Misool: A Review

Because we had such a fantastic time diving last year at Papua Paradise in north Raja Ampat, we decided to return this February. This time, we chose the luxe private resort of Misool, located on a tiny island called Batbitim in a region also named Misool, to the very of south of Raja Ampat.

Misool resort in relation to the airport at Sorong.

Aside from being the most expensive land-based diving resort in Raja Ampat, Misool is also a really long distance from Sorong. So, was it worth the cost and journey?

First off, I have to mention that the voyage to Misool from Sorong is by private speedboat – a nice, shiny new vessel named the Merantau – but it is FOUR hours long. Lucky for us, the weather cooperated on the way there. Whilst we were on the island, a few heavy thunderstorms blew in and then, on the way back it was a roller coaster of a boat ride!

Our reward after an overnight downpour.

Also, on the way back, you have to overnight in Sorong in order to catch your flight back to Jakarta or Makassar. There isn’t much to do in this little town but we did make ourselves some new friends at a popular cafe and hangout near Tokong Berlin (“Berlin Wall”), which we reached in a rickety yellow taxi with a booming sound system.

The resort puts you up at the SwissBelhotel which is probably the best hotel in Sorong, but bear in mind that this newly built establishment is already starting to show signs of mildew, wear and tear. Also, level 1 is a smoking floor, and guests often smoke in the corridor, which is a tad unpleasant if you’re a non-smoker trying to walk up to your smoke-free room on higher floor.

A deluxe room – very similar to the one we had.

It must be noted that the staff both who receive you in Sorong and who host you at Misool are a wonderful lot who make sure you’re always comfortable and that your luggage is delivered to the right destinations.

The food at the resort is also commendable for its variety, quality and quantity, with both a la carte and set menu or buffet-style dining at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Guests can choose to sit at a couple of long communal tables or privately at smaller tables.

Vegetarians are well catered for, with gado-gado, mi goreng and nasi goreng being particular favourites. Fresh fruit and a variety of non-alcoholic drinks are also always available at the restaurant so you’re never thirsty (or hungry for that matter!).

A picnic breakfast of mi goreng.

Our accommodation was in the Villa Santai – set on secluded South Beach – on the southern side of the island. There are 7 thatched villas here, each one individual in charm and character. However, they all come equipped with air-conditioning, a fan and an open-air bathroom.

One of the Kalanme villas on South Beach.

As the dive centre and restaurant are on the other side of a towering cliff, you had to be able to climb steep stone stairs (sometimes several times a day). The view was great though – with plenty of turtles in the lagoon to spot.

View from the clifftop separating the dive centre, jetty and restaurant from South Beach.

We also regularly made use of the complimentary kayaks and stand-up paddleboards to get to our room, paddling from the restaurant straight to our villa’s front door and vice versa.

Sunrise over South Beach.

Should you prefer being less active, there is also a water taxi you can use. Guests simply page the driver using two-way radios stored at the shared lounge shack set in the middle of South Beach.

Map of the resort © Misool

The dive centre was fantastic – with hot showers and ample drying racks for wetsuits, fins and other equipment. You could also have your own wooden bench for camera gear, computers, etc with storage underneath for dive bags. A lovely old man there always made sure there were fresh towels and drinking water, whilst there was a comprehensive library of marine life reference books plus plenty of comfy outdoor chairs and hammocks.

One of the plentiful swing chairs at Misool – not one of those at the dive centre, but one with a similarly gorgeous outlook!

Our dive guide – Jemy – was also very good, partial to finding tiny animals such as porcelain crabs, nudibranchs and of course, pygmy seahorses.

The “Santa Claus” pygmy seahorse – a Raja Ampat special.

What truly sets Misool apart from every other place in Raja Ampat however, is that the owners of the resort control access to an area the size of two Singapores surrounding the island. As a result, visiting liveaboards can only dive at sites with explicit permission from Misool and only when resort guests are not diving there.

A map of local dive sites at the Misool dive centre.

As for the actual diving, thanks to the conservation efforts of the resort, its founders and the local community over a decade, the coral is in pristine condition at many sites.

There were steep rock walls covered in gigantic Gorgonian fans, ridges carpeted in multicoloured hard corals, bommies alive with fish and vibrant soft corals as well as thriving shallow reefs where snorkelling was possible. Best of all, most were within 5-15 minutes by boat from the resort.

Turtles and sizeable baby blacktip reef sharks were a very common sight every morning all around the island, while large schools of snapper and trevally patrolled the waters beneath the pier. There was also a hefty humphead wrasse named Pepito who spent much time here, and a visiting cowtail stingray called Steve who frequented the sandy-bottomed lagoon in front of the restaurant.

A feeding frenzy under the pier.

Sadly, there were no dugongs or birds of paradise to be found in the vicinity of Misool as these creatures only live close to the Papuan mainland. However, the upside of being this far away was that there was hardly any rubbish in the water – a common reality of diving in Indonesia.

Rating: A

Comment: Would I come back? If I was travelling with a group of diving friends – yes. I’d BYO my own friends for 2 reasons:

  1. The average age is high, like 65+, and for some reason, the majority of guests there at the same time as us were non-divers. While age isn’t an issue (for me, anyway), there wasn’t as much interesting “diver talk” at meals or on the boat compared to Papua Paradise, another resort we stayed at in Raja Ampat just 12 months before. Read how we thought Misool compared to Papua Paradise.
  2. A group of 4 gets you your own guide whilst 6-8 gets you your own dive boat which means increased flexibility over where you dive, for how long and at what time.

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