Dragonet mandarinfish in Banda, Indonesia

The Banda Islands: Beauty, biodiversity, world-beating diving and historical bloodshed (Part 3)

In the third and final part of our blog exploring Indonesia’s stunning Banda Islands, we look at the diving.

One of the most incredible destinations in any Emperor Divers liveaboards itinerary these 10, small volcanic islands offer diving experiences as diverse as the marine life on view.


Diving and snorkelling is usually comfortable with good visibility (15-30 metres) and calm waters. Depths of the diving sites range from five metres to 40 metres with temperatures from 22 to 29 degrees Celsius.

The range of dive types available is also wide with muck, wall, deep, drift, volcanic/hydrothermal vents and some interesting night dives looking for the illusive Mandarin Fish, a favourite of photographers. That’s if you’re quick enough to snap the multi-coloured beauty as it darts in and out of the corals at dusk!

If wall diving intrigues you, expect vibrant coral plateaus that quickly drop to some of the deepest and best wall diving on the planet. Huge Gorgonian fans, barrel sponges and whip corals cling to the reef and hang into the blue. Schools of butterfly, banner and parrot fish swim up and down the wall with good opportunities to see hawksbill and green turtles. A good guide will keep one eye on the wall and one eye in the blue, always hoping for a chance encounter with mobula rays, mantas or hammerhead sharks.

If you’re searching for some more interesting topography, you can look at Batu Kapal (Boat Rock). The rock that’s above water is easily confused with a cargo barge from a distance and on this site the currents play between the submerged pinnacles and the schools of fish play in the currents. Swimming from pinnacle to pinnacle, surrounded by the schools, you can appreciate why the area has developed such a reputation for biodiversity and biomass.

Honeycomb moray eel

The pinnacles themselves are blanketed in hard and soft corals, making the perfect colourful backdrop for the fish life on the site. All of the crevices and holes in the reef also make it a great site to look for eels, specifically the honeycomb moray eel (Gymnothorax favagineus).

If you’re wanting an entirely different diving experience, and your itinerary allows, you can look at diving the active volcano of Manuk – 100 kilometres from the nearest inhabited island, featured in multiple BBC documentaries and part of Jonathan Bird’s “Blue World” series.

This island is known for its abundance of black banded sea snakes (Laticauda semifasciata), apparently enjoying the heat of the volcano’s thermal vents. These vents also create the curious spectacle of bubbles emerging from the reef along with the hotter water that you can see mixing with the cooler water of the reef. Further to these unique experiences, the site is filled with colourful soft corals that creates a pretty contrast against the black volcanic sand.

The Banda Islands is unique geographically, historically and culturally. It is beautiful both above and below the water and is fast increasing in popularity.

However, getting there is still difficult being as they only have a 12-seater prop plane that flies just twice a week and is subject to frequent cancellations due to wind and weather.

The silver lining of this is? You can still explore the islands in relative quiet and in the same way they did 500 years ago, aboard a wooden vessel on the open oceans. It represents the most idyllic way to absorb the history and stunning scenery of the area and the most convenient and comfortable way to visit the best diving and snorkelling the area has to offer.

Black banded sea snake

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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