I was on the Bandas in September/October 2019 and loved it. Information is hard to get online, but maybe you’ll find some answers to your questions below. Click here for German. Click here to read how I loved it (in German only, coming soon).
Where the Banda Islands are:
The Banda islands are an archipelago in Indonesia and belong to Molluccu (indonesian Maluku) province between Sulawesi and West Papua, northeast of Java and Bali, north of Australia and south of the Philippines. See the map here. The main (touristic) islands are Banda Neira, Banda Besar, Hatta Island, Run Island and Air Island.
How to get there:
The Banda Islands are best accessed from Ambon. You can fly to Ambon from a variety of destinations, including Jakarta and Makassar. During dry season (app. end of September to December) there are three options to travel from Ambon to Bandaneira: The Pelni ferry, the fast boat and Susi Air.
The fast boat leaves twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays at 9 a.m and arrives in Banda Neira around 3 p.m. It returns to Ambon on Wednesdays and Sundays. The schedule is subject to unforseen changes all the times, and particularly at the beginning and end of the season the fast boat is running very unreliable. The boat costs about 400.000 IDR.
Susi Air usually flies to Banda from Ambon on Mondays and Thursdays at 7 a.m. and returns the same day. The price for both is around IDR 400.000. While the flight with Susi Air is quite delightful, the airline is known for it’s sudden schedule changes. These can also work in your favour, as sometimes there are more than two flights a week to Banda/Ambon as well. If in doubt, it is best to contact Susi Air in Ambon/Banda directly.
The Pelni leaves Ambon for Bandaneira every two weeks on Friday and in between every two weeks on Mondays, see schedule here). The journey takes about 12 houres. There is also a Pelni from West Papua/Kei Islands to Bandaneira (12 hours from Tual) every two weeks. The smaller Banda Islands can all be reached by public boats (often leaving in the morning once a day) and with expensive charter boats (around 600.000) from Bandaneira. The Pelni in general are the most reliable transport option.
When to go:
Dry season is from September to December. So if you’re on the road for more than the normal vacation time, you could do all the rest of indonesia while it is rainy season in Maluku and then go to the Bandas and from there maybe to the Kei Islands or other Maluku islands. During rainy season it is virtually impossible to reach the Bandas with public transport and underwater visibility is poor.
Why to go:
Need I say more? 😉 Okay, here it comes. The Bandas are a beautiful archipelago with sandy palm beaches, a thriving underwater world and an interesting history. People are friendly and food is good. There is plenty to do on these islands, but if you’re just out to relax that can be done as well. The islands are super relaxing and a great choice for any kind of holiday! Because of the secludedness of the islands the atmosphere is really special in Banda – come and see for yourself!
Where to stay:
The Bandas have plenty of accomodaction, most hotels are on Bandaneira. Most accomodation have no representation on the Internet and aren‘t on Booking.com. If you’re relaxed enough play it cool and just come to Bandaneira and find a place spontaneously. Many of the smaller islands have home stays as well. The quality differs, but most accomodation is suprisingly good, when you see it from an you’re-in-an-remote-island-in-indonesia point of view.
Some suggestions for accomodation in Bandaneira:
The diver’s option – The Nutmeg Tree
This is one of the classics. Local owned The Nutmeg Tree (aka TNT) doubles as hotel and dive shop and also is a restaurant. In a colonial house by the waterside it features very chic rustique-style rooms, some of which have an ocean view. Manager Reza is one of the most helpful and best English speaking guys in the Bandas. It is also a great place to hang out and jam some Ukulele. The ocean view room is great for a honeymooning couple. For more information see here. The Nutmeg Tree is also on Booking.com.
The elegant option – Cilu Bintang Estate
Cilu Bintang Estate owned by Abba is one of the best options in Banda Neira. It is a newly built colonial style building, artfully equipped with colonial style furniture and a beautiful view over Fort Nassau and the volcano (Gunung) Api. Abba speaks Englisch very well and is very helpful with all your Banda questions. For more information see here.
