From Bali to Banda | Complete Guide to Visit Banda Islands
Isolated in the middle of the Banda Sea, about 200km from the city of Ambon, the Banda Islands are renowned for their exceptional seabed: very preserved corals, great diversity of fish, excellent visibility under water,… in short, the snorkeling and diving paradise! There is no direct flight from Bali to Banda Islands. You will first have to land in Ambon, the main island of the Maluku. For example fly from Ngurah Rai (DPS) > Jakarta (CGK) > Ambon (AMQ) 8h 55mn.
The isolation of the archipelago requires having time in front of you
As you can imagine, the isolation of the archipelago requires having time in front of you, because it is accessed by PELNI ferries which make the connection Ambon – Banda Islands – Kei Islands, either in one direction or in the other. The crossing lasts between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. depending on the boat, and these do not circulate every day, you must consult the provisional timetable one month in advance on the official PELNI website www.pelni.co.id
The main town is Banda Neira. It is a very small town nestled at the foot of a small volcano facing it. Banda Neira has a mini airport (but flights are very often cancelled) and it is here that many of the hotels in the archipelago are located.
Adventure in the middle of the jungle, diving and snorkeling in translucent water, or even climbing a volcano are just a sample of the surprises that await you during this stay in the Maluku archipelago. Let yourself be carried from island to island to discover an archipelago with paradisiacal charm and still preserved from mass tourism.
Where is Maluku?
These islands in the middle of nowhere are steeped in a rich history of wars, conquests, conflicts and trade. First annexed by the Portuguese, then the English, and finally the Dutch, they were the object of much covetousness. The reason? The nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and coconut plantations that abounded throughout the archipelago.
The Maluku is an archipelago of 632 islands out of the 13,466 in Indonesia. It is in the east of the country, namely just before Papua. In other words, there are quite a few small islands a little lost all over there. Everything there, because yes, the Moluccas are far away.
To close this mini historical summary, the Dutch began to colonize Indonesia at the beginning of the 17th century through these islands for their spices. These islands were then the only producer in the world of cloves and nutmeg, hence their nickname of Spice Islands.
Maluku islands. Hobe / Holger Behr, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Recommended length of stay in the Banda Islands: between 1 week and 10 days, taking into account a few days of travel that may be necessary, the next ferry is long overdue…
Beware in the Banda Islands there are 2 rainy seasons: the usual one which concerns all of Indonesia from December to March, but there is also another one, specific to the Moluccas Islands, from June to September, which means that the best time to visit the Banda Islands is from March to June and from September to November.
How to go from Bali to Banda Islands
Ngurah Rai (DPS) > Jakarta (CGK) > Ambon (AMQ) 8h 55mn.
How to get to Banda Islands?
It is very complicated to go to the Banda Islands!
Land in Ambon
You will first have to land in Ambon, the main island of the Maluku.
You have direct flights from the main cities of Indonesia (Jakarta, Bali, Makassar…)
Once in Ambon, 2 options: either by plane or by boat
Go to Banda Neira by boat from Ambon
The most reliable solution to go to the Banda Islands is the ferry (Express Bahari 2B fast ferry), 6h journey
2 departures per week from Ambon: Tuesday and Saturday at 9am
2 returns per week from Banda Neira: Wednesday and Sunday at 9am
You cannot book a ticket in advance, you must buy it on site
Eco price = IDR 715 000, this is what we did in 2018, and we can tell you that it was not the most comfortable! Take the VIP option at IDR 915000!
Go to Banda Neira by plane
You can also go to Banda Neira by plane, but this choice is not the most reliable.
They are small planes, they are sometimes canceled
Susi Air Ambon: +62 813 4412 3335 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Banda Islands. Jan 1998. Viewed from the peak of Gunung Api volcano. In the centre is group’s main island, Bandaneira, where the airstrip, port, and Fort Belgica can be seen. In the background is part of Lontar Island, from where the spice nutmeg originated. I, Anton Leddin, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
What to see and do in Banda Islands
Your itinerary in the heart of the Moluccas begins in Ambon, the capital of the archipelago. Sleep above the turquoise water bordering the island of Seram then in the middle of its tropical jungle. Return to Ambon and discover its history and the warm welcome of its inhabitants.
