Snorkeling Raja Ampat

By Donna DeGaetani
This item appears on page 47 of the November 2018 issue.

The <i>Shakti</i> in a lagoon in Raja Ampat. Photo by Donna DeGaetani

Lying in the Pacific Ocean's Coral Triangle, the Raja Ampat archipelago, in West Papua, Indonesia, is among the places with the world's richest diversity of corals and fish. A 2001 survey in association with Conservation International recorded 450 species of hard corals and more than 950 species of reef fish.

As an avid snorkeler, I was attracted to the biological diversity and remoteness of the islands' waters, so I enrolled for a 12-day, May 2018 live-aboard excursion run by Wilderness Travel (Berkeley, CA; 800/368-2794, www.wildernesstravel.com).

Eight guests received the attention of eight crew members and Andrea Duggan, our terrific guide, aboard a 100-foot, double-masted, traditional Bugis schooner, the SMY Shakti. Cabins, which included bathrooms, were attended to daily. Meals and snacks, provided by the cook, Deedie, and his assistant, were both delicious and healthy. And each evening, an educational presentation was held on deck.

We snorkeled from three to six hours each day in 80°F-plus water, with three guides helping us find both common and unusual reef fish as well as soft and hard coral.

One day we saw 15 varieties of butterflyfish! On another day there were five varieties of anemonefish plus, of course, the regular reef fish, such as damselfish, triggerfish, wrasse and Moorish idols.

Dive sites included bays, lagoons, mangroves and piers. What astounded us all was the more unusual underwater life: manta rays (swimming about 15 feet below us), octopuses, giant clams, turtles, seahorses, scorpionfish, lionfish, wobbegong sharks and nudibranchs, just to name a few.

Tasselled wobbegong shark — Raja Ampat. Photo by Andrea Duggan

Hiking on remarkable karst "mushroom" formations, having a beach picnic, seeing a jungle waterfall, bird-watching and delivering textbooks to an island school added variety to our experiences.

Sunsets and sunrises in remote anchorages among the islets were jaw-dropping. Other boats were rarely sighted, so we felt quite alone in paradise.

From Los Angeles, getting to Indonesia can take up to 24 hours. I flew Singapore Airlines to Jakarta for $5,234 in business class, then Batik Air to Sorong, West Papua ($234), where our tour began.

Caveat — Batik Air, without giving me direct advance notice, changed my Jakarta-Sorong flight from a midmorning direct flight to a one-stop flight departing four hours earlier. I found out the night before when confirming my flight from my hotel. Four other group members also received no notice from Batik Air about their flight having been moved up. As a result, one passenger missed hers, though she did arrive for the tour an hour before departure.

The airline also changed our return flight from Sorong to Jakarta to earlier in the day without advising ticket holders.

Anticipating flight-delay issues, I had planned beforehand for stays in hotels in Jakarta and Sorong as backup insurance.

In Jakarta, I stayed at the Swiss-BelHotel Airport (www.swiss-belhotel.com) for $105, refundable, with breakfast and a free shuttle to and from the airport. In Sorong, I stayed at another Swiss-BelHotel ($86 including breakfast), where our group met on the first day. I would recommend both hotels, as they were convenient, the restaurants and amenities were good, and the staff members were polite and helpful.

For the tour, I booked a single room on the schooner (one of two on the boat) and paid $7,690 for it. The four other cabins cost $5,695 per person, double occupancy. Cabins go quickly, so I booked many months in advance.

This is a tour for the adventuresome and fit. Five of the eight of us were in our 60s and 70s but did well because of our health and fitness levels. Be advised that locations are remote, and there are no cell phone or email connections while sailing. Satellite communication is possible, but medical attention and swift evacuation are not easily available.

That said, this is an exotic adventure worthy of any snorkel enthusiast!

Should anyone wish to contact me, my email is donna.degaetani@gmail.com.

DONNA DeGAETANI
Los Angeles, CA


Black manta ray — Raja Ampat archipelago, Indonesia. Photo by Andrea Duggan

Family of anemonefish — Raja Ampat archipelago, Indonesia. Photo by Andrea Duggan

Giant clam — Raja Ampat archipelago, Indonesia. Photo by Andrea Duggan

Sunset from the Shakti — Raja Ampat archipelago, Indonesia. Photo by Donna DeGaetani