Raja Ampat has a deserved reputation as one of the best places in the world for diving and underwater photography, but 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. Virtually everything you can see diving in Raja Ampat can also be found at snorkeling depths.
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.
All homestays have good snorkelling available at the door: Selecting the “Good house reef” filter on our accommodation page will quickly return the best of them.
It’s worth noting a few safety issues to be aware of when swimming or snorkeling in Raja Ampat…
- Currents: Most places have extremely 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!
- Go with a guide: Guides will keep you safe – and will point out a host of things you’d probably otherwise miss. For safety’s sake, you should at the very least make sure your hosts know where you plan to go and when you expect to be back.
Snorkeling in Raja Ampat
If you like to get off the beaten track and the idea of being the first (and only!) snorkellers of pristine reefs, consider Batanta or West Waigeo. Visitor Chris Jennings’ photo below shows the clear waters and rich submarine gardens to be found near Manyaifun in West Waigeo.
If your budget won’t allow the extra travel costs required to reach Batanta or West Waigeo, there’s also plenty of excellent snorkelling to had around Friwen, and at Kri’s west end and southern shore. The Yenbuba Jetty area on Mansuar has a host of different marine environments and is always teeming with fish, small sharks and turtles. At low tide you can cross to Mansuar from Kri’s west end. The Mansuar homestays of Mangrove, Koryau Kayem and Yendabon are quite close to Yenbuba, and also offer the chance to see Raja Ampat’s famed walking sharks which inhabit the nearby mangroves.
Batanta: A snorkeling wonderland
The homestays at Batanta all have superb snorkelling at the door. Batanta’s reefs are as rich and pristine as West Waigeo’s, and there are also the added attractions to be found in the region’s seagrass prairies. Including dugongs! Read more about Batanta here.
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 and coral reef 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. If you’re staying at Nudibranch or one of the other homestays near Sawinggrai, a fabulous long drift can be had on a rising tide by walking the coastal path west to Kapisawar village. Enter the water at Kapisawar jetty, then drift all the way back to Sawinggrai. Be sure to stick close to the dropoff as you approach Sawinggrai so you can exit the current at the jetty there, or at the Nudibranch Homestay bay just to the east of the jetty. Be ready! It’s all mangroves east of the homestay bay, and if you miss it, someone with a boat will have to come and rescue you. (It’s always a good idea when snorkelling without a boat or guide to let your hosts know where you are going and when to expect you back.)
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.