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At the beginning of December 2020 I had the absolute pleasure of being invited to Misool Resort in Raja Ampat to take a short (ten day) tour of their iconic resort island. Long story short I was absolutely blown away in just about every possible way. The location—of a remote tropical island in the heart of what is widely considered to the best snorkeling in the world is the first thing is the first that made my jaw drop. My mouth remained in this position as we settled into our eco-elegant water bungalows where dozens of blacktip reef sharks and juvenile green sea turtles paraded about below. I did eventually have to close my mouth around a snorkel though as Montse—my fiancé and snorkel partner for life—and I proceeded down our bungalow steps into the pristine waters for a snorkel session on their famous house reef. Through a combination of eco-awareness, natural and creative aesthetics, and world class service Misool Resort has cultivated an experience and atmosphere at a level like I’ve never quite seen before, and right now I want to highlight those different elements in detail for you.
Arrival in Sorong
I’ll be the first to say that arriving to Sorong in West Papua—the port town to Raja Ampat—is not quick hop, not even from Bali. I promise you though the trip is well worth the reward and the moment you collect your bags at the carousel in Sorong you can begin to relax as the Misool staff pick us up in comfortable Air Conditioned vans and drive us around the corner to their own Cafe for a complimentary breakfast. While we relax in their cozy cafe the resort’s staff load our large bags into their custom built 1,500 horse power luxury transfer boat—Merantau.
After breakfast we’ll be shuttled the ten minutes to the harbor where Merantau is waiting and ready for us to board. This boat is phenomenal. It has a fully enclosed main cabin with more than enough seating and even a little “cafe” where you can grab a drink and a snack for the ride. The main cabin is also equipped with air conditioning, a large restroom, and a specialty built rack for storing hand carry luggage. There are also plenty of outdoor seating areas upstairs, on the bow, and in the stern of the boat so you can watch for whales and dolphins. The trip from Sorong to Misool takes 3-4 hours depending on sea conditions.
Arrival at the Resort
Upon arrival at the resort we’ll of course be met by the outstanding staff and escorted to the sea-side restaurant for a quick resort introduction and a freshly prepared lunch. Our big bags will be taken to our individual bungalows so we won’t have to worry about lugging any heavy bags around. As people finish up their meals they’ll be shown to their exquisite rooms.
The resort offers a variety of room styles with the most “basic” being their water cottages. Let me just quickly say that there is nothing basic about these rooms. These eight water cottages fringe the north lagoon and seem to hover over the reef below with their stilted design. You can quite literally watch sharks, turtles, and schools of fish swim directly under your expansive veranda all day long. Each cottage is equipped with air conditioning, it’s own wall fan, mini bar, mosquito net, a huge veranda with a sort of hammock built into the floor so you can relax directly above the reef. Oh, and then there’s the fantastic open air bathroom and where you have amazing views of the limestone cliffs above. As I said, there is nothing basic about these rooms.
The other accommodation styles on the north lagoon are also stilted over the water but feature larger living areas with cleverly designed sofa beds and larger verandas. There is even a two bedroom villa with it’s own dining area over the house reef, a small kitchen, and an additional loft bed.
Then there’s the south beach villas which look as if they are a completely separate resort. These fantastic beach villas are on the other side of the hill from the main resort and set on their own private bay complete with a football field length white sand beach and backed but a lush tropical jungle. These rooms are truly exquisite in their location and design and will offer the most privacy for those of you that want to disconnect a bit more.
However, I should point out that they are a bit removed from the main resort and restaurant and every meal time you will either need to arrange for the resort’s little ferry boat (a large aluminum dinghy) to pick you up and take you the 2 minutes around the corner to the main resort, or walk about eight minutes over the hill through their well paved stairs. It’s really not a major effort by any means, but it is something to consider for those of you who are not particularly keen on steps or would prefer a more simplified route to breakfast.
