BelitungBangka-Belitung province in Indonesia. While its big brother, Bangka, has developed as an economic center, Belitung generally remains a sleepy island. But you may consider that quiet an advantage for a resort destination which can serve as a weekend getaway from the hectic life in Jakarta, or as an alternative to Bali, if it seems too crowded for you.
You might not expect it from the island whose tin mines gave their name to Australian mining giant BHP Billiton, but Belitung is one of the nicest islands in Southeast Asia. The island was pretty much asleep, underrated, and was known only for its tin commodity. But it ultimately became famous in 2008 after the movie Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Troops), which was one of Indonesia's most watched movies, as it portrays the struggling life of some of the island's poor children in a remote school...and the unspoiled beauty of its nature. A few years coming, resorts are built, beaches are cleaned, and the island ultimately puts itself in the map as a tropical paradise. Unlike the infamous Bali, everything is still laid back. You'll barely find nightclubs, party resorts or any obvious signs of Western culture.
Pristine white sand beaches look out on a turquoise sea filled with great snorkeling and a fantastic display of offshore islands. Check out Tanjung Kelayang and Tanjung Tinggi for world class beaches without the hustle and bustle now found at beaches of this caliber anywhere else. Natural features include white sand fringed coconut plantations, elaborate granite rock formations and long temporary sand bars as smooth as powdered sugar. Offshore islands are a long swim distance from the beach but colorful local fishing boats will take you on an island tour. The main town, Tanjung Pandan, is on its west side and has adequate facilities for a small town.
ClimateIt's best to visit the island during the dry season as is most other places in Indonesia (April-September). The sun shines more often than the rain pours. It is less stormy and as a result, the shallow reefs at the outlying islands are clear enough to be snorkeled in and the waves are less (but still sometimes because of prevailing winds) choppy during your island hopping cruise. Make sure to apply sunscreen even though you are not tanning (few, if any, tans), as the UV index at the beaches is often horrendous and can result in sunburn.
- Tanjung Pandan is the largest town and has adequate facilities for a small city. There is a museum, a harbor, and a commercial beach
- Manggar is on the east side. A city of coffee shops & undisturbed beaches without the giant rocks like its northern counterpart.
- Gantung at the interior east is where the Laskar Pelangi movie was set.
H.A.S. Hananjoeddin AirportThis is the only airport serving the island. Sriwijaya Air, Garuda Indonesia and Citilink will take you from Jakarta in 50 minutes with 6 daily flights. Wings Air and Sriwijaya Air connects the island with neighboring Bangka from Pangkalpinang airport twice daily. Most flights arrive in the morning, so that you can see (nearly) everything the island has to offer and leave by the following day. Be aware that seats tend to quickly fill up during a Saturday (and back to Jakarta on Sunday), June and July, days before and after Lebaran (as most flights to other Indonesian destinations do), Chinese New Year and Tomb Sweeping Day (Ching Ming).
There is transportation to towns across the island by taxi, either official or unofficial. Street Taxi (see Get Around) is the only legal taxi company operating throughout the island. They use meters for rides and claims itself as the cheapest option, but it is highly recommended to reserve by calling when or before you arrive. If you stick to unofficial cabs, be sure to haggle furiously or you will be ripped off. A ride to downtown Tanjung Pandan should cost about Rp50,000 in less than half an hour, up to Rp85,000 to other destinations. If you are traveling using a coach provided by your tour or have pre-arranged your transportation, most likely they will be standing by.
By boatMost visitors arriving by ferry come from the neighboring Bangka Island at Pangkalpinang harbor. The Express Bahari has 3 classes of service for a range between Rp 200,000 and Rp 400,000 and will take 4-5 hours, depending on weather. There is a high risk of cancellation during the rainy season, so plan ahead. It is also possible to get on a ferry from Jakarta, Cirebon or Pontianak (Kalimantan), but might take more than 12 hours.
