Indonesia Travel Guide

Indonesia is a vast tropical nation spanning a stretch of equatorial ocean nearly the length of Russia. With more than 17,000 islands to choose from, planning a beach vacation there is both incredibly easy and incredibly hard. It’s easy because you can find a beautiful beach to relax on just about anywhere in the country. The difficulty is in choosing one and, beyond the white, pink and black sand beaches, what else is there to do? The natural, cultural and spiritual attractions of Indonesia are just as exotic and endless as it’s beaches.

If you’re planning a trip to Indonesia, or just considering it, here’s a breakdown of where to go in Indonesia and what sort of experiences can be had there.

Top Destinations in Indonesia

Bali

What it is:

Also known as the “Island of the Gods,” Bali is an automatic pen-in on the bucket lists of travellers from around the world- and for good reason. With grumbling volcanoes, gorgeous beaches, crystal-clear water, a mystical culture rooted in ancient Hindu traditions (the only of its kind in the region) and famous surfing waves, Bali is the poster-child of tourism in Indonesia.

Most people go to Bali for the beaches and end up discovering that there’s more to it than they imagined. The beaches are only one thread in a deeply woven fabric of attributes that comprise the entirety of the Bali experience.

Must See:

Bali and its attractions are best understood in terms of their relation to cardinal directions: north, south, east, west and central Bali.

South Bali:

Most people arrive and stay in Southern Bali. Unfortunately, most first impressions of Bali’s beaches are of Kuta Beach due to its proximity to the bulk of south Bali’s accommodation and nightlife. While Kuta Beach is a good place to learn how to surf due to its consistent yet forgiving waves, for a beach experience that will be more in line with your expectations, you’ll want to hop in a taxi or motorbike to discover some of South Bali’s hidden gems.

Balangan Beach is closest to the main tourist centre of Kuta, yet approaching Balangan Beach makes you feel as though you are entering a hidden paradise. The beach is surrounded by high cliffs on every side and the crowds don’t seem to make it here. Padang Padang Beach is one of the more famous, but still relatively uncrowded, beaches in southern Bali. Made famous by the book “Eat, Pray, Love” here you’ll find clear waters and an other-worldly landscape of monolithic rock formations, particularly during low tide. The beach is also well-known for its unique wave breaks, making it a mecca for surfers.

Just south of Padang Padang is the incredible Uluwatu Sea Temple. Nestled on the side of a massive cliff, this is the perfect place to go for unrivalled birds-eye views of the Indian Ocean at sunset. The temple complex alone is worth a visit, while the cultural performance that takes place every evening as the sun is setting makes the area extra special.

Pandawa Beach was once considered to be a secret beach that only locals and well-informed expats knew about but in recent years, a path has literally been blasted through the limestone cliffs and a well-paved road now provides easy access for all. The beach here is large and the waves are unusually calm, making it a great place to go with kids. The quirky array of statues that have been carved into the cliffs along the access road make for an interesting distraction, if you need one.

Further afield, the Sea Temple at Tannah Lot sits on a tiny island that’s only accessible during low-tide. Tannah Lot is not only popular with tourists looking to capture some if its rugged beauty, but it’s also an important pilgrimage site for Balinese people. What few people realize about Tannah Lot, though, is that there are actually some rather pleasant beaches within easy walking distance of the temple itself.

Perhaps the most beautiful and least-visited beaches in southern Bali are those not technically on Bali itself. Just off the coast of Sanur, which also happens to have a lovely beach- which is especially nice for sunrise- are the islands of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida. Not only is the water crystal clear here but the residents of these islands are of an entirely different culture than mainland Balinese- making it an interesting cultural excursion as well.

East Bali:

Despite its relative proximity to the tourist centres of south Bali, East Bali is rarely visited despite having some amazing attractions. It’s the perfect place to go if you want to enjoy a quainter atmosphere.

Amed is considered one of the better places in Bali for diving and snorkelling due to the abundance of shipwrecks and corals. The dark sandy beaches, while different, are also picturesque. Next up is Candidasa, which is considered one of the most romantic areas in Bali. In addition to having really charming beaches of its own, there are also a few offshore islands worth visiting such as Goat Island and White Sandy, one of the area’s best-kept secrets.

Padangbai is the main launching point for people heading to the island of Lombok, but is often overlooked as a destination in its own right. On the eastern part of Padangbai’s coast there are areas perfect for swimming, sunbathing and snorkelling and not far off is Silayukti Temple, which is well-known as a place for meditation- although you need permission from locals to do so.

Outside of the beaches and perched on the southwestern side of Mount Agung, one of the tallest volcanos in Bali, is Besaikih Village.  Within the village is the Besakih Temple Complex, which is considered to be the most important temple in Bali. With a combination of scenic surroundings, fascinating architecture and an abundance of pious worshippers, the area is one of Bali’s most photogenic destinations.

Ababi is a rather unassuming village that, if not for Tirta Gangga, would hardly attract anyone. Also known as the Water Palace, the stunning architecture and its clever use of water make this one of the most fascinating temples in Bali.

North Bali:

Under appreciated and little-visited, North Bali is one of the island’s most beautiful and peaceful areas. Aside from being decidedly greener and more tropical than other areas of the island, it’s also one of the most pristine- both physically and culturally.

Most who head to the north find themselves heading to Lovina. The famous black sand beaches and coral reefs here are some of the island’s best, while the laid back vibe sets visitors at ease. Lovina is also well-known for its large population of dolphins, which are best seen during sunrise boat trips.

Once the capital of Bali during colonial times, Singaraja is a requisite stopping point for those travelling in the north. The wide boulevards and colonial architecture makes for a unique experience on the island.

10km east of Singaraja is Pura Meduwe Karang. This is the most impressive temple in the north of Bali and it’s unusual, often macabre stone carvings, make it a visual sceptical that’s worth visiting.

West Bali:

 The least populated and least visited area of Bali is in the west. Roughly speaking, Bali is a circular island. West Bali is like a protruding extension of that circle, reaching to within a few kilometres of Java- making it the easiest access point for ferries bridging the gap. Much of the area is dominated by West Bali National Park, which is mostly uninhabited. The northern end of this “extension” is known for its calm waters and excellent diving and snorkelling. The southern end is much more rugged and is well-known among surfers to have some of the wildest waves on the island.

One of the main draws of west Bali is Menjangan Island. Known for its rugged beauty, the island is the perfect place to go for treks into pristine forest. It’s also a world-renowned diving and snorkelling area.

Much of the southern coast is fringed with black-sand beaches and remote fishing villages. The best-known of these is Medewi Beach. In addition to being a famous surf destination, it’s also known for its laid-back atmosphere and for the charming village there.

On the north side, Pemuteran is the most well-known beach. It’s one of the only areas in West Bali that is somewhat well-developed, and there are a range of activities to partake in there, such as snorkelling, diving, and hiking.

Central Bali:

Far and away, the biggest attraction in central Bali is Ubud. Considered by travellers and locals alike to be the cultural centre of Bali, it’s the place to go if you want to discover the magic of traditional Balinese culture and be exposed to the incredible artistry that makes it so special. In addition to being home to a few legitimately worthwhile destinations of its own such as Ubud Monkey Forest and the Tegallalang Rice Terrace, Ubud is also home to an almost endless array of smaller local temples. These are almost constantly full of traditionally dressed locals, either practicing Balinese dance or worshipping. In addition to being one of Bali’s most photogenic destinations, Ubud is also well-known for its laid-back and artistic atmosphere. The streets here are easily walkable and contain some of the island’s most charming restaurants and cafes.

The central mountain range of Bali contains some of the island’s best scenery, as well as some of its most important temples. Loosely known as Bedugal, the area centres around three picturesque crater lakes:Bratan, Buyan and Tamblingan. Bratan Lake is home to what may be Bali’s most photographed temples, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan. The architecture and sweeping views of the lake and surrounding mountains are one of Bali’s most iconic images.

Along the roads between destinations, no visit to Bedugal would be complete without a stop at the roadside viewpoint overlooking what is known as the Twin Lakes, that is Buyan and Tamblingan, but viewed from above.

Further north there is the charming mountain village of Munduk, which allows visitors the perfect opportunity to witness a slice of local life. Not far from the village is Munduk Waterfall, located about 1,500m above sea-level and surrounded by lush tropical foliage.

How to get there: 

By Plane: Arrivals to Bali by air come in through Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport. Better known as Denpasar International Airport, it’s located about 13km of Denpasar itself. To get to the centre of town or to Kuta it takes between fifteen and twenty minutes, depending on traffic.

By Train: Despite there not being any train tracks in Bali, many companies do offer combination transport packages to Bali. It’s particularly common to take scenic train rides through Java on the way to Bali- a time consuming way to do it, but one that allows you to see a side of Indonesia that is usually hidden.

By Boat: Visitors to Bali by boat come from either Java or Lombok with ferries or speedboats. The latter departs from Ketapang and arrives in Gilimanuk, in west Bali. Onward transport by bus is generally needed from there. From Lombok, ferries depart from Lembar Harbour, in southwest Lombok, and arrive in Padang Bai, in the east of Bali.

Flores

floresWhat it is: 

Often overshadowed by its tiny dragon-inhabited neighbour, Komodo, Flores has, until recently, hidden in plain sight from the eyes of most travellers planning trips to Indonesia. Stretching some 450km from west to east, its formidable terrain ridden with volcanos, deep valleys, and knife-edge ridges, was often viewed as too difficult for travel.

The island has, since, found limelight on a numerous occasions. First, after the discovery of a species of pre-humans that thrived there tens-of-thousands of years ago, and then for its being named one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Since then, things have opened up quite a bit. Flores is now considered one of Indonesia’s best-kept secrets, and is the perfect place to go for unique off-the-beaten path adventures.

