Category Archives: Indonesia

Kelimutu crater sunrise, Flores

Volcanic Views at Kelimutu and Moni

As a rule, visiting volcanoes in Indonesia is a right royal pain in the butt. Thankfully, the sublime Kelimutu on the island of Flores is the exception to the rule. The volcano seems not to attract scammers, the site is not overrun with tourists, there seems to be good litter management in the park, and the views are truly unique and sensational.

Our Story

The most convenient base for visiting Kelimutu is the delightful village of Moni at the foot of the volcano. We stayed at the best place in town, Angi Homestay. The owner, Johannes, and his wife Rose, have a couple of lovely bungalows overlooking the rice fields. Breakfast was simple but delicious. Pancakes, avocado, passion fruit, and excellent Flores coffee. The price was good too. In low season bargain.

Johannes helped organize our ojeks up to the lakes in the morning and our bus out of town. The village is a pleasant spot to wander around but you are here for the lakes.

We woke up at 4.30am on our second day in town and met up with our motorbike taxis. It is surprisingly chilly on a bike at that time so long pants and a sweater … Read more

Bandaneira Sunset over Gunung Api

Return to the Banda Islands

We love the Banda Islands! The beautiful beaches, incredible coral gardens, fascinating history, friendly islanders, great accommodation, and delicious food enticed us to down backpacks for a couple of weeks last year. It is a our perfect tropical paradise in all senses of the phrase. When we were looking for a place to relax for a few weeks this year, there was no competition. We headed back to Banda.

Why go back to the Banda Islands?

We wanted a place that had all the above plus reasonable wifi so that we could work on a few ideas for mobile apps. We had an idea for a new kind of guide book in app form. The Banda Islands were the perfect subject for a prototype. There were several Islands with lots to do but they were small enough that we could do our research quickly. Banda was an up and coming destination which wasn’t covered well by current guides and blogs. So, we knew there would be interest.

It was also a good place for me to push on with with my swimming. The waters were generally safe and calm plus there was the distraction of big fish, turtles, and stupendous … Read more

The sea in front of Putih Lessi Indah

Putih Lessi Indah: A Beach Escape in Saparua

Saparua, one of the Lease Islands in the Maluku region of Indonesia, is unlikely to be a major destination anytime soon. But, it is a fantastic side trip for travelers wanting to extend a Maluku trip beyond the magnificent Banda Islands. There are white sand palm fringed beaches, snorkeling and diving, and divine tropical fruit. And one really awesome budget beach resort – Putih Lessi Indah.

Why visit Maluku?

Maluku is a mystery that slowly unfolds the more you dig around. The area was never well traveled and the sporadic communal violence that broke out in the early noughties killed off travel for all but the hardiest backpacker. The guide books still do not cover the area in detail and even the blogosphere only lightly touches on the region. The area has no functioning tourist office, contacting hotels and beach bungalows is difficult, the electricity supply is sporadic, and the transport situation is extremely changeable. It probably took me more time to figure out the ferry schedule for Saparua than it did to organize three weeks in Philippines!

The upside is that for the time being, there are relatively few tourists in Maluku. … Read more

Manta rays at Nusa Penida Bali.

Manta Madness at Nusa Penida, Bali

Another in our series of where to find guaranteed big fish encounters in Southeast Asia. If you want to swim with manta rays, then head to Bali and sign up for a snorkel trip to Manta Point at Nusa Penida. Nusa Penida is a wild island just 45 minutes away from Sanur in Bali. There are a number of outfits that run manta ray snorkel and dive trips out there. We did a snorkel trip with the well-established dive shop, Blue Season.

Why did we go with Blue Season?

They run ‘snorkelers only’ trips on fast boats. You are accompanied by two divemasters, who are your guides in the water, and a couple of boatmen. The company is super-safety conscious and runs a tight ship. They are not the cheapest but the high degree of professionalism impressed us. They are a particularly good choice for novice snorkelers. … Read more

Ora Beach Bungalows

Way off the beaten track: Pulau Seram

Our visit to Pulau Seram, a rugged island in Indonesia’s Maluku province, was inspired by a photo in an Indonesian airline magazine. The photo was of a row of stilt bungalows on a gorgeous turquoise bay backed by mighty green forested cliffs. The accompanying article was only in Indonesian, but we found the place name, Pantai Ora (Ora Beach) in the caption. A few days and some Google Image searching later, Ora Beach on Pulau Seram in Maluku province was on our bucket list. We were already thinking about a trip to Maluku to see the Banda Islands, and the chance to add a visit to Pulau Seram firmly placed Maluku on our itinerary.

We do a lot of internet research to help us choose destinations, hotels, and things to do. The most striking thing we learned when researching Pulau Seram travel is how little information there is! The available information in English consists of a couple of pages in the Lonely Planet, a thread on the Thorn Tree forum, and a few blog posts. We were a bit worried that Pulau Seram would be an anticlimax after our amazing visit to the Banda Islands, but we were keen … Read more

Pulau Hatta in the Banda Islands

Pulau Hatta: Paradise in the Banda Islands

Everyone knows fishermen exaggerate the size of their catch, but it is a little known fact that novice snorkelers can be a little generous with fish size too. But, really you should have seen the damn size of this enormous Napoleon wrasse. When I first saw him it was at least the size of yours truly. By the end of the week it was of Moby Dick proportions! Maybe I was overcompensating for the fact that Laura had seen a massive school of 50+ hammerheads the day before!

