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A Hint of Spice

In Indonesia’s farthest eastern quarter, just off the tip of West Papua, sit the extraordinary Molucca Islands and Raja Ampat archipelago. They’re about as far removed from urbanisation as you can get; wild, timeless and utterly beautiful. Rocky, greenery-smothered cliffs rise out of crystal-clear seas, while unruffled stretches of sand curve in and out of an undulating coastline.

This part of the world is usually off the mainstream travel trail due to it being relatively hard to get to. There are long journeys and several stopovers to tackle before you reach each destination, but for the intrepid-at-heart the rewards are priceless. Whether you’re a dedicated diver who’ll go the extra mile to see underwater worlds, or just a keen traveller eager to look towards new horizons, a journey to this sprinkling of islands is wanderlust wish fulfilment.

Fishmonger in Ambon
Market in Ambon
Spice islands
Spice islands
Seram Island
Woman cooking in wooden hut
people of Seram Island
Raja Ampat
Tropical beach - Raja Ampat
islands of Raja Ampat

Many of us daydream about exchanging the daily grind for isolated island serenity, at least for a week or two… But there’s ‘getting away from it all’ with modern convenience at your fingertips, and then there’s really getting away from it all. Step up, the Moluccas and Raja Ampat.

The small towns and villages are atmospheric with a strong sense of community. Beneath the waves is a diving and snorkelling utopia. Known worldwide as the ‘coral species factory’, with an astonishing 75% of the world’s coral species present on the reef, Raja Ampat’s waters teem with life. Shoals of glittering fish flit in and out of sheltered coves, pygmy seahorses hide in the soft coral, and graceful rays languidly cruise through deeper waters. This kind of luxury isn’t measured by lavish expense, but by the rarity of your surroundings and dedicated time to enjoy them.

Hidden treasures & spice trails

Moluccas - Ambon & Seram

The Moluccas are also called The Spice Islands, which immediately evokes images of intrepid sea voyages and aromatic cargo more precious than gold. They’re time capsules of natural wonder. Ambon is the cluster’s most prominent isle, but even though its main city is fairly built-up and modern it only hosts a handful of international visitors. The fresh seafood is outstanding and a visit to the fish market is lots of fun (but don’t wear your good shoes!). Ride down to the harbour on a cycle rickshaw, climb the steps to the panoramic summit of nearby Gunung Sirimau, and head to the island’s northern promontory to take time out on the sheltered sands of Natsepa Beach.

A short boat ride east, Seram - the largest of the Central Moluccas - is a remote wilderness. Drift around the coast to see villages of traditional stilt houses, and stay in very basic cottages rising above the waves. Board a longtail boat to Batu Supun to snorkel in clear seas, or travel further afield to Pulau Tujuh’s uninhabited islands and fascinating coral reef. Head up river for glimpses of saltwater crocodiles, meet members of the island’s oldest known tribe, and enjoy a little more light snorkelling at sunset.

Underwater wonders and unspoilt islands

Raja Ampat - Kri Island

Raja Ampat’s prestige as a marine haven is well documented. The precious coral reefs that glimmer through the clear waters around these islands bring home the need to tread softly. As such, the region is heavily protected, and environmentally responsible travel is key to its economy. Nestling along the archipelago’s shorelines are a handful of rustic eco resorts where you can base yourself for a few days immersed in paradise.

The Sorido Bay resort is one of our favourites, with its cosy and simple stilted bungalows hovering unobtrusively over the shallows. Make use of unlimited dives from Sorido’s sister-property, the Kri Eco Resort and encounter the region’s enormous marine biodiversity at around 30 carefully monitored sites nearby. Even snorkelling closer to the surface is jaw-dropping, and there are opportunities to kayak and paddleboard in the shallows, too. Learn more about the resort’s dedicated conservation projects, unwind at the onsite spa, and wander inland to glimpse wild orchids and birds of paradise.

Gateways to paradise

Sorong & Makassar

Getting to out-of-the-way places is always going to be more complicated than a simple A to B journey, and it’s a good opportunity to make the most of those necessary springboard destinations along the way. Before sailing out to the seclusion of Raja Ampat, relax for a stopover in Sorong on West Papua’s north-west ‘beak’. It’s a bit busy and grimy on the surface, but has real soul when you look closer. Makassar - Sulawesi’s bustling southern port - has some heady historic grandeur beneath the modernity to explore en route to the Moluccas. Wander through spice-infused markets choosing the best ingredients to use in a traditional cookery class, step back in time amid the 16th-century Fort Rotterdam, and watch the schooners and fishing boats bob peacefully in Paotere Harbour. 

For those who really love being out on the ocean, you can take longer cruises to the most remote reaches of the archipelago and, if you’re lucky, have some truly once-in-a-lifetime encounters when snorkelling and diving from the boat, but that’s another story...

A note on cost…

The guide price of £3,390US$3,890 is a per person price (not including international flights) staying 3 nights in Ambon, 4 nights in Seram, 1 night Sorong, 3 nights in Raja Ampat and 2 nights in Makassar; all in our favourite mid-range hotels.
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