Pulau Kei, Indonesia: The Forgotten Islands…

A deserted beach on Pulau Kei

In the south-eastern part of the Maluku Islands in Maluku Province, Indonesia, you will find a particularly enchanting group of islands, Pulau Kei (the Kei Islands).

These islands are home to some of the most beautiful beaches imaginable! My personal favourite is Pasir Panjang, which literally means ‘Long White Beach’.

The Kei Islands (Kei Besar, Kei Kecil and Kei Dulah are just three of many islands) and are known as the ‘forgotten islands’.

It’s still possible to spend a day walking the beaches without seeing another foreigner. On a weekday, in fact, you’re unlikely to see anyone at all, apart from the odd fisherman! On Sundays, the Kei city dwellers make their way down to the beaches and it gets a bit more crowded.

Kei Besar is mainly made up of hills and tropical rainforest, with almost no roads or accommodation. Kei Kecil is a bit busier. It now has a new airport, good roads and several hotels and homestays. It is Kei Kecil where you will find the best beaches (Pasir Panjang being one of them).

Kei Dulah is connected to Kei Kecil by a short bridge. It’s here you can find the connection to Pulau Bair, where snorkelling and diving are on offer amongst incredible limestone scenery!

Dive School Pulau Kei
The colourful corals of the Kei Islands.

The Kei Islands have two main cities. Tual is on Kei Dulah. It has a majority Muslim population, with some Protestants. Langgur is on Kei Kecil and has a mainly Christian population. The villages that surround both of the cities are of mixed religions. There is no religious tension in the area as people enjoy a chilled-out island way of life in this tropical paradise.

As mentioned previously, Pulao Kei Kecil has its own airport. At the moment, flights all go through Ambon. However, from October onwards there are expected to be flights coming from Bali and Jakarta. Hopefully, the current sleepy laid-back atmosphere won’t be lost with this change.

Kei people are very friendly. Little English is spoken and Westerners are still quite an attraction! It is likely you will be greeted “Hello Mister”, irrespective of your gender.

Why would people visit Pulau Kei?

I would say this… If you go to the Gili Islands or Bali, you’re likely to have a good time and enjoy the place you are visiting. But you won’t be seeing the ‘real Indonesia’. Kei has all the wonderful beaches and turquoise waters on offer elsewhere, but with the added bonus that you’ll be doing something a bit different and exploring somewhere that far fewer backpackers and tourists have seen.

Note: Immigration and Visa Extensions – We have an immigration office on the island which is helpful and friendly where it is possible to carry out visa extensions.

Places to Stay in Pulau Kei

There are several home-stays on the islands, located close to the sea. They only have cold water, some have ‘mandi‘ ( the Indonesian style ‘shower’), some shared bathrooms. The Maluku Islands are not cheap. What’s more, as there are fewer options than in other areas of Indonesia, prices are perhaps higher than the backpacker standard, which may put some people off – but I guarantee you these islands are worth a visit! Here are a few places I would recommend…

Coaster Cottage – Located north of Pasir Panjang, Coaster Cottage offers two smaller rooms with mandi and terrasse, one wooden bungalow, some bigger rooms in the main house and a villa with a living room and two bedrooms. Prices range from 165.000 to 770.000 IDR per night. All rooms have their own bathroom and western toilet. The new big wooden house comes with a real shower. Food is cooked by Ketty, a very nice lady with little knowledge of English. The manager is Bob, he is very helpful and one of the few people on this island that speaks very good English. If you stay longer, you get a discount (please ask Bob!). For reservations, you can send an email to bob.azyz@yahoo.co.id.

Savannah Cottages – Savannah is located in the north of Kei Kecil at the end of a tiny village named Ohoidertahun. The village is home to maybe 200 inhabitants and has a mosque and a church. They offer four rooms in two wooden houses, shared bathroom (two toilets, two showers). Food is served in front of the common house where you find coffee, tea and a little library. You will sit directly with your feet in the sand while eating, in front of the sea, but make sure it’s high tide. At low tide, there is no water and you can walk 30 minutes to some caves where ancient cave paintings can be found. Savannah Cottage is owned by Lucy and Gerson, Gerson speaks English, Dutch and German.

