Banda Islands - Village with Gunung Api volcano in the distance

Banda Islands – Diving, Snorkeling, Beaches & More

This post was last updated on July 3rd, 2020 at 02:14 pm


The Banda islands are becoming more and more famous in Indonesia. They are among the most beautiful islands in the country. With a combination of natural beauty, friendly inhabitants, fascinating history, and a beautiful underwater world, these ten islands are among the most beautiful in all of Indonesia. It is one of the best snorkeling and diving destinations.

 

We have been there and are happy to share our tips!

 

The Pristine Banda Islands

The Banda islands are located in the Moluccas, so they are not very accessible, unlike the Gili islands. This results in islands that have not yet been overrun by tourism. Partly because of this, nature is still completely intact.

 

There are not many travelers (yet) but has slightly changed in recent years. More and more people are looking for alternatives to Bali or Lombok and end up here. The “problem” is that it is not very easy to reach.

 

In addition, together with Sulawesi and Raja Ampat, this is the place to dive in Indonesia.

 

Our Experience

We spent a little over a week on the Banda islands and thought it was fantastic. We aren’t really divers by nature, but even if you don’t like diving there is plenty to do here. Life here is laid-back, the atmosphere is great and you can easily enjoy yourself for a week.

 

Banda Islands archipelago with a view of Gunung Api
You can even see the lava flow of Gunung Api in the Banda Islands

 

The Different Banda Islands

The Banda Islands are especially popular among divers, but there is also plenty to do if you do not want or cannot dive. There are multiple islands in this region and if you have never been there it can be difficult to decide which one is best.

 

That is why we share our tips about the islands:

 

 

Banda Neira


Banda Neira is the most famous island. This is the island with the (small) airport and where the boats arrive. This is often the first island that travelers see. You will find most accommodation and restaurants here.

 

It is a nice island with a relaxed atmosphere and where the most entertainment of all islands in the region is.

 

Things to Do

Banda Neira is the most famous island. Compared to the other islands, the underwater world here is not that amazing. Fortunately, there is plenty to do here above water. We have listed the best things below.

 

1. Fort Belgica

Fort Belgica is the most famous fort of the Banda islands. You can find several forts scattered on the islands. For example, there’s also Fort Holandia at Banda Besar. Fort Belgica is the best known of all. The Belgians had a perfect place for their fortress with a gorgeous view.

 

From here you have a nice view of Gunung Api volcano. You can visit the fortress, although it is not very big. We recommend going here just before sunset. You’ll have a great view of an orange sky and beautiful surroundings.

 

The entrance fee is 10,000 IDR (~ US$0.70).

 

Fort Belgica in Banda Neira
Fort Belgica in Banda Neira

 

2. Fort Nassau

Fort Nassau is a lot less impressive than Fort Belgica but still worth a visit. The fort is opposite Fort Belgica and you can walk there. Although you can enter Fort Nassau, the view from above is a lot better.

 

Head to Cilu Bintang, one of the best hotels on Banda Neira. The hotel is located in a colonial building and is beautifully renovated. In addition, the owner, Aba, is one of the friendly people on Banda and he can help you with everything.

 

3. Gunung Api

The Gunung Api is an active volcano of about 666 meters high. You can climb the volcano without a guide. However, it is not easy. It is a serious climb and we have greatly underestimated this mountain.

 

The climb is free. It takes about 2 hours to get up and going down takes at least as long.

 

Although the volcano is only 666 meters high, it is one of the toughest climbs we have ever done.

 

View of Gunung Api volcano in the distance at the Banda islands

Some places at the Banda Islands have a great view of Gunung Api volcano

 

4. Rent a Scooter

Although the island is very small, it is nice to rent a scooter. With a scooter, you see just a bit more of the island than if you would walk there on foot. A day is enough to see everything.

 

We drove to Pantai Sero and Pantai Malole with our scooter, but we actually enjoyed ourselves more at the airport of Banda Neira. You can just ride on the runway with your scooter and race back and forth and take pictures!

 

A scooter costs 150,000 IDR (~ US$10.15) per day.

 

5. Take a Cooking Class

The Banda islands are not only known for its beautiful underwater world. This used to be one of the few places where nutmeg grew. Unfortunately, nutmeg has done more harm than good to the island given the many looting and killings of the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, England, and Japan, among others.

