Belitung, formerly Billiton,  is an island on the east coast of Sumatra, Indonesia in the Java Sea. The island is known for its pepper, kaolin clay and tin mineral. It was in the possession of the British from 1812 until the British ceded control of the island to the Dutch in the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824. Its main town is Tanjung Pandan.

The mainly tourist destinations are beaches and offshore islands/islets. The beaches are Tanjung Tinggi Beach and Tanjung Kelayang Beach which both have blue clear water, sand and rocky beaches. The islands/islets are Batu Berlayar Island which full of granite, Pasir Island which is made of sand (Pasir means Sand in Indonesian language) and submerged during high tide, Bird Islet (Pulau Burung, which can be accessed from Tanjung Binga beach by walking on at low tide), Lengkuas Island (which is the home of a 129-year-old lighthouse and a good place for snorkeling), Babi Island and Kelayang Islet.

You might not expect it from the island whose tin mines gave their name to Australian mining giant BHP Billiton, but Belitung is among the most beautiful islands in Southeast Asia. Pristine white sand beaches look out on a turquoise sea filled with great snorkelling and a fantastic display of off shore islands. Check out Tanjung Kelayang and Tanjung Tinggi for world class beaches without the hustle and bustle now found at beaches of this calibre elsewhere. Small uninhabited off shore islands range from white sand fringed coconut plantations to elaborate granite rock formations to long temporary sand bars of sand the quality of powdered sugar. Some are too far to swim to from the shore, but colourful local fishing boats will take you on an island tour.

As yet uncharted by the Lonely Planet guide of 2012, no big resorts have been built here yet but it will not remain a sleepy paradise for long. The widely-translated novels Laskar Pelangi (“Rainbow Troops”) published in 2005 and its sequel “The Dreamer” have done a lot to put Belitung on the map of international tourism.

The best time to visit:

Dry season (April – October) is obviously sunnier but can be very windy, resulting in choppy waters. During the rainy season (November – March) there is less wind though it does rain most afternoons. The school holidays (June-July) are best avoided as a lot of local tourists come from elsewhere in Indonesia. Similarly weekends can be quite busy with large Indonesian tour groups visiting from Jakarta. Interesting annual cultural festivals include:

  • – Tour d’Belitung: 300km bike race around the island held every December.
  • – Outrigger sail boat race held every October/November at Burung Mandi Beach. Includes a sand statute competition.

 

How to go to Belitung Island:

  1. – By plane: Daily flights connect Tanjung Pandan to Jakarta (1h flight), Palembang and Pangkal Pinang. These routes are served by Sriwijaya Air, Batavia Air and Sky Aviation. Since March 2013, Batavia Air officially declared for bankruptcy and all their routes in were stopped include Jakarta (CGK) to Tanjung Pandan, Belitung (TJQ). Garuda indonesia newly opened a route from Jakarta (CGK) to Belitung (TJQ) since 23 May 2013 Citilink also provides a route from jakarta (CGK) to belitung (TJQ).
  2. – By boat: Ferries leave and go to Jakarta, Cirebon, Pontianak (Kalimantan), and Bangka. Smaller fishing craft can be chartered for some harder to reach places and small islands.

 

What to do:

Besides the obvious beach activities, like swimming in the crystal clear seas and laying around on the white sand beaches, Belitung has plenty more to offer. Snorkelling is great. The coral right offshore in many places is still in fantastic shape. Many hotels also have scuba diving equipment for hire. The coast off North-East Belitung is renowned for its numerous Chinese wrecks from different dynasties. One of the oldest wrecks in Indonesian waters was recently discovered offshore. Beachcombing and long beach walks discovering hidden coves and secret beaches are another healthy activity. Some noteworthy beaches are listed below:

  • – Pantai Tanjung Tinggi (North-West Belitung). Made famous by the movies made based on the books Laskar Pelangi and The Dreamer, this white sandy beach is framed by two peninsula with artistic granite boulders. Several food stalls can be found here where you can eat great seafood.
  • – Pantai Tanjung Kelayang (North-West Belitung) and adjacent Pulau Mabai form a huge 1.2km long beach, with granite boulders on its southern end of the peninsula, as well as several small islands with excellent snorkelling.
  • – Sendang Beach, north coast. Great place to see the sunrise.
  • – Pantai Burung Mandi (“bird bath beach”) in North-East Belitung is the site of an ancient harbour already used by the Dutch and Chinese over 200 years ago, now you’ll find hundreds picturesque Manggar outrigger boat parked along the beach. An outrigger sailboat race is held here annually. Nearby Bukit Baku has interesting granite rocks. Enjoy the view over Burung Mandi Beach and beyond from the top of Bukit Samak (Stone Hill) built by the Dutch director of the tin mines in the 1950s, including a little wildlife park. The food of the restaurant is not great but the view is very nice.
  • – T. Gembira and other beaches near Membalong (South-West Belitung) is a 1.5h drive South from Tanjung Pandan. Here you can also see Batu Baginde Hill.
  • – Port Dendang and Punai Coast (South-East Belitung) are a 2h drive away from Tanjung Pandan. Here you can find the unique Satam gem stones.

