Maluku Travel Information - Sula Islands

The Sula Islands: Crossroads of Maluku & Sulawesi

Somewhat obscure and lacking in obvious attractions, the Sula Islands are in fact a potentially useful stepping stone trying to travel between North and Central Maluku or Sulawesi by sea. They are also very much at the crossroads of these regions culturally. While traditionally part of the sultanates of North Maluku, the local dialect of Malay is noticeably closer to Ambonese, and there are lots of migrants from overpopulated Southeast Sulawesi living on sparsely populated Mangole and Taliablu. Nature-lovers might be interested in exploring the forested interior of the larger islands, perhaps to try and spot the elusive babirusa or the Sulas' eight species of endemic birds, but they had better be prepared for the fact that loggers have been there long before them, and the forests here are far from pristine. Still, this is one region where you can easily get way off the beaten track if you wish to do so while stopping over on the way to somewhere else!

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


The capital of the Sulas, Sanana is located on the southernmost of the three main islands, Sulabesi. It is a relatively quiet place, less busy than Falabisaya on Mangole. It can also claim to have the archipelago's main historic attractions in the form of a Dutch fort.

Beaches & Off-shore Islands

You can find unspoilt beaches on any of the main islands. Even more tempting, there are even more inviting little isles just off the coast at many places,  like these two little beauties off the north coast of Taliabu which looked straight out of the Maldives!

Off the Beaten Track

Exploring the Interior

There are still some small settlements of the native people (and many more loggers) in the interior of Taluabu and Mangole. These can be used as bases for trying to spot some of Taliabu's unique birdlife and wildlife.
This Taliabunese boy is holding a babirusa skull with its four curving tusks.
Local Culture

The Interior People

The native Taliabunese, who originally lived in small groups in the interior, now only make up a fraction of the island's population.
Most of them have now moved to the coast and have become Christians.
I was surprised to see that despite their isolation they have the typical elements of Malukan culture, such as the crude but characteristic shields used for cakalele dancing.
Safety and Warnings
The Babinsa

West Taliabu was the only place in Maluku where I encountered serious trouble in the form of suspicious authorities. Each village seemed to have a "babinsa" security official placed there by the army, apparently largely to watch over the lucrative illegal logging business. These babinsa were very suspicious and claimed I needed a "surat jalan" to be in the villages.
Such a surat jalan (travel permit) could apparently be obtained from the police in the West Taliabu district centre of Bobong, where I never went as I approached the island from the East.
Getting There and Around
By Air

By 2011, there were no longer any flights to Sanana from either Ambon or Ternate, but NBA operated twice weekly flights from Ternate to Mangole.

By Sea

The Sulas have excellent shipping connections, making them an extremely useful port of call to those planning to travel between North and Central Maluku and/or the eastern part of Sulawesi by sea. Twice a week, passenger boats from Manado and Ternate come to Falabisaya and Sanana. From Sanana, smaller boats travel to Buru. From Fala there are also boats westwards to Taliabu and on to Buton and even all the way to the Tukangbesi Islands in Southeast Sulawesi. There are also direct boats from Fala to Bitung in North Sulawesi, and from Bobong to the Banggai Islands in Central Sulawesi. Even a Pelni ship stops here on the way between Ambon and Ternate, but it does so so infrequently that you should not really count on taking that one. Boats, often just longboats, are also the main way to reach many villages on the roadless coasts of Mangole and Taliabu in particular.

By Road

The road-system in the Sulas is very limited. Sulabesi has the longest roads, with only short ones around the main towns of Mangole and Taliabu.

You could find some simple losmen-style accommodation in the three main towns of Sanana on Sulabesi, Falabisaya on Mangole and Bobong on Taliabu.
The three main towns also have decent places to eat. For self-caterers, Fala's busy market is something of an unexpected delight, with a surprising range of foodstuff on sale for such a remote location!