Banda Islands Diving Holidays
Banda Sea Travel Information
The Banda Sea lies more or less in the middle of the sprawling mass of islands that comprise Indonesia, lapping the shores of Sulawesi to the west, Alor to the south and with West Papua to the esst. It is little wonder that the Bandas are considered one of the finest dive destinations on the world.
The Banda Islands are a group of 10 small volcanic isles forming part of the province of Maluku and which support some 15,000 inhabitants. Up until the middle of the 19th century this was the only place on earth where the spices nutmeg and mace could be found and as a result they were crucial hub for the spice trade. Foreign visitors are therefore nothing new, but these days the intrepid visitors come not to trade for spice and fill their ships with booty, rather to photograph marine life both large and small and wonder at the richness of the local seas.
Topside, these islands boast climbable volcanic mountains which are covered in lush green vegetation. For a taste of historic atmosphere going ashore in Banda Neira is a must for its remnants of colonial times.
It is generally considered by those in the know to be the big fish and fish volume capital of Indonesia. If you join a liveaboard cruise in the area you can expect to see practically anything there. Have a read through our Banda dive site descriptions to learn of some of the wonderful creatures and breathtaking dives this part of the country has to offer.
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How to Get There
The Banda Islands are best visited by liveaboard, and there are several different points of access depending on the boat and its itinerary. While some trips that visit the region begin in Raja Ampat and others in Alor and Flores, the most common access is from Ambon.
The vast majority of Banda liveaboard operators take care of domestic flights on behalf of their guests, so you need not worry about the trouble of dealing with the Indonesian airlines. Otherwise, Indonesia's domestic airlines include Lion Air and Garuda whose schedules are relevant to flights to and from Ambon. You should be able to book direct online with them and pay with your debit/credit card. If you experience problems, please ask us for help.
Flights to Ambon are daily and from the major airports in Indonesia - Jakarta, Bali,and Manado - all travel via Makassar (Ujung Pandang). These flights generally retail at around US$ 350 for the round trip, but prices can fluctuate depending on booking timeframe and with the variations in fuel costs which Indonesia experiences.
Visit our tourist information sections for details on how to get to Bali and how to get to Manado.
Dry season in the Banda Sea runs from approximately May to November, with more likelihood of rain in the months of January and February. The temperature is quite constant between 27°C and 32°C. September to December and March to April are normally the periods with optimum diving conditions.
Sightseeing and Adventure
Ambon is often the start and end point for Banda liveaboard cruises and, while many guests simply fly in and out, some choose to spend some time enjoying the many wonderful beaches and other activities the region has to offer.
Among the finest beaches are Namalatu, 16 km to the south of the town, which enjoys excellent coral shallows, making it a great spot for snorkeling. 21 km from Ambon, you can visit Poka-rumahtiga beach, where many watersports events are held such as local canoeing competitions. Other beaches include Natsepa and Pantai Liang, and all of them offer the kind of white sand and sparkling clear water that beach-lovers dream of. They are often deserted too so you can have the shore to yourself.
For those not content to laze in the sun there is an interesting museum at Siwa Lima, only about 20 minutes from the town. Here you can immerse yourself in the fascinating history of the region. The Commonwealth War Museum set in beautiful serene grounds, can be a welcome break from the noise of the city. There are also lots of churches around including the impressive cathedral and the Maranatha Church, which has been fiercely protected from damage over the years.
Banda Neira is the major town in the islands and is where you kind find a bustling local market where all the aromas, colours and characters are concentrated. Colonial Dutch architecture is evident and while many are in ruins, some have been restored and carry an air of faded grandeur.
Other islands here offer their own activities although they are much less developed than Banda Neira. Banda Neira may have roads but it has very few cars. The other islands such as Banda Besar are characterized by rugged, mountainous interiors with small developments scattered around the shoreline. Trekking up Gunung Api gives amazing panoramic views of the area.
Tourists, particularly divers, are beginning to visit the Banda Islands more and more, although you will still feel like you are a pioneer adventurer since it is still very much a region off the beaten track and tourist facilities remain largely undeveloped.
Dining Out, Shopping & Nightlife
Ambon is a bustling city of markets and local businesses, and you can find quite a variety of restaurants serving a wide selection of food. The higher end hotels probably serve the best food in comfortable surroundings, and the Mutiara Hotel is a cozy little spot for a coffee and to unwind. There is plenty of Indonesian food to choose from including Malukan food like papeda and sweet potato.
Since tourist numbers are still low, you will be considered a novelty and you may find yourself the greatest entertainment in town. You may be roped into dancing sessions with locals, who enjoy dangdut parties where gyrations are to the sound of a strange but interesting blend of Arabic and house music - the closest you will find to a disco!
Aside from local markets in Banda Neira and the outlying islands and the occasional curio stand, there is not much in the way of retail which might interest the international market. If you need to be within touching distance of an Ikea or a Tesco then perhaps Banda is not for you.
Similarly, dining options are restricted to a few small restaurants serving tasty local fare, where you can expect plastic chairs and less-than-salubrious surroundings.
History of the Bandas
The Banda Islands have had a long and fascinating history, including being among the most expensive real estate in the world! Spices, foreign traders, wars and earthquakes have all featured heavily in their checkered past. More on Banda's unique history.
The Local People
The majority of the inhabitants of the Banda region are descended from migrants and labourers who arrived from various different parts of Indonesia and mixed with the indigenous population. However, immigration from many parts of the world are evident in the people including from Java, the Bay of Bengal, and indeed Europeans who mixed with locals during and after the time of the spice trade. The unique cultural identity of the pre-colonial Bandanese is still very much in existence.
Language is one such example with a form of Malay dialect, distinguishable from Ambonese Malay, being spoken by the Bandanese. Ambonese Malay is the main language of the greater area however, the more local dialect with its Dutch influences and sing-song character sets it apart.
Agriculture and fishing remain the 2 main sources of employment. Nutmeg, the main source of Banda's fame, is still an important crop to this day as are cloves and bananas. The sea is also an important source of employment with tuna and, increasingly, scuba divers represent a considerable source of income.
Approximately 95% of the local population are Muslim and 5% are Christian.
Getting around Ambon is probably best done on foot, but for longer journeys you can use taxis, minibuses and becaks. A taxi from the airport to the city takes about 45 minutes.
There is nowhere big enough in the islands to need public road transport. Indeed, only Banda Neira has proper roads. Most of the local transport you will use will be boats.
If you're keen to visit Indonesia's schooling fish capital, the Banda Islands, then click below to check your options now for:
Be sure to book in plenty of time to avoid limited choice! The best scuba diving vacations are booked by repeat customers who book well in advance to ensure their reservation!
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