Photo: History on the water.

Sunda Kelapa

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Jakarta’s historic port, Sunda Kelapa has been in operation shipping spices to major trading partners across the region since probably even long before the Sunda Kingdom named it for a bunch of coconut trees growing near the Ciliwung River estuary sometime between the seventh and 16th centuries.





Over the course of its history, the port has been conquered and reconquered numerous times by powers wishing to control the lucrative spice trade. A small settlement was established here and in fact today the metropolis of Jakarta exists because of it. Nowadays a modern industrial harbour several kilometres further along the coast, Tanjung Priok, does most of the big ship trade, but Sunda Kelapa still sees the majestic tall-masted wooden Bugis pinisi ships sailing into dock. These transport goods bound for the archipelago’s outer islands much as they have done for centuries—except these days most use engines and some have removed their sails altogether.

Truck added for scale. Photo taken in or around Sunda Kelapa, Jakarta, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Truck added for scale. Photo: Sally Arnold

Although much of the work is carried out by crane, gangs of sinewy men can still be seen loading and unloading these mighty ships. This romantic scene makes for some terrific photo opportunities, but this picturesque image is a perhaps far cry from reality—sure you’ll see rows of magnificent and colourful craft, but with the thundering trucks rumbling past along the ugly cement dock and filthy polluted waters mean that most visitors will leave as quickly as they came after taking a couple of snaps.

Boatmen in smaller craft will offer to ferry tourists around the harbour for a fee, and if the idea appeals set your price before you step aboard, the same with freelance guides who may offer their services. If you wish to board a ship for a closer inspection, there is no real protocol, you may find someone who speaks English and all you have to do is ask, the likelihood is that they’ll welcome you aboard, just don’t get in the way or you may end up in that filthy polluted water.

Save your swimming for later. Photo taken in or around Sunda Kelapa, Jakarta, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Save your swimming for later. Photo: Sally Arnold

For now Sunda Kelapa is still a working traditional harbour and an anachronism in the age of globalisation, but there are plans afoot to make it a more “tourist-friendly” attraction, we hope that doesn’t mean that it will be turned into some kind of selfie ... please log in to read the rest of this story.


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Sunda Kelapa
North Jakarta
Admission: On foot: 2,500 rupiah; motorbike: 3,000 rupiah; car: 5,000 rupiah.

Location map for Sunda Kelapa

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