This post was last updated on May 31st, 2020 at 08:08 pm
The Moluccas (or Maluku islands) are some of the best known, but least visited islands in Indonesia. Everyone has heard of them, but you hardly ever meet travelers who have actually been there. This is because the Moluccas are not yet on the radar of many travelers. Quite strange, because these undiscovered islands are among the most beautiful in Indonesia. And that says a lot!
We have been there and are happy to share our experiences.
The Moluccas – A Must-Visit
The Moluccas are one of the most beautiful destinations in Indonesia. If you are looking for unspoiled islands, little tourism, and off the beaten track destinations, the Moluccas are the place to be.
The Moluccas were once known as the Spice Islands. It was one of the few places on Earth where nutmeg, cloves, and various other valuable herbs were grown.
Today, it is not the herbs that draw travelers to this island paradise, but the beautiful islands with snow-white beaches, surrounded by palm trees and crystal clear water.
The Moluccas are without doubt one of the most beautiful and nicest places we have been to. Tourism is still in its infancy here. It is especially popular among divers, but it is also beautiful for non-divers.
The Banda islands and the Kei islands are the most famous destinations, but Seram, Haruku and Saparua are also really beautiful. Traveling between the islands can be tricky, but with a little flexibility and patience, you can visit pristine coral reefs, hike deserted beaches, sleep in beautiful water bungalows, or climb perfectly formed volcanoes.
Difference Between North and the South Moluccas
In total, the Moluccas archipelago consists of more than 1,000 islands, spread over two regions; North Maluku and Maluku. It is sandwiched between Sulawesi and Papua. It is quite difficult to visit all the islands. That is why we share the most important islands in the Moluccas to explore.
First, we’ll tell you the difference between the north and the south Moluccas.
This part of the Moluccas consists of the northern part of the island group. North Maluku province is made up of nearly 400 islands, less than 70 of which are inhabited. The largest island is Halmahera.
Other important islands are Obi, Morotai, Bacan, and the main islands of the Sula archipelago (Taliabu, Mangole, and Sulabesi). Ternate and Tidore are small but well worth it.
Maluku sounds a little more familiar to most travelers. This is the southern part of the island group of the Moluccas. Maluku embraces more than 600 islands, of which Seram, Bur, Ambon, the Banda islands, the Wetar, the Babar, the Tanimbar, and the Kei islands are best known.
Ambon; the gateway to the Moluccas
Ambon is one of the most developed places in the south of the Moluccas. It was once Dutch-owned and an important trading port, but much of the original Dutch architecture there has been destroyed.
Ambon is the gateway to the Moluccas. You can easily fly there from the most famous places in Indonesia. You can fly here from Bali, Makassar (Sulawesi), Jakarta, and Medan (Sumatra). Albeit with a stopover.
The Best Islands to Visit in the Moluccas
The main reason to visit the Moluccas is for its pristine islands and beaches. It is unfortunately not possible to visit all islands unless you take a lot of money, patience, and time with you. To help you on your way, we have made an overview of the 15 best and most beautiful islands in the Moluccas.
These are the 5 best-known islands:
The city of Ambon on Ambon Island is the most important arrival and departure point for the Moluccas. You will find a lot of accommodations and all facilities to take you to the other islands. However, there are also plenty of places of interest on and around the island of Ambon.
There are beautiful beaches and the famous 18th-century Benteng Victoria, Ambon’s most valuable colonial remnant. However, it is difficult to find and it is forbidden to take photos unless you have a permit.
Things to Do
There is plenty to do on Ambon, but frankly, this island really serves as a stopover. Ambon is beautiful, but the islands that are named below are even more beautiful. We decided to travel to Seram immediately after 1 night on Ambon.
If you do stay on Ambon, rent a scooter to explore the island.
How to Get There
You get there by flying to Ambon. You can easily fly here from the most famous places in Indonesia. You can fly here from Bali, Makassar (Sulawesi), Jakarta, and Medan (Sumatra). Albeit with a stopover.
“Seram” means “scary”, but there is nothing scary about this island. In fact, Seram was the great surprise of the Moluccas to us. It is one of the largest islands in the region, but still free from any kind of tourism.
It is an island with unparalleled beauty, from deserted beaches to impressive bays. Some of the main attractions here include Mount Binaiya; the highest mountain in the Moluccas.
Things to Do
Seram is big, but there is no tourism here. It is not like Bali where you come across a tour operator on every street corner. You can go here on your own, but that is a real challenge.
There are few or no hotels and you should know the ones that are there. In addition, the island is so large that it is difficult to explore with a scooter. A guide knows the island better and can show the best places.
Ora Beach Resort
If you are looking for the best, and by far the most beautiful place to stay, go to Ora Beach Resort. It comes with a higher price, but the location is unbelievably beautiful. Here you can kayak, explore the surrounding bays, snorkel, and just relax on the beach.
