Misool Island, Raja Ampat Islands, West Papua, Indonesia
© Elsy Saldek/Getty Image
Misool Island, Indonesia
If you think it’s impossible to find a tropical paradise that's still largely untouched by people, you may be wrong. Raja Ampat, an archipelago in the province of West Papua, Indonesia, has a mere 50,000 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 are mostly adventurous divers and snorkellers, 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 4 million hectares 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 snorkellers and scuba-divers).