Must See: 

For many visitors to Flores, Labuan Bajo is their first introduction. The town itself is rather non-descript, but within a close proximity of it are not only the remarkable islands of Komodo and Rinca, but also a number of worthwhile trekking opportunities to be had in the area such as Cunca Rami Waterfall and Sano Nggoang Crater Lake.

The most renowned attraction in Flores is Kelimutu Volcano in Central Flores. The volcano has three striking crater lakes at its summit, each with a unique colour -lending to the commonly associated name, “Three Colour Lakes.” For reasons not yet understood, the chemistry of these lakes causes their colours to change periodically, ranging from black to white and red to green.

As with most Indonesian islands, there is not just one stunning volcano. Egon Volcano has impressive crater views, as well as smoking sulphur and beautiful panoramic vistas.

For a unique experience, the Hot Springs of Blidit are a must-see on the island. Featuring hot, warm and cold natural springs surrounded by dense tropical vegetation, they provide an excellent place to relax and enjoy the natural bounties of the island.

There are also a number of fantastic diving and snorkelling sites in Flores. The most notable of these are Maumere and Riung. Both are considered to have some of the best diving in Indonesia.

Flores has an extraordinarily long history of human (and pre-human) occupation. The island achieved international notoriety after the discovery that, up until as recently as 5,000 years ago, there were actually two species of hominids inhabiting it- Homo sapiens and Homo floresiensis- a discovery which shocked the scientific community and inspired the imaginations of would-be travellers. Since then, Flores has seen an influx of travellers interested in discovering its historical and cultural heritage.

In Luba and Bena Villages, visitors have a chance to experience Flores’ unique indigenous cultures. The traditional houses in these villages are not only surrounded by jaw-dropping scenery, but also of stone-age monoliths that will give visitors some insight into just how deep the history of this region really goes.

How to get there: 

By Plane: There are several airports on Flores, the main ones are Labuan Bajo Airport and Wai Oti Airport in Maumere, the island’s largest town. Transport onward from either of these airports is relatively easy and can be made by bus, mini-van or public transport.

By Bus: It’s also possible to make it to Flores from the islands of Lombok and Bali by combined bus and ferry transport. From Lombok, the trip takes about twenty-four hours.

Gili Islands

What it is:

The Gili Islands are a series of small paradisaical islands between Bali and Lombok that have quickly carved out a name for themselves in the upper echelon of top destinations in Indonesia. In addition to being easily accessed from both Bali and Lombok, the islands are famous for their bohemian vibes and stunning natural beauty. Although they may be small- the largest island can easily be circumnavigated on foot in the space of an afternoon- they are jam-packed with visual feasts that put many larger islands in Indonesia to shame.

Must See: 

Far and away the most visited of the Gili islands is Gili Trawangan, which is universally referred to simply as “Gili T.” It’s by far the most cosmopolitan island of the bunch- if you can use that word to describe a place that has more palm trees than people. Despite its diminutive size, Gili T has a vibrant (bordering on crazy) nightlife, abundant restaurants and a surprisingly robust range of accommodation for anyone from backpackers to luxury travellers.

Each of the three main islands in the Gilis has its own distinct flair. While Gili T is best described as a mix between “tropical chic” and “bohemian,” Gili Air could be described as a languid paradise with a local flair. There’s just enough nightlife and infrastructure here to keep you entertained but it’s the prevailing “less is more” attitude that’s the real draw of this island.

If you’ve ever dreamt of being a castaway on a desert island paradise, Gili Meno is the island for you. It’s the smallest of the Gili islands and, even during high season, it has an off-the-grid demeanour that’s perfect for travellers who want to get away from it all. Most of the accommodation on the island is strung out along the east coast, luckily near one of its nicest beaches.

How to get there: 

By Boat: Unless you’re an incredible marathon swimmer, the only way to get to the Gili Islands is by boat. Luckily, there are almost endless options for boats that will take you there- particularly from Bali. Because of the surging popularity of the islands, there are no less than twelve different companies offering fast-boat services linking Bali to the Gili Islands. Just how “fast” these boats are depends on a few factors: how big they are, how many engines they have and how exclusive they are (boats with fewer people go faster). General travel time is between two and three hours.

The alternative is to take a ferry from Bali to Lombok then, after transferring from the harbour to the main access point, Bangsal, take a public boat across the bay to Gili Trawangan. Rather confusingly, if you want to take a public boat to other islands in the Gilis, you need to go from Gili T back to Bangsal then onward again to the next island. A more expensive but less time-consuming option is to hire a private boat from one island to the next.

Java

JavaA visit to Java, more than any other island in the archipelago, allows travellers to see and understand what makes Indonesia the country that it is. It’s the beating heart of the nation from multiple perspectives- culturally, economically, religiously and politically. Java contains 56% of Indonesia’s population, which is an impressive statistic considering there are more than 17,000 islands! In total, more than 140 million people call the island home.

Despite the density of its population, Java remains a place where wild, untapped natural beauty reigns and there is a fascinating million year history that has led to the Java of modern day Indonesia.  Java is a destination that most definitely rewards those who are willing to go the extra distance to experience something extraordinary.

Must See: 

West Java

If all roads lead to Rome, the same could be said of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. With more than 24 million people living in the city proper and its surrounding areas (collectively known as Jabodetabek), it’s the second largest city on the planet. “Bustling” is an understatement. Most who find themselves in Jakarta haven’t gone there for the city itself but, rather, as a stopping point before heading onward elsewhere in the country. Jakarta isn’t completely without merit as a tourism destination, though.

One of the city’s icons is Monas National Monument and the nearby National History Museum. These are great places to visit if you’re interested in topping up on a bit of historical context before starting your adventure in Indonesia.

On the eastern side of the city is Taman Mini Indonesia Indah which is an interesting place to visit to learn about Indonesian culture. The traditional architecture, exhibits, and cable-car affording sweeping views of the surrounding area make it more than worthwhile.

The Istiqlal Mosque and The Catholic Cathedral are two of the most notable religious sites in Jakarta. The former is the largest mosque in Indonesia- which is saying something considering that Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world. Representative of the unusual level of tolerance and religious freedom in the country, the Catholic Cathedral is located just across the street and is almost equally impressive in terms of stature.

The Old Town, also known as Old Batavia is a historical gem that, despite its fallow state, is undeniably charming. A stroll through its scenic colonial alleys and around the various museums in the area is the perfect way to spend an afternoon in Jakarta.

After Jakarta, the next biggest attraction in West Java is Bandung. With nearly seven million inhabitants, it’s not exactly a small town, either. When the Dutch first arrived here they adoringly referred to it as the “Paris of Java” due to its charming European feel and art-deco architecture.

Nowadays, Bandung is a popular place for Javan weekend travellers and is well-known as a famous university town in Indonesia. Surrounded by the lush Parahyangan Mountains, volcanos and tea plantations, Bandung is blessed with unusually pleasant scenery for such a large city.

Popular daytrips from Bandung include Tangkuban Perahu, an impressively imposing volcano and the scenic, other-worldly, crater lakes of Kawah Putih and Patenggang.

With those with enough time, Ujong Kulon National Park is one of Java’s best kept secrets. Tucked away in the extreme southern tip of West Java, the national park is not only home to some of Indonesia’s most pristine and primordial rainforests, it’s also home to what is widely considered to be the rarest large mammal on earth- the Javan rhinoceros.

Brought to the brink of extinction, only a handful of these majestic one-horned creatures remain in the world, and Ujong Kulon is the only place to see them. Although actual sightings of the rhinos are rare, sightings of their footprints and signs of their presence are common. To be in the natural habitat of one of earth’s most precious animals is an experience that more than justifies the relative difficulty of getting to the area.

Central Java

Also known as Yogyakarta Special Region, Central Java  is best known for its A-list UNESCO World heritage sites, although the capital city of the region, Yogyakarta, is one of Indonesia’s most charming destinations in its own right.

Jogja, as it is often called, boasts the top attractions of Prambanan, an ornate Hindu temple, Keraton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat, an  18th century palace that once housed the Sultan of Java, and the beautiful water temple of Taman Sari.

The biggest draw to Central Java, indeed one of the biggest draws to Indonesia itself, is Borobudur Temple. The temple is so impressive that it is often referred to as the “Angkor Wat of Indonesia.” The comparison isn’t totally unfair. Among historical heritage sites in Southeast Asia, Borobudur surely sits alongside Angkor Wat in terms of size and intrigue. Located on an elevated area surrounded by two volcanos, the imposing structure is not only gorgeous, but the scenery is, too. At only 40km from Jogja, it’s also relatively easy to visit.

Central Java is home to Indonesia’s most active volcano, Mount Merapi, which translates, quite simply, as “Mountain of Fire”. It has erupted an incredible 68 times since the mid-15th century. It is possible to climb with a qualified guide, although precautions must be made to ensure that safety isn’t a concern. The activity of the mountain is monitored daily and access to trails change on a whim.

East Java

If Volcanos are your thing, East Java is the place to be. It’s home to two of Indonesia’s most famous and picturesque volcanos, although this title is up for debate.

Of these, Mount Bromo reigns supreme in terms of reputation. Standing alone on a vast plain, known as the “sea of sand”, the vistas of Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park afforded atop Bromo are unrivalled.  The other-worldly are best viewed at sunrise.

Lesser known but no less spectacular is Ijen, a complex of strato-volcanos on the eastern edge of Java that offers travellers a truly unique volcanic experience in a country overflowing with them. Deep within the caldera’s interior, the ignition of escaping molten sulphur causes blue flames to emerge from the volcanic floor. If this wasn’t spectacular enough, within a few short meters of this blue-fire is the highest acid lake in the world. The combination of the vivid green acid lake, the vibrant blue flames, yellow sulphur and Martian-like surroundings combine to create one of the most surreal settings on the planet.

The largest volcano in the East Java is Semeru, which means “Abode of the Gods”- a name derived from an ancient Hindu legend. If the name seems over-the-top, wait until you see it in person. The volcano seems to rise out of nowhere, reaching straight up into the heavens. It’s no wonder that, when ancient people first saw the mountain, divine legends were inspired by it.