How to Get There
The only way to get here is by boat. You sail from the port in Ambon (Tulehu) to the port on Seram (Amahai). A ticket costs between 120,000 and 260,000 IDR (~ US$8-17.50, VIP class) and the boat takes several hours to get there.
You can book tickets at the port (on the day itself). You can also contact Maluku Resort and Spa. They own Ora Beach Resort and will arrange all transportation for you.
Our Tip – Check out our tips about Seram!
3. Banda Islands
The Banda Islands are becoming more famous in Indonesia. That is not surprising because they are among the most beautiful islands in the country. With a combination of natural beauty, friendly inhabitants, fascinating history, and beautiful beaches, these ten islands are among the most beautiful in all of Indonesia.
The main reason to come here lies beneath the water.
Things to Do
There’s plenty to do. The islands are especially popular with divers and snorkelers. We can say from our own experience that the underwater world is indeed beautiful here. The most beautiful we have seen in Indonesia.
Yet there is also plenty to do for “non-divers” here. For example, you can climb Gunung Api, a 666-meter high volcano. From the top, you have a beautiful view. You can also visit Fort Belgica and the Dutch Fort, race your scooter on the runway, or go to one of the surrounding islands.
How to Get There
Banda Neira, the main island, has an airport, but only small propeller planes land here and you cannot book tickets online. The easiest way to get here is by boat.
It is also the most fun way because on the way you have the chance to spot whales and dolphins (we saw both).
- Ambon to Banda Neira ➜ every Tuesday and Saturday at 9:00 a.m. The cost is 412,000 IDR (~ US$28) p.p and it takes 6 hours.
- Banda Neira to Ambon ➜ every Wednesday and Sunday at 9:30 a.m. The cost is 412,000 IDR (~ US$28) p.p and it takes 6 hours.
Our Tip – You can read more about these islands on our Banda Islands page.
4. Kei Islands
The Kei Islands, also known as Pulau Kei, are according to some of the most beautiful islands of the Moluccas. And there is certainly some truth to that. It is one of the best places to come if you fancy beautiful white sandy beaches and crystal clear water.
Many travelers who make the trip to the Moluccas choose the Kei Islands as their base of operations as this is truly one of the most scenic spots in Indonesia.
Things to Do
The Kei islands are not that big and these islands are known for the snow-white beaches and the beautiful underwater world. It is no surprise that snorkeling and diving are among the activities here.
You can also visit the beautiful beaches and visit several lagoons.
How to Get There
The advantage of the Kei islands is that you can go there by plane. You can fly directly from Ambon to Kei Kecil. When we were here we paid around US$175 for a return ticket Ambon-Kei. You can book all tickets via NusaTrip.
Our Tip – On many blogs, you’ll read that there are also boats sailing from Banda to the Kei islands. This is not true. Boats no longer sail due to insufficient use.
5. Ternate Island
North of Ambon lies the island of Ternate, the capital of the province of Northern Maluku. Just like Ambon, it is a great base for North Moluccas. Compared to the islands mentioned above, tourism is even less pronounced here.
Few people travel to the north of the Moluccas, but that makes it one of the most special destinations.
Things to Do
In addition to beautiful beaches and islands, you will also find 17th-century colonial remains from Dutch rule. A well-known sight is Benteng Oranje, a fort dating from 1667. Diving and snorkeling here are less optimal than on other islands in the Moluccas.
How to Get There
The easiest way is to fly to Ternate. You can fly from Ambon or Bali, Makassar, Jakarta, etc. Often you fly via Sulawesi. A return ticket Bali – Ternate costs about US$170, depending on when you book.
The islands mentioned above are of course not all islands. There are many more! We like to share the lesser-known islands. Keep in mind that these islands are difficult to reach.
1. Tanimbar Islands
The Tanimbar Islands are a small archipelago of about 65 islands located southeast of the main island of Maluku. The largest of the islands is Pulau Yamdena, covered with green hills, beautiful forests, and water buffalos that roam the interior.
The area is also known for its pristine sandy beaches.
Our Tip – This part of the Moluccas is quite known among Indonesians themselves, so it is quite easy to reach. You can get here by flying from Ambon to Saumlaki.
2. Pulau Tidore
Easily accessible from neighboring Ternate, Tidore Island is well worth a visit. You’ll find some lovely beaches here and as you venture into the city you’ll also find some historical sites, such as the Benteng Tohula Fort built by the Spanish in the 17th century.
On the island, you will also find Mount Tidore, which you can also see on the 1,000 IDR banknote.
Our Tip – The boat from Bastoing Harbor in Ternate to the Rum Harbor in Tidore departs at 7:00 a.m., last at 5:00 p.m. (5,000 IDR p.p.)
