Indonesia Snorkel+Dive

Best Snorkelling in Raja Ampat: Our favourite spots!

When it comes to a good snorkel, it’s fair to say that we have some pretty high standards. We’ve been fortunate enough to have sampled some of the world’s finest reefs from the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Philippines and Indonesia, but snorkelling in Raja Ampat was always number one on our bucket list.

Our guide to the best snorkelling in Raja Ampat

At the end of 2017, our intrepid travels took us on a snorkel expedition to West Papua. Known as the most biodiverse place on the planet for sealife, we couldn’t wait to see what the best snorkelling in Raja Ampat would be like!

After spending three months in the region (yep, we loved it so much we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave!) exploring many great snorkel spots throughout the Dampier Strait, we now have a fair few favourites. Here’s our run down of the top 8.

Snorkelling spots: Sauwandarek Village, Friwen Wall, Arborek, Beser Bay, Tamaku Reef, Yenbuba Jetty, Cape Kri and Batu Lima.

Sauwandarek Village

sauwandarek village snorkelling

Sauwandarek Village is located on the Southern coast of Pulau Mansuar, nestled in a picture perfect cove. Sauwandarek has something for everyone, and easily offers some of the best snorkelling in Raja Ampat.

There are a number of famous jetty’s in Raja Ampat, but we feel Sauwandarek’s is totally underrated! It’s beautiful underside is covered in colourful sea fans and soft corals amongst a mixing pot of friendly Angel Fish, Groupers and the resident Napoleon Wrasse.

Around 100 metres from the shore, in front of the jetty is Sauwandareks ‘sweet spot’. Out here in the blue there is a cleaning station where the big fish like to hang out. Colourful Sweet Lips, Giant Groupers, Trigger Fish, Reef Sharks and a school of bright blue and yellow Fusiliers easily make this one of the most scenic spots for snorkelling in Raja Ampat.

The house reef runs the entire length of the beach. Follow this along and discover a mind-blowing variety of marine life such as the giant sleeping Turtle, even more Reef Sharks, Groupers and swirling schools of Barracuda.

The warm clear shallows have a lot to offer too. There are healthy soft corals, pretty anemones, baby Black Tips and hungry Turtles, so don’t forget to check out this area as well. Once you’re wrinkly from all the snorkelling, dry off on the jetty or wander around the tiny village and play with the local children.

Coral: Excellent
Small Fish: Excellent
Big Fish: Excellent
Current: Mild to Medium
Experience: Beginner
Entry: From the jetty at high tide or the shore at low time

Friwen Wall

friwen wall snorkelling

Friwen Wall, a sliver of limestone next door to the tropical island of Friwen Bonda can be found near the Eastern tip of Pulau Gam… And the snorkelling here is sublime.

Depending on the current, work your way slowly along Friwens rocky under-hang. The wall itself drops off abruptly, but concentrate on the clear shallow waters and you will soon discover an alien underwater world.

The unusual coral infrastructure at Friwen Wall is kaleidoscopic. Its huge gorgonian fans in yellows, pinks and reds, black coral, purple pipe corals, swaying soft coral and iridescent sponges make this spot a feast for the eyes!

This pristine reef and healthy topography is home to an array of strange critters and heaps of impressive macro life such as Boxfish, Puffer and Porcupine Fish, Pygmy Seahorses, Nudis, Crustaceans and more.

Friwen Wall can be reached by boat, where it is possible to access a jetty and a small beach on the opposite side of the island.

Coral: Excellent
Small Fish: Excellent
Big Fish: Good
Current: Mild to Medium
Experience: Beginner
Entry: Make your entry depending on way the current is running and start or end your snorkel at the jetty.

Arborek

arborek snorkelling

The tiny island of Arborek, reminiscent of a Maldivian Atoll, is famed for its jetty and the schools of fish spinning around it.

It is true that on a good day, the jetty is impressive. However in our humble opinion this site has been somewhat spoilt by the number of day tripping boats which moor here. Sometimes the volume of boats vs people far outweighs the fish.

Avoid the hoards by snorkelling out to the right of the main jetty to a special spot between the 2nd jetty and Barefoot Conservation. Around 100 metres from the shore, during the hours of 3 and 6pm there is a fish feeding frenzy!

