After spending a few weeks in and around the cities of Java, we decided we needed a very different experience in Indonesia, consisting of relaxation, beach and scuba. Following some detailed research, we settled on the Banda Islands as our first location. The Banda Islands are a small collection of islands in the Banda Sea. They are also known as the Spice Islands on account of the fact that at one time in history they harboured the world’s only supply of highly-sought after nutmeg. The Portuguese were the first to arrive in 1511, but it was the Dutch and British East India Companies who famously fought it out here in the 17th century, and evidence of their presence can still be seen, from old crumbling forts to canons left strewn in the streets. Famously, the Dutch traded one of the Banda Islands called Run to the British for the then little known island off the eastern coast of the USA known as Manhattan.
Finding a way to get to the Banda Islands is tricky, which of course, is why they are so unspoiled --- there are no cars, just ojeks and western visitors are relatively scarce compared to other parts of Indonesia. No direct flights go to the Banda Islands, so we had to be creative in our planning. For most people, the first hurdle is to get to Ambon, in Maluku. We started from Ende, in central Flores, after visiting Kelimutu. From here we had to fly to the transport hub of Denpasar, Bali, before getting a connecting flight to Makassar, south Sulawesi. After an overnight stay, we took our third flight to Ambon, where again we had a one night layover. With the timings of the flights we could have actually taken all three in the same day, however all the flights were with Lion/Wings Air and I was worried about delays causing us to miss subsequent flights.
Anyway, once you’ve reached Ambon there are several options that you can take for reaching the Banda Islands. My feeling is that these options may change quite frequently and that it is important to get up to date information on what travel option is best. I planned to scuba dive whilst on the Banda Islands and so contacted Dive Motion, the only reputable dive school on the islands, for information about the best option. Dive Motion is a German owned SSI dive centre, and they were very friendly and replied to emails quickly, with all the important information to ensure that we arrived safely.
For us, the best option was to take a new high speed boat from the Teluhu pier, taking 5 hours in total. The boat is scheduled to leave at 9am but ours was delayed till 10am. We took a taxi from our hotel (Everbright) with two other guests, costing 250,000Rp and taking 45 minutes to reach the port. It is important to note that the high speed boat doesn’t leave from the main Pelni port (near the Everbright hotel) but leaves from the Telehu port in the east of the island. The port itself is very small and wasn’t busy at this time in the morning but was amply supplied with lots of little stalls selling breakfast, drinks, biscuits etc. For the boat we bought a VIP ticket, costing 405,000Rp, for a one way trip. The standard ticket was 300,000Rp. The boat is a reasonable size, with capacity for maybe 200 people, and I saw life jackets, although I’m not sure if there were enough for everyone on board! The VIP section is perfectly comfortable, being inside on an upper deck (which we were grateful for when the rain poured for most of the voyage), with air con and plenty of leg room. One down side was that they played really loud music for most of the journey. Honestly, I didn’t test out the toilet facilities, but they were there if needed.
Some other options for getting to the Banda Islands that we came across: Pelni boats (these have a horrendous reputation for cleanliness and pick pocketing, take a long time and have very erratic schedules, take the new high speed boat!), Susi Air (flights Mon, Wed, Fri and there is an office at the airport in Ambon. It’s a very small plane with 10kg luggage restrictions). It looks like NBA airlines had some problems and no longer offers a flight.
The boat drops you at the main harbour in Bandeneira, from where you can find most of the accommodation in a straight road running on the water front. When you exit the harbour, turning left will lead you to the Laguna Hotel and Dive Motion and turning right will lead you to all the other hotels, for example, Vita, Bintang and up the hill, away from the waterfront, Muriata. There are plenty of people to ask about accommodation, just look around and find what suits you best. Now you’re finally in the Banda Islands, all there’s left to do is relax.