Semeru, the largest volcano in East Java at 3,600m, is part of the same complex of volcanos as Ijen. Ambitious hikers with enough fortitude to make it to its peak are treated to one of the most spectacular vistas in all of Indonesia. High above clouds that would otherwise obscure the view, the vantage point allows you to see the tips of Ijen and the other smaller volcanos in the area laid out like islands in a sea of sulphurous clouds.

How to get there: 

By Plane: Java is the seventh largest island in the world and boasts 7 international airports. Most visitors will arrive at Jakarta International Airport (Soekarno-Hatta). The next most common entry point isYogyakarta Adisucipto International Airport, and then Bandung International Airport (Husein Sastranegara) and Surabaya Juanda International Airport.

Options for transport onward are numerous and easy to find- although don’t expect efficiency. Java is well known for the spectacular sights it provides to travellers by train- the route from Jakarta to Yogjakarta is known to be especially scenic.

Kalimantan

For those interested in nature and wildlife, the island of Borneo is regarded as one of the world’s most alluring and exotic destinations. Covering a land area substantially larger than Germany and the United Kingdom combined, it’s the third largest island in the world and the largest in Asia. Straddling the equator and sheltered from the ravages of storms that frequent areas just north of the island, Borneo also lacks volcanos that have periodically wreaked destructive havoc on islands south of it. Consequently, the rainforests of Borneo are considered to be some of the oldest, most pristine and biologically diverse in the world. The rainforest have existed in, more or less, the same state they are today for more than 140 million years. So deep and vast are the expanses of its wilderness that much of it, as of yet, remains uninhabited and undiscovered.

The landmass of Borneo is split between three countries. The eastern side of the island is divided between two Malaysian sides, Sabah and Sarawak, and a small city-state, Brunei. The other side, about 73% of it, belongs to Indonesia and is known as Kalimantan. For adventurers, nature enthusiasts, and travellers looking to discover a place that is truly off-the-beaten path, Kalimantan represents one of Asia’s finest opportunities. While it isn’t as easy or as cheap to travel in as other areas in the region, Kalimantan offers travellers a window into life that has long since vanished elsewhere in the region.

Must See: 

By far, the biggest draw to Kalimantan are its vast reserves of untouched nature. It’s one of the few remaining places in the world where visitors stand a reasonably high chance of spotting truly wild orangutans. The forests are teeming with iconic animals such as gibbons, dwarf elephants and hornbills.

One of the most popular places to go for both pristine rainforest habitat and unrivalled opportunities to get up-close and personal with a critically endangered Bornean Orangutan is at Tanjung Puting National Park. Set aside as a wildlife refuge by the Dutch in 1939, the park gained international notoriety for its unusually large population of orangutans, and has been a pilgrimage site for nature-lovers ever since. It’s one of the few places in Indonesia, let alone the world, where you’re almost guaranteed to at least catch a glimpse of one of these jovial creatures.

Just a few hours from the eastern capital of Samarinda, orangutans can also be found at Kutai National Park. Along the coastal areas of the park you can find other unusual primate species, such as the slow loris, proboscis and leaf monkeys. Keep your eyes peeled for the sunbears and rare flat-headed cats that also call the area home.

Near the border with Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo, Betung Kerihun National Park is most easily accessed from the provincial capital, Pontianak. Locals from Nang Potan, a small town near the forest only accessible by boat, operate adventurous treks into the park. More than just a wildlife-spotting experience, a journey along the bending paths of the rivers here will take you deep into the heart of Bornean wilderness.

Although Kalimantan is most well-known for its abundant nature, it’s also a hive of cultural intrigue. In addition to curious and friendly locals throughout the region, Kalimantan is also home to a sizable population of the Dayak People. The term “Dayak” is used loosely to describe some 200 ethnic subgroups that inhabit Borneo’s densely forested interior. Once feared for their well-known practice of “head-hunting,” (a tradition they no longer keep) the Dayak people are now more well-regarded for their incredible connection with nature.

While many Dayak people now inhabit more developed areas of Kalimantan, there are still areas where they live mostly as they have for millennia. With a journey down the Mahakam River to Kutai National Park you can encounter a string of riverside Dayak villages such as Mancong and the famous Longhouses they call home.

Kalimantan is not without its fair share of beach paradises, either. The most famous of these is theDerawan Archipelago in East Kalimantan. The remote, silvery beaches here offer visitors a pristine strip of paradise that few other travellers experience. The crystal-clear waters around Derawan Island is home to one of Indonesia’s largest populations of manta-rays, and is also a great place to see wild sea-turtles. The Derawan Islands also feature unique lakes that have remained isolated for so long that they now boast populations of stingless jellyfish that make for unique snorkelling experiences.

How to get there: 

By Plane: The primary airport in Kalimantan Sepinggan International Airport near Balikpapan. Most international arrivals come from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.

By Bus/Boat: There are also a number of boat and bus combination packages allowing travellers from Sabah and Sarawak to enter Kalimantan.

Komodo

Not long ago, Komodo Island was the stuff of legend for travellers and naturalists. Only a lucky few, mostly scientists and bonafide explorers, ever had an opportunity to travel there. At first glance Komodo island is like something straight out of King Kong, which isn’t a coincidence. The original films were inspired by Douglas Burden’s expedition here in 1932. It’s easy to see where he got his inspiration. After all, in addition to the stunning deserted landscapes of Komodo, there are dragons there. Komodo dragons, to be precise.

Komodo dragons are basically giant lizards- the largest in the world. Reaching lengths of over 3m and a weight of over 75kg. While they may not have wings or breathe fire, coming face to face with one of these beasts will surely be a not-soon-forgotten experience.

The great thing about Komodo Island is that, these days, it’s surprisingly easy to get there. A short flight from Bali will land you directly on this fabled island. And, if coming face-to-face with Komodo Dragons doesn’t sound like reason enough to go, the island has other surprises in store for visitors. It’s also home to deserted beaches of pink sand, colourful fishing villages and some of the densest coral reefs in the world. Combined, it was enough to qualify Komodo Island as being named one of the New Seven Wonders of the Natural World in 2011.

Must See:

Visiting Komodo will involve acquainting yourself with Labuan Bajo, the bustling tourist centre of the Komodo area. Interestingly, it’s not actually on the island of Komodo but a rather dusty village at the tip of Flores. While Labuan Bajo isn’t much to behold in its own right, there are a number of small islands just off its coast that are worthy of mention. Bidadari, Seraya and Sabolo Islands are all renowned for the spectacular underwater worlds found surrounding them.

Of course, the real reason most people visit Komodo is to get up-close and personal with Komodo Island’s famous inhabitants, Komodo dragons. Komodo Island and its neighbour, Rinca Island are the only places on earth where these lumbering reptilian giants exist. Despite their rarity, the arid landscape of Komodo makes them relatively easy to find. With guided tours of the island, you can easily find yourself peering straight into their eyes (from a careful distance, of course) within the space of a few hours.

Rinca Island, Komodo’s largest neighbour, is also worth a visit. In addition to having Komodo dragons of its own, the undulating hills of Rinca and its spectacular coral-studded coastline are, arguably, even more dramatic than Komodo’s. If you’re heading back to Komodo at dusk, vast swarms of Flying Foxes will join you on the commute from a massive colony living on Kalong Island, which sits between Rinca and Komodo. At more than a meter wide, they’re the largest bats in the world so the sight of thousands of them flying at dusk is impressive to say the least.

One of Komodo’s biggest attractions is Pink Beach. It’s one of only seven beaches in the world to hold the title of actually being pink. The colouration is due to the abundance of similarly coloured coral that wash up onto the beach and, after eons of wave action, are reduced to the sugary consistency they have today. Numerous reputable sources claim that the snorkelling here is some of the best in the world.

If Komodo Island isn’t already off-the-beaten path enough, those looking to go further have a range of options for more trekking in and around Komodo. Popular trekking excursions in the area include hikes toMount Mbeliling for sights of Cunca Rami WaterFall and Crater Lake.

How to get there: 

By Plane: The best way to get to Komodo is by air from Bali. Daily flights operate between Denpasar International Airport and Lubuan Bajo Komodo Airport. From Labuan Bajo, speedboats take you to Komodo Island itself.

Lombok

Sitting a mere 35km away from the tourism giant of Bali, Lombok is almost an entirely different world. Crossing the gap between these two islands brings you over a transitional boundary known as the “Wallace Line.” This line represents the geographical divide between the Asian and Australian continental plates. As such, the environmental transition that takes place while crossing over is drastic.

In place of vibrant tropical rainforests, you have a somewhat arid but hauntingly beautiful golden-hued rolling hills surrounded by some of the clearest and bluest water you’re likely to see anywhere. The flora and fauna of Lombok is of an entirely different nature, too. In place of typically Asian species, Lombok is home to species that are more closely related to those found in Australia.

And that’s not all that makes Lombok different. The island is also host to an entirely unique culture. The Sasaks who live there have fused traditional Animist beliefs with Islam to create a unique culture that is truly unto itself in many ways.

While Bali is more about tourism, beaches and relaxation, Lombok is more about the simple joy of travel itself. It appeals to those who have a slightly different take on vacations- people who value authenticity and uniqueness in destinations more than convenience. While millions of visitors flock to Bali each year, very few ever make it to Lombok- and that’s exactly why you should go!

Must See:  

In typical Indonesian fashion, Lombok’s attractions are roughly divided between beach destinations, natural attractions, and cultural ones.

The most famous of these is undoubtedly Mount Rinjani. At over 3,600m, it’s Indonesia’s second highest volcano and, arguably, one of the most famous for travellers. Rinjani enjoys widespread praise not only because of its astounding natural beauty, but also because of the relative ease in getting there. Most reasonably fit travellers can conquer its summit for unrivalled views of the Crater Lake below in the space of a single day.