Belitung is small enough - about 4/5 the size of Bali - that more or less any point on the island can be reached in under two hours from Tanjung Pandan. As public transportation on the island is hard to find and the only practical way of moving around is by taxi, or rent a car or a motorcycle. Expect to be asked for Rp400,000 - Rp600,000 per day (all inclusive) for a good car with driver. A common and fair deal for both parts is between Rp600,000 and Rp800,000 for the whole weekend including airport drop-off the last morning. Keep in mind that with that they have enough for the whole month; overpaying only causes greed. Motorcycle rentals are even easier, typically available for Rp80,000 per day + Rp25,000 for the delivery to the airport (excluding petrol). Alternatively, a local can take you aboard an ojek (motorcycle taxi) for generally Rp25,000 to the nearest point of attraction.
phone: +62 822 8301 5555, +62 878 964 78835The only legal taxi company in the island. Claims to have the cheapest fare to everywhere around the island because of their use of meters. Drivers are courteous and wear batik brown or orange uniform. However the fleet size is small and consequently, it is advisable to book at least 24 hours in advance. They also provide a 7-seater rent car that you can pick at the airport only if you call ahead.
phone: +62 878-9647-8835Registered company that offers airport pickup and dropoff and free rental dropoff to your hotel if you are staying in the main town. They also apparently offer insurance, which some other operators do not offer.
If you don't want even the slightest hassle, there are a number of tour companies that can take you on a group tour to the whole island, up to a duration of 4 days and 3 nights. They will most often provide everything, including transportation, hotel, and meal recommendations.
Tanjung Tinggi BeachThe most famous beach in Belitung. White sand & granite rocks of all sizes alternating, left you wonder where all these lumps of boulders came from. You can even climb on them or enter the gaps of the giant rocks.
Tanjung Kelayang BeachThere are 2 sides on the beach: the mainly sandy east, or the more rocky west. The rock formations are not as big, but some of them are in the middle of the sea and qualifies as islands. Fisherman boats are waiting on the east side if you wish for an island-hopping tour (no rocks on the vegetated islands).
Tanjung Binga BeachNot a very scenic beach, no white powdery sand or rocks, but there's a marina full of fishing boats. This is the primary departure point for island hopping tours to the northwest islands, especially Lengkuas Island.
Tanjung Pendam BeachSo called the city beach of Tanjung Pandan. It's where the city locals typically go during the weekend to watch the sunset, play at the playground or dine at the seafood restaurants.
Penyabong BeachAn enchanting beauty at the island's southern coast if you are bored with rigid rocks. There is a giant organized flat row of stones that everyone can step in.
Burung Mandi BeachIf you are bored with rocks, any rocks, this is the place. More quiet, more laid back. Literally means "bathing bird", it faces a mountain for its namesake. There is a Buddhist temple as a landmark, the largest in the island.
Island hoppingMost of the island-hopping activities are at the northwest side of the island, still with their white beaches. Each island has its own unique rock formations. Even though most islands other than the list below would consist of standalone rocks only (with sand during low tide), it is still a good idea to at least get a picture of this mesmerizing feature. Most boats depart from Tanjung Binga beach.
Lengkuas IslandAn outlying island famous for its century-old lighthouse that is still active to this day, get up its 18 flights of stairs to capture the image of the whole outlying island(s). You can also walk on the rock formations on the shallow water, swim or snorkel to see the reefs and fishes. At the sandy beach, you are facing Aji Island, reachable by swimming or by boat.
Kepayang IslandA great place to dive, a resort open for a visit, and a marine conservation where baby turtles are bred until old enough to plunge into the open seas and coral gardens are restored.
Burung IslandKnown for its rock formations that shapes like a bird. Nothing else very scenic but the water is calm enough for a swim.
Pulau LutungActually they are two islands, but at low tide you can walk between the two. The south side of the bigger island has a cape of sand half the size of a football pitch and no rocks.
At low tide, your boat will even take you to a heap of sand (geographically called a shoal, locally called Pulau Pasir) that you can step on and spot starfishes before it's gone back to sea.
Other than beaches
Batu BagindeA unique bulging formation of two granite rocks, as if they were husband and wife.
Kaolin LakeThis is what is left of a kaolinite mine. A lake with blue water and white rocks around it deceives you as if you are near the Poles or a volcano crater.
Museum Kata Andrea Hirataaddress: Jl. Sudirman, Simpang Pasar Gantung, Belitung Timur, IndonesiaThe author of Laskar Pelangi sequel, Andrea Hirata, erected Indonesia's literature museum here. Behind the scenes of Belitung in year 1978 with his memorabilia, and a corner of tin mining equipments. Periodically, Andrea himself comes to his hometown giving art and band lessons to local community.
Replica of Muhammadiyah Primary Schooladdress: Lenggang, GantungIf you did watch Laskar Pelangi, you will find this place memorable. Remember the struggle and fun of the author (Ikal) and 9 other children taught by one single teacher (Ms. Muslimah). The real school was destroyed by wear and tear to its roots so a replica was built and used for the movie.
