles, you can’t help but ask: Who the hell needs an alarm clock?
It might be Tuna again for breakfast, but by now, that’s no concern. You have admitted you are in Paradise and are ready for whatever it throws at you. It might be sleeping on a palm tree over the ocean, taking the dive of your life or simply sipping on a warm beer (fridges are as overrated as showers here) as you hang out in a hammock and get absorbed by a novel.
If you are doing anything less than diving, you are missing a trick. Cape Kri – officially declared the most varied marine dive site in the world, lies at your doorstep. Take a dive, clip in and watch Bumpheads, Turtles, Barracuda, schools of fish and anything else your Biology lesson taught you about glide effortlessly alongside you. Even when the air runs out and the surface beckons, the dream in your mind lives on.
Perhaps a day trip is on your agenda? If you want to find a store, then a day should cut it. The incredibly colourful Arborek Island is only a few hours away from where you can find not one but two shops and stock up on those treats you have been missing so much, such as cold water and soap.
A little further on you can enjoy one of the famed viewpoints of Raja Ampat. Wayag is the famous winner, but our journey to the Fam Island lookout was a worthy second place (that’s if you can really call that view the second place)
More diving follows, more tuna is served up, and more hours are spent in a day living in true nature until Facebook, Twitter and the digital style we live in seem so insignificant you ponder how the modern world really gets its kicks. Hammocks turn into beds, strangers turn into friends, stray dogs turn into pets.
Hours turn into Days.
And then it’s gone. Suddenly, you have to remember the day of the week again and look at a watch. It’s time to go home. But as I very rarely say, I’ll be back.
I just pray paradise remains as untouched as it is now.