Banda Neira, The Volcanic Island in The Banda Archipelago

Banda Neira or Banda Naira is one of ten volcanic islands in the Banda Archipelago in the Maluku province, in eastern Indonesia. The Banda Islands, probably better known as the fabled Spice Islands of ancient times, are covered with towering, aromatic, tropical-evergreens.The Myristica Trees, indigenous to the Banda Islands, are the source of two rare and lucrative spices: nutmeg and mace – once found exclusively on the Banda Islands. A sparkling, sapphire sea surrounds these already incredible islands, brimming with exquisite corals and abundant ocean life, making the Banda Islands not only a historically significant destination, but also an internationally recognized diving spot.

Stepping onto the shores of Banda Neira is like taking a stroll through history—a trip back in time into a town that has remained relatively unchanged for centuries. Remnants of a once great trading centre are visible across the island. The majestic Dutch Fort, Belgica, sits in its lofty position atop the high hill overlooking Neira’s Bay, commanding the attention and recognition of all who pass. Ancient cannons lie scattered across the island, serving as reminders of the days when the Banda’s production of one of the world’s most sought-after commodities was one that was worth fighting to rule. Huge colonial palaces from times of the Dutch, Portuguese and British rule still leave their mark on Neira, built by those who had been catapulted into riches after successfully completing the arduous journey across oceans and seas for a spice once worth their weight in gold.

Banda Neira, Maluku
Banda Neira, Maluku (Source :

The Banda Islands have been a regional trading post for thousands of years, but were first settled by European sailors in the early 16th century. Upon discovery of the island’s high production of these spices, the Banda’s were instantly transformed into an international centre of trade, luring merchants from opposite ends of the globe for a chance at fortune. The spices are well-known for their preservative qualities, and were once believed to have multiple medicinal qualities, including being a cure for the bubonic plague.

Neira is the only one of the Banda islands with enough flat space to allow a small town, and therefore supports the only settlement of significant size on any of the Banda Islands, and sustains more than half of the archipelago’s 15,000 population. Neira is one of only three inhabited islands in the cluster.

The town of Banda Neira, Maluku
The town of Banda Neira, Maluku (Source :

Pulau Run, or Run Island is one of the smaller Banda islands, measuring only about 3 x 1 km, yet it is sometimes considered to be Indonesia’s “most valuable real estate.” Multiple European powers had battled for control of the islands for many years until the signing of the Treaty of Breda in 1667. The British traded the tiny island of Run with the Dutch for an equally tiny island on the other side of the world, thus giving the Dutch full monopoly of the Banda islands which they maintained for almost two hundred years. The island across the globe traded to the British still goes by its Dutch name: Manhattan, in New York, USA.


The Maulana Hotel is a luxurious hotel boasting traditional colonial architecture with an expansive patio just feet from the crystal clear Banda Waters, and spectacular views of Gunung Api. All rooms are air-conditioned and equipped with bathroom facilities. Rates start at just 50 USD per night.

Banda Neira is one of few islands in the world that can proudly boast a beautiful landscape filled with rare and exotic wildlife, spectacular dive spots, coloured with exquisite corals and alive with all manner of sea creatures, and centuries of incredible history. A history both tremendous and tragic. A history of wealth and war. And the remnants remain to tell the story.

History and Culture

Fort Belgica was originally built by the Portuguese, then conquered and reinforced by the Dutch East Trading company, VOC. It is one of the largest remaining European forts in Indonesia. A towering, stone structure, looming 10 meters into the sky, and built strategically at the peak of a high hilltop, Fort Belgica looks very much like a medieval castle, and has indeed been very well maintained over the last four centuries. Its pentagon-shaped walls are still guarded by ancient cannons pointing out to sea. The solid, iron balls once fired from these weapons were capable of sinking ships, and posed a deadly threat to any approaching opponents. Fort Belgica is just a 15 minute walk from the port of Banda Neira, and has been nominated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Fort Nassau is a smaller, yet still impressive fort, built by the Portuguese in 1529. Nassau was the defensive structure on the island before the construction of Fort Belgica in 1611.

Other colonial buildings still exist across the island including the Dutch Cemetery, the Dutch Reformed Church, the Mini Neira Palace, which was the Governor’s house, an old jail, and a museum filled with artifacts collected over the centuries.


This intriguing island is also a key destination for both diving and snorkelling. There are 22 available dive spots in the waters surrounding Banda Neira, each with their own unique splendor and charm – and many more are still being discovered. The crystal clear waters are almost overgrown in numerous types of corals and inhabited by hundreds of species of fish and other marine life. Divers exploring these waters can experience the full circle of the marine food chain, as the waters are abundant with fish of all colours, shapes and sizes.

Large schools of fish patrol the seas together with a mesmerizing array of surgeonfish, bannerfish, jacks and barracuda. Even schooling sharks and mobula rays are frequently sighted in the deeper waters. Other large species found roaming the waters include tuna, hammerhead sharks and several species of rays.

Map of Banda islands
Map of Banda islands (Source :

The nearby island of Banda Gunung Api is an island consisting entirely of a volcano. Its last major eruption was in 1988. Molten, hot lava flowed across the island and into the ocean, destroying all corals and marine life in its path. But when cooled, a spectacular phenomenon occurred. The hardened andesitic flow created so fertile a ground that in just a few short years, it supported a higher diversity and abundance of corals and ocean life than the adjacent reefs, not covered by lava.

Now, 20 years later, coral growth around Gunung Api Banda not only matches, but exceeds the development that normally takes coral formations over 70 years to achieve, making it the most rapid growing coral in the world.


The quickest route to the Banda Islands is through the Pattimura Airport in Ambon Island, about 36 kilometers from Ambon City. This is a domestic only airport, with flights available from  Jakarta, SurabayaMakassar, Kupang, and several other smaller destinations.

From Ambon, you can charter a small plane to Banda Neira or catch the occasional Citilink flights, but these are quite sporadic. It is impossible to book round trip flights, so you would need to be sure to book your return ticket once in Ambon, and don’t forget to keep reconfirming, as flights are often cancelled due to bad weather, engine problems, and other unforeseen circumstances.

Alternatively, you can cross the Banda Sea by ferry, which is about 7 hours from Ambon to the Banda islands, but once again, these voyages are extremely unpredictable

The Banda Islands are also a popular destination for cruise ships, and can be accessed via various cruise companies as well.

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