Snorkeling in Raja Ampat

Seen snorkeling in Raja Ampat: nudibranch Nembrotha kubaryana

Raja Ampat has a deserved reputation as one of the best places in the world for diving and underwater photography, but from what we’ve seen on the internet, few seem to realise that the snorkeling in Raja Ampat is also among the world’s best. The range of habitats and marine life in the ocean’s top few metres is just astounding. Even better, most accommodation in Raja Ampat has fantastic snorkeling available right at the door.

Some homestays offer snorkeling equipment for hire, but it’s best to take your own – you won’t want the experience diminished by ill fitting fins or leaking masks.

Safe Snorkeling

It’s worth noting a few safety issues to be aware of when swimming or snorkeling in Raja Ampat…

  • Currents: Some places have strong currents when tides are running. Fins are a must if you don’t want to be a cork in the stream. Keep checking your position relative to the shore – especially if you don’t have a guide. Conditions can change quickly.
  • Reef protection: Look. Don’t touch! That includes walking over coral to enter the water. As well as the damage done to corals by handling or crushing underfoot, coral grazes or cuts are notoriously prone to becoming infected. Some species can also sting you quite badly. You shouldn’t attempt to handle any kind of marine life. There are many small and pretty animals on the reef that can do you a lot of harm. Blue-ring octopus, cone shells, lionfish – it’s a long list. They won’t bother you if you don’t bother them.
  • Marine animal hazards: There’s a more in depth look at this subject in our health and medical FAQ. As long as you follow the “don’t touch” rule the only animals you’re likely to have a problem with are jellyfish. Many of them are virtually invisible. Wearing a lycra skin suit is the best method of protecting yourself from these and Raja Ampat’s other main risk…
  • Sunburn: Sunscreen and/or lycra protection is a must. Snorkeling in Raja Ampat is so good that a couple of hours can go by like a blink of the eye. You’ll never regret the snorkeling, but you’re bound to regret being fried so badly you have to stop.
  • Dehydration: It seems wrong that you can become dehydrated while spending all day in the water, but you can. Remember to drink!

Snorkeling Raja Ampat

If you like to get off the beaten track and the idea of being the first (and only!) snorkellers of pristine reefs, Snorkeling Raja Ampat at Sea Fans Homestay is for you. Located at Pulau Manyaifun in West Waigeo, Snorkeling Raja Ampat has a host of rich reefs for snorkellers of all skill levels right at their door.

See the Sea Fans Homestay page for reef descriptions, prices, homestay and location details and a gallery of snorkeling Raja Ampat photos like reader Chris Jennings’ one of Manyaifun reef below.

snorkeling raja ampat

Snorkeling Gam’s blue water mangroves

Nudibranch Homestay near the village of Sawinggrai on Gam Island is built on a shore protected from the currents and waves of the open ocean by a belt of mangroves. Most of Raja Ampat’s mangroves are known as blue water mangroves because, unlike the majority of mangroves elsewhere in the world, they don’t grow on deep mudflats and the waters they stand in are free of silt and river-borne sediments. The more remote and wild Korbekwan Homestay in western Gam also provides marvellous blue water mangrove snorkeling.

Gam’s mangroves grow in water that’s almost crystal clear and they shelter (among a lot of other life) a nudibranch population consisting of an extraordinary number of species. Snorkeling the mangroves there is truly an amazing experience. Juvenile fish glitter like bright jewels in the shafts of sunlight that penetrate the shadowed world of the trees’ roots. Sleeping epaulette or “walking” sharks can be found and are so laid back in the daytime you can approach to within arm’s length (don’t touch!) without giving them fright.

