Asia’s Alcatraz: An Unlikely Destination in Indonesia

Oct 20, 2019 | Asia, ESCAPE, GOV, Indonesia

Culture & Travel 

by MJ Toledo

Indonesia Alcatraz Screen Youtube ©Magival

Indonesia is a mecca for surfers and beach lovers, but this tropical paradise houses something dark and mysterious. Learn more about The Land of the Gods’ execution island.

In 2005, the whole world was shaken when nine Australians were convicted in Indonesia for trying to smuggle $4 million worth of heroin out of the country. Two of the convicted criminals faced their untimely death at a macabre island despite international protests.

Just off the coast of picturesque Central Java lies Nusa Kambangan Island, the death place of the criminals. This island final stop of infamous drug lords, political dissidents, murderers, and militants in Indonesia.

This grim island is built for one reason alone – to be a place where lawbreakers would be executed for their wrongdoings. Supporters of the government look at the island as a beacon of light which represents Indonesia’s war against drugs.

About the Island

Nusa Kambangan is known by locals as Pulau Hantu or Ghost Island, and for good reason. The notorious place is home to thousands of Cobras which were released to discourage inmates from escaping the maximum-security prison.    

The 210-square kilometer island houses seven prisons which are strategically located five kilometers away from each other. The prisons were first built in 1908 by Dutch colonies and was initially meant to serve as a frontline for lookouts to protect ships from pirates. Now, only four of the seven prisons are operating. 

In 2016, the island was the home of 59 inmates on death row, and more than 1,200 inmates serving at least five years. Now, the island has more than 2,000 inmates behind the high-walled prisons. Some of the inmates of the island include Amrozi, Imam Samudra, and Mukhlas, the villainous trio behind the Bali bombings.  

Most of the executions, including the members of the notorious Bali Nine, are done at the island’s very own Nirbaya Valley. 

Here, inmates are blindfolded, taken into the area, then ordered to stand, kneel, or sit while they wait for the shots of the executioners aimed at their chest. If they survive the shower of bullets, the commander is required to shoot the inmates in the head.

Unexpected Beauty

An island holding convicted terrorists may be the last place you want to visit in Indonesia. However, if a clueless person looks at it from afar, he or she might think that it’s just like any other beautiful island surrounded by pristine water. In a way, it is.

Surprisingly, something worthy to be seen awaits you on the island. It is the home of a wide array of endangered and endemic plants and animals. Its name even translates to “The Flower Island,” because it is home to the enchanting Wijaya Kusuma flowers, which are known for its distinct captivating scent.

The flower only blooms once a year for only a few minutes before its petals fall one by one. Over 23 species of protected birds can also be found on the island. Aside from the wildlife, it also boasts pristine beaches and caves. Locals also offer boat trips around the area.

Tourism on the Island

The white sand island was opened to tourists in 1996, with a special agency managing the influx of tourists on the island. To visit the island, people are required to travel through the penitentiary’s official Pangayoman boat through the Wijaya Pura Harbor. As expected, only a handful of people are lucky enough to witness the island’s unlikely allure.

It’s safe to say that it’s not for the faint-hearted. Every tourist must contact the agency first and are accompanied by the authorities. They must also leave before 6 PM, since overnight stays are forbidden. A special permit from the local police is also required to enter.

Furthermore, motorcycles and public transport are limited, and it is not recommended to explore the island on foot. As expected, there are no hotels on the island. This is why it’s better to stay at Cilacap.

Do you have the guts to visit this island? Let us know in the comments section.