First of all, we want you to know that we’re not qualified to give health and medical advice and this Raja Ampat health and medical FAQ article isn’t intended as such – it’s provided only as a starting point for further investigation. Raja Ampat is a tropical wilderness area and like any environment of its kind, poses risks to your health that need to be assessed. You should consult a health professional for expert advice on any points of concern. Travelling with a first aid kit is recommended, as the nearest hospital is in Sorong, a few hours’ travel by boat from the guesthouses and locations covered by this site.
Is there malaria in Raja Ampat?
Yes. Despite what some sources (and many local people) will tell you, malaria is present in the islands. That said though, the risk at homestays on Mansuar, Kri, Gam and Arborek is relatively low due to the absence of large numbers of human carriers and (in most place we’ve stayed at) surprisingly low mosquito populations. Although malaria transmission rates are currently low in the Raja Ampat islands, wearing repellant and appropriate clothing to avoid bites is a must and anti-malarial medications are recommended. Doxycycline is often recommended as a good antimalarial and has the advantage of also providing protection against certain other bacterial infections, but you should definitely consult a professional for current recommendations before making a decision about malaria prophylaxis.
Are there dangerous animals on the Raja Ampat islands?
Although your chances of encountering truly dangerous creatures on land are very low, poisonous snakes and spiders do inhabit many of the islands, so care should be taken when exploring. Being a tropical environment there’s also an abundance of insects capable of inflicting bites, burns and rashes, so bringing a repellent and something to relieve those symptoms is not a bad idea. (Your chances of escaping without a single insect encounter are also very low!) If you’re going trekking or camping in the interior of the islands a guide is a great idea. Apart from making sure you don’t get lost, he’ll also point out any hazardous plants and make sure you don’t roll out your sleeping mat under a tree full of fire ants!
Are there dangerous sea creatures in Raja Ampat?
Different story. There’s lots of stuff to be wary of in the water. Virtually all of it is either small, well concealed or very pretty. Don’t be alarmed – if you’re sensible and in the company of a guide you’ll be fine. Just like on safari in the wilds of Africa…
DANGEROUS BIG THINGS
Sharks: Dangerous sharks are extremely uncommon – you’ve got a much higher chance of encountering one on the beaches of Sydney in Australia than in Raja Ampat.
Saltwater crocodiles: Saltwater crocodiles inhabit Raja Ampat, but your chances of encountering one are very low. Saltwater crocodiles are territorial and favour rivers, river estuaries and mangrove habitats, so it’s safest to assume there could be one around when in these environments. Check with your hosts before exploring such areas: Your homestay hosts and guides would never let you enter a known risk area.
Seasnakes: Seasnakes are not uncommon and although some are exceedingly venomous, they are not aggressive. They are, however, occasionally inquisitive. Being the object of a seasnake’s curiosity is certainly going to feel threatening, but if you stay calm and don’t make the snake feel threatened too, everything will be ok. Again, being in the company of a good guide will help you avoid such situations.
DANGEROUS LITTLE THINGS
Avoiding harm from the dangerous smaller stuff is as simple as don’t touch!
No matter how tiny and pretty something is (like a blue ringed octopus) or how soft or harmless it might look (like fire coral) you shouldn’t touch it. Asking for trouble if you do. Diving codes of conduct forbid touching for good reason. Many corals will suffer damage from even a light touch, so it’s best practice from both environmental and safety perspectives to not touch any marine creatures.
You should never walk or stand on coral at any time, but if you’re exploring sandflats or limestone reefs at low tide you shouldn’t be barefoot. There’s lots of animals like stingrays and stonefish lying concealed in the shallows waiting for the water to return.
Finally, the most irritating (but not dangerous) critters in the ocean are invisible. Tiny stinging jellyfish. Wearing a lycra skin suit is the only guaranteed protection against them.
What other health risks are there in Raja Ampat?
Dehydration: It’s a hot environment. You’ll be losing lots of water and electrolytes and swimming in salt water won’t stop it. Drink lots of water, eat a little more salt than usual and have some oral rehydration salts handy just in case.
Sunburn: High risk – cover up! Sunscreens should not be used, as they are proven to cause damage to coral. You might think that it won’t matter if you use the minimum required – after all, you’re only one person in a big ocean, right? Unfortunately research shows that even tiny amounts of sunscreen have a big impact on corals.
Use sun-safe swimwear instead. Not only will you avoid reef damage by doing so, but you’ll be protected from those pesky tiny jellyfish mentioned above. Besides – don’t you think it’s ironic that even the best coral-safe sunscreen is still packaged in plastic? Plastic that, if left in Raja Ampat, will eventually end up in the ocean. Sun-safe swimwear will save you a pile of money in the long run too!
Ocean currents: Raja Ampat’s tides create extremely strong currents in some locations. These can be very close to the beach in some cases and nowhere in Raja Ampat is completely free of them. Some currents are obvious, others can be invisible until you realise you’re moving quickly relative to the shore. The strongest currents are impossible to swim against, regardless of your ability or whether you are wearing fins or not. Always be aware of your surroundings when swimming or snorkelling. If you are not a confident swimmer and are not swimming/snorkelling with a boat nearby, then it’s safest to only enter the water on the slack of the tide.
