What are the Thousand Islands?
Funnily enough, they are an archipelago of islands. However, the precise number of islands that exist is up for debate. Some sources say it’s around 150, others say it’s in excess of 300 – I think we can be pretty sure it’s not 1000 though, which is a tad disappointing (but also too many to explore)!
Where are the Thousand Islands?
The archipelago lies off the north coast of Jakarta.
Jakarta is a city in West Java.
Java is an island in Western Indonesia.
Indonesia is a country in Southeast Asia.
Why should you visit the Thousand Islands?
It’s probably the best thing to do in Jakarta.
Jakarta has a negative reputation for being smelly, dirty and not overly inviting for tourists. Having visited, I can tell you that there’s an element of truth to that statement.
So, what better way to escape the city smog than by visiting the Thousand Islands?
How to reach the Thousand Islands from Jakarta City Centre
The slow ferries to the Thousand Islands depart from Kali Adem port in the Muara Angke area of Jakarta.
From the city centre you can either take a taxi, Grab-Car (similar to Uber, download the Grab app), Go-Car (similar to Uber, download the Go-Jek app) or make use of the TransJakarta public buses. If using the buses, take route 1 all the way to Kota Tua, followed by route 12A to Kali Adem ferry port.
This section details the cheapest way to reach the Thousand Islands – the way that the locals use. For a more convenient and expensive option, research speedboats and day trips from Marina Ancol (a different port).
Once at the Kali Adem port, buy a ferry ticket to your island of choice. Ferry Tickets can only be purchased from the ticket office, not booked online. A one-way ticket to Harapan Island (recommended) costs Rp60,000 (£3.1/US$4) per person.
The normal schedule for the slow ferries is twice daily. The first one departs in the morning around 7:30am, with the second ferry leaving in the early afternoon. To ensure you get a ticket, I would advise aiming to arrive at the ferry port around 1 hour before departure (especially at weekends as it will be busy).
Slow ferries stop at 4 of the larger islands: first stop Pari Island (1.5hrs from Jakarta), then Pramuka Island (2.5hrs) and finally Harapan and Kelapa Islands which are joined together as one (3.5hrs).
Just a heads up, don’t expect any luxuries on the ferries – no air-con or private rooms! However, their padded seats are perfectly comfortable and there’s a sun deck up top if you fancy getting a head start on your tan. When you reach each stop, locals will offer drinks and snacks through the windows, but I’d still advise bringing some of your own edible supplies!
What to do in the Thousand Islands
As mentioned earlier, I would recommend taking the ferry all the way to Harapan/Kelapa Island. From here you have plenty of options for visiting the smaller, more secluded islands (such as Pulau Cina) or taking day trips to some snorkelling spots.
For those of you who don’t mind camping, why not stay overnight on a smaller island and make the most of the seclusion and peace? (Check out the section below for more details).
Otherwise, you can find some accommodation on one of the larger islands (ideally Harapan or Kelapa) and then take a day trip out to all the best beaches and snorkelling locations.
To reach the smaller islands – either for an overnight stay or just a day trip – you can rent a boat and guide from Harapan Island. Small boats (up to 6 people) will be the cheapest, but it’s also possible to rent a big boat (up to 20 people) if you have a large group. As a guide, a day trip should cost around Rp350,000 (£18/US$24) for an entire small boat – so split between multiple people it will end up pretty cheap! Don’t be afraid to barter if you get quoted a significantly higher price than this.
Here are the contact details for the guide/captain that we hired:- Name; Ilham. Mobile number; +62 81807833620. He can offer transport to and from the smaller islands as well as tailored day trips to the best beaches and snorkelling spots. If you don’t have your own snorkelling gear you can rent it for Rp25,000 (£1.3/US$1.7) per person.
Recommended island – Pulau Cina
After you’ve hired a boat, come check out Pulau Cina for some ultimate relaxation.
The only people living on the island are a couple of locals, who keep it clean and provide basic meals and drinks to tourists. Other than that, you’ll have it all to yourself (…and any other tourists that come on the same day as you, so avoid the weekends wherever possible)!
You can enjoy activities like ocean tree swings, lazing in hammocks and kayaking. Take some pictures on your virtually private island and then cool off in the clear sea – just look out for sea urchins before you go charging into the water!
If you stay for a night on Cina Island you’ll be able to watch both the sunset and sunrise over the ocean. Facilities are limited though so overnight stays are limited to camping only; either bring your own tent and sleeping bag (only a thin one necessary) or rent the equipment from Harapan Island before you go to Cina. Camping costs Rp25,000 (£1.3/US$1.7) per person per night.
Apart from relaxing, chilling, swinging and kayaking, the only other thing to do on Cina Island is to eat! Variety is minimal as all ingredients have to be stored long term in between the rushes of tourists at weekends. You can expect noodles, rice, vegetables and eggs but not a lot else. If you’re lucky, some fishermen will park their boat at the jetty overnight and you’ll be able to sample some fresh grilled fish! A meal of rice or noodles with veg and egg costs Rp20,000 (£1/US$1.4).
The deal-breakers for me were the packets of “White Koffie” (my favourite type of coffee in Indonesia) and fresh coconuts. Ohhhh wow the coconuts were good – you can drink the semi-sweet milk from inside and then scoop out the thick flesh with a spoon. The coconuts on Pulau Cina were honestly among the best I’ve ever had! They cost Rp15,000 (£0.8/US$1) each.
How much will it cost?
In short, not that much. Here’s a breakdown of what we spent on a 3 day/2 night trip from Jakarta to Pulau Cina and back to Jakarta again:
➲ Bus from Jakarta city to Kali Adem port – Rp3500 (£0.18/US$0.24) per person (pp)
➲ Ferry from Kali Adem port to Harapan Island – Rp60,000 (£3.1/US$4) pp
➲ Lunch on Harapan Island – Rp25,000 (£1.3/US$1.7) pp
➲ Boat from Harapan to Cina Island, including 2 snorkelling stops and return boat transfer to Harapan 2 days later – Rp400,000 (£21/US$27) for the entire boat (this is more expensive than the Rp350,000 quoted for a day trip as the boat has to make the trip to Cina island twice)
➲ Snorkelling equipment rental – Rp25,000 (£1.3/US$1.7) pp
➲ 4 meals, 3 coconuts and 2 coffees each (on Cina Island) – Rp135,000 (£7.1/US$9.1) pp
➲ Camping on Cina for 2 nights (this is the sleeping fee, we already had our own equipment) – Rp50,000 (£2.6/US$3.4) pp
➲ Return ferry ticket (from Harapan to Jakartas Kali Adem port) – Rp60,000 (£3.1/US$4) pp
➲ Bus from Kali Adem port to Jakarta city – Rp3500 (£0.18/US$0.24) pp
For 1 person travelling alone (and therefore not being able to split the cost of the small boat rental) – Rp762,000 (£40/US$51) pp
For a couple – Rp562,000 (£29/US$38) pp
For groups of 3 or more – < Rp500,000 (£26/US$34) pp
How long should I stay in the Thousand Islands?
It really depends on how much you like camping!
If you have no problem with embracing the camping lifestyle then I would recommend visiting one of the smaller islands (such as Cina) and staying for 2 nights. If you’re the type who gets easily bored, maybe only stay for 1 night. If you simply love the outdoors, stay for any length of time you like!
On the other hand, if camping isn’t really your thing then consider staying in some accommodation on one of the 4 larger islands. This way you’ll still be able explore the smaller and less touristy islands by doing a day trip.