Snorkelling Arborek around this time could honestly rival a dive. Shoals of glistening Mackerel open their wide mouths in unison as hunting Tuna and Giant Trevally chase them over mounds of pretty coral heads. If you’re lucky you may even spot a Shark, or a passing Manta or two!

Keep following the reef around past the Barefoot Conservation jetty and be greeted by a beautiful shallow reef of hard and soft corals, big fish and small. Before long you’ll reach an outcrop of hard coral where a huge family of Bumphead Parrotfish like to feed.

For us, we found some of the best snorkelling in Raja Ampat on Arborek. It’s a great place to stay and to visit on an excursion.

Coral: Very Good
Small Fish: Excellent
Big Fish: Good
Current: Mild to Strong
Experience: Beginner
Entry: From the main village jetty

Beser Bay

beser bay snorkelling

There are several different spots to explore here which make this super special homestay an excellent choice for serious snorkel enthusiasts.

The main house reef runs along the opening to the bay. Keeping the mangroves to your left, follow this healthy reef for as long as you can. If you’re a strong swimmer its possible to reach the first village.

This stretch is full of life and constant surprises. We’ve spotted Octopus, Mantas, Eagle Rays, Cuttlefish, Reef Sharks, Boxfish, Puffers, Seasnakes, Turtles, Dolphins and Dugongs! Be aware of entering and exiting the bay at low tide – this can be challenging, especially if there is a current.

To the rear of the homestay, karst limestone islets dotted in the turquoise waters offer plenty more to explore. Their interesting rocky under-hangs are not dissimilar to Friwen Wall.

The lagoon surrounding Beser Bay also has a lot to offer. These warm shallows act as a nursing home for baby Black Tip Reef Sharks, Sting Rays, Squid, Clownfish and Cuttlefish. At night, its possible to see the rare and beautiful Walking Shark.

After spending a grand total of 27 nights exploring these waters we consider Beser Bay and its surrounding reefs as one of the top homestays for the best snorkelling in Raja Ampat

Coral: Excellent
Small Fish: Excellent
Big Fish: Excellent
Current: Medium to Strong
Experience: Beginner to Advanced
Entry: Best during high tide

Tamaku Reef

tamaku reef snorkelling

Hidden in the depths of Manyaifun, en route to Wayag, is Tamaku Reef. You might have trouble finding it, but trust us, it is well worth the wild goose chase. This long, thin atoll rises within one metre of the surface and it really is what coral reef dreams are made of!

Warm, clear waters lap around the outskirts of a pristine reef, offering a variety of eye-popping hard and soft corals and a wide array of fish species. We were particularly impressed by the volume of colourful Anthias and hunting Black Tip Reef Sharks. When you picture the best snorkelling in Raja Ampat, this is it!

Coral: Excellent
Small Fish: Excellent
Big Fish: Very Good
Current: Mild to Medium
Experience: Beginner
Entry: By boat

Yenbuba Jetty

yenbuba jetty snorkelling

Probably the 2nd most famous jetty in Raja Ampat is Yenbuba, on the tip of Pulau Mansuar. But there is more to this place than just stilts in the water as a healthy reef runs either side and is home to many wonderful fish, in all shapes and sizes. The jetty offers pretty fans and soft corals, plus the local kids who love to dive-bomb in from the top!

From here, snorkel across to the island of Kri past the tiny islet of Raniswor. This exciting and adventurous crossing is advised for the more confident snorkeller, since the current running between the two islands can be strong. But if you make it, expect to see lots of big stuff like Sharks, Puffers, Triggerfish and Turtles.

Coral: Very Good
Small Fish: Excellent
Big Fish: Excelllent
Current: Medium to Strong
Experience: Beginner to Advanced
Entry: Via the jetty

Cape Kri

One of the most loved sites for diving and snorkelling in Raja Ampat, but it is not for the faint hearted! This vast cape reaches across from the Eastern tip of of Kri to the island and sandbank of Pasir Timbul.

For snorkellers, it is important to get the timing right with Cape Kri. If the current is too strong, it is easy to get blown off course. Fins are a necessity at this site.

