Banda Aceh, formerly known as Kutaradja, is the capital and largest city in the province of Aceh, Indonesia. It is located on the island of Sumatra and has an elevation of 35 meters. The city covers an area of 64 square kilometres and had a population of 219,070 people, according to the 2000 census. Banda Aceh is located on the northwestern tip of Indonesia at the mouth of the Aceh River.
The city was originally established as Bandar Aceh Darussalam Kandang and served as a capital and hub for the Sultanate of Aceh upon its foundation in the late 15th century. Later its name was changed to Bandar Aceh Darussalam, and then became popularly known as Banda Aceh. The first part of the name comes from the Persian Bandar (بندر) meaning “port” or “haven.” The city is also dubbed the “port to Mecca,” or the “porch of Mecca” (Indonesian: Serambi Mekkah) in reference to the days when hajj pilgrims travelled by sea from Indonesia and would make a stop over in the city before continuing their journey to Mecca.
Banda Aceh is a historical-rich city. This city had long story due to the protracted conflicts between the Acehnese and foreign domination, including war with portuguese, wars with the Dutch and the Japanese. The city rose to international prominence in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean earthquake in 2004, which struck off the western coast of Sumatra. Banda Aceh was the closest major city to the earthquake’s epicentre, which lay 249 km off the coast. It suffered great damage in the earthquake and further damage when a tsunami struck shortly afterwards.
Despite severely affected by the 2004 tsunami, Banda Aceh has been amazingly recovered. It is widely known as one of the most cultural- and historical-rich city in Indonesia, offering you an enjoyable stay with its stunning culture, tourism spots, and unforgettable culinary options.
Around 150,000 people were killed in Banda Aceh in the Tsunami of 26 December 2004. Some parts of the city became permanently submerged. Many aid agencies have been present since then to help rebuild.
Foreigners no longer require a travel permit (Surat Jalan) to enter Aceh, but an Indonesian visa is required. Since 6 June 2010, it is possible to get a 30 day Visa-on-Arrival at Banda Aceh Airport. The Embassy in KL can sometimes process the visa in the same day if you complete all the paperwork before noon, though officially this only applies to Malaysian residents( 60 day visa is no longer available at KL, so visa on arrival is the best bet, although you can still get a 60 day visa in 2 days in Penang(Jul ’15)).
There are non-stop night buses, with travel times ranging from 9-13 hours – from Medan to Banda Aceh. Major bus companies such as PMTOH, Pelangi, Kurnia and Pusaka have offices on Jl. Gajah Mada, Medan. As of June 2017, a regular seat in a bus or mini van costs about 240,000, and Pelangi Mercedes Benz buses cost 340,000.
Mini-buses can also take you to Banda Aceh from the Medan area, but journeys are generally longer. Prices are a bit cheaper than the coaches. It is also possible to travel over from Medan to Banda Aceh via Kutacane and Takengon. This will be 20 hr in total.
Sultan Iskandar Muda Airport, (IATA: BTJ, ICAO: WITT) is named after the twelfth sultan of Aceh, Iskandar Muda.
Airlines fly daily between Banda Aceh and either Medan, a 1 hr trip, or Jakarta, a 2 hr 40 minute trip.
- AirAsia, Kuala Lumpur. Flights every day early in the morning
- Firefly, Penang. Malaysia’s community airline now flies from Penang to Banda Aceh every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday
- Garuda Indonesia, Jakarta-Soekarno-Hatta, Medan, 3 daily flights from Jakarta and two daily flights from Medan. The Jakarta-Banda Aceh direct flight on Garuda takes 2 hr 40 mins on a Boeing 737, although it is often changed to stopover at Medan without warning. Seasonal to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia during the Hajj season
- Lion Air, Jakarta-Soekarno-Hatta, Medan, Batam. They have two daily flights from Jakarta and one from Medan. Flies from Batam to Banda Aceh on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
- SMAC, Blang Pidie, Meulaboh, Simelue, Takengon, Tapaktuan. Flies daily from Medan to Nias Island and Simeulue Island.
- Sriwijaya Air, Medan
- Susi Air, Meulaboh
There are rental minibus available from Medan to major cities in Aceh.
Visa formalities at this airport are similar to those of other Indonesian immigration gateways.
- Visa On Arrival (VOA) service is available at Sultan Iskandar Muda Airport.
A bus provides a service from Banda Aсeh to the airport, and from the airport to Banda Aceh. Operating hours are 10/11AM-2:30PM, price to the city is Rp 15,000/person.
The bus departing from the airport to Banda Aсeh leaves a few minutes after airplanes land. So departure time depends on landing time, more or less. Thus, it’s advised to hurry to catch the bus. It is on your left when you leave the airport building (taxi drivers will tell you there is no airport bus, just keep on walking because the bus is there).
Please note that this bus goes to Banda Aceh City Centre; it does not go to the Bus Station or Ulee-Lhue Harbour. If you want to go to the Bus Station or Ulee-Lhue Harbour, take a becak after being dropped off in the City Centre by the airport bus.
The closest big (international) ferry terminal is Belawan Port, close to Medan. It receives vessels originating from Batam, Indonesia (a common route when coming from Singapore). The ferry from Penang is no longer operating. From Ulhee-lhee, the port of Banda Aceh you can go to Pulau Weh and to Pulau Aceh.
The main methods of getting around are becak (motorbike taxis) and labi-labi (public minibus). Due to the sudden influx of money post-tsunami, locals have gotten used to overcharging, but now stabilisation has returned. Example becak fares are: Airport – Grand Mosque: Rp 40,000; Bus Terminal – Grand Mosque: Rp 8,000; Grand Mosque – Penayong: Rp 5,000. Inside the city, generally Rp 10,000 should do it. Car rental/taxi from airport to Penayong Rp 100.000/car, airport to ulee lheue port Rp 140.000/car, and one day car rental for banda Aceh city tour start from Rp 400.000/car (using Avanza, include driver & fuel, cost update 15 April 2015)
One knowledgeable friendly becak driver is Little John, who speaks English and Japanese. He also has the only actual wifi becak in town! Find him on Facebook (Little John Banda Aceh) or phone +62813 6023 1339.
There are free buses to get to the harbor and back to the city. There will be signs that say “Koetaradja”. The buses are modern blue city buses and they stop and the colorful orange, blue, green bus stops. One of them is located at the Eastside of the great mosque. The one at the harbor is just at the opposite side street side of the ticket counter.