Raja Ampat homestays are not homestays in the western sense. You won’t be sharing a family’s home if you stay at one. You will however, be the guests of a Papuan family, staying on family owned land in what was once the only type of housing built in the islands. We’re going to continue using the term “homestay”, because that’s how this type of accommodation is referred to by both their owners and Indonesian tourism promotion agencies.
Raja Ampat homestays are the cheapest accommodation available in the islands. On the majority of islands they are the only accommodation available. Raja Ampat homestays are not, however, as cheap as similar accommodation elsewhere in Indonesia or SE Asia. Why? Read this article. Homestays also do not provide hotel style amenities and services.
Before deciding to stay at Raja Ampat homestays, there are the things you should know:
- Homestay room construction and amenities are in most cases very basic.
- Bedding at most homestays is a mattress on the floor.
- Electricity at most homestays is only available at night.
- Very few homestays have internet access available. (Free WiFi is extremely rare.)
- Homestays do not offer the level of amenities and service you might expect when comparing prices with other destinations.
- No organised activities that depend on boat transport (tours, diving etc) are available on Sundays.
- All homestay prices include 3 meals a day and unlimited drinking water, tea and coffee.
- Most families operating homestays have no experience of the hospitality industry. The majority have no experience in business of any kind. Adjust service expectations accordingly.
The following are currently not available at the majority of homestays:
- Air-conditioning (With the single exception of Andau Homestay, no homestays provide airconditioning. Several do provide fans.)
- Free internet connections
- Spotless, insect-free rooms
- Showers (Most homestay bathrooms have what we refer to as “dip mandi” bathrooms: A tub of water with a ladle for washing.)
- Restaurants with a-la-carte menus and drinks lists
- Room service
If you regard any of the above as essential, then homestay accommodation is definitely not for you.
Read on for a more detailed description of what to expect, or skip straight to the accommodation page to check out individual homestay amenities. The photo gallery on each homestay page shows what’s available.
Raja Ampat Homestay construction style
A completely traditional homestay, whether it’s a stilt house over the ocean or a bungalow on dry land, will be bush wood or sawn timber framed, floored with sawn planks and have palm thatched walls and roof with no ceiling.
Construction styles of the typical traditional homestay range from a single room with one window, to large four-roomed multi-windowed bungalows with verandahs and perhaps a common room. Windows are usually openings with thatched panels hinged at the top and held open with a stick. Doors are either sliding or hinged thatched panels. (You cannot lock your room at most homestays.) Floors are almost always sawn or split timber, but there are a couple of places with sand floors, and – at the other end of the spectrum – a few that sit on concrete pads and have tiled floors.
Fully traditional homestays have bedrooms and living areas only – you won’t find a kitchen, bathroom, toilet or laundry in a traditional Papuan house. As the sector develops, many homestays have begun to upgrade their bungalows to include features like ensuite bathrooms, real beds, bathrooms with showers, glazed windows, lockable doors and so on.
Even in the best available rooms, construction materials and style means you’ll be sharing your room with some of the local wildlife. Insects and small lizards inhabit the thatching, termites will be quietly moving in somewhere and the buildings’ many small gaps and cracks allow easy access for all kinds of tiny critters. It’s best to keep food in sealed containers to avoid attracting native rats and any other opportunistic scavengers that may live nearby.
Photos of each homestay’s bungalows and rooms are provided in the photo gallery on individual homestay pages.
Take care if using portable stoves or other naked flames indoors, and be extra careful if you leave mosquito coils burning unattended – palm thatch huts are obviously eminently combustible!
NOTE: If you want a bungalow with the best amenities available, use the “Has ensuite bathroom/toilet” search filter on the accommodation page. For the very best on offer, enter “VVIP bungalow” in the Keyword search field.
Chairs & tables: With the exception of bedding and a (usually separate) dining area with bench seating, many new homestays have very little furniture except for a couple of chairs or bench seats and a small table. This varies from place to place. Bungalow verandah furniture is always provided in established homestays. Some homestays have plenty of chairs and perhaps hammocks. Many provide beachside table settings with seating and dining shelters with a large tables and benches. Some have decks over the water with hammocks and table settings. One even has a lounge room with armchairs and occasional tables! Each homestay page and photo gallery shows what was available at our last visit.
Storage: There might be some simple shelving in your room, or there might not. Don’t expect to find cupboards or wardrobes. (Although there are a couple of places that have them.) If you want to guarantee being able to hang stuff inside, then it’s wise to bring a line with you. There’s also no secure storage for valuables at any of the homestays we know of, but in six years we’ve only heard a couple of reports of theft. The highest risk of theft is almost certainly from unscrupulous other travellers. You’re unlikely to have a problem in a private bungalow of your own where local people are always around, but if staying in an isolated homestay you might be more comfortable keeping your cash and valuables with you.
Bedding: Most homestays don’t have “real” beds – just mattresses on the floor or on a fixed platform raised above the floor. Mattresses are usually equipped with a sheet, pillows and bolsters. Mosquito nets in good condition are almost always provided, but you might want to have a needle and thread with you in case mending is required. Some homestays have rooms with mattresses on freestanding wooden bases, but you won’t find any with hotel style mattress and base ensembles.