3. Buru Islands
Buru Island is located west of the island of Ambon and is the third-largest island in the Moluccas. It is also one of the best known as it was once a penal colony for communist political prisoners during Suharto’s reign.
The island hardly attracts any visitors.
One of the most famous prisoners was the writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer. There is more to see than just prisons there. You will find beautiful beaches such as Jiku Merasa Beach and the Waeura waterfall.
4. Lease Islands
The Lease Islands is an archipelago that is quite easy to visit. The island is known for its many water sports and some great snorkeling spots. One of the most beautiful islands in this archipelago is Pulau Saparua with a fortress dating from the 17th century called Benteng Duurstede.
TIP – From Ambon, you can visit the islands as a day trip!
The main islands are Kei Kecil and Dullah. The islands are of fairytale-like beauty and a visit to these islands is a must if you are in the Moluccas.
5. Bacan Islands
Bacan is a mountainous, well-forested archipelago west of Halmahera. The largest island in the archipelago with nearly 80 islands is Bacan. Because there are a lot of forests there, you will also find the only monkey in the wild here; the Black Macaques.
There is an airport, but the most popular way to reach the island is by boat. Daily boats sail between Ternate and Babang.
6. Obi Island
South of Bacan lies Obi Island. You can walk on this island because of the presence of a 1611 meter high mountain. There are a number of smaller islands that make up the archipelago. Laiwui, the capital, is located on the northeastern coast of Obi.
There are only a few facilities and the only way to reach the archipelago is by boat.
7. Halmahera Island
The largest island of the Moluccas is Halmahera. With the city of Sofifi, you will also find one of the largest cities in the region here. Halmahera is one of the best islands to visit. If you enjoy walking, this is the best choice with rainforests and palm groves.
Make sure to visit the special beach of Merambatu and the traditional stilt houses in the village of Sidangoli.
The island has three airports Buli, Kao (Tobelo Airport), and Galela. Galela has flights from Ternate, Manado, and Sulawesi. The capital Sofifi has no airport.
Our Route Through the Moluccas
The Moluccas are one of the most beautiful regions of Indonesia. Everyone travels to islands like Bali, Java, Lombok, or Sulawesi. And as beautiful as they are, they are also fairly developed.
It is not a destination for partying or taking all kinds of tours, but those looking for a laid-back atmosphere, beautiful beaches, and the most beautiful coral reefs in the world should definitely travel to the Moluccas.
If you really want something different, the Moluccas is definitely an option. We have been there for four weeks and have written out our route.
Where to Stay on the Moluccas
It can be quite a task to find out which of the hundreds of islands you can best stay on. It depends on which part of the Moluccas you want to discover, but the most popular islands to stay overnight and use as a base are Ambon, the Banda Islands, Kei Islands, and Seram.
Banda Islands Accommodations
The Banda islands are popular because they are beautiful remote islands. Unfortunately, it is not as “easy” to reach as Bali or Lombok, but it is definitely worth it. Most accommodations can be found on the island of Banda Neira. This is where the boat arrives and where you explore the rest of the Banda islands.
There isn’t a whole lot of accommodation on the island and most of them aren’t even on Booking.com. In our opinion, these are the best accommodations on the island;
- Luxury – Cilu Bintang
- Luxury – Maulana Hotel
- Medium Budget – The Nutmeg Tree Banda
- Medium Budget – Allan Bungalow
- Low Budget – Bintang Laut Bandanaira
- Low Budget – Delfika
Ternate Island Accommodations
Ternate offers accommodation for all tastes and budgets, including resorts, hotels, guesthouses, and low-budget hostels. It is a popular place to stay overnight and to discover the northern region of the Moluccas.
Our Tip – The largest island of the Moluccas, Halmahera with capital Sofifi, is 40 minutes away by boat. Here you will also find a lot of accommodations.
Here are some of our recommendations:
- Medium Budget – Emerald Hotel
- Low Budget – RedDoorz Syariah Near Ngade Lake
- Low Budget – Kurnia Homestay
Kei Islands Accommodations
The Kei Islands are a popular holiday destination so you will also find plenty of accommodations here. It is also called mini Raja Ampat. However, the same problem applies to the other islands. Most accommodations are not available on the internet.
That does not mean that they are not there. In fact, there are many accommodations here. Most, however, are budget options.
- Low Budget – Savana Cottages
- Low Budget – Coaster Cottages
Ambon, the island where most travelers arrive and don’t stay at for long. This island is the easiest to reach. A ticket from Bali will cost you around US$95 per person and you will be in the Moluccas in one go.