Senggigi is a fairly unavoidable stopping point for anyone spending a reasonable amount of time in Lombok. It’s not only the island’s largest tourist centre, offering all manner of shops, restaurants and accommodation, but it also has a pretty decent beach. Senggigi Beach is a long strip of fine white sand with waters suited to swimming, snorkelling and diving.

The road between Senggigi and Pemenang may not be an attraction, per se, but that doesn’t make it any less must see. This well-paved strip of coastal road winds up and around the hills and valleys of western Lombok and offers some of the most scenic viewpoints on the entire island. The highest of these, MalimbuHill, offers spectacular views over Malimbu Beach and the Gili Islands between Lombok and Bali.

To get an up-close-and personal interaction with the resident wildlife of Lombok, head to Pusuk Monkey Forest. The scenic view at the top of the mountain, where a large troop of monkeys live, is an experience unto itself. Be careful with your belongings here, though, as the monkeys are known for being a bit rambunctious!

Aside from Senggigi, the biggest tourist centre on the island is Kuta. Those familiar with its Bali counterpart will be pleasantly surprised. In addition to being more quaint and charming, Lombok’s Kuta also hosts several gorgeous beaches at Mawun, Tanjung Aan and Selong Belanak. Mawun Beach is widely regarded as one of the most gorgeous in all of Lombok.

Lombok is also home to a good many waterfalls that make for excellent side-trips during a stay on the island. The most notable of those within a relatively close proximity to the main tourist centres of Lombok are Tiu Teja, Tiu Kelep or Sendang Gile. For those with a bit more time, there are some spectacular waterfalls closer to the centre of the island at Benang Kelambu and Benang Stokel.

Finally, one would be remiss not to spend some amount of time exploring the rich cultural heritage of Lombok. The Sasak people who live on the island have inhabited it for centuries. The most visited of their villages are Rambitan and Sade Village. The former is the less touristy of the two, while both will give visitors a nice glimpse into the island’s local culture.

How to get there:  

By Plane: All arrivals by air enter through Lombok International Airport (Bandara InternasionalLombok), as it’s the only airport on the island. Located in Central Lombok, it’s about 40km south of Lombok’s capital, Mataram, an hour and a half drive to Senggigi and 30 minutes’ drive to Kuta.

By boat: Many of Lombok’s visitors come from Bali by boat. From Bali ferry links travel from Padang Bai Harbour in Bali to Lembar Harbour in southwest Lombok, about an hour south of Senggigi. Transport vans will be waiting to transport travellers onward to their next destination upon arrival. Not including land-transport time, the journey takes between four and five hours.

There are also a number of “Fast Boat” services linking Bali to Lombok. These depart from either Padang Bai Harbour or Benoa Harbour (near Serangan) and take between an hour and an hour and a half.

Raja Ampat

Raja_AmpatWhat it is:

Carved out of ancient limestone by wind, waves and rainfall, the Raja Ampat Archipelago consists of more than 1,000 sparsely populated and impossibly beautiful islands. Draped in dense tropical foliage and fringed with pristine mangroves and kaleidoscopic reefs, the islands are an ecological treasure-trove that may very well represent the pinnacle of tropical beauty in Southeast Asia.

Above the waves, a resounding symphony of songs from rare birds of paradise and other exotic creatures saturates a densely forested interior. Trekking on these little-explored islands offer visitors the opportunity to potentially encounter creatures and plants that have yet to be formally identified.

The cultural intrigues of Raja Ampat are rich and diverse, too. From relics of the Era of the Four Kings (for which the islands are named) to Neolithic cave paintings and remnants of the Second World War, the history of the islands is fascinating. Natives of the region, known as West Papuans due to their proximity to New Guinea, exist mostly as they have for centuries, living off of the islands’ riches as traditional fishermen.

Below the waves, Raja Ampat is unrivalled. The reef-ridden waters surrounding these islands are widely regarded as the best in the world for diving and snorkelling. Raja Ampat is the crown-jewel of a region of the world known as the “Coral Triangle,” which is roughly equivalent, in aquatic terms, to the Amazon Rainforest. It is said that the reefs surrounding Raja Ampat contain 75% of the world’s coral species, and an equal amount of darting tropical reef fish.

Must See: 

For land exploration, there are a variety of things to see and do in the Raja Ampat Islands. Aside from the diving, Raja Ampat is most famous for its stunning diversity of bird species, particularly birds of paradise. The absolute “must see” is the Alfred’s Bird of Paradise, considered by many to be one of the world’s rarest and most beautiful birds. After its discovery by famous British naturalist Sir Alfred Wallace on the islands of Waigeo and Batanta, more than 250 species of birds have been found to live on the islands- many of them endemic.

The four biggest islands of Raja Ampat (Waigeo, Salawati, Misool and Batanta) harbour an incredibly diverse wildlife in similarly diverse habitats. With a bit of time, patience, a sharp eye and fortitude enough to explore some of these islands’ more wild areas, it’s possible to catch glimpses of some of the jungle’s larger and more bizarre inhabitants, such as the Waigeo cuscus or Paulino. Even on the smaller islands such asGam, Kri and Mansuar, jungles afford opportunities to have amazing encounters with wildlife.

For unrivalled views of Raja Ampat, head to Mount Pindito in the heart of Wayag’s  emerald-green rock islands. Here you’ll find the definitive image of the Raja Ampat islands. Wayag is sometimes closed during off-season, though. If that’s the case, the karst island seascape of Piaynemo is nearly identical.

Most who visit Raja Ampat will do so mostly for what lies beneath the waves, and for good reason! For perspective on just how spectacular diving here can be, Raja Ampat currently holds the world-record for the most number of species to be found in a single dive site -284 at Kofiau Island. The benchmark for “excellent” dive sites is 200, which is surpassed by 51% of Raja Ampat’s dive sites- another world record. If that isn’t enough to make you want to get your fins wet, the islands are also home to more than 600 species of coral, yet another world record.

How to get there (basic info): 

If Raja Ampat seems pristine and untouched, it’s for good reason- the islands aren’t known for being particularly easy to get to. From Jakarta, it’s more than a six-hour flight to the gateway of the islands in West Papua, but it is very much worth the journey.

By Plane: Flights run from Jakarta or Bali to Sorong, with connecting flights in Makassar or Manadooffered by Sriwijaya Air, Express Air, Lion Air and Garuda Indonesia.

Sulawesi

What it is: 

If you’ve never heard of Sulawesi, don’t worry. You’re not alone. It’s a far-flung island surrounded by thousands of other far-flung islands. Its name means “Iron Island,” which refers to the famously rich metal deposits found among it’s beautiful topography. Forbidding ridges of jungle-capped mountains stretch across its width, as crystal-clear water teeming with life laps away onto hidden coves with sugary white sand beaches.

Because of its size- the eleventh largest island in the world- and distinctive K shape, Sulawesi is a cultural hotbed as well. Each “leg” of the island is more or less isolated from the other legs which, over time, allowed for a multitude of cultures to arise in relative isolation from one another. In all, more than 40 languages are spoken on the island. The famous hospitality and intriguing history of the various tribal groups living on Sulawesi are reason enough to visit. Combined with the fantastically paradisiacal surroundings of the island, Sulawesi is that dream paradise you never heard of but always wanted to go to.

Must See: 

One of the star attractions of Sulawesi is Tanatoraja. This remote village located in the highlands of southern Sulawesi is home to a tribe of people known as the Toraja. In addition to having a uniquely traditional way of life, the Toraja people are most famous for their distinct and spectacular burial rites. The festivals that take place during these burial rites are considered one of the most fascinating things to see in Sulawesi.

The Togean Islands are Sulawesi’s next biggest attractions. This cluster of rugged jungle-capped islands in Central Sulawesi is surrounded by impossibly clear water and craggy coral reefs that provide some of the best diving and snorkelling in Indonesia. It is here where you’ll find the fascinating Bajau Laut Sea Gypsies who spend their entire lives at sea on houseboats, only ever visiting land for fuel and necessities.

Close to Manado,  the capital city of North Sulawesi, is the absurdly beautiful Bunaken Marine Park.Despite being easily accessed from the city, the marine park boasts some of the finest snorkelling and diving in the region. Just two hours north of Manado is Tangkoko Nature Reserve, where you can go for glimpses of the unique wildlife that live above the oceans, such as the famous Black Crested Macaques,Bear Cuscus, and Tarsiers.

The village of Tanahberu, in South Sulawesi, is also a worthy stop. There you’ll see the construction of traditional Bugis boats by people who have been constructing them for generations.

How to get there: 

By Plane: The two major hubs of Sulawesi are Makassar International Airport and Manado International Airport. Makassar serves flights from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, while Manado only serves flights from the latter. Both have facilities to serve visitors receiving visas on arrival.

Sumatra

Berbak_National_Park_2012_sumatraWhat it is:

Few places in the world conjure images of raw, untapped nature more adeptly than Sumatra. It’s a place where primordial rainforests teeming with life envelop steaming volcanos. These are not just any rainforests, either. Within the shadows of their misty interiors, tigers, rhinos and elephants abound in story-book fashion as orangutans and other rare and exotic primates swing from tree to tree.

The mystical allure of Sumatra doesn’t stop with its nature. The ethnically diverse people of the island possess varied cultures as spicy as the food they create. From devout Muslims to Batak Christians and the matrilineal Minangkabau, Sumatra is a hive of cultural intrigue drawing visitors from around the world.

If that isn’t enough, Sumatra also lays claim to having some of Indonesia’s wildest and most pristine beaches. It also has some of Southeast Asia’s most famous swells, making it an intrepid surfer’s dream destination.

Must See:

North Sumatra

Many of Sumatra’s biggest draws are located in the north of the island, which also happens to be the most accessible area of the island. Most visitors to Sumatra arrive in its capital city, Medan.