Then take the direction of Banda Neira and enter the Banda archipelago where you explore the islands of Banda Besar, Pisang, the island of Ay, the island of Rhun and the atoll of Naikala. You end your stay with the discovery of the island of Gunung Api with its eponymous volcano then in the depths of the splendid seabed of Hatta Island.
You arrive at Pattimura Ambon airport and are welcomed by your guide. Welcome to the Moluccas! This archipelago located in eastern Indonesia is very famous for its spices and has more than 600 islands. A paradise for diving and snorkeling, the Maluku islands are endowed with a very rich marine fauna and flora. Turquoise water, preserved coastline and pristine beaches is what awaits you here!
The city promises you beautiful escapades and encounters: stroll through the Mardika market, admire the statue of Pattimura, the local hero, and the modest vestige of the old colonial fort, without forgetting the huge gong, symbol of eternal peace. You instantly fall under the charm and kindness of the locals, always happy to welcome travelers. The island conceals a large number of interests and magnificent panoramas. Local villages, museums or hikes, the island of Ambon never ceases to surprise you.
Merdeka Square, Victoria Fort, World Peace Gong, Ambon Bay, Trikora. Kementerian Koordinator Bidang Pembangunan Manusia dan Kebudayaan Republik IndonesiaDinas Komunikasi, Informatika, dan Persandian Kota AmbonKPDE Kota AmbonPusat Penelitian Laut Dalam – LIPIKPDE Kota AmbonUser:Elbert Ziv Hitipeuw, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Experience in the middle of the jungle and night in a house in the trees.
You will board a small boat and begin to descend the river. The river strewn with pitfalls, your guide creates your own passage as you cross.
You are real adventurers in the middle of a thick jungle, the experience is hard to believe. You arrive at the camp in the middle of the jungle and settle into your cabin high up in the trees, which you reach harnessed to a pulley.
You can spend the night in a hammock in the heart of the jungle: an intensely unusual experience!
Manusela National Park
The park covers an elevation between sea level and 2490m (8170ft) and contains a wide variety of habitats. Seram has at least 15 strictly endemic bird species and shares a number of Moluccan specialties with the neighboring islands of Buru and Ambon, and the north and central Moluccan islands of Halmahera, Bacan and Obi.
3. Visit Central Islands: Banda Neira, Banda Besar and Banda Api
The three larger central islands are close together. There are also a few small side islands .
Banda Neira is also a historic center and you can visit an old, very well preserved fort. Indeed the Moluccas Islands were at the heart of the lucrative spice trade and the Dutch colonizers had built many forts to defend themselves from possible attacks by invaders. Even today, in addition to harvesting coconuts and making copra, spices are present everywhere, and in front of almost every house you will find some drying in the sun.
Fort Belgica is a 17th century fort in the island of Banda Neira. It was used to defend the Banda Islands, which at the time was the only place in the world where nutmeg was produced. I, Anton Leddin, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Within the huge Indonesian archipelago, the Banda archipelago is tiny and has only 10 islands, 7 of which are inhabited. The nutmeg being only native to the Banda, nutmeg has endured for centuries as the treasure of these islands. After a morning boat trip, you will arrive at your destination in the early afternoon and check into the hotel. You devote your afternoon to the discovery of Banda Neira: colonial houses, Fort Nassau and Fort Belgica, you enjoy a pleasant city tour, if you wish.
Visit Hatta’s Exile House at Banda Neira
Hatta’s Exile House at Banda Neira is where Mohammad Hatta served his sentence of exile as a political prisoner for 6 years (1936 – 1942).
Hatta’s Exile House at Banda Neira. Official Website of The Ministry of Education and Culture, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Here is the map from Banda neira airport to Hatta’s Exile House
Banda Besar (Big Banda Island) and Banda Pisang
Discovering the island of Banda Besar just 10 minutes by boat to visit old nutmeg plantations, an old Dutch cemetery and the traditional village of Lonthoir.
Around the large island of Banda Besar, the dive sites offer beautiful coral formations; Napoleon wrasse are very common almost everywhere.
Karnobol. Located in the east of the island, this site reveals an impressive underwater architecture. Huge boulders skim the surface. Gorgonians and sponges provide a colorful backdrop where napoleons and humphead parrots roam. Butterfly fish twirl around in search of food.
