Raja Ampat has to be at the top of most Indonesian backpackers travel list. It is one of the ultimate destinations for diver (check here for my top three diving spots in Indonesia besides Raja Ampat) from around the world. It is also one of the hardest places to visit in Indonesia.
Most people think visiting Raja Ampat is expensive. That’s true in part, but it is possible to visit the islands on a budget. In this article I will cover the main things you need to know and things you’ll need to arrange for your trip. I will also answer some of the most frequently asked questions I have seen online about how to arrange a trip here.
btw, I’ve already covered some more general information about Raja Ampat in the Raja Ampat guide, which you can find here. I hope this information will make it easier for people to go on a Raja Ampat backpacking trip. 🙂
How to get to Raja Ampat
There are two main ways to enter Raja Ampat, the first is from Sorong, West Papua to Waigeo. The other way is Misool, which you can reach from Ambon. I have only ever entered Raja Ampat from Sorong, so I will focus on what I know and have experienced and not what I have not.
The easiest way to get to Sorong is fly to there from Jakarta (Btw, if you want to know is it worth it to spend some time in Jakarta, you better check this article). The flight takes about seven hours and usually transits in Makassar (Ujung Pandang) for one hour.
These are several local airlines that I know serve the route Jakarta-Sorong. These include Lion Air, Sriwijaya Air, Merpati and Express Air. Some of the airlines transit in Surabaya or Ambon.
A return ticket from Jakarta to Sorong ranges from Rp 700,000 until Rp 5,000,000. If you want to get the cheapest tickets then you will need to find an airline with a promotion. However, on average a return ticket will cost about Rp 3,000,000 per person.
The other option you have is to fly from Jakarta to Makassar with Air Asia and then from there fly to Sorong with one of the local airlines that I mentioned before. You’ll need to do a bit of searching and comparing to get the best deal for your travel date. For the best price I’d recommend booking your flight at least 6 weeks ahead of your departure date.
Jakarta to Raja Ampat by Ferry
If you’re travelling on a very tight budget you can always take the ferry from Jakarta to Raja Ampat. The national ferry company, Pelni, offers a regular service departing from Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta to Sorong. The journey takes 4-5 days and a one way economy ticket costs around Rp 747,000.
A super VIP ticket meanwhile costs Rp 2,954,500 (two beds per cabin with a private washroom, TV and air conditioner). This is about the same price as a flight, while the VIP service is a bit disappointing. Unless you have a real phobia of flying I’d recommend skipping this option and flying. It’s just as cheap and a lot more convenient.
From Sorong to Waisai
From Sorong Airport you will need to transfer to the port. This is like a 10-15 minute drive. There are public boat to Waisai and Waigeo. A ticket costs Rp 120,000 per person and the ferry takes 2-3 hours. An insider tip from me, if you arrive in Sorong around 12, you can go straight from the airport to the port and be sailing off without any waiting around.
How to Arrange Your Raja Ampat Trip
You should probably know what you can do in Raja Ampat before you arrive, but… Raja Ampat is an archipelago of over 1,500 small islands there are endless cays, shoals, beaches and coral reefs to explore.
All of this sounds amazing, and it is. However, you’ll face a number of problems if you’re trying to go backpacking around Raja Ampat. I’ll go through three of the most common problems you’ll face quickly below (so at least you’re prepared with what to expect).
Some Background Information
There are a few things that you should keep in mind before arriving in Raja Ampat. One of the most important and easiest to overlook is money. You won’t find any ATMs outside of Waisai. So make sure you have enough money on you for your whole trip. This means carrying big bundles of cash, preferably Rupiah, which is less than ideal.
Other basic problems that you will encounter include access the fact that some of the remote settlements will have no or intermittent electricity, bad mobile phone coverage and non-existent Wi-Fi. In short arriving in Raja Ampat is a bit like travelling 20, or maybe 30, years back in time.
One other thing to keep in mind is that you need a tourist permit to visit Raja Ampat. This is very simple to do (most tour agencies, Indonesian liveaboards and resorts will arrange this for you). You can pick up your tourist permit at the Cultural and Tourism Ministry Office in Waisai. It costs Rp 200,000 per person for locals and Rp 500,000 per person for foreigners.
Overcoming The Language Barrier
The first and most obvious problem you face exploring Raja Ampat as a backpacker is the language barrier. Very few people, especially in the more remote villages, will speak more than a few words of English. If you don’t speak Indonesian you’ll need to rely on hand gestures and body language to get you by.
