Misool Island, one of the four major islands in the Raja Ampat Islands in West Papua, Indonesia
© Elsy Saldek/Getty Image
An underwater paradise to explore. Misool Island, Indonesia
You may think finding a tropical paradise that's still largely untouched by people is merely a pipe dream. You may be wrong. Raja Ampat, an archipelago in the province of West Papua, Indonesia, has a mere 64,000 inhabitants, and they all live on or around its four main islands—Batanta, Misool, Salawati, and Waigeo. (In fact, the name Raja Ampat means 'Four Kings' and derives from an ancient legend that says four young kings were hatched from dragon eggs, one ruler for each of those main islands.) The rest of Raja Ampat is made up of about 1,500 smaller islands and cays—and astonishingly, hundreds of these tiny islands have yet to be explored by humans.
Of course, the lack of people is critical to keeping this paradise pristine. The main visitors today tend to be adventurous divers and snorkelers, who love exploring Raja Ampat and its vast reef system. And for good reason: It's considered one of the most biodiverse places in the world. The ecosystem, which is part of a larger tropical ocean area called the Coral Triangle, is so diverse that it's sometimes referred to as the Amazon of the Seas. Raja Ampat stretches over nearly 10 million acres of land and sea, and it boasts 540 types of coral, more than 1,000 species of coral reef fish, 700 kinds of mollusks, and a variety of warm-blooded marine animals (including migratory snorkelers and scuba divers).