Lonthoir is the main settlement on Banda Island, Central Maluku, Indonesia. Photo credit: David Stanley, source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidstanleytravel/48221795446/ David Stanley from Nanaimo, Canada, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
After this cultural morning you join the island of Pisang called “the island of bananas” to snorkel and enjoy a small picnic on site. You are back at the hotel in the afternoon, this is an opportunity to relax and enjoy the end of the day freely. Night at the hotel.
Discover the island sheltering the Gunung Api volcano. Here you can observe lava flows, go snorkeling and, if you wish, you can climb the Gunung Api volcano. In the afternoon you can see the very local Neira take-off runway, then join Malole beach for a beautiful sunset. You can buy fresh fish and squid at the local fish market before grilling them on the barbecue on your hotel beach. Try a delicious dinner in a most authentic and intimate setting.
A unique diving area in the world. Gunung Api is a volcano located on Pulau Api. It erupted in 1988, pouring large lava flows onto the reefs. Coral has relocated to these reefs. Now we observe superb tables of corals, of all colors and shapes. The fauna is extremely dense there, with napoleons, triggerfish, fusiliers. But the particularity of the island, it is these thousands of sea snakes, not very shy, which peacefully approach the divers.
Bandai Api island. The 640-m-high symmetrical volcano of Banda Api, the most active of a chain of volcanoes in Indonesia’s Banda Sea. Tom Casadevall, U.S. Geological Survey, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
4. Go to Western Islands: Ai Island, Rhun Island and Naikala Atoll
In the far west is the almost 4 km long and up to 1.3 km wide island of Run . 700 meters to the north is the small islet of Pulau Nailaka , almost 300 meters long .
About 8 kilometers to the east is Ai Island , which is similar in size to Run. The town of Ai is on the north coast. The distance to the central islands of Banda Api and Banda Besar is about 9 kilometers each.
30 kilometers north of Run is Manukang , also known as Suanggi , a circular island about 1 kilometer in diameter.
From Banda Neira, you can access the neighboring islands, either by public shuttles that connect certain islands, or by renting a boat for the day from hotels that sell diving and snorkeling packages.
Among the most famous islands of the archipelago, we will mention Pulau Ai. This very small island has very beautiful beaches, beautiful seascapes to explore, splendid sunrises and sunsets, and, another advantage, most of the inhabitants have transformed their house into a homestay to accommodate tourists. As there is no restaurant on the island, the stay is full board. The homestay in which I stayed in Pulau Ai is my best gastronomic memory in Indonesia!
40 minutes aboard a speed boat towards the famous island of Ay to discover a new nutmeg plantation and visit Fort Revenge. You then reach the island of Rhun, known to have been exchanged by the Dutch for Manhattan in 1660! Have lunch on the atoll of Nailaka which offers exceptional reefs and large quantities of fish. You then enjoy a superb snorkeling session on site before heading to your new hotel. End of the day in peace in front of a magnificent sunset.
Pulau Run (Rhun island)
Pulau Run, the westernmost island of the archipelago. This island receives relatively few foreign visitors, and yet Pulau Run is worth the trip, especially for its splendid fishing village, the traditional local life, and the quality of the offshore corals.
And then, beach lovers will be delighted by going for a walk on the neighboring island, Pulau Neilaka, located a few meters from Pulau Run (you can even walk there at low tide).
5. Eastern Islands: Hatta Island and its seabed
A paradise island located about 1 hour by boat from Banda Neira.
To the east, just under 10 kilometers east of Banda Besar is the island of Hatta (formerly Rozengain), which is similar in size to Run island.
4 kilometers to the southeast is a small island about 800 meters long.
Finally, Pulau Hatta is also an island not to be missed during your stay in the Banda Islands: superb beaches and beautiful seabed!
Explore the seabed of Hatta Island, named after independence hero Mohammad Hatta. This island is the easternmost of the Moluccas archipelago and is one of the most famous diving and snorkeling spots! Multitude of corals, reef fish, sea turtles or even barracudas and hammerhead sharks, you don’t know where to turn! You can then rest on a beautiful beach nearby if you wish, for example, before returning to your hotel in the afternoon and quietly enjoying the end of the day.
What to do in hatta island?
