By the region’s dreamy tropical standards, Maluku's capital is a throbbing metropolis. Sights are minimal and the architecture wins no prizes, but there is a unique cafe culture, some choice sleeps and decent food. Plus it's well connected to the Banda and Kei Islands, the real reasons you're here.
North Maluku’s historically and politically most significant islands are the pyramidal volcanic cones of Ternate and Tidore. These ancient Islamic sultanates were once the world's only source of cloves, enormously valued in medieval Europe as food preservatives and 'cures' for everything from toothache to halitosis to sexual dysfunction.
Little Bandaneira has always been the Bandas’ main port and administrative centre. In the Dutch era the perkeniers virtually bankrupted themselves maintaining a European lifestyle, even after the lost nutmeg monopoly made it untenable. Today, Bandaneira’s sleepy, flower-filled streets are so quiet that two becak count as a traffic jam.
Tual & Langgur
Bridging the two central islands, these twin towns form the Kei Islands’ main commercial centre and transport gateway. Christian Langgur is relaxed, strung along broad avenues. Tual, predominantly Muslim, is a jumble of ramshackle humanity which gives it a manic edge. Many of Tual's 'Arabs' are (mixed) descendants of a migration from the Middle East 250 years ago.
The trump cards for the Kei Islands are kilometres of stunning white-sand beaches and a deeply hospitable population. Beneath the mostly Christian facade, Kei culture is fascinatingly distinctive with three castes, holy trees, bride prices paid in lela (antique table cannons) and a strong belief in sasi (a prohibition spell).
Maluku’s biggest island is comprised of four mountainous peninsulas, several volcanic cones and dozens of offshore islands. As it’s sparsely populated and hard to get around, Halmahera’s potential for diving, birdwatching and beach tourism remains almost entirely untapped.
Pronounced ‘leh-a-say’, these conveniently accessible yet delightfully laid-back islands have a scattering of old-world villages, lovely bays, and a couple of great-value budget beach retreats. Foreign tourists remain very rare and little English is spoken, but Saparua has some existing tourism inroads.