Not quite a thousand islands off Jakarta

Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is a great big, busy, polluted city, but if you want to get away from the city, tropical island retreats are just a short boat ride away.

Called the Thousand Islands, is a string of tropical islands which start in Jakarta Bay and extend out into the Java Sea.  Their name is a bit of a misnomer as there are actually only 120 islands and atolls; and of those only 37 have some kind of development.

Importantly, the Thousand Islands do offer a glorious haven away from the hustle, bustle and pollution of Jakarta.  They are your typical tropical island: golden beaches fringed with coconut palms; warm waters filled with tropical fish which swim among the multicoloured corals.  In short, the islands are ideal for beachcombers and divers alike, and although you are within easy range of Indonesia’s biggest city, being on any of the outer islands is like being on a remote isle.

The Paradiso Islands are a group of four islands, which are also part of the Onrust Archaeology Park.  These four islands, Kahyangan, Bidadari, Onrust and Kelor not only offer spectacular views of the forest and the sea, but contain ruins which hark back to the 16h Century that were built by the Dutch East India Company which had a virtual monopoly of trade in the Spice Islands for a couple of centuries.

The Indonesian word for island is pulau, and on Pulau Onrust, which the Dutch called Eijland Onrust (Dutch for “Unrest”), was the site of a major shipyard and five-sided fort that had belonged to the by then defunct Dutch East India Company. The Dutch had to rebuild the naval base on Onrust several times due to British attacks, such as the one in 1800. The last restoration was in 1840. In 1883 the explosion of the volcano Krakatoa sent a huge tidal wave that destroyed the last Dutch naval base on the island.

Those islands that have been most developed for tourism includes Bidadari, Ayer Island, Laki island and Putri Island.  There are other islands that have very simple accommodation within the fishing villages which provide the main income other than tourism.   The developed islands have many more facilities, so it depends on just how comfortable, or basic, your budget and natural tolerance will allow.    

Jakarta is one of South East Asia’s main transport hubs, and is really quite easy to reach from anywhere in the world.  It is also serviced by a number of low cost air carriers, so can be reached relatively cheaply.

As the Indonesian Island of Bali gets busier, Thousand Islands may be a good alternative for those who don’t like the crowds of drunken Aussies in their Bintang t-shirts who conglomerate around Kuta (I can knock them as I’m an Aussie too).  Certainly the Thousand Islands should be cheaper than Bali, unless you are very good at being ripped off.

The most popular point to reach the islands is Marina Ancol, on Jakarta Bay in the north of Jakarta. Getting there involves turning up at jetty at Marina Ancol where there is a building containing a number of travel agencies. The agencies sell package tours for the resorts on the islands and accordingly are all more or less selling the same product at the same price. The boats all leave at 8.00am and you are required to arrive at least 30 minutes before departure. Some resorts on nearer islands have boats that leave at 9.00am and in the case of Pulau Ayer, at around 2pm. However, these are limited and places on the boats are only available if the boat can be filled.  Due to heavy traffic in Jakarta, if you do wish to catch an early boat to the islands it may be best to stay near Ancol.  It is a popular place for Jakartans to have a beach break, and accommodation there is plentiful.

The most common used by locals and the cheapest is via Muara Angke Harbor, located in the same area as the fish market. There are regular boats to Pramuka Island, one of the most popular islands with great snorkelling spots around it, leave in the morning around 7am, and afternoon around 1pm

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