Raja Ampat Snorkeling – Simply Superb, with Astounding Amounts of Sea Life

Raja Ampat snorkeling is our favorite snorkel destination in the world! The incredible abundance of fish and other sea life, and the amount of shallow coral reefs that are just packed with color and variety, make it our favorite. Since Raja Ampat, which is in the country of Indonesia, is the biodiversity epicenter of the Coral Triangle, it being such a fantastic snorkeling area should come as no surprise.

Red soft coral fans with a school of fusiliers seen while Raja Ampat snorkeling
Bright red and pink dendronephthya soft coral in Raja Ampat

The pictures on this page are all from northern Raja Ampat snorkeling, from a trip on a liveaboard we greatly enjoyed in 2023. We spent four days in Raja Ampat as part of that trip, and it was simply exceptional. We also visited Halmahera and the Lembeh Strait on that trip.

We previously spent nine incredible days snorkeling in southern Raja Ampat at Misool a few years ago. You can read all about our experience, see tons of pictures, and watch our video on this page. Misool is our favorite area of Raja Ampat, and actually our favorite snorkeling destination on Earth, thanks to the protected marine reserve they have established. You can really tell the difference that fishing protection has made in terms of the huge schools of larger fish, and lots of reef sharks.

Northern Raja Ampat snorkeling did not disappoint though. We found a massive amount of sea life and very healthy reefs. And there are some unique areas of northern Raja that make for unique and exceptional snorkeling, like mangroves that exist right along with fringing coral reefs, and shallow zones where manta ray cleaning stations and feeding areas can be easily enjoyed by snorkelers.

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Enjoy Our Northern Raja Ampat Snorkeling Video

Where Is Raja Ampat and Where Have We Snorkeled?

Map showing location of Raja Ampat in Indonesia
Map showing the different islands in Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat is an archipelago of about 1,500 islands in Indonesia. Raja Ampat actually means Four Kings, which historically referred to four of the area’s larger islands.

Raja Ampat is located off the northwest tip of the island of New Guinea, in Indonesia’s new Southwest Papua Province. Most of the islands are also part of the Raja Ampat Regency.

Raja Ampat is within the broader marine area called the Coral Triangle, which includes all of Indonesia, and also within an area called the Bird’s Head Seascape, which is known to have the highest number of marine life biodiversity in the world.

As mentioned, our experience with Raja Ampat snorkeling includes exploring many spots in a very remote area south of Misool Island, in the Misool Marine Reserve, a massive no-take zone of protected reefs. Misool is one of the few places in the world where bio-mass and reef health is increasing quickly, thanks to the protections and care provided to it.

And we have also snorkeled a number of spots along the Dampier Strait and Fam Island group. The strait pumps a current of water full of nutrients through the islands, greatly enhancing the life on the reefs.

Viewpoint of Raja Ampat Islands

What Is Northern Raja Ampat Snorkeling Like?

One of the wonderful Raja Ampat snorkeling experiences we had was snorkeling in mangroves in the Dampier Strait. It was very unique because the mangroves were right behind fringing coral reefs, which gave us lots to look at.

As you probably saw in the video above, the mangroves were just packed with small fish schools, of many types, from countless little silversides, Orbiculate Cardinalfish, and even unique Archerfish which can spit a stream of water above the surface, accurately knocking bugs off the foliage to eat.

Archer fish in mangroves in Raja Ampat we saw while snorkeling
Archerfish and Needlefish in Raja Ampat Mangroves
Orbiculate Cardinalfish in mangroves of Raja Ampat
Orbiculate Cardinalfish

On our Raja Ampat snorkeling trip we were extremely fortunate in our timing because on nearly every snorkel we found numerous cuttlefish, both in the mangroves and on top of shallow reefs. They appeared to be there to place their eggs in the corals.

Two Cuttlefish with a snorkeler above in Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat snorkeling offers some places to see manta rays, mostly at cleaning stations, but also in feeding areas. The mantas swoop into the cleaning stations and hover in place, and smaller fish dart up and start cleaning their bodies and gills. In northern Raja Ampat the spot we visited to see mantas was nice and shallow, which gave us snorkelers a great view of the many different manta rays that cruised in over a short period of time, although the underwater visibility was a bit low on the day we visited.