The reef itself is deep, so be prepared to spend a lot of time looking down into the blue. However, your efforts will be compensated by big pelagics and vast schools of fish. This thrilling snorkel will set pulses racing.

Further along from the cape, just off to the left of the small island of Pasir Timbul, there is some excellent snorkelling to be had. We don’t know the official name of this site (maybe its just an extension of Cape Kri?) But, if you can get your boat to moor at the island we highly recommend checking this spot out. The reef here is much shallower and easier for the less experienced.

Coral: Very Good
Small Fish: Very Good
Big Fish: Excelllent
Current: Medium to Strong
Experience: Intermediate to Advanced
Entry: By boat

Batu Lima

Batu Lima Snorkelling

Batu Lima or ‘5 Rocks’ is a small outcrop of, well, rocks located 300 metres or so from Yenanas Beach on Pulau Gam.

This unusual formation of nooks and crannies is a fun place to explore as the resident schooling fish glisten and swoop in and out of its dark spaces offering plenty of hiding places from prying snorkellers and divers.

Around the rocks, there are many coral bommies covered in beautiful gorgonian fans. Making your way across the channel and back to the beach, there is more reef to explore but be careful of passing boats and an occasional current.

Yenanas’s house reef is a stunning coral garden with next to no current, so perfect for inexperienced snorkellers.

Coral: Very Good
Small Fish: Very Good
Big Fish: Good
Current: Medium
Experience: Intermediate
Entry: From Yenanas Beach

Tips for snorkelling in Raja Ampat

Some of the best snorkelling in Raja Ampat was more wild and free than anywhere else we’ve experienced! However the wilderness doesn’t come without its challenges, so we have a few first-hand tips to share with you.

Currents and safety guidelines

Raja Ampat is renowned for its strong currents. It is important to know when it is safe to swim, as a strong current could lead to unpredictable situations. In a place as remote as Raja Ampat, this is potentially very dangerous.

Currents are generally felt more so during a snorkel, as they run closer to the surface of the water. But it is possible to evaluate the situation from above. Look for tell-tale signs such as areas that are flat and glassy mixed with swirling choppy water.

If you think you can feel a strong current building, stay as close to the reef or rocks as possible and turn the snorkel around or head back to the shore if you don’t feel safe.

Be sure to avoid contact with all marine life, including the reef. Coral stings for example, can be incredibly painful and hard to heal in hot and humid places such as Raja Ampat.

If you’re heading out alone, tell someone where you’re going and give them a rough direction. Whether this is a friend, fellow guest or homestay owner its important for people to know where you are, especially when snorkelling in such a remote location.

Clothing

The waters in Raja Ampat are alive and brimming with life! There is rather a lot of plankton, swaying fire coral and little stinging jellyfish so cover up with full length rash guards (tops and bottoms) to protect your skin.

Although the sea is warm here, after hours of snorkelling you will start to feel cold. These extra protective layers will come in handy. It is also more respectful to the local people.

Ear care and cleaning

Ear infections are rife in Raja Ampat. If you are unfortunate enough to get one, they will put a stop to all of your underwater activities.

Take preventative measures and flush out your ears with freshwater after snorkelling. We also recommend administering disinfectant drops to dry and clean them using a mix of alcohol and white vinegar.

Snorkel Gear

We highly recommend wearing fins while snorkelling in Raja Ampat. Not only will they help you glide through the water, but if you get caught in a current, fins make a huge difference. They really are for your own safety.

We prefer to use open back fins which allow for reef shoes or booties to be worn. These are a bit of a necessity in Raja Ampat! Navigating your way out to a reef over sharp dead coral at low tide is painful.

Rental equipment is very hard to come by here, especially if you’re staying in a traditional Papuan homestay so it is best to bring your own mask, snorkel, fins and reef shoes.

Lastly with all these insanely beautiful reefs to explore, an underwater camera is a must! For more information don’t forget to check out our essential packing list for snorkelers.

Discovering the best snorkelling in Raja Ampat

Best of Raja Ampat Snorkelling

Snorkelling in Raja Ampat truly blew our socks / fins off!! The sheer diversity of this pristine habitat is outstanding. The longer we spent in the region, the more apparent this became as each site we visited offered up a new and exciting environment to explore.

