Maluku Travel Information - Ternate

Ternate: The Capital of North Maluku

Tiny but historically important, this island is home to Kota Ternate, today the capital of North Maluku province.

The entire island is made up by the Gamalama volcano rising straight out of the sea - and shown here providing a majestic background to the Sultan's palace, Ternate's ultimate symbol.
Apart from gazing at the splendid volcanic scenery, the island's main attractions are its plentiful historical relics from its turbulent past.
Nature lovers will enjoy visiting the 2 scenic volcanic lakes, beach bums can choose from some not-so-special black sand beaches (and better ones on neighbouring Maitara and Hiri), while the energetic shouldn't miss climbing Gamalama!

Of the four historic North Malukan sultanates, Ternate is the only one where the institute of the sultanate has survived uninterrupted. It is also the only one which has managed to retain its significant commercial and political importance to this day. This does mean however that the capital city has grown somewhat sprawling and chaotic. It is no longer a quiant little place steeped in history like the main towns of neighbouring Tidore or the Bandas, but nevertheless hangs on to its architectural and cultural heritage proudly.

Visitors to Ternate should also make sure they visit neighbouring Tidore at least on a day-trip, and with a few more days to spare, a side-trip to the much larger island of Halmahera is also highly recommended!

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

Tourist Offices

Located inside Benteng Oranye, the friendly but sleepy Ternate City Tourism Office has some nice brochures about various aspects of the island, with surprisingly good English text! It also has a very interesting map of the island on the wall, showing the locations and photos of a large number of attractions, many of them not featured on my pages or in any guidebook. You'd have to be lucky to find staff who speak English here though.
The main North Maluku Province Tourism Office moved to Sofifi on Halmahera in 2010.

The Sultan's Palace

Ternate's major sight is the Sultan's palace, overlooking the sea from the foot of Gamalama. The palace is a colonial style building supposedly planned to resemble a sitting lion. Part of the royal family still lives inside, but visitors are welcome to enter the main hall, where a selection of royal memorabilia such as clothing, weapons and flags can be seen. The main object of interest, the Sultan's crown is firmly locked away from peering eyes.

Inside the Palace

It is well worth having a look inside - ask about opening times.
The palace interior is a curious mixture of Oriental and colonial styles, and it contains interesting exhibits of court dresses, weaponry and presents given to the Sultan.
Unfortunately the Sultan's crown, to which magic powers are attributed, is kept safely locked away from prying eyes.

The Sultan's Crown

The most precious thing in the palace is kept safely locked away from curious eyes.
The sacred royal crown, whose "hair" is said to be growing and has all sorts of magical powers, is normally only worn during coronations of a new sultan.
Gaining a permission to see it is not an easy task: in principle, there must be at least six of you, you must arrive respectfully dressed (long-sleeved shirts and long trousers/skirts), and you must apply for the permit a month prior to the viewing! If you are keen enough to go through the procedure, one of the 2 tourist offices in town might be able to help.
Once you've been granted the privilege, expect to tip the caretaker.

The Sultan's Mosque

Just a short walk to the south of the palace, the royal mosque with its several-tiered roof is a typical old-style Indonesian mosque.
Inside is interesting, old woodwork.
Visitors are welcome to enter except during prayer services.

The Great Mosque

As a contrast to the historic buildings above, a huge and impressive modern mosque has been built on reclaimed land on the waterfront near Ternate's main mall. It has made it into a pictorial titled "Indonesia's 100 Most Beautiful Mosques"!

Benteng Oranye

This large Dutch fort, originally built in 1607, stands unrestored in the centre of the town. Interestingly, it doesn't serve as a tourist attraction, but houses several families living inside, as well as an Army unit!
Still, tourists can enter it through the main gates, climb to the walls and check out the huge cannons lying around.
I personally find it the most interesting fort in Ternate!

Colonial Architecture

Even besides the famous royal buildings and forts, there are lots of interesting colonial buildings scattered around town.
It pays to keep your eyes open to these, especially in the southern part of the town towards the palace.
This house is right next to Oranye Fort.


Ternate may be a Muslim majority island, but it has a number of large churches in the centre. None are really of outstanding historical or architectural interest, but this Catholic church with its black lava foundations and walls is interesting enough.

Benteng Tolukko

This heavy-handedly restored small Portuguese fort stands by the seaside in Dufa-Dufa village in the south of the town.
There is not a lot to see inside, but the views are good and the exhibit about the restoration works interesting enough.

Benteng Kayumerah

This larger fort in the south of the town has a spectacular seeting right by the sea, just opposite Tidore.

Batu Angus

"Burned Rock" is a thick flow of lava from one of Gamalama's previous eruptions that reaches right down to the seaside north of the town on the way to Sulamadaha.
If you don't climb up to Gamalama's crater, this is the best place to get an idea of how destructive its eruptions can be.

