Which one should I choose?
This is probably the most common question for travellers trying to decide between the two most upmarket resorts in Raja Ampat. Now that I’ve been to both Papua Paradise and Misool, I can finally provide a comparison between the two!
So Papua Paradise is located 2 hours from Sorong by boat and is in the region known as “North Raja Ampat”. Misool is 4 hours from Sorong by boat and in the region known as “South Raja Ampat”.
The ocean is a fickle beast so if you’re prone to seasickness, maybe consider the closer resort OR make sure you’re well stocked up on seasickness tablets. The upside is that once you’re at Misool, the dive sites are between 2 and 20 minutes away, so boat trips are short!
Papua Paradise is much, much closer to the most iconic sites of Raja Ampat such as Fam, Waigeo and the Three Jetties (Arborek, Yenbuba and Sawan Darek). It is also near the “bird’s head peninsula” of West Papua, which harbours various species of birds of paradise. These trips are well worth it for avian enthusiasts.
Misool might be too far away to reach any of these sites, but it has its own version of Fam at Warakaraket – with virtually no other travellers to share them with – and arguably the views are more stunning. There are also ancient petroglyphs to look at, and a jellyfish lake (one of only a few in the world) in which you can snorkel in – an amazing experience!
Winner: For me, this one was a tie!
The Marine Life
The marine life at both resorts are similar, but there are a few major differences. For instance, we scheduled both our trips in February and at Papua Paradise, saw manta rays (both reef and oceanic) on almost every dive over a total of around 20 dives. At Misool, we saw one reef manta in 20 dives. Mantas reportedly favour North Raja Ampat from December through to April, then head back south in the middle of the year.
The soft coral and Gorgonian sea fans at Misool are in fabulous shape, which means a lot of teeny, tiny animals to look at including all three known species of pygmy seahorse and so many different nudibranchs. There are masses of fish thanks to the region being a no-take zone. Baby sharks, turtles (green and hawksbill) and bumphead parrotfish are also found in abundance at the resort and the dive sites around it.
In terms of undersea-scapes, there are sea walls, bommies and coral gardens – plenty of variety – plus beautiful “windows” in the rock, deep underwater ridges and the enormous Magic Mountain. On our day trip to the jellyfish lake also gave us a chance to snorkel with three types of stingless jellyfish and scour the mangroves for archerfish.
Papua Paradise had access to the Three Jetties (with some pretty soft corals) but much more hard coral plus broad, sandy seabeds, which meant less colour and drama than at Misool. There was also one site we visited with an underwater “window”. Interestingly, there were more wobbegong sharks to see here, plus of course, placid dugongs that grazed the sea grass beneath the villas at the resort.
Both sites allowed you to do dusk dives (to observe the quirky mating habits of mandarinfish) as well as night dives, which were both thrilling and interesting at the same time.
Winner: Misool for reef health, colour, drama and abundance of fish. The sites at Misool are also exclusive to resort guests, whereas you’d have to share at Papua Paradise with visitors from other properties/liveaboards. Extra points for minimal rubbish at dive sites. There should also be regular sightings of manta rays between April-November.
So we’ve already mentioned the bird-watching at Papua Paradise. As dive sites were further away from the resort than at Misool, PP guests could enjoy lunch at secluded villages, play with local kids and experience a bit of local colour.
Misool however, had kayaks and stand up paddleboards for complimentary use throughout your stay. Using them, we circumnavigated the island, snorkelling wherever the reef looked good, spying on hungry turtles and baby sharks, and landing on hidden sandy beaches. For culture, you could join a cooking class, spend a day with rangers or go bird-watching – none of these were activities were set in stone, mind you. There was just a board where you could write your name against whatever activity was available on the week’s program.
Misool also had a better-equipped dive centre, with scooter diving a possibility. Lots of fun, we heard, but we didn’t do it ourselves.
Both resorts had a spa where you could get massages – again, didn’t do this on either visit but the feedback was generally good.
Winner: Misool for variety. One thing to mention however, is that the crowd when we happened to be at Misool were a lot older than the Papua Paradise crowd. The majority also were snorkellers/non-divers so if you’re looking for other divers or younger travellers to hang out with and talk shop, Papua Paradise is your place.
Papua Paradise offered over-water villas with furnished decks facing the sunset. Misool had a variety of villas – over water and on the beach, also with a small balcony, veranda or deck. If the sound of the ocean bothers you at night, don’t book an overwater villa. Also, if you want seclusion, Misool has an array of villas on South Beach – be prepared however, to hike, kayak, SUP or take a water taxi each time you wish to retire to your room as they are fairly far away from the common areas!
What we found with Villa Santai (at Misool) was that it was nice and shady, but that meant clothes and towels would never dry during the day. Also there were heaps of mosquitoes. There was an air-conditioner and a rotating boxed fan above the bed, but only one person could benefit from the fan if you chose not to turn on the AC.
At PP, there was no air-conditioner but the ceiling fan above the bed kept temperatures nice and consistent for both parties lying on the bed! This was a small detail, but one I appreciated. The west-facing balconies meant that the room really heated up in the late afternoon, but any wet clothes you set out on the deck were baked dry for the next day. Another plus: there was a lovely seating area inside your villa, plus two lounge chairs outside on your private balcony.
Winner: This one’s tough – Misool has variety and you can choose how secluded you want to be, but in terms of layout and amenity, I preferred the villa at Papua Paradise.
The dive school was extremely well set up at Misool, with benchtop space for everyone to store equipment, sinks to rinse gear down and plenty of hanging racks for wetsuits, BCDs, etc. It also adjoined a well-stocked library, lounge area with Wi-Fi (15 mins free) and there were lots of inviting outdoor chairs facing the lagoon.
Papua Paradise’s dive school was equipped but quite a bit smaller and somewhat less pleasant to while away the hours. However, you spend very little time here as most dive trips were half or full day, with lunch enjoyed on a remote islet or on a jetty.
Rental BCDs and regulators were excellent in quality at both resorts, and boatmen professional. PP had the upper hand with more dive boats in their fleet – a group of four got their own boat and guide, whilst Misool packed up to 8 divers on a boat with 2 guides. Having less people per boat – in my opinion – means less wait time before and after dives, more flexibility in where you go and of course, more space!
Winner: Misool for dive school setup but Papua Paradise for exclusivity of dive boat outings.
In my opinion, both resorts at fantastic for different reasons so if you can visit both, do it!