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The Banda Islands: Gunung Api seen from the viewpoint in Lonthoir.  <img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click for full image
Travel Guide > Asia > Indonesia > Maluku > Banda

Banda Travel Guide

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The Banda Islands (Kepulauan Banda) are an archipelago in South Maluku (Moluccas), Indonesia. The main island is Bandaneira, other inhabited islands of interest include Pulau Ai, Pulau Run, Pulau Banda Besar and Pulau Hatta.

Getting to Banda is time consuming, but well worth the effort. The islands are a traveler's dream - we even list them the most beautiful islands in Southeast Asia.

Once known as the Spice Islands, an epithet also applies to the entire Maluku area, the Bandas were famous as a source of spices, especially nutmeg.

First colonized by the Portuguese, the Dutch soon wrested control of the islands and fought the Spice Wars with the British. In the Treaty of Breda in 1667, the British agreed to withdraw and gave up Pulau Run to the Dutch, partly in exchange for one small island on the other side of the world: New Amsterdam, now better known as Manhattan.

Pulau Run: Would you trade this island for Manhatten? The Dutch did in 1667.  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

Island Hopping

Access to other islands is provided by boat. Regular connections go to Pulau Banda Besar and Pulau Ai, the latter usually leaving during morning hours.

Keep in mind that Indonesian ferries have generally low safety standards. In particular overloaded small boats e.g. to Pulau Ai might be hazardous during rough sea.

Gunung Api dominates Banda's skyline from almost everywhere.  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

Other islands can be reached for day-trips by chartered boats (Pulau Hatta Rp 500,000/day; Pulau Pisang + Batu Kapal Rp 350,000/day; Half-Day tour to the Lava Stream north of Gunung Api Rp 120,000).

For mountain hikes up to Gunung Api, local fishermen are more than happy to carry you across for Rp 10,000 each way.


Snorkeling on Banda is among the best in Southeast Asia.

Day-trips can be arranged through guest houses or locals owning boats. Great drop-offs include Pulau Hatta, Pulau Pisang, Batu Kapal, Pulau Ai and the northern shore of Pulau Gunung Api just off the cold lava stream.

Make sure that your boat captain knows the sites and make arrangements for lunch as there are no warungs on most islands! 

The view from Gunung Api. It's worth the climb!  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>


There are now a handful of dive operators in Bandaneira. Consider that many of the underwater world can be seen through snorkeling and you might get to see enough for less money!

Climbing Gunung Api

Climbing the highest peak of the Bandas (667m above sea level) offers great views and some vulcanic insight. The trail starts at the few houses on the eastern shore and although it is unmarked almost impossible to miss.

Bring plenty of water (minimum 2l per person!) as the trail is continously ascending for around 2 hours. Good shoes are advisable as the path is stony and slippery. No guide necessary but not a bad idea if you intend to climb without anyone else. The current fare for boat transport from Bandaneira to Gunung Api is Rp 10,000 per way and boat. 

Benteng Belgica and Island Walk

Bandanaira, the main island, has a picturesque old fort called Benteng Belgica. It can be visited for Rp 20,000. You can also rent a motorbike or stroll around the island to explore smaller villages in the north and the runway of the airport. 

Benteng Belgica on Bandaneira.  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

Food and Drinks on Banda

As one of the original "Spice Islands", food on Banda is among the best and most diversified in Indonesia. Mutiara Guesthouse has a nightly buffet featuring local delights. Highly recommended! 

Barracuda and other fish: Ikan Bakar (grilled fish) is served in guesthouses and rumah makan (restaurants). However you might need to inform the guesthouse if you intend to eat there. Most rumah makan do not store fish as freezers are uncommon and fresh fish can be bought every morning. Therefore you might need to order fish one day in advance or join the chef to the market and buy the fish yourself.

Nutmeg Jam: Available in guesthouses and small stores in Bandaneira.

Buah Pala: The fruit of the nutmeg tree can be found as a dried sweet snack along the main street in Bandaneira.

Harbor market: Upon the arrival of the Pelni ships, the harbor area comes to life with dozens of street stalls selling fresh grilled fish and vegetable dishes. Try spicy tuna on a stick with sambal.

Alcohol: There are no bars or restaurants serving alcoholic drinks in Bandaneira. However some guesthouses have chilled beer (Rp 30,000 per big bottle Bintang) and fresh juices (Rp 15,000).

Money, Safety and other Practicalities

There are now multiple dive shops on Bandaneira. All offer dive trips to the other islands.  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

Bandaneira is generally a safe place for tourists and there are no annoyances like in other Indonesian cities. Traffic is very little and calm.

Note that there is now an ATM on Bandaneira. However, it is frequently out of order (or there is no power). Bring enough cash.

For the time being there are only two mobile phone operators on the Banda Islands: Telkomsel and XL. SIM cards and top-up for the two providers can be bought in Bandaneira. Reception on Pulau Ai is limited to XL and is only available at the jetty.

Internet is available at Mutiara Guesthouse and the local school. Connections are unreliable and slow.

Warning: There have been frequent reports of pickpocketing at the ferry terminal. The jostle upon arrival of the big Pelni boat is an ideal place to remove the wallet out of your pocket or to cut your money belt. It is advised to pay high attention and store your valuables safely!

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