Maluku Travel Information - Bacan Islands

Bacan: North Maluku's Third Historic Sultanate

Bacan is a large, mountainous island west of southern Halmahera.
It is home to one of the four historic sultanates in North Maluku - some think the one here was once more important than the more famous Ternate and Tidore.
The local capital Labuha has some sights connected with the sultanate and the colonial era, while away from there, Bacan has some OK beaches and forested mountains which include Gunung Sibela, North Maluku's highest peak.
It is also famous for the Black Macaques, the only monkeys in Maluku, which were introduced here from North Sulawesi.

Attractions Off the Track Local Culture Getting There Accommodation Food
Main Attractions

Tourist Office

The tourist office of the South Halmahera Regency, which covers the Bacan, Obi, Kayoa Islands and Makian as well as the southern peninsula of Halmahera, is hidden in a secluded location above the town of Labuha. Ask ojek drivers for Dinas Pariwisata. The staff are very friendly and have a bilingual brochure on the region's attractions, as well as a small collection of artifacts for which they eventually plan to build a museum.

Banyan Grove

On the way to the tourist office and opposite an army complex, you will pass an impressive grove of huge banyan trees with thich buttresses hanging to the ground.  A larger stand of such tress is in a fenced, neglected recreation area near the Kantor Bupati. Occasionally, Bacan's famed black macaques make an apparence here, especially in the early mornings and late afternoons.

The Sultan's Residence

The original palace of Bacan's sultan, standing in the centre of the island's capital Labuha, was destroyed during World War II.
He has moved to this colonial-style home, which is not open to the public.
A new, large palace building is now under construction right behind.

The Sultan's Mosque

Down the street behind the residence, the original royal mosque has been completely rebuilt a few years ago, altering much of the original design.
It is still worth a look.

Barnewald Fort

This small, crumbling fort, originally built by the Portuguese, is probably the most interesting sight in Labuha.
Although mostly unrestored, it is still in good enough condition to climb upstairs once inside.
There is no entrance fee, and it is all open although fenced around.

Off the Beaten Track

Hot Springs

South of Labuha, there are VERY low-key hot springs in two locations.
The one at Kupal village are right at the seaside, and in fact are submerged in the sea except during low-tide.
A few kilometres further north there is another spring a few hundred metres inland from the road.
That one is more obvious, but the pond it feeds now is rather muddy and overgrown.
Getting to it requires a bit of a hike, guided by local kids!


Bacan is surprisingly well-forested, and unlike on most other islands in Maluku, the forests here extend right down near the shores and main roads.
This makes them relatively easily accessible, though you must look for trails, most of which are formed and used by illegal loggers.
Of course, hiring a local guide could make things a lot easier!
Watch out for Bacan's famous monkeys - introduced black macaques from North Sulawesi.

Nusa Ra

The "mainland" of Bacan around Labuha lacks white-sand beaches, so the small island of Nusa Ra in the bay in front of town has been developed into a low-key local resort. Sadly while clearly a lot of money has been put into it, it has subsequently become rather neglected and run-down, with broken pavements and lots of litter. A more pristine, undeveloped beach is at the back of the island facing away from Labuha. You may need to get there by boat, as the way from the recreation area is blocked by mangroves.

Pulau Kasiruta

Kasiruta is the second largest island in the Bacan archipelago, and once hosted the capital of the Sultanate of Bacan before it moved to Labuha. It is also where the locally famous "Batu Bacan" gemstones come from.
Today, the island receives little attention from foreigners, but is one of my favourites in Maluku.
Despite some logging, it retains much virgin forest due to its rugged, hilly topography, and there are splendid, unspoilt beaches on its coast. Its population is mostly Galelarese, with the rest being Makianese. It has extensive clove-plantations, which make the villages here relatively prosperous.
Kasiruta also has great, unspoilt beaches, sometimes right in front of villages like this one. The snorkelling was also quite good, despite some damage from dynamite fishing.

Kasiruta's Fort

In the south of Kasiruta, a river offers access to the hidden settlement of Kasiruta Dalam, site of the original sat of the sultanate. Abput halfway upriver, a crumbling, unrestored fort stands in the bush. Unlike most forts in Maluku this is said to have been built by the local sultanate, not the colonial powers.