We soon learnt that whether you are a lover of the big stuff, colourful coral reefs or tiny macro, there is never a lack of life. The only downside is, that snorkelling in Raja Ampat may be impossible to beat…

Have we been spoilt for life? Quite possibly! But thats ok, we’re already planning our next trip 😉 Want to go? Check out our Raja Ampat Travel Guide.

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20 comments

  1. Good afternoon. Excellent blog with a lot of highly detailed information. I got the links on tripadvisor and will be visiting RA from end of January till mid-February. I’ve got a few basic questions about the region and wonder if this is an appropriate place to post them?

    1. James – Many thanks for your comment. Really pleased to hear you’ve found the blog helpful, also great to know where you found us!

      Sure no problem, this is the best place to post any questions you have, we shall look forward to hearing from you soon.

      Nick

      1. Hi Nick. One question I have is about various trips you can take from whichever island you’re staying on. How long is a typical “day trip” from start to finish? What sort of day trips are offered from Arborek and Kri (the two places we’ll be staying)? And one trip specifically, from Arborek to Piaynemo, I’ve been keen to do a high resolution panorama of the karst islands for ages and just wondering what time of day (if you even know) is best so that the sun is to my side or back. I’d hate to visit only to find the sun is in front of me and the trip is so short that I can’t wait around till the lighting is better. A final question: as the homestays are very basic, I’m guessing they don’t provide towels, so we’re going to need to pack a couple?

        1. Hi James – The length of your trips is entirely up to you and the guests you may be sharing the boat with, but they would usually last anywhere between 3 to 5 hours. Homestays are generally very flexible – there is not a time limit from our experience and if you want to take a full day trip a lunch box can be arranged. We personally like to get out early, leaving around 8am so we can be back between 1-2pm. Homestay’s will normally take you wherever you wish.

          The sun will be on your back from afternoon until sunset for the Piaynemo viewpoint photo. Arborek is not so far to Piaynemo so I am sure you will have ample time there, as long as the weather treats you kindly.

          Yes most homestay’s have towels, just in case, we always travel with Microfibre towels which are very handy since they pack down well and dry quickly. I hope this answers your questions but give us a shout if anything else comes to mind.

          Nick

          1. Hi Nick. The boats used to transport people between islands…. are they similar to the longtail boats in Thailand? And I’m curious which camera you used for your underwater photos (they look very good). I’m using an Olympus TG-4 which gets good results (once I remove all the back-scatter on Photoshop). From the looks of some of the photos I’ve seen from RA the water seems even more clear that what I saw in the Maldives or Philippines….

          2. Hi James, In terms of their size and open-top nature, the local boats in Papua are quite similar to Thai longtails, however they are nearly always powered by Yamaha or Suzuki outboard engines which are considerably faster and more efficient than the ones you see in Thailand.

            The current underwater photos and video footage on our blog have been shot with a GoPro Hero 5, however our new camera is a Sony RX100 M3 which we much prefer. We’ve heard great things about the Olympus series too!

            Visibility in Raja Ampat varies greatly from day to day throughout the year. However May to September probably offers a better chance of clearer visibility as plankton subsides during these months. The drawback to this means less mantas and other big fish action. Generally though, we found the visibility to be less than the locations you have mentioned.

            Thanks again for your comments and for subscribing to our blog.

            Best wishes, Nick

          3. Hi Nick. Are the boats used to transfer between islands similar to the long-tail boats in Thailand? As well, just curious which camera you used for your underwater photos. They look very sharp and there doesn’t appear to be much back-scatter in the photos at all…. the water must be very clear.

          4. I posted similar messages twice…. I thought I unwittingly unsubscribed from your site, so I posted again. Guess I was wrong…. 🙂

          5. Thanks very much Nick. We’ll be in RA next week, so now time to get ready to enjoy the trip. Have a great nite ~~

    1. Hi Sammy,

      Thank you so much for your comment, we are so pleased that you have enjoyed our website and found the blog helpful to planning your trip!

      I am writing to you from our bungalow at Beser Bay, we really hope you love it here as much as we do.

      Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.

      Nick & Claire.

