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Banda Sea: Reefs, Blue Whales, and Hammerhead Sharks

Travel in luxury as you explore some of the world’s best coral reefs, explore jungle covered islands, look for schooling sharks, watch for whales, and more.

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  • Visit a remote area of the Banda Sea nicknamed “Hammer Island” for the chance to see schooling hammerhead sharks under a new moon.
  • Look for blue whales and other marine mammals with expert guidance in between snorkeling or diving some of the world’s best reefs.
  • Enjoy luxurious accommodations aboard the boutique ship, El Aleph.

Explore the beautiful coral reefs surrounding the volcanic islands of Alor and the Banda Sea between Saumlaki and Maumere on this 12-day luxury liveaboard expedition. At the border where the Pacific and Indian Oceans collide, this area harbors some of those most biodiverse coral reef ecosystems in the world and is a hotspot for blue whales.

Our expedition brings together professional conservationists and passionate guests for a unique and enriching experience. Selecting ideal snorkeling and dive sites daily, we will immerse ourselves in diverse marine habitats and sail among the many uninhabited jungle-capped islands, complemented by dedicated time to look for whales. A highlight of the expedition will be a trip to “Hammer Island,” a remote location where scalloped hammerhead sharks are known to school in large numbers.

This expedition can be done back-to-back with our Borneo: Rainforest to Reef Wilderness Adventure expedition.

Trip Dates & Cost

2019: September 10–21. From $9,695 per person + park fees.* Group limit 10 only.

2020: September 10–21. From $9,800 per person + park fees.* Group limit 10 only.

* A deluxe master cabin is available at an additional cost. Trip prices do not include international airfare, or in-country airfare from Jakarta to Saumlaki and Maumere to Jakarta (or Bali). Click here for our full expedition terms and conditions.


Benjamin Kahn is a cetacean researcher and director of the Coral Triangle Oceanic Cetacean Program for APEX Environmental. He is an Adjunct Research Fellow in the Centre of Marine Science and Technology at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia. Benjamin first worked with Oceanic Society in 2015 aboard our Raja Ampat: Snorkeling and Whale Watching expedition.

Wayne Sentman is our director of conservation travel programs and an Oceanic Society naturalist since 1998. He is an experienced guide with a diverse background in marine mammal, seabird, and marine debris research. Wayne also co-teaches undergraduate field programs in Kenya on human-wildlife conflict and on the use of social media and art to raise public participation in conservation. He recently received a Master's in Environmental Management from Harvard University.

Dalton Ambat is based in Bali and has helped guide Oceanic Society's Indonesia snorkel programs for the last 8 years. He is an experienced snorkel guide and a PADI certified master scuba dive trainer who has logged more than 10,000 dives and trained more than 1,000 students. Dalton has worked across the entire coral triangle region and is an expert naturalist with a keen eye for the macro critters. In 2016 he also participated in our marine debris sampling survey cruise from Bali to Komodo.


Guests will need to arrive to Jakarta at least one day prior to the start of the expedition. In-country flights from Jakarta to Saumlaki, where we embark, and from Maumere, where we disembark, to Jakarta are not included in the trip price, but will be arranged by Oceanic Society. The following itinerary is an example only, and is subject to change based on weather and other external factors during our voyage.

Day 1: Saumlaki, embark
In the early afternoon, after our flight from Jakarta, we will board our privately chartered vessel, el Aleph, your home for the next 12 nights. We will then have lunch and embark towards the Banda Sea. There may be opportunities to see whales as we cruise past beautiful, jungle-capped limestone islands. We will sail overnight to "Hammer Island," an incredible place to snorkel with schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks in the Banda Sea. The island is not commonly known, so we are keeping its name a secret to prevent potential poachers from discovering it.

Days 2-3: Hammer Island
We will start the morning continuing our trip out to Hammer Island, arriving in the early afternoon. At the island we will have a meeting with the Chief and some of the island's villagers. The people here are trying hard to protect their reefs from outside fishermen that come from as far as Sulawesi. Many of the outside fishermen have contributed to overfishing, and still use fishing methods that are harmful to the environment including dynamite, cyanide, and trawl nets. We will support the locals by providing food, supplies, and fuel during our visit. The village priest will then accompany us to the water to give his blessings to call the hammerhead sharks to us, so that we can have good luck with our encounters. We will finish the afternoon with a snorkel or dive.

