Maluku Travel Information - Tobelo

Tobelo: Around the Largest Town in Halmahera

The Tobelo district is centred on the largest town in Halmahera Island. The town itself is also called Tobelo, and is a major transport hub for north-eastern Halmahera - but pretty it isn't. However the surrounding area is more attractive with fine beaches, pretty off-shore islands, jungle-clad hills and a volcano. You may also be lucky enough to experience a bit of the native culture...

Attractions Local Culture Getting There Accommodation Food
Main Attractions

Luari Beach

The ethnic Galelarese village of Luari in the very north of Tobelo district has one of the finest beaches in Halmahera. In fact it has two - walk around the headland at the northern end of the main beach to reach a second one!

Kupa Kupa Beach

Probably the finest beach around Tobelo on the Halmaheran mainland! It's about 10 kms south of the town, next to a somewhat off-putting harbour for Pertamina oil-vessels. Never mind - the beach remains fine and clean, especially if you walk around the headland to the north. That's where you will also find surprisingly good and healthy reefs for snorkelling

Telaga Paca

This small crater lake is about half an hour south of Tobelo town, a few kms off the main road. It has a backdrop of densely forested mountains, and a small village next to it. The locals have recently built an overwater resting area here, which offers the best views of the lake. There will probably be a small charge for using it. Hiring a canoe to explore this lake should be fun.

The Islands

Right off Tobelo town is an enchanting collection of small, coconut-palm covered islands with golden sandy beaches. Many of the islands are populated, and longboats travel from them to Tobelo town frequently. Of course the most unspoilt ones are further out - you may want to charter a boat to reach these.

Pulau Tulang

Tulang (Bone) is the nearest islet to the town, within swimming distance of the harbour. That's a pity, actually, as it means this otherwise inviting little "four-palm-trees island" is not as clean as it could be - still worth a quick photo though!

Pulau Kumo

Kumo is the nearest one of the inhabited islands to the town, thus the most easily and cheaply accessible. It also has the most popular beach - its popularity with locals means it is peppered with litter. If you find this too off-putting, don't despair - far nicer, clean, unspoilt beaches await on the far side of the island! ;-)

Pulau Pawole

Privately-owned, uninhabited little Pawole is my favourite island in this group. It is circled by the finest white-sand beaches and has great, diverse reefs with a drop-off for snorkelling.

Pulau Tupotupo

This little island also looks great from the distance, but is something of a let-down close up. Its beach is full of litter, its reefs are destroyed by dynamite fishing, and it's infested with sand flies!

Pulau Kakara

Kakara is the next island behind Kumo. It is most famous for its traditional hibualamo house, standing right by the jetty on the shore. However, it has more to offer: a large, mangrove-fringed inlet just in front of the village, fine beaches on the backside of the island facing the open sea, and even some good reefs off the south-eastern point looking towards Tagalaya.

Pulau Tagalaya

Tagalaya is the island most actively promoted and developed as a tourist destination in this archipelago. The main attraction are its coral gardens, which are certainly very extensive, though rather lacking in diversity for my (spoilt) taste. The beaches are not bad either, and unlike Kumo, it is kept nicely clean!

Pulau Tolonuo

The largest and northernmost island in the group, Tolonuo has a mixed Tobelorese and Galelarese population. The main village is a rather scruffy one, however there is surprisingly good snorkeling even right in front of it, starting maybe 100 metres west of the jetty. Those with time to explore could check out more remote spots - fishlife is said to be more abundant off the east coast of the island.

Local Culture

Traditional Tobelorese Ceremonial Dress

The very best time to see Tobelorese dressed up in all their traditional finery might just be during the yearly North Halmahera Cultural Festival. Unlike at "real" traditional events like the wedding above, at the festival all dancers have to wear full traditional dress, and as it' a competition, they make an effort to look fine! This group is from a local school in Tobelo town, having just dressed p to go and perform tide-tide and cakalele dances.

Yangere in Tobelo

Tobelo is an excellent place to see this typically North Halmaheran music and song performance. Around New Year, lots of Yangere groups will come to the town from all over North Halmahera, going from house to house performing and receiving drinks and some money. The atmosphere is great, and you can ask for your favourite songs! Many of the songs are in the native languages, rather than Indonesian, making them all the more exotic.


Traditional Tobelorese weddings are among the most colorful in Maluku - I had the luck to attend one on an off-shore island. Among the Tobelorese, Christians also follow traditions during their wedding ceremonies, and stick to traditional music and dance instead of modern stuff. This wedding was also a Christian one, so women also behaved more uninhibitedly during the informal part of it - see below! :-)

Well before the actual ceremony started in the evening, people started playing music and dancing joyously. Here a few adventurous women are having fun trying to perform the cakalele dance, normally done by men. It caused great laughter!
The entire wedding was accompanied by traditional Tobelorese music, played with gongs and drums.
In the evening, the young bride was escorted to the groom's house by female relatives. She was dressed in traditional finery, as were the other women, who kept playing on small drums while walking with her.

Cakalele Dance

This most typically Malukan dance also accompanies traditional Tobelorese weddings. Here it was performed in front of the bride, as she was approaching the house of the groom.

Getting There
By air

Tobelo has no airport - the nearest ones are in Galela and Kao. Tickets for flights out of those airports can readily be booked in Tobelo though.
By road

Shared taxis to Tobelo wait for passengers from Ternate every day in Sofifi. There are also shared taxis to Jailolo and Ibu in the early mornings. Minibuses run between Tobelo and Galela or Kao throughout the day.
By sea

There is a weekly passenger boat to Tobelo from Manado in North Sulawesi. There are also regular boats from Tobelo to Morotai, as well as to villages and towns on the north-eastern peninsula of Halmahera, notably Buli, Subaim and Labi Labi. The off-shore islands of Tobelo are mostly reached by longboats.

Tobelo has about half a dozen hotels, offering a range of rooms. The President has the best rooms in the centre, while the very basic Asean Jaya near the port has the friendliest, English-speaking owner.

You can now also stay out of town, closer to or even right on beaches if you don't mind basic standards. Accommodation was at last count available on Pulau Kakara (check with the tourist office in town before going there!), on Kupa Kupa Beach and in Luari.

As with accommodation, Tobelo offers the widest range of places to eat on the island. Thanks to the Christian majority, you can even find delicious pork dishes here - if you know where to look! Note that as this is a fervently Protestant town, most places close on Sundays.