Hey travelers! Welcome to my Raja Ampat travel guide. My name is Julia Wild. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I met my partner when I was 17 and we started road-tripping all over the US and Canada, visiting national parks. Everywhere we went, we documented our travels.
My partner and I spent two years on tour with Cirque du Soleil as acrobats and continued to explore natural parks during our time on tour. We have lived in 12 countries together now and can’t wait to add to the list. We shoot travel photography that focuses on either our circus stunts or sustainability.
When I was young, before I joined the circus, I wanted to be a Marine Microbiologist. I have always been fascinated with animals and nature, so getting to experience it in so many different ecosystems around the world has been a gift. You can follow me on Instagram: @chasingjuliawild.
10 Wonderful Days in Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat is a set of islands off the coast of West Papua that is known for being mythically beautiful. As a photographer, I have fantasized about visiting Raja for years but never could justify how expensive the trip was.
Luckily though, the manifestation gods were listening and we were invited on an all-expenses-paid trip with a close friend. We had a few weeks’ notice which we used to begin scouting locations where we wanted to shoot. The whole trip was 10 days from start to finish and it was just extraordinary.
Getting to Raja is not easy though. We had some difficult travel days due to the current COVID situation. But even in normal times, getting to Raja requires multiple flights, buses and transfer boats. Another part that isn’t easy is the fact that the region of Papua is very poor and underdeveloped.
On your way to the transfer boats, you pass through really impoverished neighborhoods. It’s a stark contrast between the natural beauty and these struggling communities. Then, you can only access Raja from the water.
So you have to travel on a ship. It can be a challenge at times, especially when the weather is rough, but we got to live on an epic pirate ship so #winning. It was a great way to see one of the most untouched and pristine natural environments in the world. If you can do it, it’s worth the effort.
Favorite Place in Raja Ampat: A Secret Sandbar
The place that stood out to us in Raja was this white sandbar we found. I loved the sand bar not only because it’s brilliant white and perfect for photos, but also because it’s a time-sensitive location. It’s never the same.
From when we arrived until we finished shooting an hour later, the geography had completely changed. I realized that for most of every day, the spot where we stood was completely underwater. I felt we had found a secret that most people would never know was right beneath them.
Best Things To Do in Raja Ampat
Swimming with black-tipped reef sharks in their natural environment was something I had dreamed about since I was a kid, so ticking this off my list in Raja Ampat was incredible. I would highly recommend doing it on your visit. We have lost 70-96% of shark populations around the world due to destructive fishing practices, habitat pollution and the shark fin trade.
Sharks are a crucial species for healthy ecosystems, and even though some governments have taken steps to protect sharks – like banning the sale of certain body parts – we still have a long way to go. So getting to spend time with these beautiful animals was the highlight of my trip.
It made me wonder if we will do what it takes to protect them so our kids might be able to have experiences like this too. After that I think my recommendations would depend on if you are a photographer or not.
All the sunrise treks are beautiful and the panorama views from the top of the cliffs were stunning. Also just spending time in the ocean itself is a great activity. Snorkeling and scuba diving – add them to your list.
My mind was completely blown after I got to go swimming with sharks and sea turtles 10-meters under the water. It was like being on another planet. The experience was unforgettable. Everything we did during our trip was a combination of living on the boat, being in the ocean/on a beach or hiking.
Meeting some of the Happiest Kids on Earth
Most of our time in Raja was spent living on the boat or exploring remote islands. One afternoon we got to visit a small town. The entire community was only a few hundred people: a small school, fishing dock and church.
Our guide was leading us around when we saw some kids shyly peeking at us through the bushes. I decided to pull out the camera and have Rikki do some tricks. Before we knew it, the original group of kids had rounded up every kid on the island. It was like a mini-parade down to the beach!
Rikki spent the next hour playing with them and teaching them how to do backflips. They were some of the happiest kids I have ever seen. Spending time with them was definitely one of our favorite parts of the whole trip.
Glorious Food Situation Living on the Boat
We were fortunate enough to have an amazing chef living on board with us who cooked three large meals a day. I swear I ate better food on that boat in the middle of nowhere than I have had in most big cities. Even the simplest dishes like pancakes, curry or roasted vegetables had the most delicious flavors. I think I ate myself into a food coma almost every day!
Celebrating our 6-Year Anniversary Together
While we were living on the boat, Rikki and I celebrated our 6-year anniversary together. With everything going on during the trip, I was sure no one would remember but one night after dinner, a very sunburnt me was delightfully surprised with a big hand-baked cake from the boat’s crew! My favorite part was that to celebrate our anniversary, they serenaded us with the only song they knew in English: “Happy Birthday!”
Eco-Travel Tips for Visiting Raja Ampat
Did you know that reef-safe sunscreen is a thing? And that your sunscreen probably contains highly toxic chemicals like Oxybenzone, Octinoxate and Homosalate. These toxic chemicals can be very harmful to ecosystems.
Did you also know that Raja is home to 13 species of marine mammals, like dolphins, whales and dugongs? There are also sea turtles, giant clams and more than 1,300 species of fish. A single drop of oxybenzone or octinoxate is so toxic to these environments that they cause swaths of coral reef to bleach, which can lead to mass die-offs and ecological collapse.
Next time you shop for sunscreen, consider supporting a brand that is fighting for a more sustainable future. The same rule of thumb should apply for any cosmetics or products you plan on using during your trip to Raja Ampat since everything (unfortunately) will end up in the ocean.
Nontoxic/ biodegradable shampoos, conditioners and soaps are much better for the marine environments you will be visiting. Lastly, switching to a plant-based diet is the single biggest impact you can have on your carbon footprint. Especially while in such remote places where the food needs to be shipped in from miles away, consider the impact of your diet.
Need to Know Before you Go
First thing to know before you go: pack light. I pretty much lived in a bikini the whole time and only had a couple other small items that I could rinse in our shower every night and hang up to dry for the next day’s excursions.
Definitely bring something to cover up and keep yourself out of the sun though. It’s strong out there and your face can burn just from the sun reflecting off the water, so pack some aloe for your inevitable sunburn.
Another tip: for the majority of your trip, you will be completely out of service. Before you go, download any audiobooks or podcasts you need to keep yourself entertained for the long voyages in between islands.
I brought our ukulele with the intention of learning a few new songs during the trip but I didn’t account for the fact that we would be out of service the whole time and hadn’t saved any new song chords. Therefore, I spent the whole time just replaying the same three songs over and over and over.
Lastly, educate yourself on the environment you are entering. Before you go, watch “Seaspiracy.” You will get an appreciation of how truly unique this part of the world is. Gather your family, or a group of friends, and take the first step to raising awareness and starting a dialogue about our planet.
For me, it was upsetting to be in one of the most remote parts of the world and still find signs of negative human impact. It made me wonder if we will fix the mess we are in. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel hopeless but education is empowering. Don’t look the other way just because it’s hard.