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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 home to 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, Indonesia

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 & Dive 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 or scuba dive in 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 or dive sites.

We have four liveaboard expeditions in Raja Ampat, Indonesia scheduled across multiple departure dates:

  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 13-24, 2020, Oct 17-28, 2021, Oct 30 - Nov 10, 2022 | From $6,800 / person
  2. Raja Ampat: Coral Triangle Adventure: Experience luxurious accommodations and top-notch service aboard the El Aleph as we enjoy in-depth snorkeling or scuba diving amid the many outstanding marine habitats of Raja Ampat. Our on-board cetacean expert from Planet Deep has more than 20 years experience in the Coral Triangle and will help spot and identify marine mammals along the way. When possible we may also have the chance to get in the water to snorkel alongside whales and dolphins.
    Dates & Cost: Feb 19 - Mar 1, 2020 SOLD OUT, Feb 22 - Mar 5, 2021, Feb 22 - Mar 5, 2022 | From $9,800 / person
  3. Raja Ampat: Small Group Snorkeling Adventure: A notch up from our classic Raja Ampat expeditions, on this trip you will enjoy a smaller group size and higher class of service aboard the Damai I, including complimentary sunset massages, as we immerse ourselves in the underwater world of Raja Ampat. We’ll explore shallow reefs with abundant fish, blue water mangroves rich with soft corals and macro life, and known habitats for iconic Coral Triangle species ranging from colorful mantis shrimp to breathtaking manta rays and otherworldly tasseled wobbegong sharks.
    Dates & Cost: Jan 21 - Feb1, 2020 SOLD OUT, Jan 12 - 23, 2022 | From $6,200 / person
  4. Raja Ampat to the Forgotten Islands: Experience a range of spectacular marine habitats on this exploration that begins in Raja Ampat and ends in the Forgotten Islands of the Banda Sea, one of the more remote and exotic destinations in Indonesia. Our adventure begins as we explore the iconic fish- and coral-rich reefs around the Dampier Strait of Raja Ampat. From here we travel south to Misool, a haven for manta rays and sharks, before continuing on to the volcanic Banda Islands.
    Dates & Cost: Mar 26 - Apr 5, 2021 | From $7,200 / person

In addition, we are leading more and more special liveaboard expeditions to nearby areas of the Coral Triangle that contain equally high marine species diversity and offer comparable, if not better, snorkeling, diving, and wildlife viewing than Raja Ampat! Current offerings include:

  1. Banda Sea: Reefs, Blue Whales, and Hammerhead Sharks: Explore the beautiful coral reefs surrounding the volcanic islands of Ambon and the Banda Sea bon this luxury liveaboard expedition. Located at the border where the Pacific and Indian Oceans collide, this area harbors some of those most biodiverse coral reef ecosystems in the world and is a hotspot for blue whales. Our expedition brings together professional conservationists and passionate guests for a unique and enriching experience. Selecting ideal snorkeling and dive sites daily, we will immerse ourselves in diverse marine habitats and sail among the many uninhabited jungle-capped islands, complemented by dedicated time to look for whales.
    Dates & Cost: Oct 27 - Nov 7, 2020, Oct 16-27, 2021, Oct 11-22, 2022 | From $9,800 / person
  2. Indonesia: Halmahera to Sulawesi: Join us as we travel this unique and rarely offered itinerary in the biogeographic region of Wallacea, beginning at the "Spice Island" of Halmahera and making our way to Sulawesi. Halmahera has some of the best hard coral gardens in Indonesia and is still being explored. In Sulawesi we will encounter unique macro critters and visit the Tangkoko Nature Reserve, a haven for endemic species. Weather permitting, we will also stop at the Togean Islands and visit the Red Jellyfish Lake. Don't miss your chance to be among the first travelers to explore this special region.
    Dates & Cost: Apr 21 - May 3, 2022 | From $8,350 / person

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

Author

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.

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