It only takes about an hour to walk the whole length of Naira - from the picturesque colonial house of Istana Mini to the pebble beach Maloli, but there are many things that are worth seeing and places to visit on the small tropical island in Indonesia, plus a few that are just a quick boat trip away. From historical forts and colonial mansions, to snorkeling with sharks, you can easily spend a month without getting bored.
Diving and snorkelling
Those are the main attractions on the island. There are quite a few spots around Banda that provide some of the world's best opportunities for diving and snorkelling, and boat trips are easily arranged through the local guesthouses.
There are two old forts on Naira - Belgica and Nassau. Both were built in the 17th century to secure the Dutch position on the islands. Banda, up until 19th century, was the only place in the world producing the extremely valuable nutmeg. The precious spice has spiked several conflicts between the Portuguese, Dutch and British over control of the plantations and trade and the old crumbling forts still standing guard on most islands of the group are a silent reminder of those times.
Fort Nassau is the smaller of the two - nowadays its dilapidated walls are mostly hidden in the greenery and the stone gate is easy to miss. Its main visitors are the local goats and cows.
Fort Belgica is much different - it stands up on the hill above town, overlooking the water. It is fully restored, its walls forming a distinctive star shape. You can walk around the rooms on the lower level and traverse the walls on the top, where a beautiful view of the area awaits. Belgica and its tall towers are a favorite sunset spot for both locals and visitors of the island.
Rumah Budaya Banda Neira
Rumah Budaya Banda Neira is the main museum on the island. Located opposite Delfika 1 guesthouse, it has some interesting artifacts in its 4 rooms. While not a big museum, it provides a glimpse into the past of the islands and is hosted in a beautiful colonial building.
The museum is not always open during its official working hours, best check with your guesthouse before going or you can inquire in the nearby Delfika guesthouse.
A small lively market runs around the local jetty near Delfika 2 guesthouse. It makes for a nice morning stroll and provides a good opportunity to see people going about their everyday life.
The airport is located on the northern side of Bandaneira. It has only one short landing strip with a small building next to it. It is easy to reach on foot, about 5-10 minutes walk from Dive Blue motion (along the "main road"). If you check the schedule you can catch one of the planes landing or flying out in the mornings and in the evening it is a good spot to enjoy the sunset and have a stroll along the strip.
Apart from the main harbor, where Pelni ships and fast boats from Ambon berth, there is a local jetty that services boats to and from the nearby Banda islands. Even if you are staying only on Naira, it is a good spot for some people watching. There are boats from Ai every day and some days you can see the regular boats from Hatta and Run.
This old Dutch Governor's residence is very well preserved and renovated. The beautiful house still carries the colonial atmosphere, and makes for a good picture, however there is nothing worth seeing inside.
There are some old colonial buildings in Neira, most are not in great shape. Rumah Budaya - the local museum is well preserved and across the road is Delfika guesthouse, another beautiful colonial mansion, if you go inside and have a meal in their restaurant you can enjoy the really nice inner garden.
Off the shore snorkeling
Best snorkeling spots on the islands are reachable only by boat, but Naira offers some nice ones near the shore.
Maloli beach is about 40 minutes walk from the town center, or 10-15 minutes on a motorbike, located on the northern side of the island. The beach itself is nothing to write home about, it is not sandy beach, but is covered in pebbles and is quite small, but the reef that is only 40-50 meters away from it offers some nice corals and plenty of fish.
One thing to note if snorkeling there, is that leaving your stuff unattended at the beach is not a good idea, as having it stolen is a real possibility. Either make sure you have one person on land to watch your belongings at all times, or you can do as we did - take only what you need to snorkel and leave only your clothes on the shore.
Wearing wet shoes is recommended as the beach is not easy on the feet.
During the weekends and in the evenings it can get crowded with locals - after all, it is the best beach on the island, but on weekdays, during the day you would most likely have the whole place to yourself.
Snorkeling near the air strip
The spot is north of the east side of the airstrip. The reef is close to shore and can easily be reached by swimmers. Same as Maloli beach - don't leave valuables unattended and wearing wet shoes is going to be good for your feet.
There are Mandarinfish that get active before sunset along the rock wall of the shore from Vita guesthouse up to Dive Blue Motion and to the small local harbor above it. Pavel spent one hour in the the shallow, muddy and full of garbage water hoping to see them, but there were none at that time. We only looked for the Mandarinfish one time for our 3 weeks stay on Naira - the sea is disgusting so close to the town and we could not find motivation to take a second dip there.
If you decide to give it a go, any of the owners of the hotels along the water would be able to point you to a spot where you would have a chance to meet some Mandarinfish.
There are several mosques on Banda, the biggest one, Mesjid hatta-Syahrir, is located opposite the harbor. It was undergoing construction on our visit in December 2019.
San Tien Kong Chinese Temple
This 17th century Chinese temple mostly stays closed. The small yard with the distinctive main building are visible through the round windows on the wall surrounding it. If you want to have a look inside it is best to ask at your guesthouse, they can find someone with a key to let you in for a while.
Gereja Tua Banda Church
The only church on the island, Gereja Tua Banda is a restored Dutch church, built in the mid 19th century. Easily recognizable with its white columns, it is open only on Sunday.
Api - the volcano
A stone throw away from Naira, the tall Api volcano rises from the water. A hike up the mount is not for everyone, but if you are feeling adventurous and confident in your physical abilities, the views from the top are nothing short of amazing.
Besar - largest plantations
Besar is the biggest island of the Banda group and is less than 10 minutes boat ride from Naira. There are several small villages on it, an old Dutch fort, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves plantations. A boat can be arranged through one of the guesthouses or you can take your chances with the boat men at the local jetty.
Delfika guesthouse offers tours to the island - they include a walk through the village and plantations, visit to the Holandia Fort. They are very informative and interesting, a great way to spend half a day and to learn about the local culture and the spice harvesting and drying process. We really enjoyed our tour with Ayu, she was a great guide.
Day trips from Naira
All of the Banda Islands can be easily reached by boat on a day trip. The public boats cannot be used for this as they berth for the night on the smaller islands and then, during the day, make a single trip to Naira and back, but a private boat can be easily arranged by any guesthouse.