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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.
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 Bandas 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.
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 signging 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 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, Surabaya, Makassar, Kupang, and several other smaller destinations.
From Ambon, you can charter a small plane to Banda Neira or catch the occasional Merpati 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.