    1. Hi Frank,

      Thanks so much for your comment and for the update on Friwen Wall. We are very saddened to hear this news. We’re travelling in Raja Ampat again right now, but haven’t made our way over there yet.

      We’ve spent the past few weeks on a snorkel exploration in the region discovering some new sites, and what we have found has been truly mind blowing – We really hope the reefs stay that way.

      Anyway, enjoy your trip to Raja Ampat and wishing you a very Happy New Year!

      All the best,
      Claire & Nick.

  2. Thanks for this.

    Based on your data we did a 4 night expedition. We did two days at Waranus homestay (there are multiple adjoining homestays as alternates) where we did;

    Sauwandarek Village, Yenbuba Jetty, Waranus house reef and Cape Kri (we were here at high tide so the currents were not strong).

    On the way to Beser Bay (where we spent 2 nights) we did Friwen wall, Aborek and added Manta point which was not on your list. This was a highlight, swimming metres away from Mantas.

    The inlet where the Beser Bay homestay is based is a nursery and around the night high tide the fauna is mind blowing. Every night there were dozens of baby sharks and stingrays right under your sleeping quarters. Whatsmore, walking sharks were everywhere, especially on the waters edge between the huts. Have a spotlight handy.

    We saw the walking sharks hiding during the day under rocks under the large rock opposite the bungalows (about 50m away).

    While snorkelling in front of the Beser Bay huts during the day there were many sea snakes. Garfish were hunting and fishing eagles? were taking fish as we reclined on our verandas.

    The house reef is healthy with abundant clown fish. Go left out of the inlet and keep 50 to 100m offshore (directly in front of the mangroves which go all the way to the local village).

    It worked well and all worth a visit.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with us Geoff! Really pleased that you found our information useful. We love the reefs around Beser Bay too, the marine life there is impressive. Having just returned from our forth trip to Raja Ampat, we will be updating this post shortly with a number of new discoveries, including an excellent place to see the Mantas.

      All the best, Claire & Nick

  3. Your lives and this website are fabulous, congratulations! Active seniors hoping to check RA off our bucket list and could use your help. Lots of great detailed info. Many variables to this questions but here goes-can you recommend your top 2 snorkeling locations/home stays for seniors who are a bit timid in the water but love the experience. Our goal is to see assorted marine life with mostly house reef from the shore excursions. Wife not a big fish eater and a bit worried about homestay menu offerings-loves rice, noodles and veggies. Love the homestay option with opportunity to see villages and meet the locals. Many trips to Indonesia, hope to add Raja to our memory book. Many thanks for your good work!

    1. Hello Christa, Thank you so much for your comment. Great to hear you’re ticking off that bucket list and considering a trip to Raja Ampat. Good for you! Have a look at Yenros Homestay on Gam which has a small, protected house reef. Neighbouring Yenanas Beach/Batu Lima is also a very nice spot with a healthy reef.

      If you’re looking for assorted marine life, the village of Sauwandarek on the island of Mansuar is an excellent location in a large protected bay. The snorkelling here is accessible from the shore at high tide or jetty – its one of our favourite spots. Unfortunately there are no homestays in this area, so the only way of reaching it is by taking an excursion. Another good place would be Friwen Wall. It’s a gentle drift snorkel that has beautiful corals. Raja Ampat can have strong currents, so you do have to be careful (we strongly recommend packing your own fins).

      Yes the homestay experience is wonderful and in our opinion is the best way of truly experiencing Raja Ampat. If you’d like to explore local life, Sawinggrai and Kapisawor villages on Gam, Arborek or Friwen Bonda are all worth a visit.

      Regarding food, fish and eggs are the main source of protein on the menu, however this does vary from homestay to homestay. We loved the food (and pretty much everything else) at Beser Bay on Gam, however we wouldn’t necessarily recommend this homestay to you, as getting out to the reef can be challenging. Most Papuan families are quite accommodating so I’m sure if you notified the kitchen with your wife’s requirements they would do their best to cater to you. We’re big fans of the veggie dishes served in Raja Ampat, often delicious aubergine and coconut curries, lots of greens too.

      Hope this helps answer your questions, if you need any more info then do let us know – Claire & Nick

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