Off the Beaten Track

Sulamadaha Beach

This black sand beach is the most popular one with locals on the whole island and gets very busy on weekends.
To expand the range of possibilities here, a walking track has now been constructed onwards from the main beach to a smaller whitish beach and a more secluded rocky bay to the north. The latter has some surprisingly decent reefs for snorkelling along the shore of its far side - keep swimming along it out towards Hiri.

Pulau Hiri

Hiri is Ternate's small satellite island to the north-west, just off the coast at Sulamadaha.
Like Ternate, it is a volcano, though an extinct one that according to local myths is the top of Ternate's Gunung Gamalama fallen into the sea. There are only 4 villages there, all inhabited by very friendly ethnic Ternateans.
Apart from its black-sand beaches and a chance to climb its mountain (said to hold a lake), the best reason the visit Hiri is snorkelling. I found the reef right in front of the main village facing Ternate to be pretty good, with a turtle and a shark seen within 10 minutes of entering the water! In fact this may be the best snorkelling to be had around Ternate.

Danau Tolire Besar

Danau Tolire Besar is a spectacular crater lake in the north of the island. It is located in a deep crater, so the water seems just about impossible to reach, but is said to be home to crocodiles. The lake is surrounded by forest on the side towards the peak of Gamalama, and is a good area for birdwatching. When I first visited the lake, I even saw a cockatoo here.

Benteng Nosra Senora del Rosario

Atmospherically crumbling in the bush close to the road on the far side of the island, this small Portuguese fort has so far escaped being recast in concrete, though an ugly concrete walkway and concrete umbrellas have been built right around it.
Next to it is a monument commemorating historical events of the era, notably the execution of Sultan Khairun.

Sultan Babullah's Tomb

The tomb of one of Ternate's most important historical figures is strangely located quite high up on Gamalama's slopes on the island's backside.
Most of the structures you will see are very obviously recently constructed over the simple remains of the original tomb. The best reason to make the trip out here is the lovely walk through peaceful clove plantations and past great views over the sea!

Danau Laguna

This beautiful crater lake is in the south of Ternate Island, near the village of Ngade.
Depending on which side of the lake you are standing on, you have either Ternate's Gamalama volcano, or Tidore's Kiematubu as a majestic backdrop.
The part of the lakeshore near the main ring-road around the island is easily accessible, though circumnavigating the whole lot involves some serious scrambling along narrow trails on steep hillsides.
Kids use the lake for swimming, some locals tend gardens around it, while others raise fish in cages in its water.
An excellent, tranquil getaway from the heat and bustle of the city.

Benteng Kota Janji (Santo Pedro Y Pablo)

The minuscule remains of this old Portuguese fort in Ngade village have recently also received a face-lift. Even so, there is little to look at.
However, the two restaurants just across the road offer some of the best views anywhere in Maluku: Maitara, Tidore, Mare, Moti and Makian neatly lined up.

Gamalama's Crater

While Gamalama dominates Ternate, few visitors get to see its impressive, smoking crater. To do so requires climbing the mountain.
Read on for more on this climb!


Climbing Gamalama

Climbing Gamalama and taking in the fantastic views from the top can be the highlight of a visit to Ternate, but there are a few things to keep in mind.:

~ As with any volcano, the trail to the peak is steep and requires a certain amount of fitness.

~ The summit is often shrouded in mist - I only got a clear view on the top on my second climb!

~ Before setting out, check whether it is safe to do so - volcanic activity can make a climb far too hazardous!

If still keen, there are several routes to the summit.
I always climbed from Marikurubu village, taking 3-4 hours to reach the peak.
An apparently shorter route is from the radio (or TV?) relay tower higher up on the slopes.

Diving & Snorkelling

In 2011, an Indonesian-run dive-shop has finally opened in Ternate! Rates depend on the number of divers and the distance of the chosen sites from the city, so enquire/bargain locally! It is located on Jalan Sedap Malam in the Kotabaru area near the main port, and can be contacted by calling +6282195555350.

For snorkelling, the most accessible reefs around Ternate Island are those at the 2nd bay at Sulamadaha. However the neighbouring small islands of Hiri and Maitara, both of which are easily reached from Ternate, have more reefs and beaches.


Not Much

Ternate is not a touristy island, so there is very little in the way of handicrafts available.
You can find some pottery from Mare at the central market, but that's about it.
The most popular souvenirs seem to be the locally made sweets.
And while few people think of it, you could always buy a bagful of the famous local cloves that once drew visitors here from around the World! :-)

Local Culture

Traditional Music

Traditional Ternatese music is only heard during special ceremonies.
These musicians, wearing traditional yellow costumes and performing at Danau Tolire, were however hired to perform for a promotional film shot for the North Maluku Tourism Office.

Soya Dance

At the same event, two semi-traditional dances were also performed.
This one is based on the sultanate's traditional Soya dance, always performed by young men.
Here it was however performed by a group of "semi-professional" dancers, who practice weekly and often represent Ternate. The dance was somewhat altered, but the costumes are typically Ternatese - compare them with the Sultan's court dancers above.