There are also spots in Misool for seeing lots of mantas, although they tend to be a little deeper. We have noticed that at every spot we have visited to watch mantas get cleaned, there also seems to be a lot of current. So there is normally a bit of work staying in place as you watch.

Manta ray at a cleaning station in Raja Ampat

Blurry Fish, Rotten Colors, Garbage Pictures

That does not look like what I saw! See our snorkeling camera pages for tips on selecting a good snorkeling camera, and how to use it for great pictures.

On this last trip of Raja Ampat snorkeling we also had the fortune of seeing a number of reef sharks, five walking sharks during a night snorkel, and two Wobbegong sharks. The one below was tucked under a rock requiring some freediving skills to see it. We also spotted a number of Hawksbill turtles cruising the reef.

Wobbegong shark resting under a rock in Raja Ampat
Hawksbill turtle over a coral reef in Raja Ampat

There is a nice variety of coral reefs to see in Raja Ampat, north and south, from fringing reefs that drop away gradually, to near vertical walls that drop away immediately. The coral variety and density is just astounding, with different ecosystems seemingly at every spot. Bright colored soft corals abound and are one of the things we love best about Raja Ampat snorkeling.

Purple dendronephthya coral and other corals with lots of tropical fish in Raja Ampat
Beautiful hard coral formations in Raja Ampat
Colorful hard  and soft corals in Raja Ampat
Colorful sponges and corals with tropical fish in Raja Ampat
Bright orange and black feather stars and cup corals on a wall in Raja Ampat

Northern Raja Ampat snorkeling did not have many schools of large fish when we visited, but it certainly did not lack for a stunning variety of colorful reef fish, schools of fusiliers, jacks, napoleon wrasse, parrotfish, and huge schools of herring and scads near docks. In fact, there can be so many small colorful fish that they make it difficult to get pictures of anything else.

Schools of fish over a colorful reef in Raja Ampat
Large school of herring under a dock in Raja Ampat
Cardinalfish over hard corals in Raja Ampat
Schools of surgeonfish and fusiliers in Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat snorkeling is also great for a huge variety of anemones and their fish. There are so many different types that we had to stop taking pictures of them all.

Closed yellow anemone and anemonefish in Raja Ampat
Bubble anemone and anemonefish in Raja Ampat
Closed white anemone and anemonefish in Raja Ampat

Snorkeling Sunburns Suck!

Check out the snorkeling rash guards, wetsuits, and reef safe sunscreen we use to protect ourselves and to protect fish and coral from sunscreen chemicals.

How to Snorkel Raja Ampat Yourself?

Spadefish over coral in Raja Ampat

We could go on and on with everything we saw while snorkeling Raja Ampat, but you probably at this point are itching to go see it for yourself. So what is the best way for you to see this incredible snorkeling destination while it is still so vibrant and alive? There are a number of different ways to travel and snorkel there.

Our favorite way is to join a guided snorkeling tour. There are many advantages to joining an all snorkeling group, led by an experienced guide. They help smooth out all the traveling around the country, with the language barriers and to help with the sometimes challenging inter-island flights and often chaotic taxi transfers to resorts and liveaboards.

Traveling with a snorkeling group also guarantees that the spots you visit will be the right depth and conditions for snorkeling, instead of being mixed in with a group of divers who have different needs. Our trips partner offers a number of different trips each year to different spots in Raja Ampat, based either from a liveaboard yacht, or from a resort. Some of these trips combine other destinations with Raja Ampat, in one incredible trip. See all of those guided Raja Ampat snorkeling trips here.

You certainly can enjoy some Raja Ampat snorkeling without joining a group, and you can sometimes travel more affordably this way. There are many home stays available in Raja Ampat, which is a more affordable accommodation option, but it is also much more rustic. In our snorkeling community section on this website some of our community have shared how they have visited Raja Ampat for snorkeling here.

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