From here, you can travel to different islands or book tours. We slept in the Maluku Resort and Spa. They also own Ora Beach Resort on Seram and can arrange boat tickets for you at no extra cost. Here are some of the best accommodations in Ambon:
- Luxury – The Natsepa Resort and Conference Center
- Medium Budget – Manise Hotel
- Medium Budget – Amaris Hotel Ambon
- Medium Budget – The City Hotel
- Low Budget – RedDoorz @ Budget Hotel Ambon
Seram is not (yet) really geared towards tourism. There are very few accommodations and the ones that are out there cannot be booked online. Let alone find them anywhere. The only place where we have seen other hotels, besides our own resort, is the city where the boat arrives; Amahai.
Furthermore, there is little to find on Seram itself.
Ora Beach Resort
The Ora Beach Resort is a beautifully situated resort near Saleman in the north of the island. It is located in a closed bay so you will not get there just like that.
There are 1 or 2 other accommodations near Ora Beach Resort, but we have not seen anyone there and you will not find anything about it on the internet.
Ora Beach Resort can be booked via Booking.com. You can also book one (or two) nights at Maluku Resort and Spa on Ambon. They own the resorts and in addition to reservations, they can also arrange transportation to Ora Beach for you.
How Long Should You Stay on the Moluccas?
The question: “How long should I stay on the Moluccas” is unfortunately not that easy to answer. You can easily spend 4 months here, but also for 4 days if you really want to see a piece of the Moluccas.
It all depends on the islands you want to see. We have been on Ambon, Seram, Banda, and Kei islands and this trip took 4 weeks. We could easily have stayed longer afterward, but 3 to 4 weeks is the minimum number of weeks you have to stay if you want to see most of what the Moluccas have to offer.
Do you only want to visit Seram, Banda, or the Kei islands? Then your trip will take about 2 weeks.
Not all of the islands are big, but it takes a long time to get there. Our trip from Amsterdam to Ora Beach on Seram took about 4 days. In addition, most ferries only sail twice a week.
That makes planning your trip difficult. Take your time on the Moluccas, even if you only visit one or two islands!
Cost of Traveling in the Moluccas
This question is not easy to answer either, because everyone travels differently. What we can tell you is that this region is a lot more expensive than the more famous regions of Indonesia. Everything is very remote so you pay more for certain things.
We tracked some of our costs:
- Accommodation ➜ US$15 to US$55 per night
- Boat Ambon – Banda ➜ US$28 p.p.
- Food ➜ US$2.50 to US$7.50 per dish
- 1 liter of water ➜ US$0.70
- 1 large beer ➜ US$3.40
- Rent a scooter ➜ US$8.50 – US$11 per day
- Day snorkeling ➜ US$40 to US$45 p.p.
How to Get to the Moluccas
The Moluccas are not as easy to reach as other destinations in Indonesia, but that ensures that the islands are still largely unspoiled today and that you hardly encounter other travelers.
You can get there by boat or plane. We assume that you go to Ambon. This is the gateway to the Moluccas.
Most flights to the Moluccas go via Ambon. A return trip to Bali will cost you around US$155 p.p., depending on the season and from where you fly. Destinations from where you can fly to Ambon are Jakarta, Bali, Makassar, Sorong (Raja Ampat), and Ternate.
Continue Traveling from Ambon
Most islands in the Moluccas have an airport, but the boat is by far the easiest and cheapest way to travel in the Moluccas. Flights often only depart if there are enough passengers. The only flight that goes regularly is between Ambon and the Kei Islands.
The boats only run a few times a week, so make sure you are well aware of the schedules. Unfortunately, these are constantly changing so there is little to mention.
Examples of boat trips and costs;
Ambon – Seram ➜ 120,000 to 260,000 IDR p.p.
Ambon – Banda ➜ 412,000 IDR p.p.
Malaria occurs on all islands east of Lombok (including Flores, the Moluccas, and Papua) and it is recommended to take malaria tablets.
It is important to know that malaria mosquitoes sting from sunset to sunrise. Therefore, always wear clothing that covers your arms and legs at night. Apply mosquito repellents such as DEET to uncovered body parts and sleep under a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent at night. Do not blindly trust the mosquito net already hanging in your room. It is better to bring one yourself.
It is not recommended to drink tap water. Drink bottled water.
Best Time to Visit
The Moluccas cover such a large area that there is a different travel advice per region. Unfortunately, the weather cannot be predicted, especially in areas as large as this one. In addition, the weather differs per island. It is not possible to describe the climate of all islands so we do it in parts.
The best time to visit the region of Ambon, Banda, and the Kei Islands, is between October and February.
In Central Moluccas, including the islands of Ambon and the Banda Islands, there is more rainfall during the months from June through August. Travel is still possible during this time, but the seas can be rougher, making boat travel less frequent.
The weather for diving and snorkeling is the best between November and March.
Most of North Moluccas is warm and humid all year round. Unfortunately, it can rain at any time of the day. The rainy season falls between December and March. In line with the rest of Indonesia.