If you don’t speak any Indonesian then I’d recommend bringing a good old fashioned English/ Indonesian dictionary along in your backpack. It can be a huge help when conversations get too complicated. Don’t rely too heavily on technology to help you out.Most places don’t have any phone signal so you can forget Google translate.
Transport and Boat Rental Costs
As I mentioned previously, Raja Ampat is an archipelago of 1,500+ islands in the Indonesian equivalent of ‘the middle of nowhere.’ Even in an ideal situation where the government had invested heavily in public transport it would be difficult to get around.
For a number of reasons government investment in infrastructure is limited. There are public ferries operating between the main islands, but they only go between the largest urban settlements. Most transport between the islands, especially the places you want to visit as a tourist, is private and informal.
Regardless of the size of your group, renting a private boat is expensive. A large speedboat suitable for 2-4 people will cost you around Rp 2,000,000 per day. Large boats hired for group tours of up to 20 people will cost you around Rp 9,000,000. This price covers the cost of gas and a crew or captain to man the boat for you.
One of the best places to arrange a boat rental is from the capital Waisai on the island of Waerebo. It is possible to arrange different boat rentals in most settlements between the islands. As an extra tip, it’s worth asking other travellers if they share your itinerary as this will keep the costs down.
Accommodation around Raja Ampat can be roughly split between expensive dive resorts that cost $100 or more and cheap homestays run by locals. These homestays are generally quite basic for what you get. I’d recommend checking out Stay Raja Ampat for more information about local homestays in the region.
If you are on a Raja Ampat backpacking trip I’d recommend staying in a homestay. It is possible though to camp around Raja Ampat. If you want to camp you’ll need to ask the permission of the local community. Be ready to pay a small camping charge.
Arranging Food and Meals
One of thing to keep in mind when you’re backpacking through Raja Ampat is food. It’s not a problem as such. Most homestays will provide you food for between Rp 25,000 – Rp 40,000 per meal. This is usually quite basic and will be a mix of long lasting staples (like rice) with fresh seafood. As long as you’re not allergic to seafood you’ll find it tasty and delicious. However…
It is worth having some additional supplies just in case your homestay is short on food or you want to treat yourself to some chocolate, crisps or anything else. The best place to stock up on provisions is Sorong. This is where all the luxury resorts, liveaboards and everyone else catering to tourists picks up supplies.
Don’t pick up any perishables. Any fresh meat and even vegetables will spoil quickly in the tropical heat. Be sensible and buy dried and canned food, which won’t go off in your backpack or give you food poisoning.
How Much Will My Trip Cost?
This obviously depends on what do you want to see and do! This is the hard part, especially if you have decided to arrange your Raja Ampat backpacking trip by yourself. At a minimum I’d budget $75 a day in Raja Ampat for living expenses and $200 each time you want to take a day trip or sail from one island to the other.
While you might well find that you’ve over budgeted using this formula, it’s easier to have money on you and not need it than be stuck in the middle of nowhere with no money. And in Raja Ampat you really can end up being stuck in the middle of nowhere!
Budgeted for a shared tour is a lot easier. Most shared tours include all expenses (boat rental, accommodation and food), so the only thing you need money for is snacks and gifts. Just to give you some ballpark figures, a 7 day 6 night tour that includes almost everything you will want to see in Raja Ampat (but excludes diving) costs Rp. 8,500,000 per person. If you are lucky, you can get as low as Rp. 4.100.00 for a 6 day 5 night trip.
Shared Tours vs DIY Backpacking
The best way to explore Raja Ampat on a backpackers budget is to join a shared tour. The simple reason for this is Raja Ampat is huge and you’ll need to arrange a boat rental to go to the best sites. To summarise, you’ll see more and it will cost less on a shared tour. Plus the costs are fixed, so you know exactly what you can and will spend.
If you are determined to arrange your own backpacking trip through Raja Ampat be prepared for an adventure. Arranging things will be difficult and I’m sure it will get frustrating (especially if you can’t speak Indonesian). Make sure to over-budget and expect to do less than you planned.
I’d recommend limiting yourself mostly to one island and take one or two day trips to the tourist sites. It will be a great experience and you’ll come away from your holiday with amazing memories. Just be prepared for a few unexpected obstacles along the way!
I hope I have shared enough of my experiences and knowledge to give you even more of a reason to visit Raja Ampat. If you do visit, please be sure to preserve this beautiful environment. Oh, if you do want tips on arranging a tour to Raja Ampat get in touch. I’m happy to provide a recommendation for a group tour happening close to your travel date.
Have you ever gone backpacking through Raja Ampat? Do you have any questions about your upcoming trip? Share your thoughts in the comments below.