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Raja Ampat communities, West Papua, Indonesia
The children look up at me from the water as I stand on the small wooden jetty.
They have turned white styrofoam boxes into rafts and are playing in the shallow water. They smile and wave at me – big smiles, enthusiastic waves.
There’s something so genuine about their greeting and something so pure about the happiness they’re finding from their makeshift toys.
I imagine it would be hard not to be happy if you were growing up in paradise.
Last week I wrote about Raja Ampat, the stunning archipelago off the coast of the West Papua region in Indonesia. I described it as a ‘paradise’, with the natural beauty and wildlife (particularly underwater) drawing visitors here in increasing numbers.
But I want to also tell you in a bit more detail about the local communities. The diving and snorkelling may be the main drawcard of Raja Ampat – but visiting the small towns and villages was an unexpected highlight for me.
I meet the children on the styrofoam rafts at a community called Sauandarek Village.
Our boat has stopped here one afternoon so we can go snorkelling around the coral near the beach. While the others are getting ready to jump in, I wander down the jetty to see the village.
While kids splash in the water and jump off the jetty, parents sit in the shade of trees on the beach and keep half an eye on them. Past the beach is a collection of wooden houses, each separated by a sandy path and palm trees. Some men are carrying a long wooden canoe down to the shore.
I end up having a bit of a chat to the village chief, Korinus Urbata. He tells me there are 43 families living here, with a total of 209 residents, including the children.
Most of the adults here make a living from fishing, although some are now getting jobs at the local resorts or with diving companies.
Korinus says his community is happy to have visitors – which I’m pleased to hear, seeing as I just walked straight in without an invitation!
There’s a small box for donations and they use the money to maintain the jetty. I ask about life here, pointing at the children playing in the water.
Korinus tells me that everyone enjoys their life here but the kids don’t have a real playground so there’s no option but to play on the beach.
On the way back to our accommodation that afternoon, we make another stop. This time at a place called Sawinggrai Village.
The main reason for pulling in here is to catch the sunset. The colours really are incredible here when the sun goes down over the water – the whole sky slips through a spectrum of oranges, reds and purples.
But I find myself also watching the residents of the local community, who have also come out to watch the show in the sky. They must have seen it thousands of times… but I can understand why it never gets tiring.
An old man sits on a bit of decking and just looks up silently as it gradually gets darker.
Sawinggrai is quite small but it is popular with visitors because it has a few homestay options for budget travellers who might prefer not to stay at one of the dive lodges.
This is also the start of the walk into the jungle to see the red bird of paradise, the rare bird that can only be seen in Raja Ampat that I talked about in my previous post.
The next we visit another community, this one called Arborek Village. It’s a bit different to the others in that it is prepared for tourists.
Just after the boat arrives at the jetty and we step out into the blazing heat, a group of children start a performance. They are dressed in traditional outfits with traditional body paint.
Later, when we’re down by the beach, they pose with their bows and arrows for photos.
Two men from the village cut open coconuts for us – a refreshing snack. The community has also prepared lunch.
There are 197 people living here and, beyond the large golden beach, are their houses – again, small and wooden.
The village is the only thing on the small island, which you could easily circle. The men here are traditionally fishermen and the women make handicrafts.
Tourism is becoming more important for them, though, and the village sees the economic potential in welcoming visitors.
For me, each of the villages I visit in Raja Ampat feel slightly different. They look similar – but there’s a different attitude at each one.
The good thing is that none feels better or more authentic than the other. The locals at Sauandarek are welcoming and happy for me to just wander around and have a look.
Sawinggrai has seen the opportunity to provide accommodation, while Arborek creates an experience for tourists.
Meanwhile, boats still head out to fish and parents watch their children play in the water. And there are big white smiles all around.
Another good cheap option is a homestay. There are lots of great options but have a look at Turtle Homestay and Alter Native Stay as good examples of what you'll find.
For comfortable dive lodges, the best ones in Raja Ampat are Raja Ampat Dive Lodge and Waiwo Dive Resort Raja Ampat.
And if you're looking for luxury then the Meridian Adventure Marina Club is a new upscale option in Raja Ampat.
Time Travel Turtle was supported by the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.
WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT INDONESIA?
To help you plan your trip to Indonesia:
- How to see Komodo dragons at Komodo National Park
- Indonesia’s most incredible heritage site
- Take a boat into the jungle to meet the wild orangutans
- Go beyond Bali’s tourism to find the spirits in the rice fields
- Why Raja Ampat is probably the world’s best diving
- Visiting the majestic Prambanan Temple in Yogyakarta
- The best things to do in central Jakarta
- Take a jeep ride up the dangerous Mount Merapi
- Learning to code on a inspiring retreat in Bali
Let someone else do the work for you:
You may also want to consider taking a tour of Indonesia, rather than organising everything on your own. It’s also a nice way to have company if you are travelling solo.
I am a ‘Wanderer’ with G Adventures and they have great tours of Indonesia.
You could consider:
When I travel internationally, I always get insurance. It’s not worth the risk, in case there’s a medical emergency or another serious incident. I recommend you should use World Nomads for your trip.