In the seagrass beds between the mangroves and the island’s shore, strings of tiny bubbles stand like silver spirals and three metre long worm-like Synaptid seacucumbers forage amid the fronds while Archer fish patrol the edges of the mangrove stands, hunting insects on the roots above the waterline and panicking the shoals of smaller fish hiding beneath the trees. It’s a world of magic our cheap camera and poor video technique can’t possibly do justice to:

If you prefer snorkeling coral reef rather than seagrass beds or mangroves, both Nudibranch and Korbekwan homestays have that too. Emerging on the seaward side of the mangrove belt, you’ll pass from the sheltered and shadowed confines of the trees to open water a stone’s throw from the reef dropoff. The coral  is dense, vibrant , healthy and teeming with fish. The ocean, even on a calm day, seems really energetic after an hour or two spent exploring the quiet waters of the mangroves. If the tide is running there’s a really strong current along the edge of the dropoff which makes for perfect drifting past the panoply of reef life and colour. Although the tide’s full flow is pretty much impossible to swim against, the only danger it presents here is the risk of becoming so entranced by the spectacle that you lose track of time.

You’ll face a really long walk back to your starting point if you do…

Map: Raja Ampat dive sites for snorkelers

The map below shows just a few of countless great snorkeling spots in the central Raja Ampat region. Most of these are well known dive sites with great stuff to see within snorkelling depths. The house reef at almost any place you choose to stay will more than likely also have great snorkeling.

Many of the location coordinates marked on this map are from Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock’s book Diving Indonesia’s Raja Ampat. Check their Secret Sea Visions website for the latest version of this book, which – apart from describing over 200 dive sites in great detail – has a wealth of great information on Raja Ampat and the rest of Indonesia’s Bird’s Head seascape.

9 thoughts on “Snorkeling in Raja Ampat

  1. Hi, we are planning to visit RA at June (I hope), 5-6 days, only snorkelling. And I have impossible choise betveen Gam and Kri)) We want to see mantas (many mantas)) , I’ve read about Pulau Yefnadi (place with many mantas) at Sunset Homestay page, but can’t find it on the map. And can’t find prices to this place at another Homestays. Maybe you know smth about this or alternative manta points? And, so, what would you reccomend; Gam or Kri, if we need perfect snorkelling (with home reef too) and many budget (!) mantas? ))))
    Thank you for this webpage. It’s really brilliant.

    • Hi MariaD –

      It really doesn’t matter whether you stay at Gam or Kri in regard to seeing mantas. There are many locations where you can snorkel with mantas. All homestays know of them and can arrange trips there. Of more concern is the timing of your trip: Mantas are usually around from mid-October to mid-May. Going in June doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t see any, but the chances of doing so are much higher during the season.

  2. Hartung Hoffmann says:

    We are planning to visit Raja Ampat end of July, first half of August. Here my little snorkeling questions:
    -crocodiles: where is the biggest risk/ which places/reefs should be avoided?
    -windy season: the southern coastlines of Kri or Gam can be more affected by waves and wind, is this right? Bantana and Birie should be better/less risky? How about the North western coastline of Waigeo or the Eastern parts of Gam?
    – Are there areas which are difficult to snorkel due to heavy currents

    Due to safety my tip for all snorkelers: get a inflatable buoy as freedivers use it, there you can rest always, you are easy to be seen and you are fixed with a line. Never dive alone. Hart.ng

    • Hi Hartung –

      It’s best to ask your hosts about crocodiles – they will know better than us!
      If the June-Sept windy season follows historical patterns, then coastlines sheltered from southeast winds are better at that time of year.
      When the tide is running there are strong currents almost everywhere more than a few tens of metres offshore.
      The risk from all of the above can be minimised by going snorkelling with your hosts. It’s always best and safest in Raja Ampat in the company of a local guide.

  3. Hey i have plan to got to Raja Ampat this year but i’ll only do snorkelling not diving (too bad), kindly advice where’s the best spot for snorkelling to see the beauty of Raja Ampat coral reefs and fishes and everything :)

    All the best!

  4. I will be snorkelling in Raja Ampat and I wonder if a neoprene shorty is sufficient as a protection against jellyfish. Or would you recommend that I should get a long suit even if I only will be snorkelling?

    • Hi Uwe –

      Yes, a shorty should be sufficient. The jellyfish you’re most likely to encounter are almost invisible, are not dangerous and (assuming you’re not allergic in any way) are not dangerous. In our experience, they are more of an annoyance than painful.