Clear blue water, colourful corals and abundance of sea life - Banda Islands in Indonesia offer amazing snorkelling spots. During our 3 weeks in the area, we visited many different places and enjoyed beautiful underwater trips. Here, we have collected the best ones.
During the 1989 eruption of the Api volcano there were three lava flows that reached the ocean. Over the next years corals grew actively over those spots, giving home to various sea life and creating beautiful underwater gardens. Today, they are considered to be one of the best snorkeling and diving spots in the world.
Two of the spots are on the north side of the island - one a little bit bigger than the other. The smaller spot often sees stronger currents and your boat driver would most probably lead you to the bigger. The colours underwater contrast greatly with the shore and the side of the mountain, covered in black sharp lava rock. The sea floor drops sharply at the lava flow on the south-west side of the island, and corals there are not that impressive.
During our 3 weeks on Banda we went several times to the Lava flow, spending hours each time snorkelling up and down the coast. The site is not huge, but, like all of Banda, it is not visited by many tourists and the water is clear, with colourful, healthy coral reef, full of all kinds of sea life. There were even black tip reef sharks patrolling the water, turning away shyly when they noticed us in the distance.
The lava flow is 10-15 minutes away from the main town Bandneira on Banda Naira island and is best visited on a boat ride from there.
Not many places in the world can offer the amazing opportunity to sit on the beach, put your head in the water and see so many corals and sea life. The shore drop-off is less than a meter away from the beach, you don't even have to swim to look at the sea wall. Water is crystal clear, with slow currents. In addition to the corals, there are sea turtles living in this part of the sea, and seeing one would usually be a matter of minutes.
There is only basic accommodation on Hatta, electricity is available for a few hours a day and running water is not an option, but if you are looking for a place where you can snorkel and sunbathe literally on the steps of your room - this is it.
Hatta is less than an hour away from the main island of Naira. The public boats leave a few times a week - they make a loop from Hatta to Naira in the morning and then back to Hatta in the afternoon and cannot be used for a day trip from Bandaneira. If you want to visit Hatta, a private boat can be arranged for the day.
The drop-off on Ai is not as close as Hatta, but it is still a mere 50-100 meters away. The corals are amazing, with schools of fish turning in the water and a special treat for the snorkelers are the big Napoleon fish. The water was clear and very calm on the surface when we visited, but with a little bit of a current underneath - keeping an eye on the shore is always a good idea.
Similar to Hatta, accommodation options are limited on Ai, with no running water and a few hours of electricity in the evenings, but staying on it will give you a chance for some amazing off the shore snorkelling.
The public boats run a loop Ai-Naira-Ai every day and for a day trip from Naira you will have to organize your own transport.
Nailaka is a very small sandy island, there is nothing to see on it, but the coral reef and the sea wall are just 10-20 meters out and are in great condition.
Nailaka is usually visited on a day drip from Ai, or on a longer day trip from one of the other islands when it is combined with Ai and Rhun.
Keraka is the jungle covered rock rising from the water between the northern edges of Naira and Api islands. A thick and shallow coral reef encompasses its northern side. If you are there during low tide you are so close to the corals that you can touch them with your hands (But don't! It is very bad for them!). The water was clear when we visited during low tide and just a little bit muddy during high tide, but the reef is in great condition, very good for snorkelling.
Keraka is very close to the Lava flow, just 10-15 minutes away from Naira.
About a kilometer away from the largest island in the group - Besar, Pisang island has one small beach on its east side that is very popular with the locals. The real interest for snorkelers lays on the quieter eastern side, where a beautiful coral reef and abundance of sea life awaits. When we visited there was some current along the coast, our boatman dropped us off near the southern edge and picked us up on the north side.
Pisang island is uninhabited and can only be visited by hiring a private boat.
The largest island of the group, Besar has several good snorkelling spots around its northern shore. The corals are not as dense as other places around Banda, but the water is clear, with a lot of fish. At some places, there are huge trees fallen in the water from the rough edges of the shore, and snorkelling over the blurry shapes of their sunken trunks down on the sea floor gives an eerie feeling.
The Nutmeg Tree (TNT) offers a diving tour in this part and they take snorkelers along. Very well organized, with lunch included.
We snorkelled in the west-south-west edge of the island, and while it was nice, clear water, there wasn't too much coral or fish (although we did see a reef shark!). The current was quite strong too, tossing us along, and it was a good thing our boat followed us closely.
This is the only off the beach snorkelling spot on the list, it can be reached within 30-40 minutes on foot from Bandaneira or even quicker on a motorbike.
It was obvious the locals feel it is inferior to other spots around the islands, but we liked it a lot. There are some very nice corals, plenty of fish and some shy eels hiding in their holes. The fun starts mere 50 metres away from the shore, easy to swim there and almost no current.
The beach has a natural rock wall 30-40 m out with a narrow opening, used by the occasional boat. During lowtide you may have to suck your stomach in to go over it. It is a good idea to make a mental note of a fixed object (like a tree or a bench) on the beach, on the same line as the opening when facing it from the water, so it is easy to find it when going back and you don't have to swim up and down looking for the way out.
The beach is not sand, but pebbles, and small rocks, best is to have wet shoes or you can hurt your feet.