 

It does mean that you can eat very tasty food here. The dishes they make here somehow taste a bit better than anywhere else.

 

At Hotel Cilu Bintang you can take a cooking class to learn the tricks of the trade. Super fun, and handy to impress your friends and family at home! You can contact them via cilubintang.com to make a reservation for a class or accommodation.

 

Aerial view of Banda Neira in the Banda Islands
The city on Banda Neira island

 

6. Relax

If you have done or seen everything you can also just do nothing. There are a number of nice restaurants where you can sit on the water and enjoy a beer, a delicious snack, or a cocktail.

 

The best places to have a drink are;

 

  • Maulana Hotel
  • The Nutmeg Tree Banda
  • Cilu Bintang (not on the water)

 

Pulau Hatta

Pulau Hatta is a beautiful island covered with jungle and white sandy beaches and offers the best snorkeling and diving opportunities in the Banda islands. Until recently, you weren’t able to spend the night on the island. Today there are a number of guesthouses.

 

Kampung Lama is the “village”, but most accommodation is located on the beautiful white sandy beach, where you will also find the clearest water and colored coral reefs.

 

Things to Do

There is not much to do here. It is a small island where travelers mainly come for diving and snorkeling.

 

1. Diving and Snorkeling

The beautiful coral, tropical fish, and excellent underwater visibility make this island one of the best snorkeling spots in the world. And yes, you will also find sea turtles and reef sharks here 🙂

 

Everyone who comes here should try diving or snorkeling. Most travelers who come to this island are self-employed divers. You can also book lessons here.

 

Pulau Hatta in the Banda Islands
Pulau Hatta in the Banda Islands

 

2. Explore the Island

We spent 3 days on Hatta and mainly snorkeled, but you can also take a walk on the island. We walked from the beach in 3 hours, through the jungle of the island to other beaches. Bring enough water with you!

 

3. Wait for the Sunset

At Hatta, you’ll see the most beautiful sunsets of the Banda’s. Every evening we have done nothing but order a Bintang and wait until the sun goes down. It is really impressive.

 

Our Tip – If you wait long enough, you’ll also see a beautiful starry sky here.

 

Woman snorkeling in the Banda islands
Snorkeling in the Banda islands

 

How to Get There

Every day (except Friday) a public boat goes from Banda Neira to Pulau Hatta for 50,000 IDR (~ US$3.40) p.p. There are no official departure times or departure points so it is best to check with your accommodation at Banda Neira.

 

You can also take a charter boat (private boat). This costs about 1,200,000 IDR (~ US$81) per boat.

 

Most accommodations on Banda Neira also know the owners of the guesthouses on Hatta and can make a reservation for you. If you make a reservation at Hatta they can often pick you up for 500,000 IDR (~ US$34) instead of the above-mentioned 1,200,000 IDR.

 

TIP – Read more about Pulau Hatta.

 

Banda Besar

Banda Besar is the largest island in the group. It is a hilly island and is suitable for beautiful day trips and interesting walking tours. Few travelers go there because most stay on Banda Neira or Hatta.

 

Things to Do

In comparison, there is less to do than on the other islands. You will find the photogenic Masjid Al-Taqwa mosque here. This is located in Lonthoir, the sleepy “capital” of Banda Besar.

 

Another attraction is the Kelly Plantation and the Van der Broecke Plantation.

 

One of the best views of the island is from Benteng Hollandia. Built in 1624, it was once one of the largest Dutch fortresses in the Indies until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1743.

 

How to Get There

Boats regularly sail from Bandaneira to various harbors on Banda Besar. The most famous place is Walang (5,000 IDR, ~US$0.35, 15 minutes).

 

Pulau Pisang (Syahrir)

Pulau Pisang (Syahrir) is a small island about 20 minutes away by boat from Banda Neira. There is nothing to do here. It is really only known because this is one of the better places for snorkeling and diving.

 

At the time we were there (mid-2019) there were two accommodations where you can stay overnight. You should book this on Banda Neira. Besides diving and snorkeling, there is nothing to do here.

 

Our Tip – We booked a snorkeling tour from Banda Neira for 600,000 IDR (~ US$40.50) p.p. During the tour you also visit this island.