All around the island is a magnificent coral garden still intact (here no dynamite fishing) which extends for about 30 meters (98 ft) and then a magnificent drop-off. Go to the limit between the coral garden and the drop-off, the show is ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE!!! The visibility is super good, the water is really super clear and I have never seen such a quantity and diversity of fish: of absolutely all colors and all sizes, all around you, you no longer know where to give head! There are especially barracudas, lots of big fish, turtles etc etc.
DO NOT MISS !!!! It is honestly one of the most beautiful places I have seen while snorkeling. I stayed 3 hours in the water, it’s so incredible. From what I have read on the internet, it is worth super famous spots like in Raja Ampat.
6. Pulau Kai (Kei islands)
The 3 main islands are Kei Kecil, Dullah and Kei Besar.
The Kei Islands are an archipelago of many islands located southeast of the Moluccas (Maluku) archipelago in Indonesia. In the Kei Islands, you will find paradisiacal white sand beaches almost just for you, these islands being very little touristy. The Kei Islands is there (We were amazed at how close we were to Australia!):
Kei Kecil is connected by a bridge to Dullah. This bridge also connects the 2 main cities of the Kei Islands archipelago: Tual and Langgur. You will find ATMs in town.
Kei Kecil is where you will find the dream beaches:
This is the “highlight” of the Kei Islands, the most beautiful of beaches, a long white sand beach that stretches for 3km. It is located 12km from Langgur. Paradise in its purest form: incredibly white and fine sand (it almost looks like snow, you sink in it when you walk) and turquoise water (incredibly warm, you feel to get into your bath 😉). A landscape worthy of the most beautiful postcards! And there is no one! 3km of beach just for you. There are 2 small villages: Ngur Bloat and Ohoililir, but don’t expect to find much there other than a few houses.
A beach as beautiful (but still less beautiful than Pasir Pajang for our taste) and even less crowded than Pasir Pajang. The water is very shallow, which makes it only at low tide. You can come to Ohoidertawun by plane and land at Dumatubun Airport (LUV).
Kei Besar is the largest of the islands, covered with mountains and forest where one goes mainly for hiking.
Pulau Bair is a small island north of Dullah. It is nicknamed the Raja Ampat of the Moluccas. From Dullah you can rent a boat to get there (500,000 IDR, 36 CHF per boat). Don’t forget to take your mask and snorkel with you, there is no possibility to rent one at the small port (or rent it at your hotel if they have one). The snorkeling is super beautiful, the corals are absolutely fabulous and still intact. However, it is still less beautiful than in the Banda Islands, there are fewer fish.
Do not miss a short excursion to Goa Hawang, a cave located in the village of Letvuan, on the west coast of Pasir Kecil. Small swim in (fresh) turquoise blue water, overhung by stalactites.
The Tayandu Islands are an archipelago of Indonesia located in the Banda Sea, west of the Kai Islands.
The Tayandu or Tayando Islands are a group of low-lying islands just west of the larger Kai Islands of Maluku, Indonesia. The main group consists of Tayando, Walir, Heniar and several smaller isle-lets. Between Walir and Taam is Pulau Nusreen featuring a large sandy lagoon. Manggur is further west with Kur and Kaimeer islands north of it. Administratively they comprise a district within the city of Tual.
There is scheduled water transportation to Tayandu Island. Normally, it departs once a week and the main point is Tual or Kur. It is actually a ferry, so the cost maybe a little bit expensive. For an alternative, you can ride a small boat provided in some villages. Once you reach Tayando, you can explore the island either by walking or riding traditional vehicles. Also, it is possible to visit nearby islands using a Ketinting (a traditional boat) or a longboat.
View of the Tayando Islands as seen from the air while flying between the Kai Islands and Ambon. Tayando Island plus Yamru village is in the foreground, Walir Island plus smaller Heniar (with Yamtel village) in middle distance and Taam as the largest of the isles hazily visible at the top right in the far distance. Malikbek, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
How to get to kei islands?
If you come from the Bandas Islands (Banda Neira), there is a Pelni boat (the Tidar) which takes 10 hours from Banda Neira to Tual and costs IDR 175,000, around € 12 (only economy class). Before the Banda Islands, he comes from Ambon, so you can also imagine crossing from Ambon. But it would be a shame not to stop en route at the Bandas Islands, which are really worth it!
