The Banda Islands belong to the Maluku province in eastern Indonesia. They are located 180 km southeast of Ambon and are surrounded by the 5000 m deep Banda Sea. About 22 000 people inhabit the 7 largest of the 11 islands, with the main island, Banda Naira, and the largest, Banda Besar, being most densely populated. The Bandanese mainly live from fishing and from the export of spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon. In colonial times, nutmeg was the subject of conflict between Portuguese, Dutch and English seafarers on Banda, thus creating a very dramatic and moving past. With each step you take on Banda its history is visible, for example in the islands’ colonial buildings and museums. If more people knew about the secret fame of the island Rhun, for example, the Bandas would definitely attract much more attention worldwide: Pulau Rhun was traded between the Dutch and the British against what is now Manhattan, New York. Some Bandanese tend to say now that the Dutch – who received Pulau Rhun for giving away Manhattan – made the much better deal.
When arriving on Banda Naira you can immediately feel the island’s great vibes. You will love this place more and more the longer you’re staying while you’re making friends, climbing the volcano that arises above Banda Naira, taking a tour into the nutmeg and almond plantations, relaxing at nice beaches and – of course – discovering the vivid underwater life.
The volcano island, Gunung Api, is a prominent feature of the Bandas. Gunung Api last erupted in 1988 and from its 656 m high peak you can still look down into the crater and feel warm vapor streaming out of little cracks in the rock. Walking up takes about 1.5 to 2 hours and is nicest early in the morning to watch the sun rise behind Banda Naira. The hike up leads you through a dense forest that becomes thinner the closer you get to the top. You will actually pass four different zones of vegetation.
On Banda Naira, the capital and most densely populated island, you find most accommodations and nice restaurants that will serve you excellent Bandanese food with a special local combination of spices. You will be surprised in how many dishes you can find all different parts of the nutmeg fruit. Dried or candied nutmeg, nutmeg jam or the super-rich almond biscuits are excellent “Oleh-oleh” – the Indonesian term for a local specialty to bring home from travelling. For adventurers, the island of Banda Besar offers dense forests with interesting wildlife to be discovered. A Hike from the village Lonthoir, on top of the hills in the west of Banda Besar, across the mountains to the southern villages and beaches will reveal mostly untouched forests where – with a little luck – you have the chance to see tropical birds and Cuscus, a huge-eyed nocturnal marsupial.
But not only Banda’s forests are mostly untouched: under water, you will find some of the world’s best and healthiest coral reefs. With more than 300 hard coral species and more than 500 fish species, the reefs give you the impression of diving into a different world of hundreds of different colours and motions. Every season in Banda has its own appeal: the transition seasons from October till December and from February till May are spoiling you with magnificent visibilities whereas the more turbid plankton-rich times after the southeast monsoon in August and September will surprise you with incredible numbers of fish and more frequent encounters with larger pelagics. Before I get too nostalgic about diving… no matter whether you’re a diver or not, you will definitely find lots of different things to do on Banda and at the end you might get nostalgic yourself when leaving this sunny place with its vibrating past.