Saparua is the largest and most populous of the Lease Islands just east of Ambon, the capital of Maluku province.
With its friendly population (mostly Christian), pretty villages, plentiful historical relics, good beaches and fine coral reefs, it was also the most popular island for a quick escape from Ambon before tourism in Maluku collapsed in 1999.
It is now rapidly becoming more visited again, and its once varied and pleasant beachside accommodation options and dive-shops are reopening, too.
From Saparua you could also visit the smaller and more remote neighbouring island of Nusalaut - well worth considering if you have an extra 2 days' time or so!
Most visitors arrive in Saparua at the jetty in Haria village.
Just off the road near the jetty there is a huge, semi-traditional baileu village hall, and history buffs could also visit the family home of anti-colonial hero Thomas Mattulessy (alias Pattimura), where a small museum exhibits his memorabilia like what are said to have been his clothes, and books written about him.
The island's sleepy capital is a good base for short visits.
It has three accommodation options, a fine beach, a fort, a busy market, and lots of colonial buildings.
It is also the centre for transport around the island.
This large, 17th century Dutch fort stands on the sea-side in Kota Saparua. It has been heavily restored, making it look a bit like it has been built of concrete just a few years ago.
Though it has lost its originality, its location remains beautiful, right next to the beach.
If it is locked, you will need to find a care-taker to let you in - ask at the nearby Penginapan Duurstede first.
Just next to the fort stands a huge modern building housing a large number of dioramas and other exhibits depicting Saparua's role in the struggle against Dutch colonialism.
At my last visit, this was rather neglected with the lights not working, but as the caretakers for the fort also hold the keys to this museum, it's worth a quick look anyway.
And the explanations are posted in readable English as well! ;-)
The Town Beach
Saparua was unique in having a gorgeous stretch of fine, white sand right in front of town, next to the fort. There is accommodation on the beach, but it's freely accessible to all.
Unfortunately in 2012 an idiotic project endorsed by the local government built a thick and tall concrete wall along the beach, even digging up its sand to use in the construction. It's beauty is now much diminished.
Kota Saparua has a daily market in the town centre, but it gets a whole lot busier on Tuesdays and Saturdays when people come here from all over the island, as well as from neighbouring Nusalaut and Haruku.
This is a good example of a traditional Malukan market, with mostly typical local products/foodstuff sold - like these basketfuls of raw sago.
The Town Baileu
Near the school in the centre of the town stands the island's second most traditional baileu.
It is quite small, has concrete bases and nails holding it together, but overall it still looks very traditional and even has its own little megalithic stone altar fronting it.
Worth a quick look.
One of the two remaining Muslim villages on Saparua, Sirisori Islam is clearly visible from Kota Saparua just across the bay, down the southeastern peninsula.
It remains a stronghold of local traditions, and here you can still hear the native Saparuan language that is no longer spoken in the Christian villages.
Check if their long korakora canoe is in its shed - they won several races with it.
The local Raja's colonial-style home is also worth a look.
This village in the south-eastern corner of the island is Saparua's most interesting, offering a number of attractions: a small fort, pottery-making, and two fine beaches (a few kms away).
It also used to have accomodation on one of the beaches but that has closed a few years ago - with some luck, it may reopen one day.
Ouw is the only village in the Lease Islands that has traditionally produced pottery for local use. These are sold as far away as the markets of Ambon.
Due to the island's popularity with tourists, several younger craftspeople have also received training in Bali to produce more ornate pieces for tourists. These are now even exported to Holland, where the nostalgic Dutch-Moluccan community, many of whom come from Saparua, provides a ready market for them!
The ruins of this small, derelict fort stand behind Ouw's small market.
It is totally unrestored and local family has actually built a small home within the walls.
Nevertheless, it is worth a quick look exactly for its overgrown, time-worn state.
Nolloth's Old Church
Up in Saparua's NE corner, Nolloth is another village well worth visiting.
It is dominated by a fine, massive colonial-era church with thick walls.
Until 2007 or so it also had a uniquely preserved sago-thatch roof - which has now sadly been replaced by the more common tin! :-(
The Nolloth Baileu
Perhaps even more interesting is however Saparua's finest surviving example of a traditional baileu village hall standing by the road-side. It's the only one on the island constructed without nails!
Near this baileu are some old megaliths.
Ask for the locals' permission before poking around and taking pictures - apparently some impolite tourists have had a negative effect on their attitudes here.
Inside the Baileu
If you inspect the building closely, you can see that it was constructed entirely without nails. Everything was tied together with traditional methods.
Quite amazing in an otherwise very modern, Christian village!
Off the Beaten Track
The West Coast Beach
What locals claim is the finest, longest beach on the island stretches along its western coast between the villages of Kulur and Porto.
It is rather remote and not easy to get to, but you may enjoy great views of it from the boats from Tulehu.
Located at the end of a newly upgraded road beyond the hamlet of Haria Perak across the bay from Haria proper, this is one of Saparua's most secluded and finest beaches, with the added attraction of views of Molana Island.
A few dedicated locals visit it on week-ends, otherwise it is totally deserted.
It is now once again possible to stay here, too - see my accomodation tips.
This small, hilly, uninhabited island off Saparua's south-western tip is known for its excellent dive-spots, and has the finest white sand beach anywhere in the Lease Islands.
Incredibly, it also has a few newly opened bungalows where those looking for total seclusion could stay - see my accommodation listing.
Diving & Snorkelling
Saparua has several good dive-spots, and it also has a dive resort in the village of Paperu - see my accommodation listing for more info on that.
Another dive resort in Mahu village has now reopened, and diving is offered at some of the lowest rates in Maluku.
Otherwise, resort to snorkelling - still very nice!