Papua Travel Information - Waigeo

Waigeo: The Main Island of Raja Ampat
By far the largest island in the Raja Ampat group, Waigeo is home to the region's capital Waisai as well as a wider range of attractions than any other island. Thankfully, it is also the easiest island to reach by public transport, though exploring its full diversity is still challenging. For those with enough money it offers diving, rock islands, scenic bays walled in by towering cliffs, a jungly interior offering good birdwatching, and the cheapest accommodation options in all Raja Ampat. All in all, it's the perfect place to start a tour of the islands for independant travelers.
Attractions Off the Track Activities Getting There Accommodation Food
Main Attractions
 

Waisai

The capital of Raja Ampat Regency, Waisai is a scruffy little town with a definite frontier feel to it. This is not surprising considering that it was established just a couple of years ago! While initial impressions of it may not be charming, Waisai does offer to travelers the widest range of accommodation options in Raja Ampat, at the lowest prices anywhere in the islands, plus a good range of budget places to eat. It's also a good spot to try and arrange a boat charter for touring other islands, and is home to the very friendly regional tourism office.

Waiwo

To those mostly Indonesian visitors who can't afford to travel further, the beach at Waiwo, a 50.000 Rp ojek-ride west of Waisai, is the easiest excursion from the town. There is OK snorkeling off the long jetty here, as well as lots of fish used to being fed. There's also a good resort for overnight stays, also offering diving. Those with more time can also use Waiwo as a starting point to explore a bit of the interior, or to visit nicer and quieter beaches further west.

Saonek

The small island of Saonek, just south of Waiwo is home to what used to be the main town of the South Waigeo region before Waisai was established. Nowadays it is very quiet, but retains something of a colonial atmosphere with its old houses. There's also good snorkeling off its wharf.

Saonek Munde

West of Saonek itself, close to Waisai's harbour, is the smaller, uninhabited island of Saonek Munde. It has a nice little beach and a paved hiking trail leading to a monument on the island's forest-covered "peak".

Waterfalls

About an hour east of Waisai by ojek, you will find 2 waterfalls in a small patch of protected forest. The further one is visible from the roadside, but the more interesting, multi-tiered one a few kms before takes some local knowledge to find. The pools here can offer a refreshing change from swimming in the sea! They are likely to be more impressive after heavy rains - during a long period of dry, sunny weather, they will be reduced to a trickle, as on this photo.

Mayalibit Bay

This incredibly long, narrow bay with its towering cliffs reminds one more of Norwegian fjords than of most other bays in Raja Ampat! Though it is the bay most easily reached from Waisai, to which it is connected by road, it is rarely visited by cruises which prefer to go westwards. Of course exploring the bay, with its islets, cliff burial sites and several villages will require a charter, as usual.

Kabui Bay

This large bay in southwestern Waigeo is the closest place to Waisai where one can see those amazingly shaped rock islands Raja Ampat is famous for. They are scattered right around the bay, and come in an amazing variety of shapes and sizes - the diversity here is only rivalled by the rock islets off Misool. Kayakers could spend days exploring this bay, while for daytrippers, it is probably the most rewarding outing from Waisai or Waiwo.

Aljui Bay

Cruises headed for Wayag often spend a night in this long bay in the west of Waigeo. Like Mayalibit Bay, it is quite fjord-like, with towering cliffs on its side. It also has a cliff burial site, and deeper inside the bay a is a huge pearl farm that can be visited.

Off the Beaten Track

The Interior

Waigeo has a wild and jungly interior, much of which is largely unexplored and inacessible. For a quick taster, you can try and hire ojeks to take you up one of the 2 roads that penetrate the hills west of Waiwo, though these roads are in horrible conditions and walking on them might be a more reliable option!

Off-shore Islands

Waigeo is surrounded by a whole multitude of small islands, many of which are inhabited. The islands around Mutus to the southwest of Waigeo are part of a marine reserve, and many of them offer excellent beaches and reefs for those pausing to explore.

Activities
  

Diving & Snorkeling

Snorkelers could of course pop into the water wherever it seems promising (which unfortunately doesn't include the beach in front of Waisai), with the beach at Waiwo being the most accessible spot. The resort at Waiwo also offer the cheapest diving possibility in Raja Ampat. Diving gear can also be hired from the tourism office.

Birdwatching

Waigeo is probably the most interesting island for birders in Raja Ampat, as it is home to both endemic species of bird of paradise, and to the recently rediscovered brush turkey. For the first two, the easiest place to head for is the village of Saukorem betwen Waiwo and Kabui Bay, though the latter is usually seen in the hills east of Mayalibit Bay.

Hiking

Birding excursion will invariably involve some hiking, including up rather steep hills, and local guides could lead you further into the mountains, too. Trails, insofar as they exist at all, are very narrow and you shouldn't count on being able to hike on your own.

Getting There and Around
 

By Sea

There are 2 boats connecting Waisai with Sorong on most days of the week (maybe only one on weekends), taking ca 2 hours. I recommend taking the slower boat where you can sit on a shaded deck watching the scenery, rather than the express where passengers sit inside an often heavily-bouncing hydrofoil. Note that the wharf of Waisai is ca 3 kms west of the town over a hill, so don't try to walk - ojeks can take you to town for 20.000 Rp. Local village boats usually pull up around the market in Waisai proper, and this is the place to start asking about charters and perhaps rides to villages around Waigeo and beyond.

By Road

Waigeo is the only island in Raja Ampat with a road-system, though it is still very much in its infancy, too. Eastwards it reaches 2 villages on Mayalibit Bay, whereas to the west it passes Waiwo and the future airport before heading into the hills, where it becomes too badly broken to drive on. Public transport is extremely limited, so be prepared to hire a car, minbus, or one of Waisai's hundreds of ojeks to take you around.

Accommodation

Waisai Options

Waisai has maybe a dozen accommodation options, ranging from those offering very basic, wooden rooms with a fan for 150.000 to comfortable bungalows in a park-like setting for 500.000 or so. It would be difficult to list them all, but the town is small enough to look around by ojek and compare.

Saonek Options

Tiny Saonek island used to have 2 typical Indonesian losmen in the past, but as the urban activity moved to Waisai, these have become dormant. Locals told me that at least one of them can still be opened up should visitors arrive, and if you manage to get the keys, this may well be the cheapest place to stay in Raja Ampat.

Waiwo Dive Resort

Right on the beach at Waiwo, with cottages set along a path that snakes its way through unspoilt coastal rainforest, this must be the most idyllic place to stay on Waigeo. Meals are included and diving is offered, and it is still  by far the cheapest of all the dive resorts in Raja Ampat. Staying here cost just 400.000 Rp per person per night for full board, and it charged about the same for diving when I last checked.

Cemara Beach Bungalows

Located a few kms west of Waiwo on a nicer, longer and quieter beach, this admittedly rather basic place charging 200.000 Rp per person with meals offers the cheapest beachside accommodation I've found in Raja Ampat so far. It's probably the best option for backpackers who can't afford to get to islands further away.

Food

Food in Waisai

Though nothing to write home about by Indonesian standards, Waisai is the only place in these islands where you have a choice of (mostly rather basic) places to eat. Unsurprisingly, freshly fried fish and shrimps tend to be the best bets, though the usual fried rice and chicken meals as well as noddle soups are also available. The market in town is worth visiting for fresh fruit and cakes - or of course for fresh fish, if you want to buy and prepare your own.