Exploring the Kei Islands

Indonesia’s Hidden Gem


As the plane started its descent towards the remote group of islands surrounded by halos of impossibly blue water, I knew that we had arrived somewhere special. We were about to land at the only airport on the Kei islands in Langgur, a city making up one half of the island’s largest main centre, curiously comprised of the twin towns of Tual and Langgur, divided by a river but connected by a bridge.

The allure of the Kei islands is not found in Tual-Langgur though. Rather, Kei is home to some of the best beaches in Indonesia, if not the whole planet! We had heard about the beauty of the vast, empty, white-sand beaches lined with coconut trees, inhabited by local fishermen and curious kids, but we had not expected to be as charmed as we eventually were, by the little villages dotting the coast.

Indeed the beaches are as stunning as they are long and deserted, where the villagers going about their daily, simple lives are some of the most hospitable we met in all of Indonesia. Sadly, due to language barriers, we could not understand their eager questions, but smiling and shaking their hands seemed to make them just as happy.

Kei is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of Indonesia’s hidden gems, with very few foreigners wandering about, almost no tourism infrastructure and very little in the way of comfort. Instead, we experienced spectacular coastal scenery, crystal clear water, pristine beaches dotted with massive colourful shells, and islands bursting with so much undiscovered beauty that we know that we will be going back to explore more of the region sometime soon!

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SEE – Photos & Videos

WSE Travel -Exploring the Kei Islands - Indonesia's Hidden Gem - A little sand beach on Bair Island

A little sand beach on Bair Island

WSE Travel - Exploring the Kei Islands - Indonesia's Hidden Gem - Coconut trees line the beaches on the Kei Islands

Coconut trees line the beaches on the Kei Islands

WSE Travel - Exploring the Kei Islands - Indonesia's Hidden Gem - Just another village beach on Kei Kecil

Just another village beach on Kei Kecil

WSE Travel - Exploring the Kei Islands - Indonesia's Hidden Gem - Simple houses on Warbal Island

Simple houses on Warbal Island

WSE Travel - Exploring the Kei Islands - Indonesia's Hidden Gem - The turquoise waters around Bair Island

The turquoise waters around Bair Island

WSE Travel - Exploring the Kei Islands - Indonesia's Hidden Gem -Clear water on Matwaer Beach

Clear water on Matwaer Beach

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GO – Getting There

The Kei islands, located in the Maluku province of Indonesia, are connected to the rest of the country by daily flights to Ambon, Maluku’s provincial capital. In turn, Ambon is accessible via flights from Jakarta, Makassar and other main cities in Indonesia.

Using Pelni boats, Indonesia’s ferries connecting many of the country’s islands is a far slower and more uncomfortable way of reaching the Kei islands, but a good option for the budget conscious. The ferry makes a stop in Tual every two weeks (at the time of writing) and can be boarded in Ambon and some other cities in Indonesia.
WSE TRavel - Exploring the Kei Islands - Indonesia's Hidden Gem - Map

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Do – Activities & Attractions

Hiring a scooter or private taxi to get around Kei Kecil is highly recommended. There are some absolutely breath-taking beaches around the island such as Pasir Panjang and Matwaer beach. Caves with ancient wall paintings, shimmering lagoons inside underground caves, and a rainbow village in Tual are also worth exploring!

Many of the smaller islands around Kei Kecil can be visited by hiring a boat. You can ask one of the guesthouses on the beach to organise a trip with a local fisherman for you, or you can find a fisherman yourself if you speak basic Indonesian. We highly recommend visiting the beautiful Bair Island, known locally as the mini Raja Ampat due to its karst formations.

We also loved Ngurtafur Sandbar, often used as a resting spot by pelicans, as well as Warbal, a small, inhabited island full of friendly little kids who made it a point to escort us all around its sandy roads and beaches.

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Stay – Accommodation

We truly believe that the best places to stay are located in Pasir Panjang and Ohoidertawun on the west coast of Kei Kecil, the main island. A few individual huts and cottages can be found on both beaches. Pasir Panjang is one of the most beautiful beaches in Kei, and if swimming and sunbathing are what you’re looking for, it would be wise to use this beach as your base. Ohoidertawun’s beach is less beautiful and is subject to massive tidal differences which results in it turning into a massive, fine white, muddy area at certain times of the day.