The hipster option – Rifka Hotel
Newly opening in November 2019, this architectural gem-stone features a hip patterned tile floor, healthy low carb home arabic style cooking and a pool surrounded by a flowery backyard. All the rooms have pool view. For more information see here (coming soon).
The oceanside option – Alan Bungalow
Most hotels aren’t on the waterfront in Bandaneira. But Alans Bungalows sit right opposite Bandaneiras harbour and each bungalow features a little terrace reaching out in the water. Owner Alan is very friendly and manager Eddie will work as your water taxi any time you wish (2 min ride). For more information see here.
What to eat:
Banda Neira features a variety of restaurants, mostly serving indonesian classics like Nasi Goreng and Gado-Gado for around 30.000 to 50.000 INR. Food is always nicely spiced and some island-specials features fried aubergine in nut-sauce. Fresh fish and seafood is the main food but Vegetarians will find it easy as well. In fact, if you stay away from the fish and meat the dishes are all vegan. Most meals are glutenfree, as the noodles are mostly rice-noodles as well and the cakes are often made from rice flour, too. But if you’re highly sensitive to cross-contamination it probably isn’t a good option unless you bring all your food as wheat is sometimes used for baking as well.
As this is one of the few places where fresh nutmeg fruits are available try the delicious nutmeg juice (jus pala) and pancakes with nutmeg jam. Also special: Nutmeg coffee, cinnamon tea and dried nutmeg fruit.
Try the little fried cakes which are filled with various fillings reaching from fruit and jam to vegetables and fish!
Hati-hati (indonesian for “be careful”) with mixing nutmeg and alcohol as it is supposed to make you hallucinate.
What to do:
You will not be bored on the Bandas.
Most people come for diving to see in particular hammer head sharkes and special moranes. Bandas coral reefs are some of the most intact in the world and the diversity of sea life can seldom be matched. Dolphins, whales and turtles are also a common sight. There are three dive shops on Bandaneira (for example german-owned Blue Motion and abovementioned TNT). Dive courses, even beginner courses, can be taken at Bandaneira as well. Hatta Islands also has a dive shop (Naira Dive).
Snorkeling is also excellent. Snorkeling gear can be rented at some guest houses, but it is best to bring your own gear. Snorkeling trips can be arranged by the guest houses.
The Bandas also feature excellent sandy beaches. Bring a good book and your relaxation will be perfect.
Apart from that, there is some history to see, old dutch and portugese forts, museums and for example the birth houses of famous indonesian independence leader Hatta. Cilu Bintang and TNT arrange so-called “Spice Tours” as well, where you are led through the nutmeg plantages, collecting nutmeg and almonds and cinnoman and cloves. Cooking courses are also available.
If you’re still up for more action you can join the team of Banda Ocean in cleaning the beaches or ocean. You may also volunteer at teaching Englisch or Computer Skills to children or helpling them recyling the trash they collect in the ocean. Last but not least if it is nutmeg harvest season you can join the harvest for a day or longer (ask around on Ai to have that arranged).
Can you go as a single woman?
In my experience yes. I’ve never felt unsafe on the Bandas. Obviously, single women travelling need to be careful and this isn’t Bali, so please don’t walk around in hot pants and bikini top. But criminal activities are virtually non-existent on the Bandas and I did not feel uncomfortable for a single second there.
How to get more information on the Bandas:
The lonely planet so far seems to be the best source of information available in bookform. Many travel books don’t even mention the Mollucs, yet alone the Bandas at all. If you are planning to go one way of getting reliable information is to book a room with Reza or Abba and get in touch with them. The website of Blue Motion also has up to date information.
How to stay longer:
The Bandas have an environmental NGO called Banda Sea. They do remarkable work with regard to cleaning the oceans, recylcling and teaching the Bandanese how to do so. They even set up a trash collection service on some of the islands. You can volunteer with them. For more information click here.
Where to go next:
How about the Kei Islands? They feature some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and interesting local culture. The Pelni ferry does go from Banda Neira to Kei (about 12 hours) once every two weeks. For more information click here (coming soon).
If you have any questions feel free to contact me or leave a comment!
Have fun and Hati-Hati (take care)!