Travelled and Written By Betsy O'Reilly
When you plan a trip that will include three families staying all together on a boat for nine days, in a part of the world that takes 70 plus hours of travel to reach, you have some doubts. When you're told that the fourteen of you will have no wifi or cell coverage for those nine days, the doubt grows. And when you're told to be absolutely certain your medical evacuation insurance is up to date, you almost pull the plug.
There's no easy way to get to Raja Ampat and you'll definitely spend a lot of time explaining to friends and family why you chose to go there. Yet, from the moment you set sail into this vast region of 600 islands covering 40,000 square kilometers in the West Papua province of Indonesia, all doubts melt away. As the home of the most bio-diverse marine ecosystem on the planet, there is, literally, no where else like it.
Where To Stay
Despite it's vast potential as a tourist destination, Raja Ampat has almost zero hotels or resorts. The only way to really see the region is by boat. Options vary hugely. At the top end, there are options for luxury boats run by Aman Resorts and other similarly luxurious charter companies. At the more economical end are diving boats which pack in scuba enthusiasts who are willing to trade some comfort for access to the world's best diving. I won't mince words, we opted for luxury.
Our boat, the Mutiara Laut, is a 47 meter double-masted yacht that sleeps up to 14 guests and 14 crew. It carries two smaller motorboats that can be used for water skiing and tubing excursions. It has a huge deck where we ate all of our meals and lounged comfortably during our downtime. The guest cabins were spacious with en suite bathrooms and incredibly comfortable beds (or did they just feel that way because everyone sleeps better on a boat??)
What To Eat
When we boarded the boat, we asked our activity director if we'd be stopping to eat at any local restaurants. He deadpanned that he'd heard tales of an island about fourteen hours away where an Italian expat had settled and built a huge stone pizza oven. That would be the closest we got to a restaurant in Raja Ampat.
Other than one incredibly special beach barbecue, all meals were on the boat and not a single one disappointed. Every breakfast included fresh pastries and eggs and strong coffee; every lunch and dinner consisted of three courses. Every time we came back to the boat from a dive or hike, smiling crew members greeted us with fresh cold juices. Every day as the sun set, hors d'oeuvres appeared with cocktails. My point is, the food was not just delicious, it was abundant. I was glad for the elastic waists on my bikinis.
What To Do
The main draw of Raja Ampat is underwater. The variety of marine life is staggering with roughly 75% of all coral species in existence found there. There are over 1,500 fish species and almost 700 mollusk species in the region. Our diving guides informed us that a random 100 meter patch of reef in this area contains nearly five times the amount of coral species as can be found in the entire Caribbean Sea. There are also saltwater crocodiles, which, thankfully we did not see.
What we did see every time we snorkeled or dived was an underwater world the likes of which exists nowhere else on the planet. The true joy of the region is that you don't need to be a certified diver to experience it. The kids on the boat, some of whom were not PADI certified, did Discover Dives (DSDs) which allowed them to dive along the reefs and at depths of 12-15 meters - which is plenty deep in Raja's crystal waters. The non-diving snorkelers in the group had a similar experience.
When we weren't diving, we were pre-dawn trekking to see the elusive bird of paradise, swimming in a saltwater lake brimming with stinger-less jellyfish, paddle-boarding, tubing, and reading book after book after book from the comfort of a deck chair. What we weren't doing was checking our phones. For nine days, we were blissfully (even for the teenagers) out of cell tower range.
Don't Leave Home Without
Pack light for Raja Ampat. You likely won't be allowed to wear shoes on your boat - not even flip flops - and you will likely not come into contact with anyone other than your boat-mates. So all those great dinner outfits I brought stayed in the suitcase. Every morning I changed from pajamas into a bikini with shorts and a t-shirt or sundress. A few rash-guards/swim-shirts are a necessity. Most boats will provide dive and snorkeling equipment and wetsuits.
If you've ever considered buying an underwater camera, do it for this trip. Lastly, bring more books than you think you need to. Between the 72 hours of transit time to get to Raja and the lovely quiet hours between dives once you're there, you'll have time to get to every book that's collected on your nightstand this year.
Cazenove + Loyd are specialists in the region and did a spectacular job organizing our trip. We broke up the long journey home with two day visits to both Singapore and Abu Dhabi which I'd highly recommend. If you end up with a ten hour layover in Jakarta on your way to Sorong (the port from which boats leave on Raja Ampat itineraries), the Four Seasons Jakarta can organize a police escort through the otherwise challenging Jakarta traffic from the airport to the hotel. It's well worth doing.
Kelly's Packing List
From Left to Right: Bikini from Haight through Net a Porter, Necklace from Heidi Carey, Filu Hat, Net a Porter , wrap around skirt Jaline, Big Beach Daddy Corroon, V-neck t-shirt from Alex Mill NY, Beauty Counter Sunscreen, Melissa Odabash swim shorts, Tory Burch linen gauze pants.