Located on the northeast coast of Sumatra, Medan is Indonesia’s fourth largest city, and the largest outside of Java. The city offers a unique cultural vibe with its blend of Batak Christian, Chinese and other Sumatran cultures. It is said that there is no majority population within the city. Lending to this unique cultural blend is a famous food culture, offering some of Indonesia’s best (and spiciest) cuisine. So much so, in fact, that even Indonesians consider Medan to be a food-tourism destination.

The city itself offers a unique blend of old and new architectural influences too. In addition to the  modern developments that have recently risen throughout the city, there is also a multitude of old Dutch-colonial buildings peppering the skyline.

Some of the must-see destinations while in Medan are the Maimoon Palace, where you can actually dress up as an Indonesian king or queen; Vihara Maha Maitreya, said to be one of Southeast Asia’s biggest temple and Mesjid Raya Mosque, one of the most ornate Muslim temples on the island.

One of the best places in Southeast Asia for getting up close and personal with orangutans is Bukit Lawang. About 90km from Medan, it’s one of the few places in the region where you are virtually guaranteed to witness our lanky distant relatives in their natural habitat. Many of the orangutans here are actually rehabilitated captive orangutans or orangutans who have been displaced by deforestation elsewhere and are semi-wild.

In addition to being a fantastic place to witness orangutans in their natural habitat, Bukit Lawang is also a gateway to Gunung Leuser National Park. This is the place to go for a truly wild orangutan sighting. While your chances of spotting a orangutan here are much lower than in the Bukit Lawang,the jungle trekking is fantastic. Gunung Leuser is also home to populations of tigers, rhinos and elephants- so if you’re lucky, you just may spot one of these elusive creatures.

About 100km south of Medan is Sumatra’s next biggest attraction: Lake Toba. The lake is located within the caldera of one of earth’s largest and most historically fearsome volcanos. For perspective on just how large the volcano is, Lake Toba is more than 100km long, 30km wide and 500km deep- big enough to qualify it as the largest lake in Southeast Asia. The island in its centre, Samosir, is roughly the size of Singapore. The waters surrounding it are a deep ocean-blue. Those wishing to visit this unique place can stay on the island of Samosir in three charming towns, Parapat, Tuk Tuk and Berastagi. In addition to being excellent launching points for exploration of Lake Toba and its stunning scenery, these areas are also home to the famously friendly and laid-back Batak Simalungun people.

Another popular stopping point for visitors to North Sumatra is Gunung Sibayak. At 2094m tall the volcano here is considered to be one of the more accessible for trekking. Within the space of about five hours, it’s possible to trek from the trail’s starting point, in the town of Berastagi, to the caldera rim and back.

For beach and island goers, North Sumatra also hosts some perfect beach holiday locations. Topping the list is Palau Weh, a relatively small horse-shoe shaped island just off the northwest coast of Sumatra. What the island lacks in size it more than makes up for in dramatic scenery, crystal-clear water and fantastic dive opportunities. The most popular beaches here are Gapang and Iboih, although the best is, arguably,Pantai Sumur Tiga.

South and West Sumatra

The south of Sumatra is home to some of the islands most beautiful and pristine beach paradises. One of the most jaw-droopingly beautiful of these are the Bangka-Belitung islands. The famous granite beaches lined with white sand and clear-blue water are the stuff of postcards. These islands are also famous for their delectable, and affordable, seafood.

The Nias and Mentawai Islands are renowned for being rather difficult and expensive to get to- so they are the perfect reward for intrepid travellers willing to go an extra mile to encounter places that are truly special.  The Mentawai Islands in particular are world-renowned for having some of the best surfing waves on earth, with crystal- clear waters and untouched beaches that are dangerously close to perfection. The local Mentawai people are equally alluring. Their tribal way of life is deeply rooted in a connection with nature that is contagious.

The mountain town of Bukkittinggi, in West Sumatra was once a popular stopping point on the overland route between Sumatra, Java and Bali. In addition to being a convenient resting point, the area also hosts some spectacular attractions. Trekkers will delight in Gunung Merapi and Gunung Singgalang. The former is Sumatra’s tallest and most active volcano. The latter is also nearly 3,000m tall and has two stunning lakes at its summit.

How to get there:

By Plane: Most visitors to Sumatra arrive at Kualanamu International Airport in Medan, the major hub of North Sumatra and Sumatra in general. There are also international flights serving Sultan Minangkabau International Airport in the city of Ketapang as the major hub of West Sumatra.

By Boat: There are numerous ferry services connecting Sumatra with Malaysia and other parts of Indonesia. The main port is Dumai in Riau, with direct links to Port Klang, Port Dickson and Malacca in Malaysia. All ferry transports take less than 3 hours.

From Singapore it’s also possible to reach Sumatra by first taking a ferry to Batam Island (a nearby island belonging to Indonesia), then taking a ferry over to Pekan Baru or Dumai.

From the island of Java, take the ferry over from Merak in the north of the island to Bakahueni in southern Sumatra. The ferries not only operate daily, but run every hour.

Things to do in Indonesia

Be a foodie

Why:

When it comes to foodie allure, Indonesia is sort of the unsung hero of Southeast Asia. Its central location among ancient trading routes between the Far East, Middle East and South Asia, and a rather lengthy Dutch occupation, made it a culinary melting pot. Part of the reason Indonesia was so deeply integrated into ancient trading routes was because of its importance in the global spice trade. The “Spice Islands” of antiquity, now known as the Maluccas, are where globally recognized spices such as cloves and nutmeg originally came from. This, compounded by the influence of some 300 ethnic groups that live in Indonesia, results is a cuisine that’s vibrant, colourful, full of intense flavours and incredibly varied.

Although Indonesia may be unfairly dismissed as a foodie paradise, if imitation is the greatest form of flattery, it’s not without its share of recognition. Many dishes that originate from Indonesia are enjoyed and paraded around as “local” favourites elsewhere in the region. Tempe, for example, originates from the island of Java. Other classics such as satay, rendeng and sambal, which are extremely popular in both Malaysia and Singapore, are also of Indonesian descent.

Where:

Nowhere on the archipelago has as widely regarded reputation for bold cuisine than the island of Sumatra.With a substantial culinary influence from India and the Middle East, Sumatran cuisine separates itself from cuisine elsewhere in Indonesia with the prevalence of its spicy curries such as gulai or kari. The city ofPadang in west Sumatra is particularly well known for its rich and varied gulai dishes. In eastern Sumatra, the capital city of Medan is well-known for its Malaysian-style dishes. Among Indonesians, Medan is considered to be the “Penang of Indonesia” and is wildly popular for its thriving street food culture. The most well-known area for street food in Medan is Jalan Selat Panjang, where the oldest and most well-established traditional eateries are.

Cuisine on the island of Java is known for being more indigenous in nature. The capital city of Jakartabucks that trend with its famously rich and eclectic Betawi cuisine. Betawi cuisine combines an influence of Indonesian flavours from throughout the archipelago, as well as flavours from further abroad due to the wave of immigrants that settled in the city over the last century. For seafood, head to Santiga Seafood Stall, which is one of the most beloved eateries in the city, or Jalan Wahid Hasyim for just about anything else.

On the island of Bali, culinary traditions are a mix between both indigenous dishes and dishes introduced from elsewhere in the archipelago. Indigenous dishes are famous for combining a multitude of aromatic local ingredients that pack a punch. In the south of Bali, the tourist centre of Kuta has abundant opportunities for visitors to sample local dishes among the multitude of street food vendors that line its streets. In particular,Nakula Night Market is well-known amongst locals for its authentic and varied cuisine. Due to the abundance of options, the best way to sample these is under the guidance of an experienced local expert.

When:

The great thing about exploring a country’s culinary offerings is that there’s never not a great time to do it. When sampling street food in Indonesia, or anywhere else in Southeast Asia for that matter, it’s always best not to go too late. Most restaurants, or warungs, in Indonesia stay open until their ingredients run out- and the most popular ones run out soonest!

Insider Tip:

It’s tempting, when you find something that you like, to fill up on it because it’s so delicious. When sampling street food in Indonesia, it’s important to remember that there countless dishes to try.

Enjoy Indonesia’s incredible arts scene

Enjoy Indonesia’s incredible arts scene

Why:

Southeast Asia is well regarded amongst travellers for the richness of its cultural art. Nowhere in the region has as robust or impressive of a cultural arts scene as Indonesia, though. Throughout the archipelago, whether it be in the form of performance art, traditional batik painting, wood-carving, or sculptures, art is pretty much omnipresent. Indonesian culture places a heavy emphasis on using arts as a means of connecting with their heritage and, even from a very young age, locals can be seen engaging in activities related to maintaining this tradition. The intricacy and skill involved in their work is famed throughout the world for its aesthetic beauty. Consequently, Indonesia is probably the best place in Southeast Asia to go if you’re interested in seeing, experiencing or buying traditional art.

Where:

The profound Hindu influence and mystical nature of Balinese culture makes the island of Bali one of the country’s foremost destinations for traditional art, particularly in Ubud. Streets throughout the city are lined with skilful artisans who work at their incredible crafts in plain sight of visitors and from anywhere in the city, you’re never more than a few meters from a temple, monument, shrine or arts gallery.  While walking around during the day,  you’ll also observe performers practicing or preparing for traditional dance performances that take place in the evenings.

The next best place to experience traditional art in Indonesia is the former capital of Yogyakarta in Central Java. Something in the air of Yogyakarta seems to inspire creative minds, as art seems to saturate every corner and every surface throughout the city- from carefully designed street art and graffiti to iconic shadow puppets known as wayang kulit, which adorn many shop windows.

As is probably the case in any creative centre, there is a proliferation of live music found throughout the city on any given occasion. One of the city’s claim to fame is the continuation of a type of traditional music known as gamelan. Gamelan orchestras involve ensembles of bronze percussion instruments including gongs, xylophones and drums combined with wind instruments and vocals to produce what is likely to be Indonesia’s most exotic and iconic form of traditional music. Allusions to gamelan orchestras can be found on reliefs at Borobudur Temple, so the genre dates back to at least the early eighth century.

