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A Travel Guide to Maluku Islands (the Spice Islands) – Indonesia

When it comes to heading out on a vacation, one of the best things you can do is ditch the cliches and head out on a cruise instead.

A cruise will have you visiting some incredible exotic destinations with rich history and cultural heritage, and you’ll love every minute of it.

local spices Maluku Islands indonesia
local spices in the Maluku Islands

If you’re considering such a thing, our suggestion would be to head out on a Spice Islands cruise.

The islands that nowadays go under the name the Maluku Islands, are a beautiful destination with quite the history surrounding them, and for an explorer, they’re a must-visit destination.

Their Name is Not Spice Islands

That’s just their nickname. The original name is the Maluku Islands, and they’re also known as the Moluccas as well.

The entire archipelago is west of Papua New Guinea, northeast of Timor, and east of Sulawesi, which is a placement that makes the Moluccas a part of both Oceania and Asia.

The actual name of the islands has actually been a topic of debate for experts when it comes to where the name originates from.

One theory is that it comes from the Arabic phrase “Jaziratul Muluk”, which translates into “Country of the Kings”.

On the other hand, another theory claims that it comes from “Maluku Kie Raha”, a concept where “Kie” means mountain, and “Raha” means four, with the name addressing the four mountains – Ternate, Tidore, Bacan, and Jailolo.  

A Travel Guide to Maluku Islands (the Spice Islands) – Indonesia
Pristine Maluku Islands

The population of the islands was initially Melanesian, but during what’s known as the Spice War, most of that population was unfortunately massacred.

Ever since Indonesia declared independence and up until 1999, the islands were actually a single province.

But in 1999, North Maluku split up as a separate province and became in charge of the area that spreads between the islands Morotai and Sula.

Everything from Buru and Seram, to Wetar, remained under the original Maluku Province.

When it comes to religion, most of the population in North Maluku is Muslim, whereas the original Maluku Province is predominantly Christian.

With that in mind, let’s discuss the nickname as it’s a bit of a hot topic.

The Spice War and the Islands’ Nickname

At one point in history, the Maluku Islands were the only place in the world where you could find spices like nutmeg and clove, which made them a rather unique destination.

Nutmeg, in particular, was once worth incredibly much, which is what put the islands in many nations’ sights initially.

And that’s the reason why the Spice War, also known as the Dutch-Portuguese War broke out.

When Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India, the islands became a point of contention, and a lot of nations wanted complete control and monopoly over the islands.

We’re talking about the Portuguese which came first in 1512, but the British, Dutch, and Spanish joined shortly afterwards.

The Spice War lasted for over a hundred years, and the Dutch eventually emerged victoriously.

This gave them control over the nutmeg trade, and they used that to get incredible wealth until, at one point, a Frenchman smuggled nutmeg seedlings to Mauritius and started cultivating them there.

Plenty of things remained from the Dutch reign, though, from the nickname “Spice Islands” that the Moluccas are still famous for, to the architecture that’s very well preserved and a pleasure to explore.

What Can You Do When Visiting?

If you’re contemplating visiting the Spice Islands, a cruise is definitely your best bet.

You’ll get to visit multiple locations, and with the Moluccas being a group of islands, a cruise allows you to check out the best of them rather easily.

Maluku Islands indonesia
Crystal clear water in the Maluku Islands perfect for scuba diving

Pulau Seram

We’ll kick things off with the province’s largest island, Pulau Seram.

The island has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, and we’d suggest you visit as many of them as possible. But if you can’t make it to all of them, Ora beach is the one to head to.

Many people consider it to be a bit of a hidden gem, mainly because it’s not easily reachable, but also because not many tourists know about it.

And while it does require a bit of effort on your end to get to it, the beautiful, crystal clear waters and the amazing coral reefs make it well worth it.

Surrounding the beach, you have mountains with a tropical jungle which are a view to enjoy when you’re at the beach.

The only thing that’s going to disturb you when you’re on the beach is the chirping of the birds and the sound of the sea.

You’ll have zero distractions otherwise, and whether you want to dive or snorkel, relax on the sands of the beach, or even head out on a hike, it’s a destination you shouldn’t miss out on.

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Dried fish at a local market in the Maluku Islands

While we’re discussing Pulau Seram, another destination for history fans is the Sanggar Budaya Seram Museum.

