Unravel Banda Neira’s Best Kept Secrets

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Gunung Api Banda islands Maluku Indonesia

Unravel Banda Neira’s Best Kept Secrets

I woke up to the rumble of the freighters’ engines. Looking out of the porthole window next to my bed the sight outside was surreal. It was unlike anything I have ever seen and impossible to put into words. In the middle of the Banda Sea, with no land in sight, the water was like a sheet of glass that blended into the gray twilight sky. I felt like I was floating in the middle a glass sphere.

After traveling for over 24 hours from Bali, I was on my way to Banda Neira from Ambon, Indonesia. At this point I was relieved to be about 5 hours away from my destination.

Banda Neira harbor

Arriving in Banda Neira harbor after 15 hours at sea.

Getting to the Banda Islands

Getting to these remote islands is a challenge, but for the intrepid traveler you will be rewarded with perfect tropical islands and friendly locals who see very few tourists every year. Perhaps the difficulty of getting here is part of the appeal.

No matter where you are coming from you will likely have to spend at least one night in transit either in Ambon or on a boat or plane. I left Bali late in the afternoon and travelled through the night to arrive in Ambon around 6 am after adding an hour for the time change. I had no idea how I was going to get to Banda so after checking into a hotel and getting a couple hours of sleep I went searching for a boat or flight.

There is little information available for flights from Ambon to Banda because it seems to change every year. In 2016 there is a company called Aviastar running one flight from Ambon to Banda every Wednesday and Saturday weather dependent. Perhaps you could contact them at +62 21 8626789 to buy a ticket but the word is you can only book a ticket at the airport in Ambon and flights fill up to their 12 person max very quickly.

Other options include a speedboat that takes about 5 hours and also runs Wednesday and Saturday but costs more than the 45 minute flight. Otherwise you will be stuck on a cargo ship for up to 15 hours. The safest and fastest option is Pelni. Technically you can check the schedule online, but good luck navigating their website. You can book tickets at the port in Ambon. There are other options like the Perintis ship I took, but I do not recommend it.

Alternatively you can contact Abba at the Cilu Bintang Estate in Banda Neira. He can arrange just about anything for you if you plan on staying at one of his two properties (highly recommended.)

Cilu Bintang Estate Banda

Calu Bintang Estate

Story Behind the Islands

The Banda islands have a very interesting history actually and no visit is complete without a stop at the local museum which is by appointment only or something like that. It’s very simple actually. There is a store across the street where you just have to ask the owner to unlock the museum.

The Banda islands are the original spice islands. This is where the Europeans found nutmeg and for a while the only place in the world where it was grown. Nutmeg was a very sought after currency so whoever controlled these islands had a lot of power.


Nutmeg before being processed.

It was the Portuguese who first discovered the Banda islands and their profitable spices. They were quickly followed by the Dutch who traded with the Bandanese and ended up colonizing Banda Neira as their main port.

Later the English came into the picture and they controlled Pulau Run. The Dutch wanted control of the entire group of islands so they decided to make a trade for another small island in North America that some of you may have heard about.

In 1667 the Dutch relinquished control of Manhattan for Run. Back then the Dutch thought they were getting the better deal.

Dutch Fort Belgica

The 17th century Dutch Fort Belgica.

Exploring Banda Neira

There is plenty to keep you busy on the most populated of the Banda Islands until you decide to move on to one of the more remote islands. Or just stay and take day trips to Hatta, Ai and Run. I had multiple days at the beginning of my stay and in between visits to the outer islands to see all that Banda Neira has to offer.

If you like diving and snorkeling you won’t be disappointed because the reefs around Banda are some of the best in the world. There is one dive shop in Banda Neira called blue motion or you could go on a snorkel trip and even rent gear from Cilu Bintang Estate.

The first trip I took was to Banda Besar and Pisang, two islands very close to Banda Neira. When I first jumped in the water with my snorkel I was shocked at the beauty. There was a drop off that went so deep I couldn’t see the bottom and the visibility was perfect. There was a variety of colorful fish and healthy coral On that same trip we went to snorkel off the lava flow on Guning Api the famous volcano which last erupted in 1988. The fact that the coral has grown back that quickly proves how rich with life these waters are.

Banda reef snorkeling diving

On another snorkel trip I went to Hatta which is about an hour away by boat. Somehow the snorkeling here was even more impressive. So I decided to stay for a couple days (more about Hatta in a future post.)

Banda reef snorkeling diving

Besides the snorkeling trips there are also city tours and spice tours on Banda Besar offered by Cilu Bintang Estate.

If that’s not enough to keep you busy the town of Banda Neira is a charming place to walk around with incredibly friendly locals and beautiful Dutch colonial buildings.

Banda Neira town

Banda Neira shacks

Banda Neira Mosque

My wake up call came every morning at 4:30 courtesy of the mosque.

Another major attraction on Banda Neira is the Dutch fort. You can’t miss it, as soon as you arrive you will see this colonial fort towering above you on the hill. I walked up one day but it was locked. I realized that if you go later in the afternoon around 5 it is usually unlocked because the local like to hang out here after work and school. I can see why. Check out these views.

Fort Belgica Banda

Fort Belgica cannon

Fort Belgica

Fort Belgica Banda

Locals hanging out at Fort Belgica, Banda Neira.

On another occasion I decided to take a walk to the north side of the island where there is supposedly a nice beach. It wasn’t a far walk, but as I was walking across the airports runway some guys came along on scooters and asked if I wanted a ride to the beach. They were going up there to drink some arak, which is basically a weak moonshine, and wanted me to join them. Later in the afternoon I had to politely decline a ride home when the gang of drunk Indonesians got back on their motorbikes to ride back to town.

This is the way life in Banda Neira goes. The welcoming nature of the Indonesians really made me feel at home. Everyone is your best friend and wants to talk to you, as long as you speak Bahasa Indonesian. If not then they are happy to just say “Hi Mister”



I am traveling the world focusing on adventure and photography.

1 Comment

  • Cara

    Very cool Brooks!!! How neat that you’ve seen so much of the world, and noticed the people and how they act towards Americans. So beautiful! What gorgeous underwater pictures too!

    March 17, 2016 at 8:32 pm

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