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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 across multiple departures throughout 2019 and 2020:

  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 28 - Nov 8, 2019, Oct 18-29, 2020 | From $6,800 / person
  2. Raja Ampat: Coral Triangle Adventure: Escape for a 12-day adventure to Raja Ampat aboard the luxury ship, El Aleph, and enjoy daily snorkeling or diving in the most biodiverse coral reef ecosystem in the world. Multiple hours will be spent each day immersed in Raja Ampat’s famous and beautiful reefs where cetaceans, manta rays, turtles, and large schools of fish are all frequently sighted. Time will also be devoted in the afternoons to surveying for marine mammals, plus optional morning outings to go birding.
    Dates & Cost: Feb 19 - Mar 2, 2019, Feb 19 - Mar 1, 2020 | From $9,695 / person
  3. Raja Ampat: Small Group Snorkeling Adventure: Join us aboard the intimate Damai I for an expedition designed to get you snorkeling in the phenomenal variety of habitats that make the Raja Ampat archipelago so special. 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. A maximum of 13 guests in 7 cabins and two onboard snorkel guides make for an intimate experience aboard this boutique wooden ship.
    Dates & Cost: Jan 21 - Feb 1, 2020 | From $6,200 / person

In addition, we are leading three liveaboard expeditions to nearby areas of the Coral Triangle in 2019 and 2020 that are known to have equally high marine species diversity and offer comparable, if not better, snorkeling, diving, and wildlife viewing than Raja Ampat! They are:

  1. Secrets of the Savu Sea and Alor Archipelago: Explore some of the "fishiest" and more remote areas of the Coral Triangle in waters adjacent to Raja Ampat and visit Komodo Island on this intimate liveaboard adventure aboard the prestigious Damai II. Beyond dazzling coral reefs, we'll visit areas known for pelagic species like manta rays, Mola mola, pilot whales, dolphins, and even blue whales. The Solor-Alor region is one of the most important habitats for oceanic cetaceans in the Indonesian seas, with a relatively high abundance of blue whales. Our itinerary ends with a visit to Komodo Island National Park to see the endemic Komodo dragon and enjoy wonderful snorkeling on nearby reefs.
    Dates & Cost: June 18-19, 2019 | From $7,400 / person
  2. Banda Sea: Reefs, Blue Whales, and Hammerhead Sharks: Explore the beautiful coral reefs surrounding the volcanic islands of Alor and the Banda Sea between Saumlaki and Maumere on this 12-day luxury liveaboard expedition. 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. A highlight of the expedition will be a trip to “Hammer Island,” a remote location where scalloped hammerhead sharks are known to school in large numbers.
    Dates & Cost: Sep 10-21, 2019, Sep 10-21, 2020 | From $9,695 / person
  3. Indonesia: Sulawesi to Komodo Island by Liveaboard: This exciting expedition will take you along the eastern seaboard of Sulawesi, crossing the Flores Sea to Komodo National Park, home of the spectacular Komodo dragon. Cruising from the town of Gorontalo in north Sulawesi south to Labuan Bajo in Flores, we will explore the many volcanic islands and atolls of this vibrant region of the Coral Triangle. Along the way we make stops at remote villages, snorkel beautiful coral reefs, enjoy hiking, see rare endemic fish and birds, visit seabird colonies, possibly snorkel with manta rays and sharks, and see Komodo dragons in the wild.
    Dates & Cost: Mar 15 – 26, 2018, Mar 12–23, 2019 | From $5,990 / 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.