Jakarta's Little Gem


When you hear the word "Jakarta'', it is understandable that your head will be filled with imageries of concrete jungle full packed with independent lives, roads clogged up with barely-moving-vehicles, air polluted with dust, fumes and honking sound, and of course, the occasional flood. These imageries are unappealing for foreign tourists, especially when places like Bali, Raja Ampat and Belitong are up as competitors and just as reachable. However, this article attempts to change that common opinion and make Jakarta on your visit list.

Jakarta stores an irresistibly beautiful exile that shattered into thousands of emerald spread across the ocean in up north Jakarta. The area is well known as Thousand Islands. There are countless beautiful islands you can choose from, and white-sanded-beach with crystal water rushing to it will be guaranteed. But to me, there's one that stood out of the others, the one that truly cast me away from the busy city, a little Island called "Semak Daun".

I first visited this gem back in 2010, on a weekend trip with 7 friends of mine. We decided to take a ship from Muara Angke because it's cheaper than taking a speedboat from Marina. We chose to take a ship to Pramuka Island, because it's the nearest populated island from Semak Daun Island and it costed us Rp30.000 per person.  We can't take a direct ship to Semak Daun because the island has shallow water with corals stretched around it, so we have to change to a smaller boat once we got to Pramuka Island.

We set off from Muara Angke at 7am and we arrived in Pramuka Island on 10am. As soon as we got to Pramuka Island, we visited the information center. In the information center, you can book a homestay in Pramuka Island, sign up for a diving class, and rent snorkeling gear. We asked the person in charge on how to get to Semak Daun Island, the person took us to the harbor and introduced us to some boat owners there. We bargained with them and finally we got a deal. We rented a small boat (can fit up to 12 people) to take us to Semak Daun Island, visit a snorkeling spot and pick us up from Semak Daun Island to go back to Pramuka Island in the next morning for Rp300.000, a good bargain especially if you go in a bigger group. After that, around 11am we set off to Semak Daun Island.

the cute dock that greet us in Semak Daun Island
the cute dock that greet us in Semak Daun Island

It only took less than 1 hour to get to Semak Daun Island from Pramuka Island. We were awed when we arrived in Semak Daun Island, this island is uninhabited with the size not bigger than a football field, you can easily walk around the Island in no time, and frankly, it'd be hard to get lost there. There's only 1 building there, a functional toilet and bathroom, other than that, it's pure nature, you can imagine the tranquility it offers. We immediately put up a tent on the west side of the island, needlessly kept our bags in the tent when there are no one but us in that island and hurried to the beach. The beach is exceptionally beautiful, white sand, clear water, and you can find many sand dollars, little crabs, little fish, and starfish. We even found a sea cucumber, which was slimey, yuck!

stripe of mangrove
stripe of mangrove
where we found the sea cucumber

Time flies fast when you're having fun, and it proved. It's 2pm already and we haven't had lunch yet. So we cooked up a simple fried rice (using our own cooking gear) and ate it all up in an instant, since we were up for another appointment with Karang Sempit, the place where we'd snorkel. After finished and tidied up our lunch, we set off to Karang Sempit with our rented boat. We have our own snorkeling gear, so we didn't rent any, but if you should, it only costs around Rp45.000 per set for a full day rent.

Karang Sempit is only 45minutes away from Semak Daun Island. The weather was perfect, no cloud, no strong wind, the ocean is relatively calm, it's perfect. So we plunged ourselves right into the sea as soon as we arrived in Karang Sempit. It was awesome, so many fish in different kinds and colors (forgive my lack of knowledge of fish names), the coral is lively! I mean it wasn't like the one I saw in Thailand (Phi Phi) which was obviously dead and bleached, this one's healthy and beautiful. There are jellyfish too, but they don't sting. The one you should beware are the sea urchins, they are big, the spikes are long and scary! But as long as you don't stand on the corals (like ever snorkeler should) you'd be fine. We spent around 2 hours in Karang Sempit and then we went back to Semak Daun Island.

the corals in karang sempit, photo taken by flimsy camera
the corals in karang sempit, photo taken by flimsy camera

When we arrived back in Semak Daun, it was only minutes away from sunset. But we didn't rest up, we made the most of it and goofed around the beach and the dock. We jumped and dive from the dock, it was a lot of fun.

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And then... the sun sets, radiating it's tranquilizing light, God's shot of lithium for the doubted mind, perfect to wash off all the problems we left in the city from our cluttered mind. It was a bit cloudy, but the light still beamed beautifully among the clouds, turned the sky into glowing red like the heaven's burned. The sunset made me regret not bringing hammock on the trip, it'd be perfect to lay on a hammock up on a tree gazing the sunset with a book on hand. To distract me from useless regret, we took photo instead.

sunset from the other side of the island

Soon the sunlight no longer shine, the sky was darken and the stars are instantly became visible decorating the sky. We changed our clothes and made a fire. We collect driftwood and set fire on them. We cooked our meal on the open fire and had our dinner while circling around the fire. After we finished our dinner and felt stuffed, we sat silently around the fire. The crackling noise from the fire and the plasmic dance hypnotized us, until the last driftwood burnt up into ashes and the fire dies out. Not feeling sleepy yet, we went to the dock. We sat on the dock, staring at the empty darkness, feeling the wind on our face. We lied on the dock, gazing at the stars and start random chatting. We spent hours chatting under the stars, talking randomly about many things from dirty jokes to mortality. We didn't sleep until 1 am, and when we did, we didn't sleep in our tent, we slept outside.

the fire that we set up

The next morning, we woke up early at 4.30am because the boat was supposed to pick us up at 6am. We immediately had a simple breakie, oatmeal and hot milk, finished them up and packed up our tents and other belongings. Last minutes as we waited for the boat, we took a last stroll and walk around the island, saying goodbye to every good things there that we'd left behind, and decided to call the island "Smack Down", because it rhymes and the beauty of the island really smack us down. Soon the boat arrived and we went back to Pramuka Island, where we took another ship for another Rp30.000 back to Muara Angke at 8am. A short trip that worth every penny and risk.

morning stroll

Who would've thought that you could find such heavenly place in Jakarta? And like I said, there are many other islands in Thousand Islands that you can choose from. If Semak Daun Island sounds a bit too adventurous for you (with the camping and everything), I'd suggest Pari Island or if you have more budget, you can choose Macan Island instead!

Happy travelling!