Explore Indonesia's budget Maldives
WHAT is it about the Maldives that makes them so lucrative?
No doubt a large part of the answer is the white-sand beaches, the serenity, the turquoise water and amazing dive spots.
The islands are indeed the ultimate paradise on earth, but a rather pricey one as well.
In Indonesia, there is a place where the beaches and landscapes are just as stunning, but come at a fraction of the cost.
Hidden in the Gulf of Tomini off the Central Sulawesi coast, this place can compete with the Maldives and Seychelles, and probably score higher in some categories.
Here are just a few reasons why the Togean Islands should be your budget alternative to the Maldives.
STUNNING SCENERY AND NATURE FOR LESS THAN S$30 A DAY
Would you like to wake up each day and step right out onto the beach? To see gorgeous sunsets over turquoise water each and every day?
Accommodation around the Togeans is more than affordable. On Kadidiri, you can spend a night in one of the luxurious beach bungalows at Paradise Dive Resort for just 250,000 rupiah (S$26).
A supply of fruit and unlimited coffee and tea are included in the price. Then there is the private terrace with a stunning view of turquoise water.
Another dreamy getaway can be found on Pulau Katupat. Spacious rooms with three meals of fresh fish and seafood start from 200,000 rupiah a day.
Jaw-dropping coral reefs for snorkelling and spectacular scenery come free.
FEELING EXQUISITE ON A PRIVATE ISLET
Renting a private island at the Maldives starts from US$1,000 (S$1,250) per night, reaching astronomically high figures.
At the Togeans, spending a day on an utterly beautiful, white-sand paradise will cost you US$20-US$30.
There are plenty of islets around the gulf with no people around. So choose whichever you like, pay for your boat trip, grab everything you need and spend a lovely day exploring or snorkelling - or just lay back and relax on the huge white-sand beach.
On those islets, what could be more romantic than a dinner for two, cooked on fire and eaten beneath an inky-black sky filled with billions of stars?
The top choice would probably be Karina Beach Islet. Camp for the night here to swim with shimmering golden plankton and see one of the most beautiful sunsets you will ever see.
ONE OF THE MOST UNIQUE DIVING SPOTS AROUND THE WORLD
Earning your first diving certificate at the Togeans will cost around US$68-US$95, depending on which school you choose. But the cost is absolutely worth it.
The underwater world is mind-bogglingly diverse, with over 50 unique species of corals and colourful, funky fish swimming around.
There is also a variety of diving spots, from isolated coral atolls fringed by reef slopes and barrier reefs to a wrecked B24 American bomber that was sunk during World War II.
Non-divers can find plenty of snorkelling locations around the island, too. There is even a unique freshwater lake to explore, inhabited by non-stinging jellyfish.
HUGE ARRAY OF FRESH FISH AND UNIQUE SEAFOOD
Pay a visit to the Bajau village, as the locals are known to be the best fishermen in Indonesia.
Having settled on land just a few years ago, the Bajau are used to spending most of their time at sea, fishing and selling the catch to make a living.
Stop by and choose the fish you want cooked and served at your homestay. You will never taste fresher fish than that here.
SERENITY AND VARIETY OF ATTRACTIONS
The Togean Islands are still fairly unknown to the rest of the world. Rest assured there will not be any crowds to contend with; the place is hard to reach, but every minute you spend on the ferry from Gorontalo to Wakai is absolutely worth it.
You can live the life of a castaway on an island of your own - walk through the jungles to deserted beaches, or take a trip to the gorgeous waterfall at Wakai.
Spend a few days just hopping from island to island to see the serene beauty the Togean Islands have to offer.
You can even hike the notorious Una Una volcano. The last eruption took place in 1983, and it displaced whole communities at the base. But the volcano has been pretty calm for the last few decades and the view from the top is a must-see.
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK