Maluku is also known as the Moluccas and in the days of old also went by the colorful moniker ‘the Spice Islands’. For years explorers tried to find the elusive islands in search of the delights grown here such as cloves, nutmeg, and mace, and although Maluku is no longer one of the main producers of spices in Indonesia it still makes a great trip if you are looking to visit one of the less-explored parts of this amazing archipelago.
Located to the east of Sulawesi, Maluku sprawls across to the Arafura Sea close to Papua making it one of the most remote places to visit in Indonesia. ‘Maluku’ is the name given to a range of islands here but within this you will also find clusters of smaller islands that make up their own tiny archipelago. The main reasons to visit include the chance to check out several gorgeous national parks as well as enjoy some of the best diving in this part of the world. The waters here are crystal clear and bursting with marine life, and if you like history then you can also check out some of the historic gems in the area, many of which date from the Second World War.
Here are the best places to visit in Maluku:
Ambon is one of the most developed places in Maluku and would have been a stronghold of the Dutch during the colonial period.
Unfortunately much of the original Dutch architecture here was destroyed either during the war or in the late 1990s when Ambon experienced infighting and civil strife, but one site that still stands is Benteng Victoria which is a fort that dates from the 18th century.
Make sure to note however that you are not allowed to take photographs of the fort unless you have a permit, but if you are looking for photographic opportunities in Ambon then you can head to the pretty mosques in Ambon in the form of Mesjid Al Fatah and Mesjid Jame.
2. Pulau Seram
Pulau Seram has a rather alarming name as ‘seram’ means ‘scary’ in Indonesian.
There is nothing to fear on a trip to Seram Island however and you can visit the main city of Masohi which is the capital city of the Central Maluku Province.
Some of the main sights here include the Sangar Budaya Seram Museum which will fill you in on all the cultural and historical background of the area as well as Teluk Sawai which is a gorgeous bay in the northern part of the island.
If you are looking for somewhere to stay then head to Ora Beach and peruse the traditional stilt bungalows here.
3. Tanimbar Islands
The Tanimbar Islands are a mini-archipelago is some 65 different islands that sit to the south east of the main island of Maluku.
The largest of the islands is Pulau Yamdena which is covered in rolling hillsides clad in pretty forests and water buffalo roam here much as they would have done for centuries.
The area is also known for its pristine sands and you can visit pretty beaches like Sangliat Dol which is only accessible via a long stone staircase which stretches for 30 meters and ends in a wide stone platform that gives you amazing views over the water.
This part of the Maluku’s is quite well known on the domestic tourist trail so you can expect it to get quite crowded in holiday season in Indonesia.
To the north of Ambon you will find the dainty Ternate Island which is the capital of the province of North Maluku.
As such you can expect to find a bustling town here which used to be one of the major ports for exporting aromatic cloves, and the Dutch colonized the area in the 17th century leaving behind some interesting colonial relics.
Some of these include Benteng Oranje which is a fort that dates from 1667 and still has some of the ancient cannons that would have been put in place here years ago.
If you want to see some of the key religious sights in Ternate then head for the main mosque on the outskirts of the city which is said to have been built in the 15th century.
5. Manusela National Park
Located on Seram Island is one of the main national parks in Maluku which is Manusela National Park.
The area is known for sitting in the Wallacea Transitional Zone which is famous for its studies on the evolution of a range of indigenous species and you will find some 2,000 different kinds of butterflies here.
There are also 120 different species of birds and the park sprawls over some 189,000 hectares.
Some of the other highlights of the park include the two traditional villages here in the form of Wahai Village that sits at the northern entrance of the park and pretty Sanulo Village in the south.
6. Pulau Halmahera
Halmahera Island is the biggest island in the Malukus and is also one of the most interesting to visit.
If you like hiking then this is a top choice as you will find a range of volcanoes and primary rain forest here that includes mangrove swamps and coconut palm forests.
You can easily get here from Ternate via a speedboat which should take around 40 minutes and you should make sure not to miss highlights such as the dark sand beach at Merambatu as well as the traditional charming stilt houses located in the village of Sidangoli.