Gurok Berayeaddress: Dusun Air Pegantungan, Kacang Botor village, BadauThe waterfall was sourced from Belitung's highest point, Mount Tajam (510 above sea level). Be careful along the way for deep gorges but the journey is worth the beauty. The water falls to a wide lake perfect for a swim.
Lake Mempayakaddress: Kelapa KampitUsed to be called "open pit" by mining company BHP Billiton, the mine is now abandoned. What still lefts is a beautiful brown ground, green lake and trees, and locals mining by traditional equipment. The road that leads here is not very good.
Cultural Belitung has a rich diversity of people. Check out the cool Malay-style wooden houses that may remind you of the Caribbean or the Bugis traditional raised houses that are half dock to dry fish. A Chinese Buddhist temple is said to be one of the oldest in Indonesia, built by the survivors of an ancient Chinese trading vessel. Balinese transmigrants have a thriving community that carries on Bali's traditions and religion.
At the islandsDuring the island hopping tour, do not waste the opportunity to enjoy the pristine blue sea! At the beach, climb its monolith stones to your best high. In the water, go for a swim or snorkel above its rich species of reefs and fishes. Further from the island(s), go fishing and you can often get a medium to large-sized fish.
Batu Malang PenyuAt the waters between Lengkuas and Kepayang Island, it is a prime spot for both snorkeling and diving in Belitung, with colorful corals in between schools of fish. A nearby shipwreck is also worth visiting. It is one of the two places in the world where you can dive between granite rocks, the other is at Seychelles on the other side of the Indian Ocean.
Batu Mentas Conservation CenterA conservation center at the foot of Mount Tajam. A few last meters to the entrance is still of soil but what awaits at its end will awe you. Go tubing along the river (like rafting but with individual buoys), see the endangered tarsius, stroll around the green forest or do the outbound activities. You can also swim at the shallow river with small fishes. It also houses a restaurant and a resort.
The souvenir industry at Belitung is still at its infancy: There are only a handful of specialty shops at the island, while most still blend in with ordinary shops that locals often visit. If you do find one, look for these items:
- Tektite: Locally known as Batu Satam, the stone is widely used for gems or jewelry. The rock was formed by asteroids falling on tin ground, resulting in its black color and smooth groove.
- Crackers or Kerupuk: These are not rice crackers. The main ingredient is seafood: a choice of fish, shrimp, or even squid.
- Terasi: fresh shrimp paste, wrapped with woven leaves.
- Fish floss: The unique feature compared to other areas' produce is its slight spiciness, thus it is locally called Sambal Lingkong. Perfect accompaniment with rice.
- Shells: No, you cannot take the shells direct from the beaches. But there are designers that display items that takes shell art to the next level.
Here are a few places to shop which is, as most other attractions, mostly located at Tanjung Pandan:
Barataaddress: Jl. Veteran No. 1, Tanjung PandanThe largest (and perhaps the only) mall in Belitung.
Galeri KUMKM Belitungaddress: Jl.Sriwijaya, Tanjung PandanThis is the market where small designers sell their product to fame. The most complete collection of souvenirs, they have all of the above.
Toko Oleh-oleh Keluarga OKaddress: Jl. Patimura, Tanjung PandanLocally produced bags, fashion, and shell arts. If you buy the crackers in bulks, they have a special wrapping box for your convenience.
- Gangan: A fish soup with curry and pineapple. Perfect to soothe your throat and a zest source of energy
- Otak-otak Ikan: fish cake, white and chewy, not fried. Usually packed in leaves, with chili sauce as its condiment (bearable spiciness to western standards).
- Mie Belitung: even Belitung has its own version of noodle dish. It is noodles with sweet gravy of spices and shrimp, topped with cucumbers, tofu, potatoes, and dried shrimp. Compliment with gnetum gnemon crackers. In selected stalls, the dish is served on a big leaf to enhance the aroma.
Seafood is common; fish, shrimp, and squid are the main dish at virtually every restaurant, including species you might have never heard of at other areas across the country. The more premium ones will also serve crabs and oysters (sorry, no lobsters!). Vegetables can act as a substitute and most have at least one dish made mostly of this ingredient.
Most eating options consists of wooden or simple stalls with ample seating area and kitchen at its backdoor, which is by far the best bet in terms of hygiene. When dining in open areas though, flies are a nuisance and will try to distract your quiet meal. The cost of a standard meal for a group of four is very low to Jakarta's standard. Typically it will cost you Rp 300,000, assuming rice with three or four platters for communal consumption. Top up your meal with tea or orange juice — not the typical orange, but the white glassy key lime.