Coka Iba Dance

This masked dance, also performed at the same filming, is actually more typical of eastern Halmahera. This version was said to be based on a Makianese form of the dance.
You'd be very lucky indeed to see this dance performed on Ternate itself!

Crazy Bamboo

A very typically Malukan performance, also seen on Ambon but claimed to originate from Ternate, is the Bambu Gila or Crazy Bamboo.
Here several people are asked to hold a long piece of bamboo, which is then made to vehemently move around shaking itself after having some "magic" cast on it with some smoke.
Supposedly it moves by itself, and so hard that it's difficult to hold, dragging the people around the beach with itself.
I remain a sceptic on this - having tried to hold it myself, I was left with the impression that the moving came from the local guy at the other end! ;-)
In any case, Sulamadaha village, and its beach are the place to go to see (or sponsor) a Crazy Bamboo performance on Ternate.

Traditional Wedding Costumes

Finally, also for the benefit of that promotional material, a selection of traditional Ternatese wedding costumes were also displayed.
Curiously, none were of the most characteristically Ternatese yellow colour I've seen during the actual wedding depicted above, but the most ornate one with its bird of paradise feathers was still very impressive.

The Sultan & His Court

In 2005, I finally got to see the Sultan of Ternate himself for the first time.
It was election year, and his wife was running to become the island's mayor.
The sultanate put on quite a show of traditional splendour, and she received overwhelming support from the native Ternatese of the island - who are however, unfortunately the minority by today.

On this picture the royal couple sits in front of traditionally clad court ladies.
The Sultan himself is wearing casual, modern dress in line with the secular nature of the event.

Traditional Dance

The campaign also toured the town itself, followed by crowds of her supporters.
A group of youngsters wearing the traditional yellow clothes of palace guards were performing a traditional Ternatese dance.
The latter are pretty much only performed during palace festivals these days - Ternate has already become "modernized" to the extent that unlike in neighbouring islands, traditional dance here is no longer performed even at weddings.

Flag-raising Ceremony

Well, lowering, actually...
Whichever it is, only old, traditional palace guards can perform it, with the flag of the sultanate treated as a holy object.

Palace Offerings

The palace itself is also treated as a sort of holy place, and offerings are regularly made here.
Such a combination of traditional customs and modern religion is typical for all Indonesia, actually.

Safety and Warnings

Volcanic Activity

Ternate is a very safe and friendly island, even in the main town.

About the only thing you should be careful of is the occasional activity of Gamalama - if you want to climb the volcano, check with the volcanology post in Marikurubu village if it is safe to do so.

Getting There and Around

By Air

Being a provincial capital, Ternate is served by several airlines.
Most flights come here from Sulawesi or Java, but there are flights to Ambon in southern Maluku, too. Note that there are no direct flights to Papua!
Ternate is also the hub of flights around North Maluku.

As of early 2013, the following airlines operated out of Ternate - note that I only listed flights that did not involve changing planes. By changing in Manado, Makassar or Jakarta, you can connect to many more destinations.

Garuda: Manado, Jakarta

Sriwijaya: Jakarta, Makassar, Manado

Wings: Manado (connections to Jakarta and Surabaya), Buli

Expressair: Makassar (connections to Jakarta, Surabaya, Yogyakarta), Manado, Ambon, Galela, Buli, Labuha

By Sea

Pelni ships come to Ternate from all over Indonesia, usually stopping here between Bitung in North Sulawesi and Sorong in Papua, once a week in both directions.

There are also 2-3 weekly smaller passenger ships (see photo) from the North Sulawesi capital of Manado itself, continuing to the Sula Islands. They leave Manado on Monday and Wednesday, after 4 pm. There are also car-passenger ASDP ferries from Bitung to Ternate twice weekly.

Ternate also has various local boats to just about any sizeable island in North Maluku, but note that they leave from various harbours/jetties around town!

By Road

There is a road going right around Ternate island, with bemos and ojeks being the public transport both to villages out of town and on routes within it.


Good Selection

Being the capital of North Maluku province, Ternate town has many hotels, including some fairly high-standard ones. In fact in the past years there has been something of a construction boom that lead to many new middle to upper end places opening!
Note that cheaper rooms can sometimes be heavily booked and hard to find though.
Out of town, there is a homestay in the village of Sulamadaha, should you look for a more quiet location...


Good Selection

There is a fairly wide range of places to eat in Ternate town, though the best-located and most upmarket restaurants are outside, in the village of Ngade, overlooking Tidore.

Inside the main market of the town, near the Mare pottery stalls, some simple buffet-style warungs operated by Tidorese women were the first places I know of serving a great choice of authentically Malukan dishes at dirt cheap prices in all of Maluku.
It costs seven thousand rupiahs for a piece of fish with as much as you can eat of the other stuff!
They have become so popular that slightly more upmarket warungs offering better variety for a slightly higher price have opened by the seaside nearby.
Note that all of these are still pretty basic and get very hot, so they are not for the picky tourists!