Banda Islands, Indonesia

The tiny Banda Islands were long the world’s only source of nutmeg. The archipelago’s importance in the English–Dutch struggle to control the spice trade is evidenced in its remaining forts on islands like Bandaneira. Old nutmeg smokehouses line trails through fragrant nutmeg groves here and the islands are dotted with huge mango and kanari trees, coffee and other exotic plants. Energetic souls may want to climb Gunung Api, an active volcano directly opposite Bandaneira, for spectacular views. Banda’s islands, like the majority of Maluku’s fertile waters, offer excellent diving opportunities. Snorkelling is also possible within Banda’s natural harbour.

Tips for visiting the Banda Islands

The Banda Islands were tapped into global trade networks since at least the Roman era, but the locals remained in control of their own economy until the Portuguese arrived in 1512, followed by the Dutch a century later, to set up a spice monopoly.

Soon, however, spices were increasingly produced elsewhere and the nine Banda islands faded into obscurity. A military headquarters until 1860, Benteng Belgica was restored in the early 20th century and dominates Bandaneira, the major island of the archipelago.

Closer to the sea, Benteng Nassau, important during VOC governor-general Jan Pieterszoon Coen’s efforts to control Banda in 1621, crumbles in neglect.

The string of forts continues on neighbouring Banda Besar island with Benteng Concordia and Benteng Hollandia, built by Coen high on a ridge to command the surrounding seas, and destroyed by earthquake in 1743. Benteng Revingil (Revenge) rises from the ocean on Ai island.

In Bandaneira, the Museum Rumah Budaya holds many historical artefacts. Other sites include a church dating from 1852, its interior stone slab graves inscribed with the names of Dutch colonialists, and the Istana Mini, the old governor’s mansion, which has the former resident’s suicide note carved on one of the window panes.

banda-neira-indonesia-shutterstock_1086087896 Benteng Belgica

Benteng Belgica © Shutterstock

Best things to do in the Banda Islands

The best things to do in the Banda Islands are either historical or natural. From former military headquarters and colonial mansions to mountain climbing and scuba diving, these remote islands have more going on than you might expect.

#1 Visit former military headquarters like Benteng Belgica

A military headquarters until 1860, Benteng Belgica was restored in the early 20th century and dominates Bandaneira. Closer to the sea, Benteng Nassau, important during VOC governor-general Jan Pieterszoon Coen’s efforts to control Banda in 1621, crumbles in neglect.

The string of forts continues on neighbouring Banda Besar island with Benteng Concordia and Benteng Hollandia, built by Coen high on a ridge to command the surrounding seas, and destroyed by earthquake in 1743. Benteng Revingil (Revenge) rises from the ocean on Ai island.

#2 Climb Gunung Api

Energetic souls may want to climb Gunung Api, an active volcano directly opposite Bandaneira. The last major eruption was in 1988, but fortunately, almost all of the lava and ash fell on the side away from the town. The view from the summit is spectacular. Attempt this with a guide and get an early start to beat the heat of the day. To catch the sunrise atop Gunung Api at Banda, and the breathtaking views before early-morning cloud cover forms, start your ascent at 5.30am. The climb should take 1.5 hours, but check on conditions first, as this is an active volcano.

Gunung Api volcano, Banda islands, Indonesia © Shutterstock

Gunung Api volcano, Banda islands, Indonesia © Shutterstock

#3 Visit at least one of the Banda Islands' museums

In Bandaneira, the Museum Rumah Budaya holds many historical artefacts. Other sites include a church dating from 1852, its interior stone slab graves inscribed with the names of Dutch colonialists, and the Mesjid Hatta-Syahrir.

Museum Muhammad Hatta and the Museum Sjahrir contain memorabilia of Indonesia’s top nationalist leaders who were exiled in Bandaneira in the mid-1930s. The Museum Captain Cole was named after the British leader who captured Banda from the Dutch in 1811.

#4 See former VOC outposts

The Istana Mini, the old governor’s mansion, has the former resident’s suicide note carved on one of the window panes. Next door is the former VOC headquarters, which has a statue of King Willem III, the great-grandfather of the present Dutch queen.

