Indonesia’s Raja Ampat reached our list of must-see places thanks to National Geographic. Because a certain photo from a place called Friwen Wall made us dream about it. And we dreamt and dreamt until Raja Ampat actually became an obsession. But there was one thing holding back our thrills: the distance! Getting to Raja Ampat (especially from Romania) was definitely no piece of cake! Because when you look at the map and search for Raja Ampat and then its tiny Gam Island, you kinda get dizzy (it’s pretty much the end of the world). However, we decided not to give in! On the contrary, we decided to spend our birthdays nowhere else but in Raja Ampat, on Gam Island!
A Paradise Called Raja Ampat
In our one-year trip, we met two types of tourists: the ones that would raise an eyebrow upon hearing us mention Raja Ampat, and the ones that had been there and instantly got sparks in their eyes. One of them got stuck in my head. He was a British guy we met in Nepal and somehow I got to mention to him that we were looking for ways of getting to Raja Ampat:
“Oh, my God! It’s the most beautiful place I’ve been so far! It’s freaking magical, special! It’s really hard to describe it in words!”
I smiled and asked him what exactly got him so hooked on Raja. “I really don’t know, it’s just special!”
Little did I know then that this would be my exact feeling as well. That Raja Ampat is a special place, hard to be described in words.
In case you are wondering where the heck is Raja Ampat, it’s time to leave the mystery aside. Raja Ampat is an archipelago made of no less than 1500 islands in the Indonesian Province of West Papua. Getting to Raja Ampat feels like being dropped among tons of small islands. But what really makes these islands so special is what lies hidden in the water. It’s a place famous in the whole world for its marine biodiversity, sort of any diver’s paradise. It’s also a paradise worthy of kings because Raja Ampat means the Four Kings (Raja = King and Ampat = four). According to the local legends, one king for each one of the four main islands: Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati, and Misool.
Getting to Raja Ampat
Is getting to Raja Ampat really a pain in the neck?! Well, I can tell you one thing: you definitely need tons of patience! For us, it was a bit easier given that we were got to Raja Ampat by flying from the Philippines. But even so, we had to change three flights (we were coming from the Philippines and we flew Cebu – Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur – Makassar and Makassar – Sorong). Out of these, the last one was with the most silent aircraft I’ve been in my life – a Canadian Bombardier CRJ1000.
But the easiest way to get there is to first fly to either Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta or Bali. We found the flight tickets from these destinations comparable, so we decided to choose Kuala Lumpur. From there, your next destination will be Makassar, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Air Asia has a direct morning flight that takes almost 3 hours and a half. Of course, there are also other airlines connecting Makassar, such as Malindo Air, Sriwijaya Air or Garuda. But given our research on Indonesian flight companies, we felt safer with Air Asia.
From Makassar, you need to take one last flight, to Sorong airport, in Indonesia’s West Papua. But again, my fear of flying made sneaked into our plans and made us spend way too many hours in Makassar’s tiny airport. That’s because I insisted on flying with Garuda, apparently a safer option in Indonesia. Most flights to Sorong are very early in the morning and our was more than 12 hours from our arrival in Makassar. We spent time reading and sleeping in the only lounge we found, for the impressive amount of around USD 15.
Are we there yet?
If you thought that changing three flights is enough for getting to Raja Ampat then think again. We got to Sorong, but we were still one two-hour ferry ride away from Waisai, the capital of the Raja Ampat Regency. Before getting to the harbor, make sure you pay the Raja Ampat Marine Park entry permit, which costs 1,000,000 Indonesian Rupiah, per person, approx. USD 75.
Then comes the ferry ride. We chose the Bahari express ferry which was supposed to leave Sorong at 2 pm. Of course, we had a one hour delay, but no one seemed to be in a hurry. You need to check the ferries schedule beforehand, in order to make sure you don’t end up sleeping in Sorong (not the most attractive place). For an economy ticket on the ferry, we paid around USD 10. Oh, and don’t worry about getting from the airport to the harbor. A taxi ride will probably cost you around another USD 10.
And finally, we were in Waisai, the port from where all the tourists get picked up by their accommodations and taken on all the little islands. Our island, Gam, was a half an hour small boat ride from Waisai. To arrange your transfers from Waisai to the smaller islands, the easier way is arranging the transport with your host. And yes, the transfer can be a bit expensive for Asian standards (around USD 35 in our case), but so is the price of fuel in Raja Ampat. As such, we left the ferry behind and ran to hide from the rain and to find Melki, our host on Gam Island. So yes, getting to Raja Ampat is not piece of cake, but it’s sure worth it!
Melki is the owner of Yenros Homestay, our home for our stay in Raja. You have two options for accommodation in Raja – you can either choose to stay in a resort or opt for a traditional homestay, with basic facilities. We chose Melki and his homestay and we sure made a good choice! We managed to find Melki in the crowd fighting to take cover from the rain. He smiled to us in a very peaceful way: Welcome to Raja Ampat! he said. This is how it is here, it rains and then it rains again!
After an hour we managed to cheat the rain and to reach Melki’s small boat. We immediately understood why we really had to wait for the rain to calm down. Our little boat had no rooftop whatsoever and most likely we would have reached the shore swimming. A short balance session and we hopped in the boat, ready to rumble! However, my mind was focused on a single thing. I didn’t know how to get my hand in the water faster to check the rumors about the water’s temperatures! Oh, yes, they were so true! The water was a freaking soup this water, warmer than the outside temperature! We were at the crossroads between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and it seemed they really get along warmly. And so we forgot about all the fatigue that getting to Raja Ampat cost us.
Melki started the engine and we headed towards Gam Island. It was like turning on a dream. The clouds seemed to have descended from their usual celestial homes, they looked so low that you could actually have touched them. The water was so calm it gave us the impression we were rowing on a lake rather than the ocean. The sky mirrored the water and gave us optical illusions. I saw some weird birds somewhere in the distance. But they kinda moved in a weird way and seemed to float on the water. Yep, our eyes were playing with us. They were definitely not birds, but actually dolphins! Our welcoming committee in the Raja Ampat paradise!
Let the Dreams Begin
All around us, there were tiny green islands. Each one greener than the one next to it. Every now and then we would spot a shy beach, but with white sand and tall palm trees in the background. This is how we were welcomed by our beach as well. A beach we got to call home for the following days. Melki slowed down the engine and turned the boat toward the beach. We had finally made it! I looked in the water and could barely believe how crystal clear it was. But I didn’t get to see its sandy bottom, only tons of corals and fish hiding beneath us. So I understood why had we been told that our life would depend on the tide. The corals were so close to shore that to be able to swim over them the water needed to be high.
Our mighty boat reached the sand. We jumped enthusiastically on the white soft blanket and we really didn’t know where to look first. The verdict was obvious: we had reached paradise! We passed the palms on the beach and got to see the small traditional huts. And there was our lil’ home waiting for us as well. A modest hut only a few steps away from the beach, with the sound of waves, constantly playing in the background.
We instantly realized that time would pass slower in the following days. Because everything felt so peaceful that we were under the impression that everything was in slow motion. We didn’t feel like doing anything, we surrendered to the Raja Ampat spell. We dropped our bags in our hut and we waited for my favorite moment – the sunset. And as I was expecting it, the sunsets in Raja Ampat cannot disappoint you. We sat on the beach and admired the sky’s game of colors. Every now and then a colorful bird flew above us and played sharp sounds. We closed our eyes and breath deeply! So this is how paradise smells like!
***TO BE CONTINUED***