 

Boat with locals sailing to Pulau Pisang
Sailing to Pulau Pisang in a boat next to the locals

 

Pulau Ai and Run

Ai and Run are two small islands near Banda Neira. On these islands, there is little to nothing to do. You can dive and snorkel well here, but there is not much else to do. It is also very quiet in terms of accommodation.

 

Both islands have beautiful white sandy beaches, but if you do not like snorkeling or diving there is not much reason to go there.

 

Pulau Run is slightly larger than Ai.

 

Climb Gunung Api

Gunung Api is a small, 666-meter high volcano. It is an active volcano with its most recent eruption in 1988. You can climb the volcano but make no mistake, this is not an easy climb.

 

We have climbed several volcanoes in Indonesia. Mount Bromo Volcano, Rinjani, Merapi, Sibayak, and Mount Kerinci, but the little Api surprised us a lot.

 

How Long Does the Climb Take and is it Difficult?

The climb is tough but easy to do. It takes about two to three hours. Do the climb in the morning (start at 6:00 a.m. at the latest) as it gets really hot in the afternoon.

 

The way down is tough. There is a path, but you’ll have to climb almost all the way. In addition, the path is dotted with loose stones and leaves. Going up is fine, but back down it is quite tough.

 

Our Tip – Bring enough water! Minimum 2 liters p.p.

 

You can hire a guide, but it is not necessary. The road is well signed and you cannot get lost on the way as there is only one path. You can hire a guide for around 150,000 IDR (~ US$10.15), but again, it is not necessary.

 

Gunung Api volcano rising from the sea in the Banda islands
Gunung Api volcano rising from the sea

 

How to Get There

Gunung Api volcano is within walking distance of Banda Neira, but swimming is not recommended due to the current and the fact that all your clothes will be wet. It is better to arrange a boat through your accommodation. This is possible at all accommodations.

 

The local that drives the boat will drop you across the street and immediately show you the way to the path. The boat costs 20,000 IDR (~ US$1.35) per boat.

 

Our Tip – Request the phone number of the local with the boat so that you can call them again when you have completed the tour.

 

What to Bring

Take as little clothing as possible. It is half a day of climbing and it is warm! In addition, take care of the following things;

 

  • 2 liters of water p.p.
  • Snacks (banana or biscuits)
  • Windbreaker for the top
  • Camera
  • Cash
  • Good shoes

 

Stars in the night sky over Gunung Api volcano in the Banda Islands
At night you can see many beautiful stars in the sky

 

Diving on the Bandas

The Banda islands are among the best diving locations in Indonesia. For both beginners and experienced divers. There are shallow lagoons at Banda Neira and Gunung Api and deep waters around Pulau Hatta. If you want to learn to dive this is one of the better places.

 

The islands are located in a remote and beautiful part of Indonesia. With impressive colorful coral reefs, warm seas and exotic fish, the Banda’s are a diver’s paradise.

 

Travelers come from all over the world to explore some of the most remote and pristine dive sites in the world. The “disadvantage” is that it makes it more crowded.

 

The best places to dive are Pulau Pisang (Syahrir) and Palau Hatta.

 

Yellow and red coral reefs during a scuba diving trip in the Banda Islands
The Banda Islands are a great destination for diving

 

What Does it Cost?

A diving trip (with 2 dives) costs about 500,000 IDR (~ US$34) p.p. If you want to rent gear, it will cost you 150,000 IDR (~ US$10.15) per day. You can also join a liveaboard. They usually sail around for several days. These are kind of like a yacht, anchored over the ocean’s amazing coral reefs for a few days. It holds about 10 people and together you can discover the most beautiful places.

 

One of the best diving schools in the Banda’s is The Nutmeg Tree.

 

Travel Tips for the Banda islands

The Banda islands are becoming increasingly popular, but (luckily) it is far from comparable to traveling in Bali, Java or Lombok. We share some tips so you’ll be well-prepared for your trip.

 

ATMs

Banda Neira is the only island with an ATM, but it didn’t work when we were there. It seems that it often does not work. Therefore, make sure you bring enough cash.

 

Our Tip – At Cilu Bintang you can withdraw money with your credit card at a 5% commission.

