Expert Travel: What You Need to Know About Banda Neira Island in Indonesia

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By Gloria Maberry

You’ll find Banda Neira Island, a beautiful hidden gem, among the Indonesian archipelago of islands. It offers incredible natural beauty, fascinating historic sites, and unspoiled diving opportunities.

Whether you’re planning a trip to Indonesia or looking to expand your bucket list, you’ll want to get Banda Neira Island on your radar. Read on to find out why and plan your trip.

Banda Neira Island, one of the Banda Islands in Indonesia. A view of the beach with black rocks, soft sand, and palm trees.
Myristica trees are the tropical evergreens on Banda Neira that produce nutmeg

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CONTENTS: In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about visiting Banda Neira Island, including:

Introduction to Banda Neira Island in Indonesia

Banda Neira Island is one of the 17,508 islands that make-up the Indonesian archipelago. This mesmerizing island is part of the group named the Maluku Islands, perhaps more famously known as the Spice Islands.

As the name implies, these islands are the home to several popular spices that are exclusively found there; specifically nutmeg and mace. It’s the Myristica trees here, tropical evergreens on Banda Neira Island, that produce nutmeg.

Banda Neira is a volcanic island, and one of the ten that make the Banda Archipelago. Undoubtedly the most famous among the Spice Islands, this beautiful remote land holds natural treasures and offers a step back in history for explorers eager to peek into the 17th century’s past, back when Europeans were on a quest to explore and conquer the world around them. 

Known as one of the best off-the-beaten-path destinations in Indonesia, Banda Neira and the Banda Islands dazzle most visitors with natural beauty and experiences.

Brief History of Banda Neira Island, Indonesia

Despite the isolated location, Banda Neira was once the hotspot of Indonesia. It gained its popularity mostly for the production of nutmeg, but also for cinnamon, cloves, and almonds.

The Portuguese colonized the island in the 16th century as the first foreigners to have discovered the spice-rich islands of the area.

At the time, nutmeg was praised as a natural food with healing properties. It was traded for the finest goods such as silk, gems, and gold.

The high demand for spices made the island attractive to the Dutch and England.

So, in the 17th century, the Dutch took over the Banda Islands from the Portuguese.

The constant war for these nature-rich land resulted in genocide over the locals and sadly, these wounds can be seen on the island even today. 

Following Indonesian independence in the 19th century, the island became administered as part of the Indonesian province of Maluku. (That makes it Banda Neira, Maluku.)

A brown hand hold a nutmeg fruit, split in half and revealing the red fiber surrounding the dark nut. (Banda Neira Island, Indonesia)
The Banda Islands [Indonesia] are home to several popular spices that are exclusively found there.

Historical Sites to Visit

You’ll find several Colonial-era relics and areas of historical significance on the island that are a reminder of the days when Banda Neira was the world’s spice hub. They reflect the turbulent past when Europeans did all they could to rule the nutmeg trade.

Since Banda Neira is a small island (3 km2 or 1.2 sq mi), you can rent a motorbike or easily walk around to explore some of these famous and interesting historic sites.

You’ll especially want to have a look at these three historical sites on Banda Neira Island.

Fort Belgica

The Dutch built Fort Belgica in the 17th century, overlooking the harbor. It’s an ideal location to guard against enemies approaching by water.

This well-preserved fort features five symmetrical sides and medieval-looking towers. It’s quite remarkable to see!

Today, it’s a significant historical attraction where you’ll also discover picturesque views from the top of the towers. In fact, you may find yourself mesmerized here, while overlooking the endless blue of the Banda Sea, Indonesia. 

Fort Nassau

Another fort built and used by the Dutch is Fort Nassau. You can see what remains of the walls of the fortress, as this historical relic is less preserved. It almost looks more like a part of the local buildings.

However, Fort Nassau is not to be missed if you are intrigued by history.

That’s because here, you can step back in time and envision the original walls of the fort that served as the Dutch East India Company’s headquarters.

Istana Mini (the “Mini Palace”)

This Istana Mini building, today known simply as “the palace,” was the mansion built for the most powerful Dutch commanders in who lived in Banda Neira.

Built at the beginning of the 19th century, the Istana Mini represents a luxurious building for the times. Inside, you’ll find the palace is filled with beautiful, bright floor tiles, impressive wooden doors, and shiny marble.

This historical building is worth a visit, if only to give you a sense of the wealth of Banda Neira’s spice-traders.

Diving and Snorkeling Around Banda Neira

Band Neira Island, Banda sea diving - colorful tropical fish swim along a large coral reef.
Banda Neira is among the top Indonesian diving spots.

Fast forward to modern day.

Indonesia boasts beautiful dive sites and Banda Neira is at the top of the list for the best Indonesian diving spots.