With their own hydroponic garden system on the island and a regular supply of fresh meats and produce arriving regularly you’ll be treated to a vast array of creative culinary delights and mouth watering pasteries at every meal thanks to Misool’s team of skilled chefs.
What’s more is that the restaurant is situated at the head of the lagoon which is also the main thoroughfare for the baby sharks and main foraging ground for the green sea turtles.
Non Snorkeling Activities
While Misool is a full service snorkel and dive resort where most of the guests arrive for one or both of these activities, you could easily spend your entire holiday doing neither and still depart on the final day feeling as if you’d fully experienced the area. Paddle boarding and kayaks are the most popular non snorkeling activity as the main island and the small neighboring islands are well suited for both with their many lagoons, secret beaches and just jaw dropping scenery.
Misool also offers a variety of day trips to nearby mangroves, a hidden lagoon system where once again you can paddleboard, kayak, snorkel, or search for the exquisite birds and carnivorous plants that live within these unreal ecosystems. These day trips will typically include a stop at one of the areas pristine beaches where they will have bean bags and a snack buffet set up for us.
If it’s leisurely activities you are after, there’s always the stroll on the beach, reading a good book on your verandah, or indulging for a massage right over the reef from the resort’s fantastic masseuse.
Misool Resort is not only a five star snorkeling and dive resort in the heart of the most biodiverse marine ecosystem in the world, but also an industry leader in marine conservation. Since Misool Resort helped establish a marine protected area (MPA) around the most vulnerable parts of the Misool in 2005 they’ve seen rebounds in marine biomass by up to 600%. What that translates to is a snorkeling experience like you would’t believe, particularly on their house reef.
As you take that first plunge into Misool’s house house reef theres a very good chance that the first creature you are greeted by will be a member of their blacktip reef shark population or a green sea turtle, or both! The turtles and sharks here are so used to people snorkeling by that they will casually swim beside you without giving you a second glance.
The house reef is absolutely massive as it extends for hundreds of meters in all directions and continues on around the corner and will eventually leader you to other small islands. The coral is outstanding and comes right up to the water line, and even above it with a low tide. The resort’s pier is buzzing with life and it’s also where you’ll see the resident grouper and a friendly napoleon wrasse, both of who could easily outweigh me on a scale. Other residential fish include a large school of adolescent big-eye jacks and even a group of about thirty bumphead parrot fish who can be found grazing on the coral right up in the shallows. Even mantas are a common occurrence as they will occasionally found feeding in the channel.
While the house reef is world class, you’ll defiantly want to explore the other neighboring sites which are just a five to fifteen minutes boat ride away. Every day we’ll visit at least two of the different sites in the area with each offering something unique. The style of sites range from gentle drift snorkels, placid mangroves, to small limestone island with unreal underwater topography, and even several manta ray hot spots. Regardless of the site though, what you’ll experience underwater will be sure to sate your appetite for tropical reef snorkeling and big marine life.
Misool is the first resort I’ve been to which has a well stocked supply of underwater scooters for rent. This was the first time I’ve ever used one of these underwater propulsion devices and I’ll admit I was hesitant at first as I’m quite set in my traditional snorkeling ways, but my traditions were quickly shifted once I pressed the throttle button.
Not that you’ll need it with all the marine life action surrounding us, but if you want an additional injection of adrenaline then take one of these sleek scooters for a ride. They pull you along at any pace you like and even allow you to duck dive down with very little effort. What’s more is that you can explore huge swaths of reef with little to no effort and in a fraction of the time.
Departure from the Resort
On the final day of our Misool adventure we will have a breezy morning with breakfast and lunch as usual and then around 1:00 we will once again hop onboard Merantau, their spacious high speed transfer boat and make the journey back to Sorong. Upon arriving Sorong we will be met by more of the Misool staff who will load our large bags into air conditioned vans and then drive us the ten minutes to the Swiss-Belhotel, Sorong’s nicest hotel, where we will relax and enjoy a nice group dinner and a good nights sleep before our departure flight to Jakarta the following morning.