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 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 (“Rainbox Troop”) 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:
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) form 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. Snorkeling is great. The coral right offshore in many places is still in fantastic shape. Island hopping is another fun activity. Belitung has many smaller largly uninhabited islands surronding it, one island has a 100 year+ old 18 story lighthouse waiting to be climbed. Other islands look like abstract sculptures consisting entirely of granite rock. Local fishing boats will be glad to take you out for a fair fee. Beachcombing and long beach walks discovering hidden coves and secret beaches are another healthy activity. While snorkeling is excellent and some exploratory dives have been done, as of 2009, there is still no dive centre on the island.
A pretty waterfall and swimming hole on Mount Tagam also make for a nice day trip.
Downtown Tanjung Pandan is quite interesting due to the many Dutch Colonial buildings and shop houses. 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 craft and an odd assortment of other boats make the wharf and fish market an interesting place, certinly for your nose, to visit.
Traditional tin mining methods are cool to watch, no chemicals just water and lots of mud. Also for those who don't live with it every day palm, coconut and pepper plantations can be interesting.
Cultural Belitung has a rich diversity of people. Check out the cool Malay style wooden house's that reminds you of the Caribean or the Bugis traditional raised houses that are half dock to dry fish. A Chinese Buddist temple is said to be one of the oldest in Indonesia built by the survivers of a ancient Chinese trading vessel. Balinese transmigrants have a thriving community that carrys on Bali's traditions and religon.
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 is quite limited. There are a few basic hotels in downtown Tanjung Pandan, plus one (1) resort each at Tanjung Tinggi and Tanjung Kelayang.