Skip to main content

Snorkeling the remote and historic Banda Islands

The Spice Islands, Banda, Ambon, and Seram, are islands we visit on our Coral Triangle Adventures snorkeling toursThe 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, global trade, and even land deals that affected the colonies of the U.S. 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 including sites such as Hatta, Pulau Koon, and Lava Flow. We will also have a chance to see, in our opinion, some of the largest mandarinfish in the world! 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.


Map of the cruising route for the snorkeling tour to the Banda Islands, coral triangle adventuresThe snorkeling tour begins and ends in Jakarta, Indonesia. One round-trip internal flight from Jakarta to Ambon. From Ambon, we will cruise southeast towards the Banda Islands and after spending five days there, we will head north towards Nusa Laut and Ceram. 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 / Anara Airport Hotel
Meals provided: D
Meet in Jakarta, Indonesia at our group resort, the Anara Airport Hotel for the expedition orientation and welcome dinner. Overnight Anara Airport Hotel, Jakarta.

Day 2: Ambon / Gaia Love 
Meals provided: B,L,D
We have a morning flight to Ambon and upon our arrival will transfer directly to the M/V Gaia Love, our home for the next 12 days. After our boat orientation and trip introduction, we’ll begin our cruise to the Banda Islands. Overnight: Gaia Love

Day 3: Nusa Laut
Meals provided: B,L,D
The island of Nusa Laut lies off the southwestern region of Ceram and possesses a magnificent seaward reef where a large diversity of coral and fish can be found. Gentle currents sweep along the shallow reef margin, attracting thousands of reef fish to feed over the vibrant reef below. Protected bays offer the chance to snorkel over sheltered coral gardens where more delicate growth forms make up the composition of the reef. Overnight: Gaia Love

Day 4: Banda Islands / Pulau Run
Meals provided: B,L,D
After an evening crossing we arrive at Pulau Run the western-most island in the group of ten islands that make up the Banda archipelago. Famous for its historical role between the English and Dutch in the 1667, Pulau is now a quiet tropical island with amazing seaward reefs. Sometimes vertical walls covered with soft corals and seasons and sometimes with series of shallow, coral-rich platforms, the reef is also home to some of the largest aggregations of red tooth triggerfish we have ever seen. Schools of emperors, snappers, and surgeon- and unicorn fishes often accompany the triggerfish creating a mosaic wall of fish. Overnight: Gaia Love

Day 5: Banda Islands / Pulau Hatta
Meals provided: B,L,D
Pulau Hatta is limestone in origin, the result of an ancient reef uplifted due to tectonic interactions in the area. It is surrounded by a steep reef that encloses a shallow tidal lagoon. Depending on weather and tides we will spend one session exploring the reef crest and above the steeper slope where enormous coral bommies that support thousands of reef fish can be found, the other closer to shore looking for interesting fish and invertebrates that dwell in lush fields of sea grass. Overnight: Gaia Love

Day 6: Manuk Island
Meals provided: B,L,D
Whether permitting! While it is included as a planned destination, it is entirely dependent upon weather conditions due to how remote it is from just about anywhere. After an overnight crossing from Hatta to Manuk we wake to the tiny volcanic island named for the colony of boobies and frigate birds that nest there. Without any inhabitants or influences from human activity, undisturbed reefs are home to huge schools of fish as well as one of the more curious creature in the area; the olive sea snake. This is a great location for nudibranchs and other mollusks, especially against the black sand reefscape. Overnight: Gaia Love

Day 7: Banda Islands / Pulau Hatta / Lonthor
Meals provided: B,L,D
We return to Hatta with the goal to snorkel the another section of reef where the shallow margin gives us access to many of the fish that are usually found a bit deeper on the wall. Pyramid butterflyfish, clown triggerfish and lots of groupers, anthias, and turtles are common sightings along the wall. Int eh shallows is a nice mixture of rubble and sea grass, making it a great place for wrasse-lovers. In the afternoon we will snorkel the convoluted bays and beautiful beachfront of Lonthor (Banda Besar) Overnight: Gaia Love

Day 8 – 9: Banda Islands / Banda Neira / Gunung Api / Fort Belgica / Mandarinfish
Meals provided: B,L,D
In 1983 Gunung Api erupted, sending volcanic lahar down the steep slopes and into the nearby water where it vaporized shallow reefs in its path. 50 years later, the reefs have returned with such vigor and color, making it hard to believe there was ever a catastrophic event. We will also snorkel the reefs at Lighthouse and Pisang, both with fringing reefs that extend from the shore.

