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3 Reasons Why Ternate Should be on Every Indonesia Travel Itinerary

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1 month ago

If you mention to any traveller in Bali that you are thinking of visiting Ternate, you are guaranteed to receive a very confused response – where?

When traveling in Indonesia, it’s very common to go weeks and weeks without meeting another foreigner. In my opinion, Indonesia offers some of the travel world’s last great frontiers, unparalleled experiences deeply immersed in both nature and local cultures – yet often with very little tourism infrastructure to support your visit.

Unlike some of Indonesia’s other off-the-beaten-path treasures like the Banda Islands or the Baliem Valley, Ternate is relatively accessible and ‘traveler-friendly’ (small, good tourism infrastructure) making it one of the best places to visit in Indonesia.

If you are planning your Indonesia travel itinerary, here are three reasons why I recommend including Ternate (and the Maluku islands more generally).

How to get to Ternate, Indonesia

Ternate is an island in Indonesia’s North Maluku Islands.

By plane

Ternate Babullah Airport (Airport code: TTE) is served by regular flights from Makassar, Manado, Jakarta, Surabaya and Ambon. If you are coming from Makassar, don’t miss our guide to One Day in Makassar.

If you are traveling during peak Indonesian holidays (Ramadan, Eid or public holidays), flights to Ternate can often sell out far in advance.

By boat

Ternate is well served by Indonesia’s vibrant ferry network (perhaps a generous term). You can find daily departures to other North Maluku islands including Jailolo, Tidore, Sidangoli and Sofifi.

For those interested in Indonesia long-haul boats, you can (usually) find twice-monthly ferries to Ambon (18 hours) and, of course, the legendary Pelni to Sorong ferry (17 hours) – the gateway to the Raja Ampat islands.

Where to stay in Ternate

Kota Ternate is a bit of a sprawling mess with not much apparent charm, but still lovely enough. The Emerald Hotel and Muara Hotel are centrally located and offer comfortable, mid-range products.

However, if your budget allows it (or if you’re ready for an Indonesian-level splurge), I highly recommend staying at Villa Ma’rasai. This magical boutique hotel is set in a sprawl of volcano-side jungle about 7km from Ternate city and 30 minutes from the airport.

Falling asleep to the sounds of nature and waking up to views over neighboring Tidore and the top of palm trees may even be my ultimate Ternate experience.

Villa Ma’rasai’s owner, Hasrun, is super helpful and can arrange cars around Ternate and over in neighboring Tidore, taking one more logistical item off your plate.

I may refer to Villa Ma’rasai as a splurge, but prices generally vary from approximately 600,000 – 1,300,000 IDR, roughly US$37-$81 – cheaper than a big night out in London or New York. And I assure you, one night at Villa Ma’rasai will be far more memorable.

3 Reasons why Ternate should be on every Indonesia travel itinerary

The Maluku Islands may be one of my favorite regions in Indonesia and I keep returning here in the hope of seeing and experience more. I recommend allocating, at a minimum, 3 days to the Ternate (and neighboring Tidore) region. If you are planning on traveling deeper into the North Maluku islands, you will obviously need to give yourself a little more time.

1. Fascinating history (and lots of forts!)

Every historical fact or fort in Ternate draws back to one small spice: cloves. Ternate and neighboring Tidore were historically fortunate (or some may some unfortunate) to be the only places in the world where cloves grew.

In a nutshell, as European traders ventured into the Indonesian archipelago, cloves – and later Ternate – quickly became extremely valuable. The Portuguese, Spanish and, most prominently, the Dutch all left a strong mark on Ternate.

Cloves are still extremely important to Ternate’s economy today. Across the island you will see people drying cloves on the street.

Today, Ternate is home to some of the best-preserved forts (banteng in Bahasa Indonesia) in the country. My favorite is Benteng Oranye, a 17th century Dutch fort overtaken by goats and weeds – an illustrative symbol of both the rise and fall of Europeans in the Maluku islands.

It’s worth spending a day hopping between the forts. Some, like the Portuguese-built Benteng Tolukko, are beautifully preserved, giving insight into the importance once placed on Ternate and offering some of the best views on the island.

2. Natural extremes

Home to some 127 active volcanos, it’s no secret that Indonesia hosts some of the world’s most magnificent vistas and natural extremes. From the lunar landscape of Java’s Mount Bromo, to Sumatra’s gargantuan Lake Toba, you won’t run out of beautiful natural places to visit in Indonesia.

One of the reasons I love Ternate is that so many of these natural extremes are easily accessible in such a small geographic area. You can drive around the entire Ternate in just a few hours.

At the heart of Ternate is the slightly-terrifying Gunung Api Gamalama volcano, while from most of the eastern side of the island you will have grand sweeping views over the conical Tidore island. At 1721m, there is no scenario where I am climbing the Gunung Api Gamalama volcano in the equatorial heat and humidity of Ternate. But if you are so inclined, they say it’s about an 8-hour round trip.

Beyond volcanos, in my opinion, the most remarkable natural attraction on Ternate is the volcanic crater lake of Danau Tolire Besar. From the main viewpoint, huge jungle-laden cliffs drop down into the mysteriously green crater lake.

Despite how tempting it is to get closer, be warned: the lake is full of crocodiles and most Ternate locals can quickly pull up a photo on their phone of the most recent crocodile attacks. You’ll find lots of little stalls at the viewpoint selling coconuts and other iced Indonesian desserts.

3. Black-sand beaches

It’s no secret: I’m convinced Indonesia is home to the best beaches in Asia, if not the world. Ternate’s beaches may not compete with the pink sands of Flores or the empty beaches of the Kei Islands, but they’re unique in their own right.

Sulamadaha beach is a black volcanic sand beach, with glistening blue water. This isn’t exactly your own slice of paradise and usually fills up with Ternate locals in the afternoon and on weekends. But if I can’t have a private beach, I’ll always sign up to experience local beach culture. And in Ternate, there is no better place than Sulamadaha beach.

A few kilometres past Sulamadaha, you will come to Jikomalamo beach. This tends to be a little quieter and offers some excellent sandy coves where you can find a bit more privacy and a few restaurants on stilts above the water.

Beyond Ternate

Ternate is the main gateway to the northern Maluku islands. Neighboring Tidore is the easiest add-on to any trip to Ternate.

However, Ternate is also an excellent gateway for more adventurous travelers willing to brave long boat rides to the outlying and rarely visited islands of Morotai, Moti, Halmahera and more.

For those planning a longer trip through the Malukus, Ternate airport is connected by plane to Ambon – the gateway to the Banda Islands.

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