To know the departure of the next boat you have to go to the Pelni offices in Banda Neira, it is also there that you can buy your ticket. I advise you to look at the boat schedule as soon as you arrive on the Banda Islands since departures are very sporadic, you may have to wait 1 week for the next boat (you should not be in a hurry when you visit the Moluccas!).
This huge ferry is really not the most comfortable and overcrowded, but 10am is fine, it’s not too long. Especially since I met new friends at my hotel in Bandaneira who are on the same path as me. It is therefore with a Belgian couple and a Spaniard that I share this crossing and the days that follow in the Kei Islands. It’s still nice to have some company, especially after my bad experience crossing from Ambon to the Bandas Islands. We were the main attraction of this boat: barely started a game of UNO on deck, people started crowding around to watch us, it became a real crowd in a few minutes, dozens and dozens of people are passionate about the UNO, unknown in Indonesia. It was cheering every time one won or laughing every +2 or +4.
There are regular connections between Ambon (AMQ) and Langgur/Tual (LUV) (several flights per day). The view from the plane (which I took for the return trip to Ambon) is just WOOOW!! (Don’t forget to ask for your window seat 😉 ).
No flights between the Bandas Islands and the Kei Islands, you will necessarily have to go back to Ambon. So I recommend the ferry solution which is much more practical and economical.
Diving areas in Banda Islands
- Banda Besar / Neira / Pisang / Gunung Api: the main area, about ten sites
- Suanggi: a rock north of the main islands (3 hours by boat), the site having the famous school of hammerhead sharks!
- Hatta island
- AI island
- Rhun island
Batu Kapal: the most famous site of the Banda Islands
- A small rock in the north of the island of Pisang, which looks like a boat (hence its name, kapal = boat in Indonesia and batu = rock)
- The whole island is covered with splendid corals
- The main part is west of the rock, with 3 species of pinnacles filled with soft corals
- Shoals of triggerfish and butterflyfish everywhere and large pelagics
- Be careful, the current can be strong!
Suanggi: school of hammerhead sharks in the Banda Islands
- For many years, a school of hammerhead sharks has taken up residence around Suanggi Island from September to November.
- There can be more than 200 at a time!
- Be careful, it is not as easy to see them as in the Galapagos, nothing is guaranteed, but normally on a day there, you should see them!
- The corals are also beautiful in Suanggi
Mandarine slope: the Mandarin fish site of the Banda Islands
- Just opposite the port of the island of Banda Neira is a site where the famous mandarin fish mate at sunset
- The site is very well known and there are sometimes a lot of divers, but there is really a way to have room for everyone (unlike other sites that I have been able to do)
- The dives around the island of Pisang are nice
- Drifters along a wall covered with corals
- Large pelagics, reef shark, solitary hammerhead shark possible
- A submerged mountain
- A drift along a wall, beautiful corals, large pelagics possible
- The Gunung api volcano erupted a few years ago, creating a lava flow that spilled into the sea
This event created a particular ecosystem and favored the development of corals, especially table corals.
- On the other hand, few pelagics, and to be honest the site quickly becomes monotonous…
How to dive in Banda Islands
2 possibilities: either from Banda Neira with a diving club, or by diving cruise from Ambon.
With a diving club from Banda neira
You can dive with a Banda Neira diving club but:
- Access to Banda Neira is very complicated (more info here)
- There is only one club that holds water
- You only have access to a maximum of ten sites from Banda Neira (it will depend on the number of divers with you to distribute the costs of the boat)
- No access to Suanggi, which is nevertheless one of the best sites in the area with the possibility of seeing its school of hammerhead sharks
On a diving cruise from Ambon
The best way to appreciate the dives of the Banda Islands is to take a diving cruise:
- The few divers and the great distances between the different Banda islands limit the diving clubs in their choice of sites: they cannot go very far from Banda neira
- The cruise allows you to do all the islands: Banda Neira, Ai, Hatta and especially Suanggi!
- In addition you will surely do 1 or 2 days in Ambon, with world class macro!
- Some cruises are also part of the Ring of Fire, including Serua and its school of hammerhead sharks in season!
Main photo description: Ora Beach is a beach located on Seram Island, North Seram sub-district, Central Maluku, Maluku, Indonesia. The beach, which is located at the western end of Sawai Bay, is next to Saleman Village and Sawai Village, on the edge of the Manusela National Park forest.