During this time, the coastal cliffs become accessible and allow for the exploration of the caves, some of which are decorated with ancient wall scribbles and contain remains of human skeletons. The locals know very little about paintings and skeletons. Quite frankly they are not very interested in them either, preferring instead to focus their efforts on their catch of the day.

The cottages can be very basic. On the beaches, there is the complete lack of phone coverage or Wi-Fi. That can be positive, but if, however, you feel that connectivity is essential, you’re better off staying in one of the hotels in the city of Langgur. When compared to the beaches, the city is uninspiring but is only a 15 minutes’ scooter drive away from the coast.

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Eat – Restaurants

We didn’t encounter any western-style restaurants on Kei Kecil, but there are plenty of warungs around Langgur if you’re fine with eating local food such as bakso and variations of fried rice and noodles. Some of them also serve fresh fish. If you’re staying on one of the beaches, your guesthouse will probably offer breakfast, lunch and dinner at a reasonable price

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Time – Seasonality & Schedules

The weather in Maluku is different to that experienced in the west part of Indonesia on islands such as Java, Bali and Lombok. The dry season in Maluku runs from November to March making this the best time to visit the Kei islands. June, July and August are monsoon months, during which, water transport and activities are often interrupted, making it a very unpractical time to visit.

Please note: unlike Banda Islands which is wet in June and July, it can actually be really beautiful during those months on Kei Kecil. The weather is not the same throughout the Maluku region. The diving isn’t great in those months, but if it is just beaches you are out after then it is totally fine to go in June and July! (Thanks for the update from Candinavia Blog).

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Safety – Possible risks

We felt that the Kei islands are very safe, but be sure to take sensible safety measures and precautions at all times. If you’re renting a scooter, insist on a helmet, even if it is not immediately given to you. It is illegal to drive a scooter without it, no matter the number of bare-headed local drivers you might spot, and be aware that police officers might very well stop you if you are not wearing one, especially in Tual and in the surrounding areas.

Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.

Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.

Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).

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Pay – How much does it cost?

The cost of travelling in the Kei islands is a little bit higher when compared to travelling in more developed islands in Indonesia, mainly because there is little to no tourism infrastructure. Whilst hiring a scooter in Java or Bali might cost no more than 50,000 IDR (about $3.50) a day, you can expect to pay 75,000 – 100,000 IDR (about $5.50 – $7.00) on Kei, and only if you bargain hard.

Hotel rooms with a private bathroom cost around 300,000 to 400,000 IDR (about $22 – $29), whilst the beach huts are a little cheaper but a lot more basic.

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Responsible Travel – Best Practices

The waters around the Kei islands are some of the cleanest and clearest we’ve seen in Indonesia. The beaches are also cleaner than those in more popular islands. As more of Indonesia is being explored by travellers, waste management is set to become an issue on remote islands, thus contributing to sea and water pollution. Always try to refuse plastic packaging in Indonesia. Waste management is a nation-wide problem.

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Reality Check – Be Aware

Remote islands in Indonesia are as far removed from the western world as can be. Kids in the remote villages may have never been exposed to much technology and indeed, during our time on Kei, we were constantly asked by kids to take selfies and pictures of them with our phones so that they could see themselves on a screen.

You may find some practices in local villages shocking. In one village, we observed a massive turtle with a hook on its side dying under the blazing sun after it has been placed on its back. It had been caught and left to die with absolutely no consideration to possible suffering. There was little we could do at that point since it was clearly taking its last breaths, but this incident made us fully aware that in villages such as these, where life is very simple and people are poor, animals are only regarded as potential sources of food.

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JOIN US! WSE Travel Packages

This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off the beaten path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!

Follow this link for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Tours – packages that are highly personalized and tailored at your request.

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Have you ever been to a city that had a really unique historical or cultural feature? Where was it and what made it so unique?

Please feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below!

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