There’s quite a lot of variation in how rooms are furnished. Some homestays have floorcoverings, mirrors, shelves and bedside lamps and fans. Individual homestay page descriptions and photo galleries will show the details.
Bathroom and toilet facilities
With the exception of homestays with VIP bungalows, toilet and bathroom facilities are in separate buildings which are shared by all guests. Some huts combine bathroom and toilet, some have them in separate rooms. Floors in bathroom buildings may be sand, timber, crushed limestone or (less commonly) concrete. As mentioned above, several homestays now provide ensuite private bathrooms. You can quickly find those by using the accommodation page search filters. Individual homestay page photo galleries illustrate the available facilities.
Bathrooms: Bathing is almost always by bucket and ladle, using fresh water drawn from a large container. This style of bathroom is referred to in the accommodation detail pages as a “dip mandi” bathroom. Many homestays have piped water to replenish the large container. Waste water from most bathrooms is not plumbed, but channelled away to seep into the ground, so try to stick to environmentally safe biodegradeable soaps and shampoos. Very few homestays have real showers, but they are becoming more common.
A note about bathing water: Most homestays are on islands that have fresh groundwater, but on some of the smaller islands (Kri for example) the groundwater is brackish due to proximity to the ocean. If you can’t bear the thought of bathing in slightly salty water, avoid these islands.
Toilets: Homestay toilets will be either western pedestal or squat style and are flushed by hand, using a bucket and ladle as in the bathroom. Toilets are connected to septic tank systems in all the homestays we’ve visited. Toilet paper is usually provided, but it’s a good idea to have some with you in case supplies are low and you can’t cope without it.
Kitchen and dining facilities
Most homestays have communal dining facilities that also provide free drinking water, flasks or urns of hot water and tea and coffee making supplies. Dining rooms are usually roofed areas or huts with bench seats and tables. Some new homestays serve guest meals on bungalow verandahs until they are able to build dining shelters.
All homestays have flasks or urns of hot water and free tea and coffee making supplies available around the clock in the dining shelter. Drinking water is also always freely available. Note that lack of a permanent electricity supply means that very few homestays have refrigerators.
See this Raja Ampat homestay food and drink article for details of what to expect regarding meals and drinks.
Electricity and internet
All Raja Ampat homestays supply electricity for lighting and charging devices, but they do so from their own generators. Because of fuel prices in Raja Ampat, this means that most can only afford to operate the genset from sunset until around midnight. Bring LED light sources with you if you want room lighting outside that period. A few homestays supply electricity all night, but almost none have it available around the clock. Some homestays have supplementary solar power supplies that allow room lighting after the genset is switched off. Power points for charging devices may not be present in your room, but will be available elsewhere if not.
Internet access is only available at homestays that receive a good mobile phone signal. Very few homestays provide WiFi access to this service. See this Raja Ampat electricity, telephone and internet information for details about standard electricity voltages and plug types and internet access in the islands.
No homestays have laundries and there’s only one we know of that has a washing machine available. You should be prepared to wash your own clothes by hand, although many homestays will perform the service for you for a small fee. As with bathrooms, laundry water is usually disposed of by ground runoff, so if you’re doing your own, be sure to use biodegradeable laundry detergents.
Homestay service standards
Your Papuan hosts will almost certainly have had no hospitality training or experience of the expectations of tourists to more developed destinations, so you shouldn’t expect service like you might receive in a guesthouse or hotel in Bali or Thailand. Additionally, many homestay owners have very little English – although there’s almost always somebody around with enough to enable communication. If you don’t speak any Bahasa Indonesia, bringing a phrasebook will definitely help.
Your hosts will want you to have a great holiday and all are able to organise guides, boat hire, transfers and excursions, but they won’t be available around the clock to cater to your every need. You’ll need to be fairly independent, especially when it comes to maintaining supplies of things like toiletries and any other consumeables you’ll need. It’s best to bring all those with you, as shops out in the islands are few and far between and only stock a limited range of basic supplies.
In the event of a service problem that needs raising with your host, always do your best to stay smiling and polite. A rude or overbearing attitude or raising your voice is extremely unlikely to result in a positive outcome and will reflect badly on those of your nationality who come after you. (This is nothing more than common decency and really shouldn’t need to be said, but we mention it because we’ve seen a few instances of folks trying it on and finding that there’s very little you can do in Raja Ampat without the goodwill of your Papuan hosts!)
Sundays are a day of rest and church and community activities for your host families. There are no organised activities available on Sundays. If you are at all culturally sensitive, you’ll resist the temptation to pressure your hosts to take you anywhere on Sundays.
All homestays provide Waisai transfers for arriving and departing guests on Sundays, but if you want to be especially considerate, avoid scheduling arrivals and departures on Sundays if possible. Everybody deserves a day off!
Read this Raja Ampat local culture article for more information to help ensure you have the best time at Raja Ampat homestays.
If you decide Raja Ampat homestays are for you, our step by step guide provides a quick trip planning checklist and the answers to the questions most visitors ask.