 

Island hopping

is another fun activity. Belitung has many smaller uninhabited islands surrounding it with stunning beaches. Other islands look like abstract sculptures consisting entirely of granite rock. Local fishing boats can take you out for a fair fee (400,000-500,000 per day including food). Higly recomended to bring your own food from mainland. You may want to check the tides before heading out. Some noteworthy examples of islands (“pulau” in Bahasa) to visit are:

  • – Pulau Lengkuas (North-West Belitung): On this island stands a 100+ year lighthouse that was cast in England then shipped to Indonesia and assembled by the Dutch in 1889 to guard the straight between Bangka and Belitung. Each piece has a number stamped on it and they were bolted together. Stunning view from the top, 60 meters above the ocean. Rp 5000 entry fee. Great snorkelling just off shore.
  • – ‘Kepayang Island Conservation Center’ KCC is one of the conservation projects implemented by a local NGO (KPLB Kelompok Peduli Lingkungan Belitung) to protect the marvelous environment of Belitung and rising the awareness of local people on its importance.Kepayang Conservation center accounts with a diving center, a turtle sanctuary in which baby turtles are bred till they are strong enough to face the sea and a coral garden built in order to restore the coral reef threatened by fishing activities. It accounts with as well with a Resto and nice accomodations facing the sea.
  • – Pulau Basir (North-West Belitung) this sand bank is only accessible at low tide. Covered by starfish.
  • – Pulau Burong (North-West Belitung) this island, named after a bird-shaped rock, has secluded beaches and private cottages on it.
  • – Pulau Batu Pelayar (North-West Belitung), literally meaning “sail-shaped rock” is very picturesque with great snorkelling just off shore. The rocks are lit up by colourful solar lamps at night.
  • – Pulau Lutong (North-West Belitung): Two small islands connected a low tide; one with a granite rick shaped like a rhinoceros’ head.

 

Cultural trips
  • – Belitung has a rich diversity of people. Check out the Malay style wooden houses that reminds you of the Caribbean, or the Bugis traditional houses on stilts that have a dock to dry fish, for example in the fishing village near Bukit Berahu.
  • – Balinese transmigrants have a thriving community that carry on Bali’s traditions and religion. The inhabitants, who originated from the Island of the Gods, were originally pepper farmers, but the tin mining business, which promised more money, turned most into miners. About 200 families live in the Balinese Village of Giri Jati, which is guarded by gates with Hindu architecture. At the west entrance of the village you’ll find an old Hindu temple built in 1818. There is another Hindu temple in the middle of the village, as well as small family temples in front of most houses. Not far from the temple stands an old mosque and cemetery built in 1817.
  • – Kwan Im is a Chinese Buddhist temple dedicated to the sea goddess Vidhara, built in 1747 by the first Chinese workers who came here to work in the tin mines. Don’t miss the nearby Chinese cemetery.
  • – On the road from Giri Jati to Manggar, you’ll pass many palm, coconut and pepper plantations along the side of the road; some are large enough to be seen on google maps. This area used to be used to iron ore mining, creating the Lake Mempayak.
  • – Manggar was the centre of Dutch tin-mining since the 19th century and still has many old colonial houses. It is famous for its ‘one thousand’ coffee shops, with the tradition of coffee-drinking said to have been started by tin miners taking a break between shifts. Visit the fish market early in the morning. Have excellent seafood at the boat-shaped restaurant by the lake. Go for stroll in Beransai Park.
  • – The Dutch have been mining tin on Belitung since the 1880s. Traditional tin mining methods are interesting to watch, no chemicals just water and lots of mud. Visit the open mining pit used from 1971-1989 in the mountain village of Kelapa Kampit, 1h east of Tanjung Pandan. The huge Kaolin Lake, created by a former mining pit, makes for great photography.
  • – Pice Dam, near Manggar.
  • – Mausoleums of the King of Cerucok and the King of Badau, near the airport. Not far away is Badan Museum exhibiting traditional dress and weaponry, and Istiqomah Buding Museum.
  • – Laskar Pelangi Museum based on the novel and reconstructed birth-place of the author.
  • – Maritime Museum. To be opened in 2013, near Lore-In Hotel (Tanjung Kelayang)
  • – Selat Nasik Island has a nature reserve and traditional houses which you can reach with a short boat trip from the main town. Here is also an old Dutch lighthouse from 1882 and a monument marking the independence movement against Dutch colonialism.

 

Nature / adventure trips
  • – The Beraye waterfall and swimming hole on Mount Tagam make a nice day trip.
  • – In Batu Mentas nature reserve you can spot the endangered Tarsius monkey.
  • – This local tour provider can take you on boat trips, cultural trips, hiking, cycling, kayaking etc.
  • – Another local tour provider can take you jungle trekking to see the endangered Tarsius monkey species unique to this island, tubing on the river, or to have a relaxing foot massage in a natural ‘fish spa’ pond where fish nibble at your feet! They also have diving facilities on their diving centre on Kapayang Island.

Downtown Tanjung Pandan is quite interesting due to the many Dutch Colonial buildings and shops. Most of the governmental buildings are the original Dutch buildings and the old Dutch tin mining housing compound is still kept up. Traditional Bugis fishing vessels make the wharf and fish market an interesting place to visit. You can also visit the old ceramics pit opened in 1851, the Tanjung Pandan Museum where you can see old ceramics found in shipwrecks, and an old Dutch fort.