The pristine blue water surrounding the island allows you to witness the rich underwater world here. The biodiversity of the shallow water will satisfy your appetite, even if you’re an experienced diver.

And if you’re looking for more adventurous sea dives, you’ll find plunges around the island with a depth of 24,000 feet. That makes Banda Neira diving one of the deepest dives in the world!

The amazing coral reefs of Banda Neira are home to thousands of species. In fact, these underwater gardens have been described as “a kaleidoscope of life.”

What You Can Expect When Banda Sea Diving

It’s easy to see why it’s so loved, when you discover the wide array of sea life on a Banda Neira sea dive. For instance, you’ll likely see:

  • Native fish species, like batfish, cuttlefish, feather-stars, ghost pipefish, groupers, snappers, Mandarin fish, Napoleon wrasses, and scorpion fish
  • Turtles and schooling fish
  • Big pelagics, like dolphins, hammerhead sharks, Manta rays, Mobula rays, Tuna, and various types of whales
  • Colorful corals, including acropora corals, bottle-brush corals, cabbage-leaf corals, gigantic table corals, and warty-finger corals, and others.

There are a few popular diving spots near the harbor at Banda Neira and in the Banda Sea you may want to consider, including:

  • Batu Kapal
  • Gunung Api
  • Karang Hatta
  • Koon
  • Manuk
  • Pombo Boi

Most dive sites are suitable to all diving levels. You can easily find a local tour operator to arrange diving in groups led by an experienced diver.

The Banda Sea stays on average around 80-84°F (26-29°C) and visibility is good up to 100 feet (30 m).

You won’t want to miss the opportunity to take a dive deep in the corals of Banda Neira…it’s an unforgettable experience. 

Needless to say, the pristine blue waters are very inviting, even if you’re not scuba diving or snorkeling. They offer the opportunity for a relaxing swim after pleasantly sunbathing on the many small beaches around the island.

RELATED ARTICLE: Look here to explore the best islands in the Caribbean for long-stay vacations.

Gunung Api – An Active Volcano on Banda Api

Still seeking adventure?

Then look to the isolated island just across from Banda Neira, where you’ll find Banda Api hiding Gunung Api–its active volcano.

The last major eruption of the volcano was back in 1988 when the hot lava destroyed the coral reefs.

Luckily, it spared the local villagers.

Since then, you’ll find the Banda Api is home to rich wildlife hidden beneath a beautiful green mountain. This easy hike will reward you with the best views from the top.

If you like this idea, then you’ll also want to visit the Gunang Api volcano mountain. This is a must-visit remote island you can explore on foot, where you’ll enjoy beautiful views and rare bird species that reside on Banda Api.

RELATED ARTICLE: Discover more island destinations for wildlife vacations here.

How to Get to Banda Neira Indonesia

Being part of a larger archipelago, the best way to get to Banda Neira is to take a cruise.

In fact, there is no better way to explore any part of Indonesia than sailing around the scattered lands. Cruises that travel from Ambon, the capital of the Maluku province, cruise around the Spice Islands allowing you to visit all the islands in the Banda archipelago.

The Banda Islands include seven inhabited islands, including:

  • Banda Neira (Naira)
  • Banda Api
  • Banda Besar
  • Palau Ai (Ay)
  • Palau Run
  • Palau Pisang (Banana Island)
  • Palau Hatta (formerly Rosengain)

Among the smaller, possibly uninhabited islands in the Banda Islands are:

  • Nailaka
  • Batu Kapal
  • Manuk (active volcano)
  • Pulau Keraka (Crab Island)
  • Manu Kang
  • Hatta Reef

Although Banda Neira is amazing and holds so many treasures to be witnessed, due to its small territory it can be explored in a day or two. This gives you the chance to see all the other islands around that are equally amazing.

When is the Best Time to Visit Banda Neira Island?

The rainy season is from May to June. That makes it the least desirable time to visit Banda Naira, also because of the low visibility underwater.

The ideal time to visit Banda Neira is from October through December. You’ll find most of the cafes are open, serving delicious meals, smoothies, and coffee spiced with lots of nutmeg, of course!

Final Thoughts on Banda Neira Island Indonesia

Can you now see why Banda Neira should be on your bucket list, if it was not already? This incredible island offers so much in the way of nature, pristine water, history, and adventure. In fact, it may just be one of Indonesia’s best kept secrets.

What would your favorite thing to do on Banda Neira Islands be? Had you heard of the Banda Islands Indonesia before reading this? Would you want to dive here? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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Photo credits: Beach (Copyright: Pexels | CC0 Public Domain), Nutmeg (Copyright: Pixabay | CC0 Public Domain), Underwater Ocean Reef (Copyright: Pexels | CC0 Public Domain)