Pink anemonefish perched on its host, a magnificent anemone

About the Banda Islands

Snorkeling the remote and historic Spice Islands

The Spice Islands, Banda, Ambon, and Seram, are islands we visit on our Coral Triangle Adventures snorkeling tours

The Bandas are a tiny cluster of ten volcanic islands located about 150 km south of the island of Seram in the Banda Sea. The Banda Islands are part of a larger group of islands called the Maluku Islands (Moluccas), but perhaps a more familiar name for them would be the Spice Islands.

The romantic era of sailing to explore the world, often referred to as the ‘Age of Exploration’ (16th – 19th centuries), a time when the Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch ruled the seas, was, in no small part, promoted by Europe’s desire for a spice that could only be found on select islands in central Indonesia. Nutmeg and mace grew exclusively in the Maluku Islands, collectively known as the Spice Islands. For several centuries some of these tiny islands; particularly the Banda Islands, were the focus of wars, trans-oceanic races, and global trade in a quest to monopolize the highly valued spice. As soon as nutmeg was successfully grown on islands closer to Europe and the tastes of modern civilization changed, the ‘Spice Islands’, once the center of maritime activity, soon became all but forgotten. Today, the islands remain largely left alone and are far from the beaten path for travelers. Though once prized for their nutmeg, they are now prized for their pristine coral reefs and amazing diversity as they reside in the geographic epicenter of the Coral Triangle. Fields of colorful corals host thousands of reef fish including many of the big predators such as large groupers, snappers, sharks, and Napoleon wrasses. Celebrated explorer and naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace wrote of the Banda Islands,

“Banda is a lovely little spot, its three islands enclosing a secure harbour from whence no outlet is visible, and with water so transparent, that living corals and even the minutest objects are plainly seen on the volcanic sand at a depth of seven or eight fathoms.”

Our 14-day cruise begins and ends in Ambon. Along the way we will spend our days snorkeling on many of the spectacular reefs that can be found in the Banda Islands and around Ambon! We may also have the opportunity to visit a nutmeg plantation and some of the historical sites such as Fort Belgica, bringing us back to a time when sailing ships ruled seas in search of discovery and trade.

Click on any of the images to learn more about the Banda Islands

Gunung Api in the Banda Islands shows remnants of the path that the lava took, as a result of the 1988 eruption, as it flowed from the flanks of the mountain into the surrounding sea.

Snorkeling on a lava flow

Heart of the Coral Triangle 2019 trip report

Mandarinfish at Banda Neira are easy to spot, and tend to be quite large compared to other individuals around the Coral Triangle

Mandarifish of Banda Niera

Run was traded by the English for the Dutch-owned island of Manhattan during the spice island wars.

A good trade? I guess it depends…


Super male Napoleon wrasse in the Banda Islands

The Banda Islands are all about big fish!

Canon at Fort Belgica, Banda Niera, Banda Islands

Fort Belgica, Banda Niera

The Banda Islands offer some of the best snorkeling in the world

Healthy and diverse reefs


Click on a tour date below to read about trip details including accommodationspricing, and how you can join us!



Map of the cruising route for the snorkeling tour to the Banda Islands, coral triangle adventures

Banda Islands route map

The snorkeling tour begins and ends in Jakarta, Indonesia. One round-trip internal flight from Jakarta to Ambon. From Ambon, we will cruise south towards the Banda Islands and after spending seven days there, we will head north towards Pulau Koon and Seram. Please note that the following is a general itinerary and that weather, tides, and other unforeseen or unavoidable circumstances may affect the schedule at any time.

Day 1: Jakarta / Bandara International
Meals provided: D
Meet in Jakarta, Indonesia at our group resort, the Bandara for the expedition orientation and welcome dinner. Overnight Bandara

Magnificent dartfish (Nemateleotris magnifica) photographed while snorkeling in the Banda Islands, Indonesia

Magnificent dartfish (Nemateleotris magnifica)

Day 2: Ambon / MV Pindito
Meals provided: B,L,D
We have a morning flight to Amobn and upon our arrival will transfer directly to the M/V Pindito, our home for the next 12 days. After lunch, we cruise towards the remote and historic Banda Islands. Overnight MV Pindito

Day 3 – 8: Banda Islands / Banda Neira / Karang Hatta / Run
Meals provided: B,L,D
Our days in the Banda Islands are all about snorkeling over fantastic, pristine coral reefs in crystal clear blue water. Expect to see thousands of reef fish that make their home on the reef, as well as sharks, turtles, groupers, and schools of unicornfishes, barracudas, and snappers. We will snorkel around Pulau Run, Pulau Ai, Manuk (weather permitting), and Karang Hatta. Some of our special snorkels will take place around the volcano, Gunung Api, where the submerged lava flow from the eruption in 1985 is all but invisible under the nearly 100% coverage of coral. We will also have the chance to snorkel along the pier at Banda Neira where we can see the elusive and colorful mandarinfish, sometimes in only a couple of feet of water!  We will also have the chance to visit several villages and historical sites such as Fort Belgica on Banda Neira. Overnight MV Pindito

Coral reef Hatta Island photographed while snorkeling

Hatta Island

Day 9 – 12: Pulau Koon / Seram / Ambon
Meals provided: B,L,D
Pulau Koon is part of a small chain of islands that lay just off the south eastern tip of Seram. The draw is the chance to snorkel on a seaward reef that has schools of barracuda, jacks, snapper, and just about every tropical fish you can imagine! As we make our way back to Ambon, we will visit several reefs along the southern coast of Seram and have the chance to snorkel some of the reefs that fringe from the historic island of Ambon. Along with the incredible diversity of coral and fish that can be seen in just a few meters of water, the area also boasts some of the most scenic island settings imaginable. Overnight MV Pindito

Day 13: Ambon / Jakarta / Bandara
Meals provided: B,L,D
Disembark in Ambon and transfer to the airport for our flight back to Jakarta. Farewell dinner at the Sheraton. Overnight Bandara

Day 14: International flights or extensions
Meals provided: B

What to Expect

Water temperatures average around 28º C (82º F), though cooler temperatures may be experienced. At the minimum please bring a full lycra skin to help protect against the sun and no-see-um stingies that may be floating by. To take advantage of longer snorkel sessions or if the water is a bit cooler, please be prepared with exposure suits appropriate for cooler temperatures such as 2-3mm shorty or full wetsuits.

Some of the snorkel sites in the Bandas are subjected to strong currents. While we usually plan for slack tides, we will have some snorkel sessions where we plan to drift with the currents to be able to cover more reef as well as see fishes that are more active during times of stronger water movement. Plus, drift snorkeling is a relaxing way to see large sections of reef. Simply float on the surface and watch as reef life unfolds below. Our tours are 100% boat supported and two dinghies will be there to assist anyone for any reason at any time.

Our visit to Fort Beligica and the nearby museum on Banda Neira will require 30-60 minutes of generally easy walking on paved surfaces and well worn, even trails. Some uphill walking on paved surface is required to visit the fort. Loose-fitting, clothing and comfortable footwear is recommended.

Please click on our page About our Tours to read about what a typical day of snorkeling looks like on most of our tour programs.

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Click on the tour date to read about trip details including accommodations, pricing, and how you can join us!

Please email us with any questions you may have about this trip.