When:

Enjoying the arts of Indonesia is something that can be done any time of the year. However, if you want to see the Indonesia’s thriving arts scene at it most prolific, time your visit to coincide with any of the major festivals in the country. In the days and weeks leading up to these festivals, people can often be seen in fervent preparation of them- it’s the perfect time to see just how their ornate artistic creations are made!

Insider Tip:

Incredible traditional creations can be bought for surprisingly cheap prices in Indonesia. Batik textiles and shadow puppets are particularly attractive items to buy as souvenirs due to the ease at which they can be packed in your bags and brought home.

Experience Indonesia’s cultural riches

Why:

Just as Indonesia’s archipelagic topography makes it well-suited for the evolution of diverse and unique wildlife, it also makes it a hotbed for the rise of unique cultures. Due to the relative isolation between populations in Indonesia, more than 300 languages are spoken throughout the archipelago. Indonesia’s geography also contributes to Indonesia’s incredible cultural diversity.  Located at the centre of ancient trading routes between the Far East, South Asia and the Middle East, many of the cultural practices and religious convictions of Indonesian people have outside influence- albeit with distinctly Indonesian vibes. Often, travelling from one island to the next is a feeling akin to travelling to an entirely different country, making it the perfect place to go if you’re the type of traveller who values cultural experiences above all others. 

Where:

By far, the most famous place for cultural discovery in Indonesia is Bali. Balinese people are part of an ancient lineage that maintain a deep connection with Hindu cultural influences introduced to them from India in the 5th century A.D. They are the only people of their kind in Southeast Asia. Not only is this fascinating in its own right, but the manifestation of Balinese faith in everyday life makes it, rightfully, one of the island’s biggest draws. Balinese culture is rife with beautiful traditional dress, distinct architecture and incredibly artistic creations such as batik paintings and sculptures.

Although the uniqueness of Balinese culture is apparent virtually anywhere on the island, this is particularly true of Ubud in Central Bali. Here, the entire city moves to the ebb and flow of a spirituality that dictates every move.

The neighbouring island to Bali, Lombok is also home to a rather unique group of people known as theSasaks. This group of people has inhabited the island for so long that the history as to how they got there is actually unclear. These days, they have a unique fusion of traditional Animist beliefs and Islam, that make for unique cultural experiences while travelling around on the island.

Despite there being more than 17,000 islands in Indonesia, roughly half the population of 250 million people live on the island of Java. As such, Java is the beating heart of Indonesia’s cultural identity and the best place to go if you want to feel the pulse of the country from a human perspective. The capital city of Jakartais a bustling metropolis, where the energy of the country’s modern aspirations comes to life in grand form.

Further south, the ancient capital of Yogyakarta is considered to be the centre of its cultural and artistic scene. Commonly referred to as “Jogja,” the area has long been renowned for the friendliness of its locals and the richness of its culture. The nearby Borobudur Temple is not only the largest Buddhist temple in the world, but its surrounding area is still home to a group of people who, over the centuries, have maintained their Buddhist beliefs in spite of the overwhelming ascension of Islam elsewhere on the Island. A visit to this area offers a fascinating look into the island’s past.

One of the world’s most unique and threatened populations of people have inhabited the waters aroundSulawesi for generations. The Bajau Laut are sea gypsies who are born, raised, and live the entirety of their lives at sea. They often spend months on end living aboard small boats known as Lepa Lepa, only visiting land to refuel or trade for necessities. While off-the-beaten path, a journey to the land of Bajau promises one of the most unforgettable cultural experiences to be had anywhere.

When:

To experience the very best of Indonesia’s incredibly diverse culture, it’s best to time your visit to align with some of the festivals or local holidays taking place wherever you plan to go. Because each island has different holiday schedules based on local culture, be sure to do some research ahead of time to ensure your visit aligns with one of the bigger ones. Indonesian’s take their holidays seriously, so they’re bound to make for incredible experiences.

Insider Tip:

Indonesia is a nation of islands- and people who live on islands tend to smile a lot. Indonesia is no different in this manner. When encountering new people and cultures while travelling in Indonesia, be sure to wear a smile on your face- it will almost surely be returned!

Explore a Volcano

If you close your eyes and imagine the most exotic tropical landscape possible, chances are that this imaginary place would contain a bellowing volcano somewhere in the background. Fantasy and science fiction has conditioned our imagination to picture these sorts of places- destinations that seem to transcend the boundaries of time, as though nothing has changed since the age of dinosaurs.

Much of Indonesia fits that description. Within a region of the world known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, where most of earth’s volcanic activity takes places, Indonesia is considered to be the beating heart. The entire archipelago is dotted with a network of volcanos so vast and numerous that it boggles the mind. In fact, of the 17,000 islands that exist there, most of them were either created through volcanism or are active volcanos themselves.

Where:

Nearly every major island in Indonesia has at least one or two massive volcanos to ascend if you’re adventurous enough to do it. Arguably, the most famous of these exist on the island of Java. Mount Bromois one of the country ’s biggest attractions- and rightfully so. The otherworldly landscape surrounding the volcano is one of the world’s foremost must-see destinations, and the hike to get there is said to be one of Indonesia’s top experiences. Less famous, but equally  impressive is Mount Ijen in West Java. In addition to having a stunning acid lake in its caldera, a very unique phenomenon takes place in the dead of night in Ijen’s interior. Liquid sulphur that seeps to the surface ignites when it comes in contact with air. The result is that, at night, the caldera interior is alight with eerie and almost magical blue flames. To stand in front of this phenomenon and watch it with your own two eyes is one of the most surreal experiences to be had anywhere. Beyond those two, there are no less than a dozen other volcanos in Java that are earth-shatteringly beautiful. The most popular of these would be Mount Merapi, Mount Semeru and Mount Kelud.

Rising to more than 3,000 meters tall, Mount Agung is the tallest peak in Bali. Morning ascents to its peak offer some of the best sunrise views to be had anywhere. On a clear day you can see the entire island of Bali, from coast to coast, within a single unfettered view. The volcano has huge spiritual significance to the people of Bali, so a trip to its peak is considered to be something of a rite of passage. Along the way, be sure to stop at the “Mother Temple” of Besakih.

Mount Batur is another sacred volcano to the  Balinese people. It’s an active volcano located at the centre of two concentric calderas just northwest of Mount Agung. In addition to sweeping views of the stunning natural scenery of the area, Batur offers visitors the unique ability to visit isolated villages that call the 7.5km-wide caldera home.

Just across the Lombok Strait, on the island of Lombok, Mount Rinjani provides one of Indonesia’s most acclaimed volcano-trekking experiences. At over 3,700 meters tall, it’s the second highest volcano in Indonesia and dominates the landscape of Lombok- which is relatively small compared to the size of the volcano itself. While climbing to the top you pass by isolated villages inhabited by indigenous Sasak peopleand dense tropical forests teeming with exotic wildlife. After reaching the top, sweeping views of Lombok and, on a clear day, Bali, are laid out before you in epic fashion. The lake at the centre of the massive 50km-wide caldera, Segara Anak, is the perfect backdrop for photos.

When:

Timing for volcano trekking in Indonesia is important from a few perspectives. Foremost, many of the volcanos in Indonesia are active. This means that, in order to ensure total safety, access to many of the volcanos is sometimes limited. Most of the major volcanos have stations dedicated to monitoring their seismic activity. If something is awry, officials won’t hesitate to block access to them at a moment’s notice.

Safety concerns aside, timing is also important from the perspective of maximizing how pleasurable the experience is. For some volcanos, such as Mount Rinjani or Mount Agung, the primary reason to ascend them is for the spectacular views afforded at sunrise and sunset. For others, such as Mount Ijen, one must visit it in the dead of night to fully grasp how spectacular it is. Each volcano is different, so it’s important to check ahead of time and plan in advance.

Insider Tip:

Volcanos are, by their very nature, wild and forbidding places. As such, it’s important to be well-prepared for them if you plan a volcano trek while in Indonesia. For some volcanos, this is a simple matter of having proper hiking shoes. For others, such as Mount Ijen, a bit more preparation goes a long way. Formally, you’re only supposed to hike to the caldera rim which is a fairly straight forward hike. Informally, very few visitors to Ijen stop there. The real magic of Ijen happens deep within the caldera interior where sulphurous gases bellow out. For the most part, the fumes emerging from the volcano rise quickly and don’t pose a serious threat. There are times when the wind shifts, causing the gases to momentarily drift towards the viewing areas that make wearing a gas-mask something of a necessity. Most guided tours to Ijen will take this into consideration and provide double-filtration gas masks, but not all. If Ijen factors in highly on your to-do list in Indonesia, it’s not a bad idea to bring your own. The gas-masks needed to make a viewing of Ijen more comfortable are cheap and easy to find in most developed countries.

Explore Indonesia by boat

Why:

As an archipelagic nation, travel in Indonesia for any significant length of time will inevitably involve stepping off of dry land at some point of another. If you’ve got untested sea-legs, the good news is that most journeys by boat in Indonesia are relatively easy compared to other regions of the world due to the relative tranquillity of seas surrounding many of Indonesia’s islands.

Also good news is the fact that, exploring Indonesia by boat is often the best way to do it. Whether simply using the boat as a way to transit from one island to the next, going on a formal cruise, or careening through some of the many lakes and rivers throughout the archipelago, you’re almost sure to see and experience sides of the country that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

Another bonus of riding boats in Indonesia is that, typically, they’re of the traditional variety. Jukongs are typical of the archipelago. While ranging in size and general appearance, the one thing they all have in common is the use of suspended posts on either side of the boat as a means of stabilizing them in the waves. 

Where:

There is a wide range of options for those seeking to take part in more traditional cruises on live-aboard boats from one island to another. One of the most compelling of these cruises takes travellers along an almost surreal path of islands from Bali to the Komodo Island. This journey passes the Wallace Line, which is the boundary between the Asian and Australasian continental plates. In doing so, you traverse territory that is as wild as it is variable, culminating in a visit to Komodo and Rinca Islands- home of the infamous Komodo dragons.