Pulau Batang Lomang

South of Kasiruta the small and otherwise mostly unremarkable island of Batang Lomang is hom to one of the largest and perhaps best known "Sea Gypsy" villages in Maluku, named simply Bajo.

Local Culture

Dendang Dance

Bacan has no truly native population, and has been settled by people from neighbouring regions, especially by Tobelorese, Galelarese and Makianese, but also from Sulawesi.
However, over the centuries a distinct Bacanese culture and even language (a very distinct dialect of Malay) has evolved around the Kraton (palace) in Labuha.
You will have to be quite lucky to come across obvious manifestations of this Bacanese culture, but I have seen the Bacanese Kraton's sacred Dendang dance performed for the sultan of Ternate during his birthday celebrations. It is a slow and graceful dance with betelnut containers accompanied by traditional music and singing.

Katreji Dance

More of Bacan's dances were performed during the annual Guraici Festival I attended in 2011. Perhaps most interesting and unusual among these was the Katreji dance, which is of Portuguese origin and has a rather old-European rather than Malukan feel to it, with the dancers swirling around holding hands. Considering it to be against Islamic teachings, Bacan's new sultan has apparently banned this dance in Labuha, but it was still performed here.

Soya-soya Dance

A soya-soya dance similar to Ternate's was performed by small kids from Kupal village in SW Bacan.

Cakalele Dance

Bacan's Tobelorese and Galelarese population and culture was represtented by their cakalele dance, identical to that usually seen in North Halmahera.

Kololo Kie

In 2011 after the death of the old sultan and the coronation of his son, the new sultan decided to carry out the sacred Kololi Kie ceremony for the first time in 75 years.

It was a rather grand event attended by government officers all the way up to the governor of North Maluku himself, as well as delegates from the 3 other North Maluku sultanates.

The delegates of the other sukltanates, as well as the elders and officers of the Sultanate of Bacan were seated in front of the sultan's residence, with the government officers and other less important mortals seated on chairs outside.
The event started with the inevitable speeches by the governor and the bupati, followed by a speech and prayers by the young sultan himself. It is interesting to note that this sultan currently resides in the USA, though has plans to return and permanently settle in Bacan in a few years.
The first truly traditional event (in open view anyway) was the handing over of a sacred, dragon-headed spear by the Kapita Lao (Captain of the Sea).
After this opening ceremony, the Sultan and his entourage made their way to the port on foot in a colorful, grand procession.
While most people boarded various larger vessels, the Sultan and his wife travelled on a traditional kora-kora longboat, making stops at various points at sea to make prayers and blessings.
The focal point of this event took place at the ancestral island of Kasiruta. Here colorful local boats were waiting for the Sultan amnd his entourage to escort them to the old palace site at Kasiruta Dalam.

Once upriver, the most sacred part of the ceremony took place on a small hill where elders and then the Sultan himself told prayers at an ancient burial spot.

After this, the Sultan proceeded to encircle the entire island of Kasiruta by boat - requiring quite a bit longer than the similar ceremonies around the small volcanic islands of Ternate and Tidore!

Getting There and Around

By Air

Expressair is now the main operator of flights from Ternate to Labuha, but NBA and Merpati may (or may not) still fly there from Ternate, too. An unreliable weekly Merpati flight was actually supposed to stop in Labuha between Ternate and Ambon as of late 2011, providing a potentially very useful link between Noth and Central Maluku.

By Sea

There are several overnight boats daily from Ternate to Babang on Bacan's east coast. A morning hydrofoil from Ternate to Babang via Saketa in the Gane region of Halmahera may or may not still operate when you read this. Boats from Ternate to Obi stop at Kupal, south of Labuha.
There are also boats that come to the north-western coast of Bacan from Ternate via the Kayoa Islands and Kasiruta.
There are also local boats from Labuha to other islands in the Bacan group.
Longboats are the main way of getting to roadless villages scattered around the coasts of Bacan.

By Road

Bacan's road system is limited to the area around Labuha, with the most important road being the one connecting Labuha to the port of Babang. Bemos and ojeks serve these roads.


Limited Selection

There are a few decent, but rather overpriced hotels in Labuha, and a few much more basic yet better value penginapans in the port town of Babang.


Basic Fare

There is the usual choice of cheap, basic warungs in Labuha and Babang.