To think, that I nearly didn’t go! The invitation to join a four-day cruise to Raja Ampat in Indonesia on a traditional phinisi yacht arrived in my inbox three days before departure and collided with a planned trip to Venice/Italy.
I have never traveled farther east than Hong Kong and only had a vague idea of where and what Raja Ampat was located. A quick look at the yacht called Prana by Atzaro and the itinerary—which mentioned things like pearl farms, birds of paradise, floating in lagoons, snorkeling to watch reefs, and BBQs on pristine beaches—made the decision easy. Instead of packing winter woolies for Venice (it was the beginning of February), I rushed out to buy a few bikinis and suntan lotion and embarked on a more than 20-hour journey with four changes of flights to explore the wonders of an archipelago just off the coast of West Papua.
Arriving on The Prana by Atzaro
The last leg of the flight from Jakarta to Sorong with Garuda Airlines already introduced me to Indonesian hospitality and smiles. I think they are born with a smile on their faces, it comes so naturally. Seeing the long way I had already traveled from Alicante/Spain, I was upgraded to Business—and I didn't even ask. They plied me with refreshing drinks, snacks, pillows, and blankets.
On arrival in Sorong, four members of The Prana crew were standing in the lobby to welcome us and take care of our luggage. They whisked us off in limousines to Sorong harbor and into speedboats which took us to the Prana, anchored somewhere of the coast.
What a sight! She wasn’t under sail, but what floated before our eyes was a beautiful wooden yacht, with hand carved sides and railings, the four masts swaying in the wind. She looked like she was right out of a Hollywood movie sans pirates hanging over the railings.
With only a maximum of 19 passengers, this was my ideal cruise ship. There were only 11 of us on my cruise, but within a day we felt like family. The staff waited on us hand and foot. They unpacked our luggage, provided us with slippers (no shoes on board), brought coffee and fruit drinks, hot towels and even an Aspirin in the blink of an eye.
Life On Board The Prana
The cabins are surprisingly big for a yacht this size, with en-suite bathroom, rain shower, and a huge basket full of beauty products. I needed not have bothered with suntan lotion, theirs was so much better. There is one super suite on the top deck with a salon, bar, and all-around windows.
The Prana has four decks, all with several big resting areas filled with plush cushions and blankets. The dining area on the main deck is where we had lunch and dinner. Breakfast was served in a salon which was also a sitting room to relax and read or watch TV. However, with little Internet access, the TV on the yacht is more decorative than anything else. You’ll enjoy a few days of Internet detox!
For breakfast, they served large platters of bami or nasi goreng, eggs any which way upon request from poached to fried, fruit, yogurts, cereals, and such a great variety of fresh fruit juices as I have never seen nor tasted before. Coffee, teas, mineral water, you name it, they brought it.
The star of the kitchen was no doubt the Balinese cook. After breakfast, he appeared with a notepad in his hand, announced the three choices he had on offer for lunch and dinner and jotted them down.
The Parana also has a small spa and offers different kinds of massages. After the long flight, I needed one for my tired legs and Anna from Java got down to business. She really worked me over, saying, “It may hurt now, but it’s good for you later.” And she was relentless. However, she was right and afterward, everybody asked for Anna.
Frankly, I could easily have spent 4 days lounging around on the yacht, being pampered by all the luxury and watching the islands glide past, but that’s not why I chose a yacht cruise in Indonesia.
Exploring the Waters in Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat is an archipelago comprising more than 1200 islands in what is known as the Coral Triangle between the Philippines, Indonesia, and Oceania. Only four of them are larger, the rest are mostly uninhabited and some are just rocks poking out of the ocean.
What the islands are famous for is the incredible underwater world, colorful reefs, rare fish, giant mantas and much more. Raja Ampat has ten times more hard coral species than the Caribbean. Then there are lagoons, white beaches and the rainforest vegetation on the islands. There are small villages, homestays, ranger stations, pearl farms, jungle hikes, and viewpoints.
The emphasis on the Prana is on diving and snorkeling. She carries all necessary equipment and two dive masters are there to assist and accompany. I don’t scuba dive, but I snorkel, and the maritime life is so rich that even just putting your head underwater, fish swim up to you and kiss your mask. On one of my swims, I was accompanied by a giant turtle.
She also carries paddleboards, canoes, and floats in the shape and color of oranges and strawberries for lazy drifting after all the water activities.
Islands to Discover on the Yacht Cruise in Indonesia
The first stop was Waigeo which is the largest island. Mostly covered with jungle and rainforest, this is where two rare species of birds of paradise live. To watch them mating, we had a 4 a.m. wakeup call. We hopped in the speed boats followed by a steep climb, which is really challenging as you have to—literally—scale some rocks to reach the highest trees on the top. At 6 am, the birds start flapping their wings, chirping loudly, and mating—for exactly one hour as if they had an inner watch! After that, silence, until the next day. It was an amazing experience.
Back down, we visited the colorful village of Saporkrem with welcoming, smiling villagers. They will be thrilled if you learn a few words of Indonesian.
Mioskom Island, the second biggest, was the next stop. This was a paradise for the divers onboard the Prana. The water is truly turquoise and you can see the red and yellow reefs just looking down. They are even more amazing at depths from 20 to 60 meters. The fish come in all sizes and colors, from tiny to giant mantas and the odd shark. But snorkeling was equally rewarding.
Other islands we visited were Wayag, Piaynemo, and Aljuy Bay. Wayag has another climb in store, up to Mount Pindito for a view of the iconic mushroom-like islands, all covered with dense rain forest, just jutting out of the sea. Each island is surrounded by incredibly clear water and rings of white beaches.
Piaynemo, the smallest island, is a nature reserve. There are 392 steps to climb up through the jungle to a wooden platform for another overview.
At the foot of the path, there are small stands, where villagers sell coconuts, opened to drink the water, coconut soap, coconut lotion and not much else. For a cheaper vacation than a cruise on the Prana, Piaynemo offers home stays and dive tours, which can be booked through this company.
And then it was time for Aljuy Bay and the pearl farm. I love pearls. In fact, I wear a piece of pearl jewelry every day. The Atlas Pearl Farm is Australian owned and creates jobs for some 20 locals. The presentation of the labor-intensive and time-consuming process of maturing oysters made me appreciate them even more. Then we were shown how pearls are harvested. The oyster is clamped into a device, then gently teased open with hot air and…with luck…out pops a perfect pearl. The best for last, you could buy lovely pearl rings and necklaces or even loose ones from white to pink to gray.
The crowning glory of the last day was a BBQ on the beach. The crew brought everything over, including chairs and umbrellas, and took everything back the same way. The chef surprised us with a seafood feast, giant lobsters, as well as steaks and grilled vegetables.
Meanwhile, the Prana had raised her sails, just so that we could admire her majestic beauty. Yet another wow sight, I can assure you.
After the BBQ, we walked along the beach to another adventure: swimming with sharks. Mostly baby sharks came close to shore in the shallow water.
Sailing on The Prana in Raja Ampat
Sailing on The Prana is a real pleasure with the breathtaking scenery and wonderful crew. The best time to visit Raja Ampat is between November and March. The most rain falls between May and October, which can make jungle paths very slippery.
Make sure you have plenty of cash in the local currency—the Indonesian Rupee—for tips and minor purchases. Credit cards are not practical, mostly due to the fact that there is very little Internet access.
I'm so glad I decided to take the yacht cruise in Indonesia. I didn’t want to leave. Indonesia has captured my heart and my next trip will be to Java and Sumatra.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals, tours and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.