The Banda Islands, the most far away place of all remote destinations, have a reputation to be hard to get to. We can say it depends. During high season in October/November and March/April you have several reliable options to get to the Banda Islands from Ambon, the capital of Maluku which is easily reachable from Jakarta and Bali (via Makassar). If you go during low-season it can happen that most of the fast options are cancelled or generally stopped like the fast ferry.
Fly to the Banda Islands with Susi Air
You can fly with Susi Air from Ambon directly to Banda Neira, which takes 40 min. There are a lot negative comments about Susi Air online and it is banned from operating within the European Union due to safety issues so many people hesitate to go by airplane. We asked the hotel owners on Banda and they all use Susi Air to get quickly to and from Ambon on their way to a business meeting in Jakarta or Surabaya. We only heard very positive things about their operations on this route. Also the airstrip on Banda Neira is long enough, so you don’t need to worry. If our flight wasn’t cancelled we would have loved to fly with Susi Air instead of taking the local slow ferry. The airline which flies to Banda can change from year to year. For 2018 it is Susi Air.
How to Book a Ticket with Susi Air?
You can either buy it directly at the airport in Ambon or you need a local contact who will book it for you. It is also important to check the latest flight schedule as they are changing every half year, but they will fly at least twice a week to and from Banda Neira. There is no possibility to book flights online at the moment. The easiest way to get on the flight is to first book accomodation on Banda Neira and ask your accomodation to reserve plane tickets for you. Due to the limited availability of air planes, pilots and passengers, the flights can be cancelled at any time. So if you want to fly, you need to be flexible and have a backup travel plan.
Take the Fast Ferry
During the high season in October/November and March/April, when the sea is calm, there is a fast ferry going from Ambon to Banda Neira which takes 5-6 hours. The fast boat leaves two times a week, currently 9am on Tuesdays and Saturdays from the Tulehu harbour in Ambon. The boat never fills up so you don’t need to book in advance, just go and buy ticket before departure. The ferry always goes back to Ambon on the following day so Wednesday and Sunday 9am. The economy ticket is IDR 410k one way. As soon as the weather conditions change the fast ferry stops operating due to the big waves. The boat cannot handle big waves and therefore only operates when the sea is very calm. This could happen to you during the shoulder months or off-season.
Last Resort Take the Pelni (Slow Ferry)
If the two above options somehow don’t work for you, you can always take the slow ferry. The government-run company Pelni is always reliable and helps the locals to travel everywhere in Indonesia for a very reasonable price. The ticket is only IDR 100k per person from Ambon to Banda, just go to the ticket office and buy your ticket after you arrive in Ambon. If you need to check the Pelni Schedule, you can do this here. The Pelni is never cancelled so you can rely on the information online. The ride will take between 12 to 19 hours depending on the direction and the waves.
On our way to Banda, the airplane was already full and the fast ferry had already stopped operating so we had to hop on the Pelni. The sea was quite rough (normal for the rainy season in Maluku) so it took us 19 hours from Ambon to Banda. The boat was shaking so much that we both got sea sick and could not do anything except lie down and hope that we would arrive soon. On the way back, our flight was cancelled because the pilot was sick so we had to take the Pelni again. But this time, the waves were coming from behind so the boat did not rock quite as much and the whole journey took only 12 hours.
Economy or First-class Pelni Ticket?
Pelni offers different ticket options, you can go with the cheapest one then you stay in a big hall with mattresses to lie on. Most Pelni’s are overbooked so there is not a mattress for every person who bought a ticket. So people lie everywhere just wherever there is so space. If you want to walk around on the boat you always need to step over sleeping families. Also you need to watch your belongings all the time there is no space where you could lock bags. On other blogs there are a lot comments about pickpocketing on the Pelni. We didn’t have any negative experience also the way in and out of the boat was not as horrible as described on some other blogs.
There is also the option to book a private cabin with 2 or 4 beds and a little bathroom inside. This is very convenient if you have a very long ride or if you go overnight. The bed sheets are fresh and clean, there is energy to charge laptops and phones and the toilet is also fine. Don’t expect a luxury room, this is the Pelni and no cruise ship, but its is good enough to lie down and get a rest or in our case fight the seasickness. From time to time you will see some cockroaches passing by.
How to Buy the First-class Ticket?
You can buy the first-class ticket online, but only up to 3 days in advance. The normal Pelni ticket office only sells economy tickets. You can get your private cabin later on the boat. Just walk in to the information desk and there they will bring you to a cabin. You need to pay an additional IDR 300k per person for that. It is good to arrive early so you can make sure that you will get your private cabin.
Vegan Food is Available on the Pelni
Everybody on the boat is entitled to free meals and drinks for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you are in a private cabin the crew will bring you the food to your cabin. You can tell them that you are vegetarian/vegan then they will adjust your food box accordingly. Meals consists of rice and some veggies some also have tempeh. The food is actually not too bad. It is still good to bring some snacks like fruits or nuts for the long journey.