It’s a museum that has the Maluku Islands’ history explained very well, and if you want to learn about everything that happened here throughout the years, it’s the perfect destination to do so.

Banda Islands

A small group of ten volcanic islands, the Banda Islands are a location with an overall small surface area and a population of less than 20 thousand people.

However, it is exactly that which makes them perfect for people who don’t want to bother with crowds and would instead prefer some privacy.

One of the most notorious destinations on the islands is Benteng Nassau, the fort which was the location of the Banda Massacre.

The Banda Massacre is one of the infamous events that happened during the violent history of the Dutch, and the fort was initially built by a Dutch admiral on a location that the Portuguese abandoned previously.

The local leaders, in an attempt to avoid Dutch control over the area, executed 40 Dutch negotiators, and one of them was that same admiral that built the fort.

As revenge, the Dutch beheaded 44 of the leaders within the fortress, which was basically the beginning of a total massacre of the population.

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The Peaceful Maluku Islands

Then there is Fort Belgica, which many claim to be the go-to destination for anyone visiting the Banda Islands.

It’s a rather classic star fort, which was built as additional defense meant to help with any cannon fire from the naval forces.

Unfortunately, the fort is nowadays only open every once in a while, but if you find some of the locals around, you can also find the key-keeper and ask them to visit the fort.

Benteng Hollandia is the last fort we’ll suggest, and the main reason for visiting it is the incredible views it offers.

As far as the fort itself goes, it’s more or less all in ruins, thanks to an earthquake that demolished it back in 1743.

The fort’s location, right above the village of Lonthoir, makes it a short hike in order to visit it, but it’s absolutely worth it.

Ambon City

Many will say we’ve saved the best for last, but Ambon City the largest city in the Maluku Islands is the one location you absolutely have to visit.

The city is the capital of the province, and it combines magnificent historical locations with beautiful beaches you can visit, too.

Kicking things off with the historical locations, we’ve got the oldest fort that the Portuguese colonists built, Fort Victoria.

Nowadays, it is remarkably well preserved in terms of architecture, but you’ll also find a lot of other things, too.

We’re talking about the remains of large statues, as well as cannons and some incredible old paintings.
And as a bonus, you get to enjoy a stunning view over Ambon Bay from the fort.

Then there’s Fort Amsterdam, also known as Little Holland, which was built by the Dutch (which you probably expected, considering the name).

It’s another fort that’s in a rather decent shape, and you can enjoy a view over the ocean. It only takes an hour by bus from Ambon, which makes reaching it pretty easy.

Moving on to the beaches, the one you absolutely must visit is Liang Beach.

It’s the reason why many people call Ambon “East Indonesia’s Bali” because it gives you pearly white sands where you can grab a cocktail and enjoy the crystal clear waters in a magnificent atmosphere.

There’s a reason why back in the 90s, this was known as the prettiest beach in Indonesia.

And then there is Pantai Pintu Kota, a beach with a name that translates into “the city of gate beach”.

The scenery you’ll get is not one you’ll find anywhere else, with incredible views making the beach a prime destination to get a break from the city.

With rocks and stones surrounding it, it’s a magnificent place, and there’s a hollow cliff that’s the main attraction on the beach.

But it’s not just the beach itself, it’s also the coral life which is beautiful, and offers you an opportunity to dive and snorkel in some of the world’s prettiest locations.

It’s an opportunity you don’t want to miss out on, so make sure you visit it if you’re in Ambon and the Maluku Islands.

A Travel Guide to Maluku Islands (the Spice Islands) – Indonesia
A Travel Guide to Maluku Islands (the Spice Islands) – Indonesia


Wednesday 20th of October 2021

I dont know how you end up only traveling this part of Indonesia and end up writing a history and not as travel guide like you did in Bhutan review. As an Indonesian, its shocking me to read this as i didnt get informed well about how fascinated this part of Wast Indonesia as a travel destination beside those unsettle history review. No offense but i hope you could explore deep and more about Indonesia and find our hidden gems.

Christian L.

Friday 22nd of October 2021

I do actually have 7 more travel guides from different places in Indonesia planned. There´s so many more hidden gems in Indonesia i want to visit, but I have to wait until Indonesia reopen to tourirts