For a decidedly different approach to cruising, consider a riverboat journey along the Kahayan River. It’s the largest river in Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. Along the way, you stand a very good chance of being able to witness wild orangutans as they bathe in the Rungan River near Bapallas Island. You’ll also have a chance to visit rustic riverside villages such as Kanarakan and to paddle through Lake Tahai. The cruise offers great opportunities to not only witness incredible wildlife along the riverbanks, but also to gain intimate insight into culture of the Ngaju ethnic tribe that inhabits the region.

When:

Although Indonesia lacks pronounced seasons found elsewhere in the region due to its proximity to the equator, most agree that seas are generally calmest mid-October to Mid-December. This time also happens to coincide with one of the drier periods throughout the year, when the chances of your boat trip being spoiled by rain are slimmest.

Insider Tip:

Bring motion sickness pills such as Dramamine from your home country. It’s not impossible to find in Indonesia, but bringing them along is a great way to save yourself a potential hassle- particularly if you’re prone to motion sickness. The seas between islands are generally quite languid, but this isn’t always the case. As they say, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Explore Indonesia’s temples and history

Because of the vast appeal of Indonesia’s beaches, few people take into consideration the fact that Indonesia is also home to some of the region’s most spectacular temples. As the centre of ancient trading routes between South Asia, the Middle East and the Far East, Indonesia also has some of the region’s most fascinating stories. Its history of occupation dates back to an era where, quite literally, our species mixed concurrently with distant human ancestors, making Indonesian history some of the deepest in the world. For those interested in cultural relics and deep history, Indonesia is an unsung hero among countries in Southeast Asia and is often, mistakenly, overlooked.

Where:

Often referred to as the “Angkor Wat of Indonesia,” Borobudur Temple is the largest temple in Indonesia both in terms of its physical stature and international reputation. It’s located in the Kedu Valley of Central Java, at the heart of the former Syailendra Dynasty which ruled the island for some five hundred years. It’s not only the largest Buddhist monument in the world, but also one of the most culturally important. The monument consists of nine stacked platforms topped by a central dome. The temple is decorated with 2,672 ornately decorated relief panels and 504 Buddha statues while the central dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues- each seated inside a perforated stupa. It is, without a doubt, well-deserving of its place among the most spectacular historical relics in the world, and is often compared with the likes of Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu.

Only 40 kilometres away from Borobudur is the charming city of Yogjakarta where you can find the largest Hindu temple in Java- Candi Prambanan. Built in the mid-ninth century, it’s one of Indonesia’s most picturesque temples and a popular spot for photographers hoping to catch a glimpse of its famous mist-shrouded silhouette.

Also within the vicinity of Prambanan Temple is the fortified hilltop archaeological complex of Ratu Boku Palace. Believed to have been constructed around the ninth century, the precise details of the complex’s history is also a bit unclear. Based on fortifications and evidence of nearby inhabitation, it is thought that the complex housed ancient Javanese kings.

The Dieng Temple Complex, also in Central Java, is a plateau consisting of eight small Hindu temples. While they may not be the most imposing structures in Indonesia, they are amongst the oldest representations of ancient Hindu architecture. Although many of the finer details of the compound have been lost to time, the structures themselves date back to the early seventh century.

Because spirituality comprises such a huge component of Balinese identity, the island of Bali is rife with temple complexes. The most important of these, according to Balinese custom, is Pura Besakih Temple. Also known as “Mother Temple,” it’s constructed a thousand meters up on an active volcano, Mount Agung, in East Bali.

In West Bali, one of the most picturesque temples is Tannah Lot. Built on a tiny island, it’s perhaps one of Indonesia’s most visually dramatic temples. It’s a particularly great place to visit during sunset due to its spectacular setting amidst rock outcroppings and crashing waves. At only 45 minutes from the tourist centre of Kuta, it’s also relatively easy to access.

Also in West Bali is the Cliffside temple of Uluwatu. The Hindu complexes are perched on the edge of a massive cliff overlooking the sea. It’s particularly well-known amongst travellers for the traditional dance performances that take place there at sunset every evening.

Located in the Central Highlands of Bali, Ulun Danu Beratan Temple is one of Bali’s most culturally significant temples. Resting on the western edge of Beratan Lake and surrounded by gorgeous mountain scenery, it’s also considered to be one of the most photogenic temples in Bali.

When: The great thing about temple and historical exploration is that it’s not significantly depended upon weather. However, if weather is of great concern, November to April are typically the wet months and May through to October are the driest. If you want to avoid the crowds, peak tourist season is between mid-June and mid-September.

Insider Tip:

More often than not, these temples are active places of worship. As such, visitors should take into consideration that certain Western fashion sensibilities may not be considered appropriate. At a minimum women’s shoulders and legs above the knees should be covered. In Indonesia, both women and men are required to wear Lungi- traditional skirt-like garments that go from hip to ankle. Luckily, many of the larger temples allow visitors to rent these for a small fee. It is, however, a good idea to purchase your own. Not only for the novelty of it, but also because you never know when you might need one. There are endless temples to explore in Indonesia, and you don’t want to be denied access to any of them.

Go island hopping

As a nation of islands, it’s hard not to do at least some island hopping while traveling in Indonesia. The interesting thing about island hopping in Indonesia, though, is that when you go from one island to the next, more often than not, the experience is almost like traveling to an entirely different country. The cultures of many of the islands in Indonesia have risen and developed in relative isolation from one another over centuries and millennia. Accordingly, there are more than 300 languages spoken throughout the archipelago. So, in addition to the merits of being able to see the unique environments that exist from one island to the next, you’re also able to experience entirely different cultures and ways of life- even between islands that are in a relatively close proximity to one another.

Where:

With more than 17,000 islands to choose from, there are virtually endless possibilities for island hoping in Indonesia. A classic way to see varied sides of Indonesia would be to traverse Java by land (train) on the way to Bali and Lombok. This tour allows you to go from Indonesia’s bustling capital city, Jakarta, to the ancient citadel of Borobudur and its patron city, Yogyakarta to the grumbling volcanos of Mount Bromoand Mount Ijen, while passing through stunning countryside along the way to Bali. After discovering the cultural charms and stunning beaches of Bali, many then head to Lombok which allows travellers to pass over what is known as the “Wallace Line”; the transition point between the Asian and Australasian tectonic plates. In between, be sure to visit the spectacular Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida Islands just off the coast of Sanur. From Lombok, most people then combine excursions around the island with a separate island-hopping trip around the Gilli Islands. These small islands just off Lombok’s coast are idyllic escapes, and a perfect wrap-up to an epic island adventure.

A more off-the-beaten path island hopping adventure that has become popular in recent years due to improvements in infrastructure, is between Komodo, Rinca and Flores Islands. Komodo and Rinca Islands are home to one of the world’s most unique ecosystems, and are the only places in the world where Komodo dragons live- the largest lizards on earth. Flores, just east of them, is a large and sparsely populated island composed of jagged and forbidding jungle-capped peaks, deserted tropical beaches, crystal-clear water and fascinating tribal cultures. To journey between these islands is like visiting an entirely different planet.

Perhaps the ultimate island hopping experience in Indonesia involves exploring the little-visited and hard-to-reach Raja Ampat Islands. Just off the coast of West Papua in the eastern frontier of Indonesia, these islands are widely regarded to be some of the wildest and most paradisiacal on earth. Although they are most well-known for the spectacular diving there- said to be the best in the world- the islands themselves are no less spectacular in their own right. Laden with rich biological diversity and some of the densest populations of Paradise Birds in the world, they’re the perfect place to go if you want to truly get away from it allr.

When:

In theory, Indonesia’s year is divided into a wet and dry season. In reality, though, it’s often hard to tell the difference. The entire archipelago is so close to the equator that trade winds tend to mitigate the effects of monsoons that sweep the rest of the region.  Very roughly, in much of the country, November to April are the wet months (January and February are the wettest) and May through to October are dry. Peak tourist season is between mid-June and mid-September- although, from a weather perspective, it isn’t necessarily the best time to visit.

Insider Tip:

Bring motion sickness pills such as Dramamine from your home country. It’s not impossible to find in Indonesia, but bringing them along is a great way to save yourself a potential hassle- particularly if you’re prone to motion sickness. The seas between islands are generally quite languid, but this isn’t always the case. As they say, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Go snorkelling or diving

Why:

Indonesia is the heart of a region of the world known as the Coral Triangle. Although this area comprises only 1.6% of earth’s total oceanic area, it contains 76% of all known coral species and 52% of all the known tropical reef fishes. This incredible amount of biodiversity lends to its reputation as being the marine equivalent of the Amazon Rainforest. Within the translucent seas surrounding Indonesia’s palm-fringed islands you’ll find more marine-life than anywhere else on earth. Even “mediocre” dive sites, by Indonesian standards, offer staggering natural beauty the likes of which only exist in only a handful of places in the world.

Where:

Although Bali is more famous for its world-class waves and surf, it also abounds with great places for snorkelling and diving. In many areas, you need only to put on a mask, snorkel and fins and head out to the nearest beach to enjoy kaleidoscopic coral reefs teeming with life.

Just off the coast of Sanur, in southern Bali, are three islands known as Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penidaand Nusa Ceningan. The western beaches of these islands contain what is said to be some of the best diving and snorkelling opportunities in Bali. Just far enough off of the mainland to avoid exposure to runoff, the water is cleaner and the visibility is greater, offering fantastic opportunities to see vibrant marine life. In particular, Mushroom Bay and Dream Beach on Nusa Lembongan are famous for their fantastic and easily accessed snorkelling opportunities.

