This surprisingly bustling and important island city and port sits perched on the side of a very active volcano in the North Maluku Islands. It was once the centre of a highly lucrative trade in cloves and nutmeg, providing great riches for the sultanate and luring in the Portuguese and then the Dutch in turn.
The sultanate is Muslim, with scores of Mosques and a local twist on traditional Islamic practices. Despite the local sense of fun and mischief, the incredible scenic beauty and the heady, tropical heat, Ternate is still firmly off the tourist trail and amenities are almost completely lacking. The spice and cinnamon plantations are worth a visit, as well as the Sultans Palace, the spectacular views over Ngade Lake and the fried fish restaurants on the harbour front in the evening. You can even climb the volcano if you are feeling particularly active, though it must be done in the very early hours due to the intense heat.
A favourite activity is just to hang around the harbour and soak in the atmosphere; this is a real port, with people and goods being transported far and wide and stories abounding. It’s rough, wild and very off the beaten track. Tourist facilities exist but are in very short supply and a good local guide is essential unless you speak Bahasa.
The yang to Ternate’s ying, Tidore is the sister volcanic island, whose legendary historic enmity was well established before the Spanish acquired it as a base in opposition to the Portuguese presence across the way. Tidore is peaceful, sleepy, quiet and beautifully maintained with colourful, well-built houses, forts, gardens, public amenities and roadside bougainvillaea. The beautifully maintained Spanish fort is a gorgeous spot which you will likely have largely to yourself, perhaps alongside a local courting couple or two. There are peaceful and sleepy cafes to whilst away the morning in and many beautiful swimming spots, several of them maintained municipal facilities.
It’s a lovely place for a gentle mosey in a local taxi, though as in neighbouring Ternate, beware the intense afternoon heat and stupor. Tidore is a short 15-minute speedboat ride from Ternate and as accommodation is even more limited than in Ternate, most visitors come for a morning with a taxi and a guide arranged on arrival.
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