7. Gunung Api Gamalama
Located on Ternate Island in the main city of Ternate is Gunung Api Gamalama which is a massive volcano that is still active.
The mountain towers to a height of 1,700 meters and although it still smolders from time to time you can still climb much of the way to the top.
The most popular excursions in the area include clove hikes which will take you to the sides of the mountain where you can see how cloves are grown and harvested and these usually leave from the pretty village of Air Tege Tege.
8. Pulau Tidore
Tidore Island is easily accessible from neighboring Ternate and is well worth a visit as you can take a speedboat across to the main resort area which is called Soasio.
As you would expect, you can find some pretty beaches here and if you venture into town you will also find a rage of historic sites such as the Benteng Tohula Fortress which was built by the Spanish in the 17th century.
History buffs also shouldn’t miss the Sonyine Malige Sultan’s Memorial Museum as well as the former Royal Palace which is now crumbling gracefully and is known as Istana Sultan.
9. Lava Flow
Lava Flow lies in the waters off the Banda Islands and is one of the best places to come if you want to try diving in Maluku.
As the name suggests, this is the site where a huge pool of solidified lava from the eruption of Gunung Api in 1988 has congregate, and this site is also famous for its exquisite table corals.
The colorful corals can grow up to four meters in size and attract a range of aquatic life such as sharks and mandarin fish.
Those who like macro photography will also find a huge amount to enjoy here and you can catch the mandarin fish indulging in mating rituals in the late evening.
10. Pulau Bacan
The capital city of Bacan Island is Labuha and people come here for the relaxed seaside atmosphere.
The island looks out over a charming bay and you will even find a traditional Dutch and Portuguese (at different times) fortress which is called Bentang Barnevald that lies in a ruined state but is still very much worth a visit.
Many people make the trip here from neighboring Ternate and you can easily hop across for the day and see everything you need to see before heading back to Ternate in the evening.
Other highlights of the island include the traditional Kupal Village as well as the pebble beach at Sawadai.
11. Pulau Kei
Pulau Kei, also known as the Kei Islands, are one of the best places to come if you fancy long trips of white sand and azure waters.
Many travelers who do make the trip to the Maluku Islands choose the Kei Islands as their base as this is a truly one of the most scenic spots in Indonesia.
If you want to do some sightseeing here then make sure to come to the village of Ohoidertawun which is known for its caves and rock carvings as well as ancient cave paintings that are well worth a visit.
Another highlight of a trip here is to head to Pulau Kei Kecil where you will find a massive statue of Jesus Christ which is a popular pilgrimage site here, especially around Easter.
The town of Bandaneira is located on Pulau Bandaneira which is itself part of the wider Banda Islands in Maluku.
It used to be a famous trading port and as such attracted the attention of colonialists who built two large fortresses here called Benteng Belgica and Benteng Nassau which are well worth the trip for history buffs.
If you want to try some snorkeling then make for the idyllic village of Tanah Rata where you can enjoy a range of underwater delights and great visibility.
13. Pulau Buru
Buru Island is one of the most famous in Indonesia as it used to be a penal colony in the 1960s.
One of its best known inmates was the writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer who wrote a series of books called the Buru Quartet which he narrated whilst incarcerated on the island.
You can now visit Buru Island and enjoy some of its other sights such as the gorgeous Jiku Merasa Beach and Waeura Waterfall.
14. Pulau Lease
The Lease Islands are one of the easiest archipelagos in Maluku to visit and you will find some of the best water sports in the region here including some great snorkeling.
One of the nicest islands in this series is Pulau Saparua which has a fort that dates from the 17th century called Benteng Duurstede as well as an engaging museum where you can learn all about the uprising that happened here in 1817. This area is also famous for its pottery and visitors can even take a pottery making class if you want to get hands on.
15. Pulau Banda
The Banda Islands are a group of some ten islands which are often thought of as the main islands in the Malukus.
The islands are known for their scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities and you will find gorgeous coral gardens here that are the reason why many dive enthusiasts brave the long trip out here.
Some of the best diving spots around the Banda Islands include Pulau Hatta as well as Pulau Ai and Pulau Banda Besar and the beaches here are made up of long expanses of gorgeous sands that back on to turquoise waters.