 

Book an Accommodation in Advance or Not?

If you search on Booking.com you will see that there is little accommodation on the islands. However, there is enough accommodation, but these cannot be found online. In theory, you do not have to make a reservation. You can often stay anywhere.

 

We have listed the best accommodations on Banda Neira. Some of these can be booked online:

 

 

The best accommodations in Hatta (can’t be booked online):

 

  • Bamboo Mata Satu
  • Hatta Bungalow
  • Sarah Homestay

 

Boats to Other Islands

The ferry from Ambon to Banda has fixed times;

 

  • Ambon to Banda Neira Every Tuesday and Saturday at 9:00 a.m. The cost is 412,000 IDR (~ US$28) p.p and it takes 6 hours.
  • Banda Neira to Ambon Every Wednesday and Sunday at 9:30 a.m. The cost is 412,000 IDR (~ US$28) p.p and it takes 6 hours.

 

Boats to other islands such as Hatta, Ai, and Besar do not operate according to a timetable. These leave every day (except Friday) in the morning, but always according to the “leave when full” principle. So it is difficult to plan where and when you can take the boat to other islands.

 

Our Tip – Check with your accommodation to find out when/where the boats go. They can always help you.

 

Boats in the clear blue water in the Banda Islands
Beautiful blue water in the Banda Islands

 

Best Time to Visit

When is the best time to visit the Banda Islands? Here is some information to help you make your decision:

 

  • The best months for good weather in the Banda Islands are September, October, and November.
  • On average, the hottest months are January, February, March, April, May, June, July, September, October, November, and December.
  • The rainiest months are May and June.

 

In general, March, April, and September through December are the best months to travel. Outside of these months, the sea becomes wilder, so fewer boats sail to and from the islands.

 

Weather and Climate in the Banda Islands

  • From January to March the climate is good. In March, the maximum temperature is 31°C (87.8°F) and 24 days of rain are expected.
  • In April the climate is unfavorable. In April, the maximum temperature is 32°C (89.6°F) and you can expect about 272mm of rainfall/month during this period.
  • From May to June the climate is very bad. The record temperature this month is 34°C (93.2°F) and it rains about 73% of the time in June.
  • From July to August the climate is not great, but still OK. At noon, it averages 28°C (82.4°F) and it rains about 39% of the time in August.
  • In September the climate is favorable. In the evening, the temperature averages 28°C (82.4°F), and 127mm of rainfall/month is expected during this period.
  • From October to November the climate OK. In the morning the temperature averages 29°C (84.2°F), and 137mm of rainfall/month is expected during this period.
  • In December the climate is bad. The record temperature this month is 35°C (95°F) and it rains about 75% of the time in December.

 

Best Time to Go Diving

The best time to dive is also between March and April and September to December. Outside of these months, the sea is wilder, making the underwater view more difficult.

 

How to Get There

The Banda Islands are close to Papua, in the Moluccas and it is quite a journey to get there. The easiest way is to travel via Ambon and take the boat there. Banda Neira has an airport, but unfortunately, tickets cannot be found online.

 

By Plane from Ambon

From Ambon to Banda Neira you have to book your ticket far in advance because there is only a small plane (12 people of which 4 are locals). Flight tickets can be arranged at the airport in Ambon.

 

By Boat from Ambon

The easiest way to get to the Banda islands is by ferry. The ferry leaves from Tulehu on Ambon. The disadvantage is that times and departure days are constantly changing. These are the most recent prices and times:

 

  • Ambon to Banda Neira every Tuesday and Saturday at 9:00 a.m. The cost is 412,000 IDR (~ US$28) p.p and it takes 6 hours.
  • Banda Neira to Ambon every Wednesday and Sunday at 9:30 a.m. The cost is 412,000 IDR (~ US$28) p.p and it takes 6 hours.

 

Booking Tickets

Tickets do not need to be booked in advance. They are sold in the harbor. The boat is quite large and there is always space. The price for an Economy Class is 412,000 IDR (~ US$28) and 650,000 IDR (~ US$44) for VIP class.

 

These times are guaranteed in the high season (to the extent that this is possible in Asia). Times change quite a bit in the low season. The dive school Dive Bluemotion on Banda Neira keeps current times on their website.

 

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