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Majestic: The beaches of Nusakambangan Island remain pristine, and feature magnificent rocks in the offshore waters.
The island of Nusakambangan is in Cilacap regency, Central Java, and is notorious for being the site of a prison.
The island itself is primarily composed of forests surrounded by sea, but also houses thousands of big-name Indonesian criminals.
But amid this perhaps gruesome atmosphere is hidden amazing natural beauty along the edges of the island that is about 30 kilometers long and seven kilometers wide. The expanse of white sand on the southwestern part of the island is one site of concealed beauty, popularly called Permisan Beach. The beach is very clean with pieces of coral washed by waves, creating an almost-mystical ambiance.
Mighty: Waves smash against offshore rocks at Nusakambangan. Visitors may only stay on the island until 6 p.m.Permisan Beach has long been open to tourists, although visits are limited in view of the site’s proximity to the penitentiary there, about 3 kilometers from the beach. Visitors can only stay until 6 p.m., and only groups of tourists arranged by the local tourism office are allowed.
“We don’t receive individual visits to Permisan Beach. There should be at least 15 people with a coordinator, who will be arranged by security officers at Nusakambangan. Only in this way can they cross over and enjoy the gorgeous views of white sand,” Imam Yudianto, head of the Cilacap Tourism Office, told The Jakarta Post recently.
The time limit for Nusakambangan visits is set due to the absence of accommodation except for some detention rooms and security stations. “No boats will ferry visitors back [to the mainland] after six. The boats are completely managed by the penitentiary,” Yudianto said.
According to Yudianto, aside from Permisan there is also Rancababakan Beach in the southeastern part of Nusakambangan, and it is equally attractive with clean white sand. “Nusakambangan also has a number of appealing caves naturally adorned with stalactites and stalagmites that are centuries old and also open to visitors,” Yudianto said.
Cavern: A view of stalactites and stalagmites at Gua Mas Sigit Selo, one of the dozens of caves found on the island most associated with a renowned prison.
Several historic buildings from the Dutch colonial period can also be found on the island, besides an old prison, a temple resort and a Portuguese fort with an antique cannon, all available for tourists to visit. Nusakambangan has about 25 caves, for example Goa Putri and Ratu that are being promoted by the Cilacap administration, along with Goa Kledeng, Pasir and Lawa, famous for their thousands of endemic bats.
“Sadly, we ourselves are uncertain about the development of Nusakambangan because the government policy on the island changes frequently. Around 1996, Nusakambangan was declared open to the public. But several years later, it was again closed on account of the terrorism issue in the country,” Yudianto said.
Yudianto added that in line with the province’s Visit Central Java 2013 program, he and his team were planning to reopen Nusakambangan fully to visitors in order to boost tourism there. “Of course, first I’m going to meet with the Law and Human Rights Minister for greater authority. We’ll fully guarantee the security and comfort of tourists,” he said.
The island’s status has often been debated. The Law and Human Rights Ministry says it has full authority, as Nusakambangan is historically a prison island. But the regency administration also asserts its right to manage the land. Similarly, the provincial government has issued a regional license to a cement industry there.
Yudianto said that the number of tourists visiting Nusakambangan has been increasing and contributing extra income to the regency administration as well as penitentiary management. “Based on our records, there are 10,000 visitors to Nusakambangan annually on average. Actually, the island’s tourism isn’t yet properly handled,” he added.
Safety conscious: A number of policemen patrol for security on the island inhabited by around 1,500 criminals.
Lilik Darmawan, 37, a tourist from Banyumas regency, said visiting Nusakambangan was like enjoying natural beauty overseas. “It’s enchanting, ominous, splendid, with eerie waters, all combined. Nusakambangan is indeed something different,” Lilik told the Post.
Ansor Basuki, 45, chairman of the Cilacap Art Council, concurred. He said Nusakambangan was wonderful and worthy of becoming a place for adventure tourism. “Besides relishing the natural spectacle of white sand, tourists can also explore captivating caves,” Ansor said. Regrettably, according to Ansor, visits are now limited to the daytime hours, after which visitors must depart for reasons of prison security.
As is the case with tourist areas in the country offering gifts, Nusakambangan also makes available unique souvenirs in the form of ornamental stones crafted by the convicts at the prison. Some inmates who are near to release enjoy the freedom of selling their wares around Permisan Beach. The items range in price from Rp 50,000 (US$5.25) to Rp 200,000 apiece.
“It depends on the type and beauty of the stone. It’s genuine agate from Nusakambangan and we ourselves have processed it to appear like this,” said one prisoner who was hawking the colorful stones along Nusakambangan’s shore.
Photos by JP/Agus Maryono