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.
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.
Belitung is small enough that more or less any point on the island can be reached in less than two hours from the main town Tanjung Pandan. However, taxis are non-existent and public transportation on the island is hard to find, so the only practical way of moving around is to rent a car or a motorcycle. If you rent a car, expect to pay Rp 400,000 – 600,000 per day for a good car with driver (all inclusive). A common and fair deal for both parties is Rp 600,000 – 800,000 for the whole weekend including airport drop-off on the last morning. Keep in mind that with that they have enough for the whole month.
Alternatively when you arrive at the airport, you can haggle with locals to get you to your hotel and arrange the rest of the transportation from there. Or ask your hotel to pick you up from the airport (which the upscale ones will do anyway). Once you arrive at your hotel you can then rent a motorcycle from Rp 50,000 per day (excluding petrol) from most resorts and explore the beaches yourself; they are well signposted. However, expect to get wet during rainy season! Here is a decent road map with some nice photos .
There are no ojek (motor cycle taxis) on the island but locals may be willing to give you a lift on their motorcycle for short distances (Rp 15,000 – 20,000).
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 (e.g.  and  ). 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). 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.
Pulau Kapayang (North-West Belitung) has a turtle conservation centre (Rp 5000 suggested donation), a diving centre and on-site accommodation.
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.
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.
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. ☎ +62 821 7570 4250 / +62 819 4918 9456.
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 .
There aren't really any stand-alone restaurants in the Western sense. The holiday resorts (see Sleep) usually have decent restaurants, while the town has a collection of simple warung (eating stalls). The best things to eat are fresh seafood and special Belitung cakes. For those needing a dose of Western food, Kentucky Fried just opened a store in downtown Tanjung.
Cold beer is hard to find except at Mamma Mia's restaurant at Kelayang Beach Cottages, in Tanjung Kelayang.
Coffee in Manggar is a unique experience, there are many coffee shops for the people to relax and chat. Manggar city also called the city of one thousand coffee shops .
Accommodation on Belitung has improved a lot recently. However most places only accept cash, no credit cards.
Homestays (“penginapan”) are increasingly popping up around Belitung. These are rented rooms in people’s homes. Very basic. Watch for signs by the side of the road, especially near the beaches around the North-West of the island. Often under Rp 150,000 per night.
In the main town of Tanjung Pandan
Harlika Jaya, Tanjung Pandan, ☎ + 62 719 24 633 / + 62 719 33 415. Simple clean rooms from 75,000 – 250,000 per night (no breakfast). The adjacent beach promenade has great cheap seafood restaurants (e.g. Pang Paysa) and a karaoke bar (Bar Unique); it’s a favourite hang-out for locals on the weekend.
Hotel Martani, Tanjung Pandan. One of the oldest star hotels. Spacious rooms with hot water, AC. Rp 200,000.
Lux Melati Hotel, Jalan Melati 72, Tanjung Pandan. Cleap and clean. 5 minutes’ walk from tanjung pandan beach.
By the beach
Bukit Berahu, Tanjung Bingga, ☎ +62 819 2959 9808, . Great cottages with warm shower, AC, TV, kettle and minibar fridge (but no mosquito nets). 5 cottages right by the beach with two single beds ($30 / Rp 300,000 per night including breakfast), and 2 bungalows further up the hill that fit 4-5 people each (Rp 787,000 per night including breakfast) with kitchen area, living room and terrace with great views. Access to the cottages is via a long walk down some steps to a small isolated beach area. You can walk north along the shore from the beach to a picturesque traditional fishing village. Very peaceful and quiet but at night it can be a bit eerie as it is so isolated and none of the staff sleeps at the office upstairs - you will be on your own!. Beware that at certain times of the year there may be jellyfish in the ocean brought here by strong easterly winds, but the hotel also has a huge pool on the hill with stunning views, including various secluded picnic benches. Office on top of the hill has a good restaurant with sprawling views of the ocean, especially at sunset. Highly recommended accommodation, though you will have to go elsewhere for day-trips and snorkelling. Some photos $20.
Kelayang Beach Cottages, Tanjung Kelayang, ☎ +62 819 2979 8420 (Manager; Rudy) or +62 821 761 90700, . Run by a Western-Indonesian couple and family. 4 bungalows with air-con (Rp 300,000) and 4 bungalows with fan only (Rp 200,000). Accommodation is very basic and quite run down, only containing a bed with a mosquito net and a bathroom with an Asian-style squat toilet and a mandi (water tank) shower. Some guests have complained of bedbugs. The location is quite noisy due to traffic from the nearby road and the small fishermen’s harbour in front of the cottages. Accommodation is not great but come here for day-activities: the manager (Rudy) speaks good English and can help you organise day trips. The beach-side restaurant (‘Mamma Mia’) is good with cold beer, snorkel gear and diving gear rental, boat tours, bike and motorcycle rental, and traditional massages (Amina; ☎ +62 878 9647 5465). The large beach is stunning with snorkelling possible right off-shore, but if there is little wind there are many sand flees due to the fishing boats; also beware of jellyfish at certain times of the year
On off-shore islands
Pulau Kapayang Cottages, Pulau Kapayang, . 4 cottages on this island Rp 350,000.
Ecolodge Tent, Pulau Kapayang, ☎ +62 818 0901 7080 / +62 819 0811 5659, . 1 eco-lodge tent with a double bed and modern shower on this island Rp 350,000.
In the rainforest
Batumentas lodge, . Sleep in tree houses in the rainforest
In the main town of Tanjung Pandan
Bahamas, Tanjung Pandan, . The newest hotel in Belitung, comfortable open-air hotel with 50+ rooms on a nice beach. Very easy to coordinate trips from the hotel to locations around the island. Highly recommended. US$60++ / Rp 700,000++.
Grand Hatika, Tanjung Pandan, ☎ +62 719 2889, . Has a pool, an ATM and a karaoke bar, but no internet café.
Billiton Hotel and Klub, Jl. Depati Gegedek No. 50, Tanjung Pandan. Large clean rooms, friendly staff, walking distance from city centre
By the beach
Lor-In, Tanjung Kelayang, . A modern hotel with 20 air-conditioned cottages right on Tanjung Kelayang Beach. Pool, good restaurant. US$67 / Rp 700,000.
A huge resort is being built on the North-West coast of the island, to be opened in 2013.
Bangka: the neighbouring island to the West, Bangka boasts many white sand beaches and a few interesting Chinese temples.
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