Fega Restaurantphone: +62 719 91114address: Jl. Assalam No. 10, ManggarA restaurant that has a view of the lake emptying into the sea. Have a taste of the fish head gangan, seafood, or a snack with your coffee.
Dapur Sakatoaddress: Jl. Depati Gegedek, Tanjung PandanWhere there are Padang (Minangkabau) people, there is always a restaurant of their cuisine. Does not have the typical prominent roof, but a more premium feel.
Mie Belitung Atepphone: +62 719 21464address: Jl. Sriwijaya No. 27Since 1973, this stall has attracted numerous national celebrities to stop by, even the former president Megawati. Specialties are the Mie Belitung, and the key lime juice. Cheap but you might need two to fill you up.
Mie Yamin Achoiaddress: Jl. Madura 1, Tanjung PandanIf you want meat, that is their main ingredient for their noodle dish (bakmi), but they also have the Mie Belitung.
RM Divaaddress: Jl. Sriwijaya 27, Tanjung PandanHas seafood, but much more options if you are bored with it.
RM Mutiaraaddress: Jl. Wahab Aziz No. 7Crowded, but has premium seafood options: crab, fish, and squid. They have the gangan, choose between whole fish or fish head.
RM Belitong Tempo Dulukaddress: Jl. Lettu Mat Daud, Tanjung PandanAlso a typical restaurant with local food, but with a more premium and hygienic feel. Knick knacks and recipes from the old days of the island.
WesternIf you want a temporary relief from seafood, an increasing number of Western appetites are building up — easy to find at Tanjung Pandan; near to none at other areas but hotels.
Brosisaddress: Jl. SriwijayaNotable for its ice cream shop and has Western food.
Kentucky Fried Chickenaddress: Jl. Sriwijaya SquareWant a temporary relief to Western food? Shift yourself to its fried chicken from this fast food restaurant.
Unique Bistro & KaraokeCommon Indonesian food and to some extent, western food. Live music each night and karaoke room.
Do stop by Manggar at the east side for its unbeknownst coffee culture. Warkop (coffee shops) are abundant at every corner and that's where the population meets, for a siesta or a social talk.
Warung Kopi Atetaddress: Jalan Manggar, ManggarPerhaps the most famous coffee shop. Accompany your cup of Joe (or cup of tea) with snacks,eggs, or indomie (the infamous instant noodle brand).
Sriwijaya Shopphone: +62 719 21202There is actually no name for the shop but it houses a travel agent (the front display says they sell Sriwijaya Air tickets) and sells local snacks. On a hot day, as is always the case, sit here and enjoy a refreshing shaved ice (sekoteng) with jelly, red or green beans and other toppings, condensed milk and syrup.
address: Tanjung BinggaDecent cottages with shower, AC, TV and minibar. A bit worn down but OK for a night or two. Access to the cottages is a long walk down some steps to an isolated beach area. Nice and quiet but at night can be a bit eerie as it is so isolated and none of the staff sleeps at the office upstairs - you will be on your own! Maybe some concerns on safety. The office on top of the hill has a restaurant with sprawling views of the ocean, although opinions of the food there are mixed. If you do not wish to stay, you still can go down the beach, mingle at the swimming pool or grab a bite at its restaurant!
address: Jl. Veteran no.7, Tanjung PandanIt may look like a small hotel from the outside, but there is a huge pond with fountain in front of the rooms! No windows in your room and not sound-proof.
Kelayang Beach Cottagesaddress: Jln Raya Tanjung KelayangRun by a Western-Indonesian couple and family. 8 bungalows with air-con and fan only. Very basic: a bed with mosquito net, a bathroom with an Asian-style squat toilet, a mandi (water tank) shower. Can be noisy due to traffic from the nearby road and the small fishermen's harbor by the cottages. The Mama Mia's restaurant can arrange island hopping tours or water sports. They serve alcohol!
Lux Melati Hoteladdress: ln Melati No 72, Tanjung PandanLarge hotel, basic rooms with air-con, TV, and shower. Less than five minutes away on foot to Tanjung Pendam beach or the Tanjung Pandan city center.
Martani Hotelphone: +62 719 21432address: Jl. Yos Sudarso no.18, Tanjung PandanSubpar hotel in a central location. Room with simple breakfast. Family room has a home theater system!
