Sunda Kelapa, Jakarta Overview

Sunda Kelapa was an important port connecting markets from all around the world in 15th century during the reign of Hindu Sunda Kingdom of Pajajaran. It was previously known as Pasar Ikar, which means "fish market." It is a great place to wander in canoes and boats while witnessing the humdrums of the fish market and unloading of timber, coal and spices.

Sunda Kelapa is located on the banks of River Ciliwung. It is a functional port, operated by Indonesia Portugal Operations for Inter-Island freight service. At present, this old port is a minor port but an important aspect that brought about the evolution of the city over the centuries. With the sea, rows of traditional boats and the port, one can experience an old-age charm of Jakarta at the Sunda Kelapa Harbour. Stopping by to enjoy the scenic views is much recommended.

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Things to Do

  • Sunda Kelapa is a functional port in Jakarta but only for Inter-Island trading. Thus, one would get to witness little hustle and bustle at the port. They can, however, enjoy the view of the sea with some colourful traditional wooden boats lined by the port or sailing in the waters carrying food and other essentials.

  • There are several lighthouses and a watchtower that can also be visited while at Sunda Kelapa.

  • A ride in one of the wooden boats or the 2-masted pinisi ships can be arranged to make the most of the trip.

  • The region around Sunda Kelapa is a great place to spend an entire day. Day-long tours can be organized to cover the historical monuments/ buildings, some of which have been transformed into museums (Fatahillah Museum, Maritime Museum and Wayang Museum).

  • Walking tours are also quite famous here. Guided tours are recommended to cover the port and the old town, however, one may research well about the region and venture out all by themselves.


Although Sunda Kelapa is identified as a 15th-century harbour, Chi Fan Chi, a historic text from the 1200s states the existence of a similar port when two strong kingdoms ruled the region, the Kediri Kingdom/ Java Kingdom and the Sriwijaya Kingdom. Sunda was under the reign of the Sriwijaya Kingdom.

Other texts from the 13th to the 16th century mention that the Sunda Kingdom controlled the region of Sunda and trading at Sunda Kelapa. In the successive years, Sunda Kelapa served as a major trading port in the region. It also became a commercial centre for ships coming from China, South India, Japan, Middle East, Europe, etc. who often docked at the port.

The location of Sunda Kelapa enabled the trade of Indonesian spices, especially pepper, the main spice of Sunda kingdom.  Most Arabs settled along the coast and some traders even spread Islam in the region. In the 15th century, King Sunda teamed up with the Portuguese to fight against the Sultanate of Cirebon and Demak.

The Portuguese even built a fort and a trading office near the port. But, the Sultanates captured Kelapa and changed its name to 'Jayakarta'. It is said that the city's name, Jakarta, comes from this name. By the 17th century, Jakarta was making huge profits by trading spices. This pushed the Dutch to expand the production and trade in the city.

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