Over the course of our two-day moorage, we will incorporate a visit to Fort Belgica, the Dutch fort used to defend their interests in Nutmeg and Mace, the local museum and a nutmeg plantation to get the full appreciation for why these tiny islands were so popular during the 16th and 17th centuries. Along the constructed breakwaters and docks in the harbor reside perhaps one of the most colorful fishes in the family of dragonets, the mandarinfish. They are most active in the late afternoon where males court females every night in hopes of spawning a new generation. Overnight: Gaia Love

Day 10: Banda Islands / Pulau Ai  / Suanggi
Meals provided: B,L,D
Our remaining days in the Banda Islands will take us to some of the smaller islands that make up the archipelago. Pulau Ai is surrounded by clear tropical water and have shallow fringing reefs with reef margins that teem with life. The tiny island of Suanggi offers another chance at a seaward reef with a volcanic substrate. That evening we cruise back to the southern coast of Ambon. Overnight: Gaia Love

Day 11:  Mamala Island
Meals provided: B,L,D
The rugged coastline of Mamala Island does more than create an amazing backdrop to our snorkeling activities, it contributes to our experience by having deep grottos and intimate passages between the fields of boulders along the intertidal zone. This mixed communities and varied habitats around the island are always good for octopuses, nudibranchs, juvenile fishes, and scorpionfishes. Overnight: Gaia Love

Day 12: Ambon / Laha
Meals provided: B,L,D
The reef outside of Ambon extends along many miles of coastline and is mainly spur and grove in formation. Deep channels are lined with robust coral colonies and many of the less common fishes that are found here prefer the sometimes tumultuous environment. Laha is a very shallow mixed black sand, rubble, and coral habitat where many bizarre critters are often found. Frogfishes, sea horses, pipefishes, dragonets, nudibranchs, crabs, shrimp, and juvenile cowfish and sweetlips are just a fraction of the type of critters we will hunt for. Overnight: Gaia Love

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

Day 14: International flights or extensions
Meals provided: B


The Banda Islands are part of our Heart of the Coral Triangle departure Sept 30 – Oct 13, 2025←Click to request a booking

Prices and Payment schedule:
$ USD per person, double occupancy
$ USD per person, single occupancy

Reservation deposit: $500 USD
March 30, 2024: $ USD
June 30, 2024: $ USD / $ single

Tour cost includes:

  • Accommodations on day 1 through day 14
  • All meals on days 2 through 13 (dinner on day 1 – breakfast on day 14)
  • All internal transfers including international arrival and departure transfers
  • Non-alcoholic beverages
  • All snorkeling and park fees
  • All gratuities

Tour cost does not include:

  • Round-trip international airfare
  • Additional hotel accommodations and meals as a result of travel outside of the program dates
  • Visa requirements including payments
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • International departure taxes
  • Extra / overweight baggage fees
  • Trip insurance (recommended; (we recommend Travel GuardWorld Nomads, or Travel Insure)
  • DAN insurance (required unless personal insurance program has worldwide emergency evacuation services)
  • Additional accommodations while on tour in the event of flight schedule changes or events of force majeure
  • Fuel surcharges (if applicable)

Cancellation policy:
180 – 91 days prior to departure: 50% of trip cost
90 days or less prior to departure: 100% of tour cost

Please see our Terms and Conditions


We use the finest live-aboard boat in Indonesia to host us on our snorkeling adventures in the Banda Islands, the M/V Gaia Love. In Jakarta, we stay at the Anara Airport Hotel in Terminal 3 of Soekarno–Hatta International Airport. Please visit our accommodations page for more photos or use the link to visit the live-aboard/resort website.


gaia love - coral triangle adventuresThe Gaia Love is a modern 40-meter steel hull vessel build from the ground up in Batam, Indonesia. Designed with a modern contemporary look and with an emphasis on diving in comfort, she accommodates up to 20 guests in ten spacious ensuite rooms: six on the upper deck and four on the lower deck. Each room is 20 square meters and has individual air-conditioning and ensuite bathrooms with hot water. Upper deck rooms feature an additional private outdoor balcony. Gaia Love has a total of four decks (lower, main, upper and top/sundeck). The lounge, restaurant, and camera room are located on the main deck. Adjacent to the lounge is the seating area for plated meals. At the rear is an over-sized dive deck that can accommodate up to 28 divers. The partially shaded sundeck is perfect for evening gatherings and relaxation under the stars. More photos 


Anara Airport Hotel in Terminal 3 used by Coral Triangle AdventuresAnara Airport Hotel is the only integrated hotel with Terminal 3 International Airport Soekarno-Hatta. We present you an experience a new level of comfort to indulge yourself all day. As the 4-star hotel, Anara Airport Hotel has deluxe rooms (28 sqm) with king or twin accommodations, free wi-fi, flatscreen TV with cable and satellite, work desk and chair, hair dryer, mini cooler, and coffee/tea maker. Explore authentic Asian and delightful international cuisines at the Selasih restaurant or relax in the ambiance of the Lobby Lounge. Onsite facilities include a wellness spa and gym and four functional/meeting rooms. The easy access from the international and domestic terminals combined with the elegance of a modern 4-star hotel makes Anara Airport Hotel the perfect choice for business and leisure travelers. More photos 


Daily temperatures will generally be in the lower to mid 80's F (26-28º C) with a mix of sun and clouds and the occasional afternoon shower. Water temperatures average around 82º F (28º C). 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 three 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 read more about our daily schedule.


