RAJA AMPAT, INDONESIA
Why go? Raja Ampat means Four Kings, which is misleading seeing as more like 1,500 islands make up this remote archipelago off the north-west coast of Papua. It is certainly fit for royalty though, comprising 46,000 sq km of gloriously fashioned landscapes and clear, turquoise seas. The islands themselves vary enormously: some are barely a bump of jungle-cloaked karst; some rise out of the blue like clusters of mushrooms; others – such as Waigeo and Misool – are larger, and ideal for homestays with local Biakese people and hikes to rock art and ancient cliff burial sites.
However, it’s the region’s waters that really draw intrepid travellers. Raja Ampat is at the heart of the Coral Triangle and, according to Conservation International, has the highest marine diversity in the world – 75% of the world’s coral species have been recorded here, along with 1,430 species of reef fish and six of the world’s seven marine turtle species. Joining a liveaboard dive trip is an excellent and efficient way to navigate. Good dive sites include Sardine and Chicken reefs, where snappers and fusiliers throng, and The Passage, off Waigeo, a fine shallow dive amid mangroves and soft coral.
When to go: October-April is the best time – the weather is drier, the seas calmer and underwater visibility greatest.
How to go: Flights to Sorong (West Papua), the gateway to Raja Ampat, run from Jakarta (4hrs), Makassar (South Sulawesi; 2hrs) and Manado (North Sulawesi; 3hrs). Ferries link Sorong to Waisai (2-3hrs), the capital of the Archipelago.