On the following day, we will remain anchored at Hammer Island and will have the full day to snorkel and dive the beautiful reefs here with great opportunities to see hammerhead sharks. While here, we will also be able to see sloping walls covered with soft corals of every color imaginable, which house many varieties of fish including ghost pipefish, Napoleon wrasse, cardinalfish, angelfish, and butterflyfish, as well as invertebrates such as crabs, shrimp, sea anemones, and nudibranchs.

Day 4: Hammer Island - Cruising West
We will have another full day to snorkel and dive around Hammer Island. After we've had plenty of opportunities to explore this unique area, we will continue our journey west into the Banda Sea to search for whales.

Day 5: Banda Sea - Damar and Romang Islands
As we travel west we will make our way around Damar and Romang Islands. Our on-board scientists will be on whale patrol, searching for blue whales, sperm whales, Bryde's whales, and dolphins. If the opportunity arises, we may be able to jump in the water to snorkel with the cetaceans. There may also be opportunities to snorkel or dive the magnificent reefs surrounding the islands.

Day 6: Wetar
Today will be an incredible day! After breakfast, El Aleph will cruise to some of our favorite snorkeling and diving locations along the northern coast of Wetar. The islands here lie at the point where the Eurasian and Australian continental plates collide, and there is a very distinct mixture of flora and fauna here. We will anchor overnight near the tiny island of Reong.

Day 7: Reong
Reong is known for its spectacular seascape with pristine hard coral reefs in shallow depths, and walls and steep drop offs for divers. We will start the day snorkeling or diving around Reong, and in the afternoon we'll visit a nearby village. The people living here are fundamental animists and believe that their ancestors were crocodiles. While touring of the village we will attend a ceremony with a local 'crocodile whisperer' to see if we can call one to come ashore. We will continue our journey west this evening, heading towards Alor.

Day 8: Alor
This morning, we will be on whale patrol on our route to Alor. We will then explore the lush coral reefs surrounding this island in the early afternoon. This area will offer a great opportunity to see Mola mola (ocean sunfish) and a mega-pod of resident spinner dolphins that often mix with melon headed whales.

Day 9: Alor, Pura, and Pantar
Today we will snorkel or dive along the reefs of Alor, Pura, and Pantar. In the afternoon, we will snorkel in Beangabang Bay on the southern side of Pantar Island and visit a remote village, Beangabang Village, nestled into the hills of the volcanic island. The snorkeling and diving here is phenomenal and is teeming with macro life. See if you can spot frogfish, ghost pipefish, bannerfish, cardinalfish, hellfire anenomes, harlequin crabs, sea urchins, or possibly a coconut octopus hiding in a shell.

Day 10: South Alor - Lembata
This day will begin with an early morning snorkel or dive along the reefs of South Alor. We will then have breakfast and head west through the Alor Archipelago and Savu Sea towards the island of Lembata. As we navigate through the Savu Sea, keep an eye out for pelagic species. The area is known to have passing manta rays, pilot whales, blue whales, and dolphins. We will be on patrol to try to locate and identify them.

Day 11: Lembata - Maumere
Lembata has fantastic snorkeling and diving. Depending on weather and ocean conditions, there will be several different sites we can choose from this morning. Here we may see more excellent macro life at Leba Leba Bay, the little rocky island of Suangi, or the "Shark Wall" in the north. Following our morning outing, we will have breakfast and go back on whale patrol to search for migrating blue whales, as our boat heads toward the active volcano, Batu Tara of Komba. If we are lucky, we may get to see natural fireworks from a distance, as the volcano often cracks and booms, letting fire and ash plumes fill the air.

Day 12: Maumere
On arrival in Maumere we will disembark and transfer to the airport. You will have the option to fly to Jakarta or Denpasar (Bali) to catch your international flights back home. All guests looking to fly home should make sure their flights do not leave until after 8:00 PM. Most flights will leave the next day.

Optional Post-trip Extensions
For those who would like to continue their exploration of this spectacular region, we are offering post-trip extensions to Borneo and North Sulawesi upon request. Please inquire for details!


Our expedition takes place aboard El Aleph, a 40-meter luxury ship purpose-built for exploring the remote and legendary Raja Ampat. From the polished wood finish – more reminiscent of a fine guitar than a phinisi schooner – to the-state-of-the-art electronics and navigation suites, no expense has been spared in providing the ultimate in relaxed, luxury charter. El Aleph features just 5 cabins accommodating a maximum of 10 guests (4 double cabins, 1 master suite), each with en suite facilities, and is staffed by 12 crew members. Multiple decks and a large lounge area offer ample space to spread out and relax, or to dine al fresco as you take in the surrounding views.

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