Insect bites: There are a lot of insects in Raja Ampat that can give irritating bites, but sand flies are the worst in our opinion. They are virtually invisible, exceedingly tiny, black flies that are common in many beachside locations. They most commonly attack at dusk, usually (but not always) on your lower legs and arms. The bites take several hours to appear, are incredibly itchy, and last for days. Because of the delayed reaction, many guests wake up at night and assume they’ve been bitten by bedbugs. We’ve never known of a single proven infestation of bedbugs in homestay accommodation. It’s much more likely that sandflies were the culprits. It’s good practice to liberally apply an insect repellant late in the afternoon after your last swim!
Gastrointestinal diseases: We’ve been lucky and have never contracted any, but again make sure you have some rehydration salts and basic medicines on hand. (Consult your doctor regarding appropriate medicines before you go.) Anti-diarrhoea medicines like Imodium are best taken only if you have to travel – they only treat symptoms, not causes. Drinking only boiled or otherwise purified water will greatly reduce your chances of stomach troubles. You can read more about drinking water here.
Skin and wound infections: You should clean and treat even small wounds immediately with an antiseptic, and then examine them regularly for signs of infection. Especially if they are coral scrapes, which are notorious for going septic. Keeping wounds dry until healed is also good practice, but it’s a big ask when you’re on a short stay in the islands. Fungal infections love a tropical environment too, so you might want to consider having some antifungal medicine in your first aid kit.
A cautionary tale… My partner suffered a couple of small grazes in a boat landing and a blister from sand in footwear, all of which became infected after a few days. (There was no way she was going to stay out of the water!) The infections didn’t respond to treatment with iodine or the other antiseptics we had to hand and by the time we returned home the wounds were looking distinctly yellow. It turned out she had a staphylococcus aureus infection and it had begun to spread to every other small break in her skin by the time she sought treatment. It was a big surprise – I always thought hospitals were the high risk environment for golden staph, not pristine tropical islands! Amber’s infections were quickly beaten, but it took a strict daily regimen of dressings, keeping them completely dry and the simultaneous use of three different antibiotics to do it. You should definitely seek diagnosis of any infections characterised by bright yellow pus, resistance to treatment or contagion. No matter how small they might be. Golden staph’s not to be trifled with – it can kill.
Ear infections: Spending a lot of time with water in your ears in the tropics raises the risk of ear infections, so if you’re concerned pack an appropriate medicine.
Japanese Encephalitis and Dengue Fever: These mosquito-borne diseases have been reported from Raja Ampat. You might want to consider vaccination for Japanese Encephalitis. Avoiding mosquito bites is the only protection available against Dengue Fever.
TB: Raja Ampat is not a high risk area for TB, but it’s worth bearing in mind that tuberculosis is resurgent worldwide and particularly so in Asia. Be aware of its symptoms, avoid close contact with any you think display them and seek medical attention immediately if you develop any.
Tropical diseases: All tropical environments harbour parasites and pathogens not found elsewhere. You’re extremely unlikely to come into contact with any of those during a short holiday in Raja Ampat, but if you suffer any persistent or recurrent symptoms that can’t be diagnosed or aren’t relieved by standard medical treatment – even if those symptoms appear months after your visit – you should consult a tropical diseases specialist.
What if I need urgent medical treatment in Raja Ampat?
Hospitals in Raja Ampat: There is a hospital in Waisai that can provide first aid, but for anything serious you would probably need to go to Sorong. Especially if urgently requiring treatment on a weekend. (In 2017, no doctors were available at the Waisai Hospital on weekends.)
Rumah Sakit Angkatan Laut naval hospital does not provide western standard facilities, but operates a 24 hour emergency care facility and is probably the best option for initial treatment of serious illness or injury.
Gynaecology: If you need a gynecologist, Dr Indira at the Rumah Sakit Umum Herlina in Sorong speaks excellent English and has been recommended to us by visitors. (Thanks Sara!) In March 2017, Dr Indira could be contacted at 081288269634.
So do I need medical insurance for a holiday in Raja Ampat?
An emphatic yes to that if you’re going to be diving. Divers should also definitely get insurance which provides for emergency medical evacuation. Further information about diving safety and insurance can be read on our Diving with Raja Ampat homestays page. If you’re not going to be diving and you can’t afford a policy that covers you for emergency medevac then you may decide insurance isn’t warranted. Like most insurance though, you may well not need it, but you’ll be in dire straits if you do and you don’t have it.
Is that everything I need to know?
Nope – it’s just the basics. If you’re conscientious, want to cover all possibilities and/or are planning an extended visit to Raja Ampat you should definitely do more research and talk to a tropical medicine specialist.
So what else?
Nothing we can tell you, except that you shouldn’t read this list and decide Raja Ampat’s just too dangerous a place to visit! With the exception of malaria and the availability of medicines and western standard hospital care, everything on this list is just as applicable to cities like Darwin in Australia. If you also except the possibility of encountering a saltwater crocodile (but add back in a low risk of malaria), these risks also exist in places like the Thai Islands and Bali where millions of people safely holiday every year. Go! You’re going to have a great time!