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Snorkeling Raja Ampat: Liveaboard Cruises in Indonesia

By Brian Hutchinson

Located at the heart of the Coral Triangle region, Raja Ampat, Indonesia is known for having some of the highest marine biodiversity in the world. It is also home to some of the world’s best snorkeling and scuba diving, which is best enjoyed via liveaboard trips that generally range from one to two weeks in length.

The breathtaking landscape of Raja Ampat's "Secret Bay." © Wayne Sentman

About Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat is a remote archipelago in eastern Indonesia that consists of more than 2,500 small islands and reefs off of the northwestern tip of the island of New Guinea. There are four large, mountainous islands in Raja Ampat—Batanta, Misool, Salawati, and Waigeo—for which the archipelago is named; Raja Ampat means “Four Kings” in Bahasa Indonesia (raja = king, and ampat [or empat] = four). The archipelago encompasses approximately 43,000 square kilometers of land and sea, and is sparsely populated, with most islands being uninhabited.

Raja Ampat (as well as the nearby Savu and Banda Seas) is home to some of the world’s highest marine biodiversity, a fact that was only discovered by scientists within the past 15 years. Since then, Raja Ampat has become the focus of extensive research and conservation efforts by international and local organizations, and a hotspot for snorkel and dive tourism. Today, much of Raja Ampat is protected as part of the Raja Ampat Marine Protected Area network of seven protected areas that cover 1,185,940 hectares (2,930,522 acres).

A colorful reef in Raja Ampat shows the incredible diversity of life found here. © Pete Oxford

New species are still being discovered regularly in Raja Ampat, adding to the already impressive totals—more than 1,400 fish species and 550+ species of reef building corals (75% of the world’s coral species) are found here, as well as 17 species of marine mammals, 25 species of mangrove, and other iconic species such as whale sharks, sea turtles, walking sharks, and manta rays.

The islands—many of which are made of rugged, sharp limestone karst —are also home to a number of indigenous and traditional human communities, as well as lush forests, rare plants, and endemic birds (including Wilson’s and Red Birds of Paradise).

A passenger sits on the bow of a liveaboard ship in Raja Ampat. © Pete Oxford

Raja Ampat Liveaboard Snorkeling Trips

Raja Ampat is home to some of the world’s best snorkeling, with an abundance of pristine, shallow reefs, diverse habitats, good visibility, and warm water temperatures. The best way to snorkel Raja Ampat is aboard a liveaboard cruise, which will allow you to visit a variety of habitats, to maximize your time in the water and minimize time in transit, and to be flexible to local weather conditions and other factors when choosing daily snorkel sites.

We have three liveaboard snorkeling trips in Raja Ampat scheduled during 2017 and 2018:

  1. Raja Ampat Archipelago by Liveaboard: This is our classic Raja Ampat liveaboard snorkeling trip that was named one of National Geographic Traveler’s “50 Tours of a Lifetime” in 2010. Our itinerary hits the highlights of Raja Ampat with a focus on experiencing the best snorkeling available. We will also venture on land to explore the forests of Waigeo and Gam Islands and to search for endemic Birds of Paradise.
    Dates & Cost: Oct 19–28, 2017 & Oct 17–28, 2018 | From $6,200 / person
  2. Raja Ampat & Banda Sea Biodiversity Cruise: This is the ultimate Indonesia snorkeling or scuba diving liveaboard trip, covering more than 1,100 miles over 17-days. The trip begins in the equally biodiverse Banda Sea and Alor Archipelago and travels northeast before reaching Raja Ampat and the Bird’s Head Peninsula of West Papua, Indonesia. This cruise was specifically designed to visit locations where the highest reef fish diversity in the world has been recorded, and will give you the ultimate exposure to Indonesia’s incredible marine habitats. Both snorkelers and scuba divers are welcome on this program.
    Dates & Cost: Sep 19 – Oct 5, 2017 | From $8,795 / person
  3. Raja Ampat Coral Triangle Adventure: Enjoy 10 full days of snorkeling (or scuba diving) in a variety of Raja Ampat’s incredible marine ecosystems during this one-of-a-kind liveaboard trip. Adding to your experience, an on-board cetacean expert will assist with finding and recording observations of whales and dolphins using visual surveys and hydrophones while you are not snorkeling or diving. This special cruise will take place aboard the Pindito, one of the original liveaboard ships in Raja Ampat.
    Dates & Cost: Feb 13–24, 2017 | From $6,990 / person

Diverse, shallow reefs like this lead to some of the world's best snorkeling in Raja Ampat. © Pete Oxford


Brian Hutchinson is Oceanic Society's vice president of outreach, co-founder of the State of the World's Sea Turtles Program, and program officer of the IUCN-SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group. Brian holds a B.A. in zoology from Connecticut College, and has been working to advance global marine conservation for more than a decade.