The following list is a suggestion of things to bring and applies to almost all our trips. Specific items on a particular departure will be noted on the departure information.

-A good fitting mask, snorkel, and set of fins. If your equipment is brand new, please try it out in the pool. Determining the fit and function of your equipment in the pool includes doing several laps with all your equipment on. Doing several snorkel dives is also very beneficial. It is also important to clean your new equipment, especially your mask. Cleaning procedures for your mask include light scrubbing with toothpaste or dishwasher soap to remove the layer of silicon used to preserve the mask during shipping. Clean both sides of the mask. Doing this greatly reduces the chances of having your mask fog. Not doing this, even when using mask de-fogger, usually results in a fogged mask.

-A wetsuit, rash guard, diveskin, or any type of clothing that can be used for thermal and/or protection from the sun. We suggest bringing a full 3mm wetsuit and some type of core insulation like a vest or shirt made of 1 – 2 mm neoprene (e.g., Lavacore or Sharkskin shirts or vests). These items will not only provide thermal protection but protection from the sun as well. For those who feel that a 3mm suit may be too warm, please consider a full body skin or rash guard to ensure protection from the sun. With regards to thermal protection, remember the saying: It is better to have and not need, than to need and not have. One that note…

-Head protection in the form of a wetsuit hood, a cap, or even a bandana. Anything that can keep the sun off your head is extremely important. It is the most exposed part of our bodies when we are floating on the surface.

-Underwater flashlight on departures with a planned night snorkel

-Biodegradable sunscreen lotion. Sunscreen lotions can be harmful and even kill tiny larvae (baby marine life). It is fine to wear on land, but we highly discourage the use of sunscreen lotions in the water. A full wetsuit or dive skin will protect one from the sun much better than lotions and provide thermal protection. It is truly a win-win for everyone and the marine environment.

-Casual, lightweight, tropical clothing
-Sunglasses (and a spare in case you lose your main pair)
-Comfortable footwear such as active sandals (Teva, Keen, Merrell, etc.)
-Hats. We cannot stress the importance of a hat in the tropics!
-All our boats provide items like shampoo, soap, towels, etc. We bring this up because these items represent added weight or may leak.

Other items to consider:
-Lightweight rainwear to protect from the occasional afternoon shower


Banda Islands 2023 Trip Report

Banda Islands 2023 Trip Report Banda Islands 2023 It had been over five years since our last trip to the ...
blue ring octopus photographed in the Banda Islands

Banda Islands Trip Report, Nov 2017

Banda Islands Snorkeling Tour, Nov, 2017 Trip Report Admittedly, I am always excited to visit the Banda Islands for the ...
Triggerfish, Hatta Island, Bandas, Indonesia, Ethan Daniels

Spice Islands 2015: Pulau Hatta, Banda Islands

Pulau Hatta, Banda Islands Drifting above the edge of a vertical drop off the radiated from Hatta in the Banda ...
colorful coral photographed in Raja Ampat by Lee Goldman

Raja Ampat trip report March 2023

Raja Ampat trip report March 2023 Raja Ampat March 2023 Our recent trip marked my 15th year visiting Raja Ampat, ...
Coral whip goby photographed by coral triangle adventures while snorkeling in Indonesia

Something fishy is going on in Eastern Indonesia

Snorkeling uber fishy eastern Indonesia I really enjoy the challenge of trying to take photos of colorful tropical fishes while ...

Heart of the Coral Triangle Trip Report

Trip Report: Snorkeling the Heart of the Coral Triangle, Sept. 23-Oct. 11, 2019 What an epic journey we just completed! ...
aerial view of Wayil - coral triangle adventures

Flying High in the Coral Triangle

Using drones to look for reefs to snorkel upon Flying drones in Raja Ampat! Where once we were confined to ...
Mastigias jelly reflection photographed in Raja Ampat

The Spice Islands 2015

Banda Islands Snorkeling Tour, 2015 Trip Report Spice Islands 2015. Standing on Bandaneira it was hard to imagine the impact ...