Pondok Impian 2address: Jl. Patimura no. 8 Tanjung PandanMidway between downtown Tanjung Pandan and Tanjung Binga beach. Quaint exotic exterior, adequate facilities for a star hotel, superb view. Breakfast was on par with price. You cannot plunge into the beach directly from the hotel though.
Oasis Hoteladdress: Jl. Raya Gantung no. 1 Manggar, DamarBasic hotel at the east coast, close to the Burung Mandi Beach.
phone: +62 719 23200address: Jl. Jendral Sudirman No. 30, Tanjung PandanA simple hotel inland away from downtown Tanjung Pandan. Rooms only. Spacious room with minimum design and adequate amenities.
phone: +62 719 23898address: Jl. Pattimura, Tanjung PandanThe largest and one of the best places to stay in Belitung. If you want a high unobstructed view of the sunset, this is where you'll find it. Western standard hotel service, large restaurant for a buffet, a swimming pool and bar overlooking the sunset.
Grand Pelangi Resortphone: +62 719 25552address: Jl. Pattimura, Tanjung PandanA lower profile hotel that overlooks the western beach, but still close to Tanjung Pandan. Has a restaurant, karaoke room, swimming pool, and you can rent a car or motorcycle.
phone: +62 719 22678address: Jl. Kemuning No. A16Huge hotel facing Tanjung Pendam Beach. Adequate rooms, small pool, and restaurant. WiFi at lobby only. Be aware of the loud live music at the beach every night!
phone: +62 719 24135address: Jl. Ahmad Yani No. 4 Tanjung PandanInland, away from downtown Tanjung Pandan, makes this hotel lucky enough to offer bungalows for its residence. Garden style hotel, with multiple swimming pools, a restaurant and some gazebos, and an indoor karaoke room.
Guest Hotel Manggaraddress: Jl. Eks Bioskop Mega, Lipat Kajang 2, ManggarIf you are stuck, or decided to tuck yourself at the east coast, this is the best accommodation available. Limited number of rooms, but modern and fancy.
MaxOne Belstaraddress: Jl. Sriwijaya, Tanjung PandanChic and modern designed hotel, at the suburbs of Tanjung Pandan. Has an in-house restaurant.
phone: +62 816 807 389address: Jl. Batu Lubang, MembalongA private 10-room resort at the south. Restaurant serving organic food, batik workshop, private pool at your room, your very own beach and garden, a pyramid wedding chapel by the beach to proclaim the vow. Perfect for a quiet honeymoon.
phone: +62 719 22252address: Jl. Pattimura No.1, Air Saga ,Tanjung PandanComfortable open-air hotel with 78 rooms overlooking a nice beach. Very easy to coordinate trips from the hotel to locations around the island. Highly recommended.
phone: +62 719 22887address: Jl. Depati Gegedek No. 50A quiet sanctuary right at the center of bustling Tanjung Pandan. High end resort with a pool and its own restaurant. Perfect for honeymooners, but a bit far from the famous beaches.
address: Kepayang IslandThe only piece of sanctuary of its kind outside the mainland. It has a choice of exotic safari tents, wooden bungalows, or modest cottages. All overlooks the sandy beach with only a number of rocks.
phone: +62 719 24100address: Tanjung Tinggi20 air-conditioned cottages overlooking one of the island's best beaches. Has a pool, a restaurant, typically resort-like. The bathrooms are outdoors (not communal though). The drawback is its remote location from other attractions.
Electricity infrastructure has been developed following the dramatically increasing number of visitors. Blackouts can still happen though, but much spottier than it used to be and usually does not go long for hours.
Although main roads are well-lit, some of the more minor roads are not very well lit and may pass through villages (Kampong or Desa) or rural areas where the locals seem to take a very casual approach to road safety. Drive slow and watch out for erratically piloted motorbikes, pedestrians and livestock. Inside Tanjung Pandan and Manggar, watch out for errors in the road arrows - they may lead you into wrong lanes or into barricades.
Religious servicesThe area is predominantly Muslim.
Gereja Katolik Regina Pacisaddress: Jl. Depati Gegedek, Tanjung PandanThe only Catholic church in the island. Frequently crowded during Sunday Mass at 7AM.
Masjid Al-Ikhramaddress: Jl. Kemuning, Tanjung PandanOne of the oldest mosques in the island.
- Bangka: the neighbor island to the west, Bangka boasts many white sand beaches and a few interesting Chinese temples.