Lucy House – Surprisingly, Lucy House is owned by Lucy’s sister! Services are shared with Savannah. Lucy house is located at the other end of Ohoidertahun, slightly further out. It has five rooms, each with its own bathroom, western toilet and mandi. It’s a great option for people who want a bit more solitude. Prices at Savannah and Lucy House are from 200.000 – 250.000 IDR per night, Dinner is 70.000 IDR and is very good! To book, contact Lucy & Gerson via Facebook.

Johannas Cottage – Johanna has only one bungalow, directly on the beach. It has a wonderful view, wooden house, bathroom with shower and western toilet. Food costs are 50,000 IDR for lunch and dinner, with a very basic breakfast included. A second bungalow will be finished around October this year. Price per night 250,000 IDR. Reservations can be made via Eva at Pirate Divers.

More places to stay near Pasir Panjang:

  • Evaline (250,000- 300,000 IDR per night, big rooms with ensuite bathroom/shower in a stone house).
  • De Lima (basic cheap 125.000 IDR / night / shared bathroom).
  • Villa Monica (in the village of Pasir Panjang, two minutes walk to the beach, clean rooms, shared bathroom 200.000 IDR / night).

There are some others which I have not checked myself, all of them close to Pasir Panjang beach. Most of the managers and owners speak very limited English so it can be difficult to reserve beforehand online. Food is always Indonesian style with a lot of rice and fish or chicken.

Things to do in Pulau Kei…

THE BEACH! You can swim, walk, get a suntan or hang out in the shade. I highly recommend bringing a hammock! The home stays do not offer very cosy chairs.

Snorkel directly from the shore amongst clear blue waters and an amazing array of sea life!

Rent a boat with some other travellers and visit one of the other beautiful islands, or check out the lagoon at the northern end of Pasir Panjang.

Rent a motorbike and have a look at the cities. Have some good and cheap food in one of the warungs and take money from one of the ATMs while you’re there. There are lots in Langgur and some in Tual (none at the beach, unfortunately).

Visit Goa Hawang, a nice little cave where you can swim in freshwater or go to one of the three freshwater lakes on the islands.

Book a day trip to Pulau Bair with its amazing landscape or go to snake island where if you are lucky you can see pelicans.

Go diving with the first and only Dive Centre on the island, Kei Pirate Divers! Located on the southern end of Pasir Panjang Beach, you can literally go to places where nobody has ever dived before! You will find a variety of very healthy coral and vast numbers of tropical fish. If you are lucky you might spot eagle rays, marble rays, sharks, or a Napoleon Wrasse!

Pirate Divers offer diving in the area of Pasir Panjang and day trips to Pulau Bair. For more experienced divers there are several explorer dives on offer, at Kei Besar for example. The currents in the area are very moderate, so this is a good location for all levels.

For more information contact: info@kei-pirate-divers.com.

Dive School Pulau Kei
Kei Pirate Divers.

Food & Drink on Pulau Kei

In Tual and Langgur there are many warungs (typical Indonesian eating place) where you can eat fish, chicken or rendang, which is long-cooked beef in a very tasty sauce. Everything is served with rice. There is a supermarket where you can buy some cookies and there is a burger place with chicken burgers and french fries. There are two markets on the islands, one in Tual, one in Langgur. There you can buy some fruit. Don’t expect too much, mangoes, for example, are only available in November. Bananas, luckily, are available all year round.

For now, there are no restaurants or ‘warungs‘ at the beach and you must get your food at the home-stays. Prices for Lunch and Dinner are between 45,000 and 70,000 IDR. breakfast is usually cheaper.

Most of the guests eat in the homestays because for now there is nowhere to eat at the beach. Only noodles or fried bananas are available and of course soft drinks and beer. Beer is very cheap on the island. (big cans cost from 26.000 IDR). With the direct flights from October, we’ll see if this changes…

Getting to Pulau Kei

Easy! Pulau Kei has a small but modern airport, with good new roads that lead you to your onward destination. Everything is now prepared for tourism, which it hadn’t been until recently.

You have to get yourself to Ambon Airport and take a plane from there to Pulau Kei. Garuda, Lion and Wings Air all offer flights. Commonly you will be coming to Ambon from Jakarta or Bali.

Where to go next?

Fly to Ambon or take a Pelni ship which arrives at Kei every two weeks. You can visit Banda Neira where you can continue your travels with the Banda Islands.

About the author: This destination guide was written by Eva Foss from Pirate Divers on Kei Kecil.

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