Welcome to Pulau Hatta in the Banda Islands, where the island is tiny but the undersea life is truly gargantuan. It was to be the setting for my first real attempt at snorkeling. And, I am glad I plunged into the briny since Hatta has given us some of the most fantastic experiences of the entire trip.

So, here it is part two of Paul’s conversion to fully-fledged water boy. After my first forays into water in the magnificent Togean Islands, I decided to do an intensive swimming course in Ko Lanta, Thailand while Laura was doing her PADI Open Water diving course. My eventual aim is to do a PADI course … Read more

Sunset gold. Benteng Belgica, Bandaneira.

Snorkel and spice: the Banda Islands

We never had the Banda Islands on our itinerary when we left home. But we kept looking at those pages in the Lonely Planet and heard many good reports from fellow travelers. I am glad we keep our ears and options open, since our finest experiences have been in places that were not entirely on our radar. The Banda Islands are quite possibly the best place we have discovered on this trip. This tiny cluster of islands delivers huge rewards: incredible underwater life, friendly people, volcano views, fascinating history, and idyllic beach huts.

History of the Banda Islands

Old map of the Banda Islands
Old map of the Banda Islands with Gunung Api erupting. Source: Wikimedia Commons

It is amazing to reflect on the fact that these sleepy remote tropical islands were once the epicenter of colonial warring, gross treatment of locals, and an incredibly lucrative trade in highly sought after commodities. Those commodities were, of course, the spices that grew exclusively on the islands. Nutmeg was once more expensive than gold since it was believed to be a cure-all for many a foul affliction including the plague. Britain and Holland clashed for decades over the spice trade and hundreds of locals died as a result. … Read more

A Day in the Death of a Torajan

I think it would be fair to say that if a bunch of tourists rocked up to your grandma’s funeral and started taking photos of the entire proceedings most of us would get very pissed off. However, when traveling overseas we are incredibly snap happy when we come across local funeral ceremonies. I have witnessed scrums of people in Kathmandu and Varanasi jockeying for the best spot to take a photo of a body searing over a fierce funeral pyre. I once happened upon a Tibetan sky burial at Mount Kailash and had to stop a Swiss guy from taking photos. While the participants were quite happy for us to watch the ceremony since it is part of the meditation on death at the famed pilgrimage site, I felt uneasy at the thought of a slightly sleazy old man having photographs of a dismembered teenage girl!

Bemused locals usually tolerate our strange fascination with funeral rituals but once in a while violence breaks out when travelers over step the line.

No such problems in Tana Toraja in South Sulawesi. Although the region is incredibly beautiful, featuring gorgeous mountain scenery and quaint villages, it is fair to say that the local … Read more

Stilt village of Pulau Papan, Malenge Island.

In Over my Head: Ocean life in the Togean Islands

Or, how the clear water and profuse marine life of the beautiful Togean Islands in Indonesia inspired me to conquer my fear of swimming in the ocean.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am not a water babe! For various reasons, I never learned to swim when I was a kid…or as a teenager… or as an adult. On the other hand, Laura swims like a fish. Her high school record in the 200 Medley Relay was recently broken after 18 years, but this was testament to her swimming skills from an early age. Laura was determined not to travel with an aquaphobic hubby so over the past two years I have been doggedly learning to swim at our local pools. Still, I only swam in the deep end a couple of times.

Over the years, my fear of water and lack of swimming skills have gotten me into a few dumb situations. I have photographs from a trek in Colombia where I am being helped across a 10’ wide and 2’ deep river by two guides. In the Pantanal in Brazil, I went on a 3 day trek, which mainly involved wading through wetlands but at one … Read more

Blue water at Bunaken

At the Edge of the Map in North Sulawesi

I first heard of Sulawesi at age 9 or 10 from the Tintin comic, Flight 714. Tintin and his friends are on a plane that crash lands on a tropical island, where the lush jungle and smoldering volcanoes conceal mysterious machinations by the island’s secretive residents. Hmm, could this have inspired Lost? Anyway, at one point the book mentioned that the island was located in the Celebes Sea. I didn’t know where this was, so I called out to my father in the next room, “Daddy, what’s the Celebes Sea?”

“Er, the celibacy is when a priest or nun makes a vow not to have sex.”

Confused, I showed my father the text of the comic strip.

Embarrassed laugh. “Oh, that’s a sea in Indonesia!”

I later learned that Celebes is the former colonial name of the starfish-shaped Indonesian island of Sulawesi. After several weeks hitting the tourist highlights of Java, Bali, and Lombok, we decided to head to this less-visited island reputed to have fantastic wildlife, jungle-cloaked archipelagos, and unique culture. Our route would take us from Manado on the northeastern tip all the way to Makassar on the southwest.… Read more