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The classically conical Banda Api volcano, seen here from Pulau Ai

Banda back on the map

Few travellers have ventured far across the Banda Sea to a remote chain of idyllic islands in East Indonesia which changed the course of history.

Spice Islands which were once worth Manhattan now a paradise found again

Centuries ago the Banda Islands sparked the spice wars which changed the world. Now adventurous travellers are discovering the islandsí riches for themselves.

Few travellers have ventured far across the Banda Sea to a remote chain of idyllic islands in East Indonesia which changed the course of history.

For centuries the Banda Islands, also known as the Spice Islands, were where every adventurer and explorer wanted to be. Not for their spectacular snorkelling and diving on vibrant reefs, or languid palms stretched over fine, pale beaches, volcanic hillsides thick with virgin jungle or the bountiful fruit trees, all of which continue to flourish here, but for nutmeg. For hundreds of years the Banda Islands were the world’s only source of nutmeg, a spice so coveted by Europeans that it was worth its weight gold.

Nutmeg
Nutmeg

Freshly harvested nutmeg and mace dry in the sun in the Banda Islands
Freshly harvested nutmeg and mace dry in the sun in the Banda Islands

Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan sailed west, inadvertently discovering the Americas while in search of these islands. The Dutch traded Manhattan with the British for Run, one of these islands. And yet, today, they are largely forgotten.

Less than 20,000 people live across this unspoilt Eden, mostly living a peaceful life in brightly coloured villages and tending to the nutmeg plantations which still thrive amongst the colonial era forts and ruins. Accommodation on the islands is basic – some lodges do not have running water or electricity through the night – so many visitors arrive by chartered dive boats or liveaboards such as the Rascal, a 30 metre 5-bedroom phinisi-inspired yacht.

Banda Islands
Banda Islands

Otherwise, getting there requires a five to 12-hour ferry (duration depends on the boat) or catching the occasional direct flight with Susi Air (www.susiair.com) from Ambon, the provincial capital, to Banda Neira, the islands’ administrative centre, which works to the adventurous traveller’s favour. Save for the birdsong and the occasional chugging of a longboat motor, the timeless islands are remarkably tranquil, with not a resort nor a cruise ship in sight – for now.

Interest in the islands is picking up, and luxury cruise company Aqua Expeditions is launching 7-night itineraries (which have already sold out) to the Banda Islands aboard its brand new 15-suite ship Aqua Blu in October this year. It’s possible that this distant sanctuary won’t be forgotten much longer. By Lydia Vasko

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© This article was first published in Aug-Sept 2019 edition of World Travel Magazine.

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