#5 Go diving or snorkelling

Banda's fertile waters offer excellent diving opportunities. Snorkelling is also possible on sites within Banda’s huge natural harbour. One special site, Lava Flow, situated upon the lava from Gunung Api’s 1988 eruption, has been identified as having the world’s fastest-growing table corals, with layer upon layer reaching a span of 3 or 4 metres (10–13ft).

Sharks and pelagic species patrol deeper waters, while a myriad of colourful fish swarm coral-encrusted walls. Banda has a unique mandarin fish; every evening divers can observe and photograph its mating ritual. In April and October, the seas are calm and visibility excellent.

 Istana Mini in Banda Naira Island, Central Maluku, Indonesia © Shutterstock

Istana Mini in Banda Naira Island, Central Maluku, Indonesia © Shutterstock

Where to stay

Most of the accommodation on the Banda Islands is simple guesthouses or homestays but the choice is slowly starting to grow. Bandaneira and Hatta have the lion's share, but it is possible to stay on any of the six main islands listed below. Here's where to stay:

Bandaneira

With a liberal sprinkling of guesthouses and homestays, Bandaneira offers the most choice of accommodation. Most places to stay are located to the southwest of the island. They tend to be basic, though there are a couple of midrange hotels in former colonial buildings, too.

Hatta Island

Hatta has an increasing number of places to stay on the island. Most of its homestays line the north coast beaches, and there is a simple beach hotel on the west coast. All stays are basic.

Ai Island

Ai has five homestays on the island, each dotted along the north coast.

Gunung Api Island

There is only one guesthouse on Gunung Api Island on the east coast.

Run Island

On Run, you can choose from two homestays or a brightly-painted guesthouse.

Banda Besar Island

There are three simple places to stay on Banda Besar, all on the north coast beaches.

Best restaurants and bars

The Banda Islands don't have any restaurants. Only Bandaneira has a handful of very simple Indonesian restaurants. All of the islands offer food as part of your stay. This usually means three meals a day.

On Banda Besar Island and Hatta Island, you will find local food markets and small barbecue stalls.

Nightlife is also non-existent on the Banda Islands.

Diver, cabbage coral in Banda, Indonesia © Shutterstock

Diver, cabbage coral in Banda, Indonesia © Shutterstock

How to get to the Banda Islands

Getting to the Banda Islands should be easy: you either arrive by plane or boat. However, rough seas, the rainy season and frequent flight cancellations mean you should give yourself a few days on either side of your visit to account for any delays.

By plane

There is an airport on Bandaneira which receives regular flights from Ambon. However, these are often delayed or cancelled.

By boat

There are two boat services between Ambon and Bandaneira. The Express Bahari 2B boat takes six to seven hours but doesn’t run during rough seas or the rainy season.

Larger Pelni boats take nine hours and often run when The Express Bahari 2B doesn’t.

Find out the best ways to get to Indonesia.

How many days do you need here

You should aim to spend at least five days in the Banda Islands, longer if you're diving. Exploring the best museums, a couple of colonial forts and visit a nutmeg plantation will take around three days, but you'll also want to visit more than one island.

This is possible on a day trip, but it's worth spending a couple of nights on the more remote islands like Run, so give yourself at least three days.

If you're scuba diving or snorkeling, you might want to spend around 5-7 days in Banda Islands, and up to 10 days to do everything.

Looking for inspiration for your trip? Talk to our Indonesia travel experts.

Fort Belgica With Banda Neira ocean, Indonesia © Shutterstock

Fort Belgica With Banda Neira ocean, Indonesia © Shutterstock

Tips for getting around

Boats shuttle regularly between the major islands, though you may need to charter a boat (or have your homestay host charter one for you) to reach some of the smaller islands like Gunung Api.

By foot

All the islands are small and walkable.

By ojek

There are ojeks that run across Bandaneira, but they are usually only helpful for airport runs.

By boat

To reach some of the smaller islands, hire a boat at the jetty or have your accommodation sort one for you.

Best time to visit the Banda Islands

The best time to visit Banda Islands is between October and April, which is the dry season. During this time, the weather is generally sunny and dry, making it perfect for outdoor activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling, and island hopping. The water is also calm and clear, offering excellent visibility for underwater exploration.

There can be heavy rainfall and rough seas during the wet season (May to September), making it difficult to access some of the islands. The fast boats won't run in July or August, nor will they go during bad seas.

Find out more about the best time to visit Indonesia.

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