Ahmed, on the eastern side of Bali is known not only for its surreal black-sand beaches and crystal-clear water, but also for its incredible diving and snorkelling opportunities. The volcanic topography makes for incredibly underwater scenery, while the vast expanse of its coral reefs spanning Jemeluk Bay are amongst the best in Bali. One of the most notable accolades of Ahmed from an underwater perspective are the numbers shipwrecks just off its coast. Boat trips to these underwater havens are the perfect way to get up-close and personal with some of the more jaw-dropping reef fish of Bali such as the Napolean wrasse and even reef sharks.

Maybe the best place for diving and snorkelling in both Indonesia and the world is Raja Ampat, in the eastern frontier of Indonesia. For perspective on just how spectacular diving here can be, Raja Ampat currently holds the world-record for the most number of species to be found in a single dive site- 284 atKofiau Island. The benchmark for “excellent” dive sites is 200, which is surpassed by 51% of Raja Ampat’s dive sites- another world record. If that isn’t enough to make you want to get your fins wet, the islands are also home to more than 600 species of coral, yet another world record. There are literally dozens of dive sites to choose from, many of which are easily accessed from the main islands of Misool, Salawati, Batanta, and Waigeo.

When:

Diving and snorkelling in Indonesia is typically fantastic year-round. Very roughly, in much of the country, November to April are the wet months (January and Febuary the wettest) and May through to October are dry. Water visibility tends to be highest during the driest months of the year when there is less sediment being washed off of the islands into the sea by rain.

Insider Tip:

If you’re heading to Indonesia with diving or snorkelling as a priority, it may prove to be a good idea to bring some of your own equipment along from home such as masks, snorkels and fins. While there’s no shortage of reputable operators in Indonesia, there’s no guarantee that the equipment they offer will be up to snuff based on standards elsewhere. When surrounded by some of the world’s most beautiful tropical seas, it helps to come prepared with gear that will help you to enjoy it.

Surround yourself in nature

Why:

One of the many ways that Indonesia separates itself from other destinations in Asia is through its incredible biodiversity. Because Indonesia consists entirely of islands, it’s a unique hotbed for evolution- a process of species diversification that relies heavily on the isolation of populations. As such, Indonesia has an unusually high number of endemic species: creatures like the Komodo dragon that exist there and nowhere else on earth. Additionally, Indonesia is basically split in half by a boundary known as the Wallace Line. West of it you’ll find wildlife typically associated with the Asian continent, east of it you’ll find wildlife that’s more typically associated with the Australian continent. Combined, Indonesia’s archipelagic nature, its location on the boundary of two continents and its proximity to the equator make it one of the world’s premier wildlife destinations.

Where:

Nearly every major island in Indonesia has species that are unique to it, so if unique wildlife is what you seek, you’ll have no trouble finding it anywhere in Indonesia. Of course, there are some places in Indonesia that stand out as being particularly unique.

Ujong Kulong National Park, one of Indonesia’s most pristine and strictly protected natural environments, is just 300 kilometres from the bustling metropolis of Jakarta- one of the world’s largest cities. Within the deep confines of its jungle interior lives one of earth’s rarest and most precious animals: the Javan rhinoceros. Once prevalent throughout Southeast Asia, Ujong Kulong is the last place on earth where you can spot these incredible creatures. The dense tropical rainforests where they reside are teeming with other fascinating wildlife as well.

South of Ujong Kulong, on the island of Sumatra is the much-heralded Ganung Leuser National Park. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s considered to be one of Indonesia’s most important and biologically diverse conservation areas. The range of forest and species types within the park’s boundaries have led to a reputation as a living laboratory for ecologists. Many of the world’s most exotic, endangered and charismatic species call the park home, including tigers, rhinos, elephants and orangutans.

Ganung Leuser is so well regarded among naturalists because it is a true wildlife conservation area. As such, spotting some of the park’s most alluring wildlife isn’t guaranteed, as the animals have more than enough space to hide. That doesn’t make the search any less exciting though. The park is especially well-known for its bustling population of white-breasted Thomas leaf monkeys. Although they’re not as famous as other animals in the park, their unique punk-style hairdo makes them a charming sight for nature-lovers.

Roughly 73% of the island of Borneo, widely regarded to be one of the planet’s most transcendent biodiversity hotspots is on the Indonesian side of the island, Kalimantan. The entire area, nearly twice the size of Germany, is awash in lush tropical rainforests that have remained more or less untouched for millions of years. Within its diverse and wild landscapes you’ll find many national parks littered with unique wildlife that exist there and nowhere else on earth.

For many, the lure of Kalimantan’s abundant Bornean Orangutan- a critically endangered species- is one of the island’s biggest draws. And nowhere is more famous for up-close and personal experiences thanTanjung Puting National Park. Doubling as a protected natural habitat and wildlife rehabilitation centre, the national park hosts a large population of orangutans that, although free to roam about as they please, are also semi-reliant upon daily feedings. Sightings of them is virtually guaranteed. The park is also renowned for the abundance of proboscis monkeys living in the area. These large, goofy-looking monkeys only exist in Borneo and are considered to be one of the symbols of the island.

Of all Indonesia’s unique and fabled species, perhaps none are more iconic or distinctly Indonesian than theKomodo dragon. Reaching lengths of up to 3 metres, they’re the largest lizards on earth and can only be found within the confines of Komodo National Park. Besides being home to the world’s only population of these fearsome and fascinating creatures, Komodo National Park is also home to a broad range of species such as Timor deer, water buffalo, wild boar and monkeys. The waters surrounding the island are also thought to offer some of the world’s best diving opportunities.

When:

In theory, Indonesia’s year is divided into a wet and dry season. In reality, though, it’s often hard to tell the difference. The entire archipelago is so close to the equator that trade winds tend to mitigate the effects of monsoons that sweep the rest of the region.  Very roughly, in much of the country, November to April are the wet months (January and February are the wettest) and May through to October are dry. Peak tourist season is between mid-June and mid-September- although, from a weather perspective, it isn’t necessarily the best time to visit.

Insider Tip:

Venture far enough out into jungles in Indonesia and, sooner or later, leeches become inevitable. While mostly harmless, they can be quite a shock to someone who has never experienced them before. Bring “leech socks” from your home country if possible. In a pinch, though, women’s panty-hose work surprisingly well at keeping the creepy-crawlies out. The nylon mesh works better than cotton at preventing them from wriggling through the fibres of your socks and onto your skin. They’re also small and light enough to pack as a “just-in-case” option. Lining your socks and shoes with table salt provides an extra measure of protection as well.

Take part in a festival

Why:

First, it’s important to define what we mean by “festivals”, as these can take many forms in Indonesia. Typically, holidays and festivals coincide with one another. There are national and even international holidays in which festivals take place, and then there are festivals of a more local flavour, which often vary from island to island. For the most part, when we talk about festivals in Indonesia, we’re talking about the latter.

As is the case with most island cultures, the rhythm of daily life in Indonesia is heavily influenced by the promise of leisure. Even when holidays and festivals aren’t taking place, there’s usually some preparation going on at some stage or another. If you want to see Indonesian culture in all its shining glory, festivals are the best time to do it. It is during festivals that you’re most likely to see local people dressed traditionally, and when finer aspects of their culture are on display.

Where:

There may be no better place to experience the raw cultural bliss of festivals in Indonesia than on the island of Bali. While most festivals that take place are island-wide, Ubud is usually considered to be the best place to go for anything related to local culture. The streets are lined with temples and, even on a normal day, most people dress traditionally. During festivals, the entire city comes alive. Women can be seen carrying impossibly tall stacks of fruit on their heads as offerings at temples, incense pours out onto the street, and traditional Balinese dancers can be seen preparing for performances. It’s a truly magical experience that squarely qualifies Ubud- particularly during festivals- one of Indonesia’s most can’t-miss destinations.

Yogyakarta is typically considered to be the Javanese equivalent to Ubud. Similarities lie in the abundance of traditional aspects of local culture that are typically on display even during normal days. Because Yogyakarta is significantly larger than Ubud, one could argue that it’s an even more spectacular place to catch local festivals. An additional merit of Yogyakarta as a fantastic place to experience Indonesian festivals is the famously jovial nature of its people.

When:

On the island of Bali, Galungan Festival is often considered to be the largest and most significant holiday of the year. Locals believe that spirits of deceased relatives return to visit their former homes, and the current inhabitants have a responsibility to be hospitable through prayers and offerings throughout the holiday period. The most obvious sign of Galungan celebrations, leading up to it, are penjor, or bamboo poles with offerings suspended at the end, which line streets throughout the island. Each day during Galungan Festival has a specific name and is marked by the organization of activities related to that name.

The timing of the Galungan Festival is a bit tricky, as it relates to the Balinese calendar which fluctuates from year to year. It commences on the 11th week of the 210th day of the Pawukon calendar- meaning there are often two celebrations per solar year. In 2016, Galungan Festival takes place September 7 through September 17. In 2017, it takes place April 5 through April 15 and November 1 through November 11. 

One of Indonesia’s most famous festivals takes place on the island of Sulawesi. In the village of Tana Toraja, you can observe the Toraja Funeral Ceremony in which elaborate and fascinating funeral rites are given to send spirits into the after-world. This is meant to prevent misfortune to the family of the deceased. The ceremonies typically take place between July and September.

As the most populous majority-Muslim country in the world, traditional Muslim holidays in Indonesia are massive. The most important and visually spectacular of these is Id-al-Fitr (July 6, 2016 and July 17, 2017) and Maulid Nabi (December 10, 2016 and November 29, 2017). The former celebrates the end of fasting during Ramadan and the latter commemorates the birth of Prophet Muhammad. In both cases, streets are usually clogged with parade floats, performances and merry-makers.

Insider Tip:

Festivities in Indonesia are often in line with spiritual occasions. As such, they’re typically considered a time for modesty. While there’s certainly a festive atmosphere, these occasions aren’t typically associated with the sort of celebrations seen elsewhere in the region. Consumption of alcohol, if it’s not completely forbidden, is usually looked down upon, and people are expected to dress a bit more conservatively.