The Southeast Asian country of Indonesia spread across a chain of about 17 000 islands between Asia and Australia is home to hundreds of ethnic groups speaking many different languages. The biggest island country in the world is known for beautiful beaches, active volcanoes, incredible marine biodiversity, ancient Komodo dragons and tropical jungles sheltering rare animals like orangutans and tigers. My favorite country to travel from the popular Bali to the off the beaten track islands of Raja Ampat and Sulawesi, visiting Indonesia you are in for an incredible adventure! We have spent a couple of months traveling in Indonesia and these are our places not to miss.
Bali is the most popular island holiday destination in Indonesia with great beaches, awesome surf, beautiful hikes and friendly locals. The island’s known for exotic temples set against stunning natural backdrops and for its warm hospitality. Several small islands such as Nusa Penida and The Gili Islands surround Bali, make for great day trips to spectacular coral reefs and beautiful powder beaches.
Need some help in planning your Bali holiday? Check out these cool itineraries:
- One week in Bali for some great tips and ideas for a 7-day holiday.
- Four days in Bali, for a complete itinerary if you are a bit limited on time.
The town of Ubud located in the uplands of Bali is known as a center for traditional crafts and dance. Bali is famous for the beautiful rain forest and terraced rice paddies landscapes of the area. I loved renting a scooter exploring the Hindu temples and shrines among the rice paddies. There is beautiful accommodation for very reasonable prices in this unique town. Ubud is all about Balinese cultures, massages, exquisite food and beautiful landscapes. Looking for unique, traditional cuisine? With some of the best organic and vegan restaurants in South East Asia you will adore Ubud.
Things to do in Ubud
- Climbing Mount Batur
- Go to a traditional dance show
- Get traditional massage
- Drink Kopi Luak coffee
- Visit the monkey forest.
- Visit the intricately carved Goa Gajah (“Elephant Cave”) and Gunung Kawi, with its rock-cut shrines.
The Gili Islands
Gili Meno, Gili Air and Gili Trawangan; The Gili Islands blue water, white sand, coral reef, beach bars and not a cars insight, exactly what you expect from a tropical paradise. Located about 35km from Bali and 14km from Lombok. Each island has a very distinct personality
- Gili Trawangan is the party island busy with bars, clubs and even movies, but still an awesome beach island vibe.
- Gili Meno is known as the honeymoon island, perfect beaches only a handful of restaurants, thatched roof huts for two close to the beach and couples on the beach. Other than a resort or 2 basically deserted island, good snorkeling and diving.
- Gili Air is the Chill out island, something in between Trawangan and Meno, some dive schools and restaurants but not crazy party like Gili T. Diving around Indonesia is excellent and if you want to learn this is a great place!
Things to do on the Gili Islands
- Diving – plenty of dive schools on Gili T and Gili Air, courses are cheap, diving is good
- Walk – There are no cars on the Gilis, people walk everywhere or get around by horse and cart-taxi.
- Yoga- Some cool places to do yoga with on the beach
- Cycle – Gili T rent a bicycle and cycle around the island.
- Party- Gili T is a crazy party with awesome bars and restaurants
Nusa Penida is the largest the three Nusa Islands, another amazing island to explore by scooter with spectacular natural cliff formations, beaches and lagoons, there are also some interesting Hindu temples sprinkled over the island. If you want to dive with Manta Rays and Mola Mola, the gigantic sunfish, this is the place to come. You are almost guaranteed to snorkel with plenty of manta rays gliding through the water underneath the surrounding cliffs. Driving around the island we saw plenty of Manta rays from high vantage points.
Things to do in Nusa Penida
- Snorkel with manta rays
- Dive with mola mola (sunfish)
- Visit Goa Giri Putri and other Hindu temples
- Drive around the island by scooter, spectacular views from many view points
- Go to Angel’s Billabong, one of the most beautiful lagoons I have ever seen!
Uluwatu is a place on the south-western tip of Bali’s Bukit Peninsula of Bali. Home to some of the most famous waves in the world in Uluwatu it is all about surfing! There are 5 reef breaks with waves here getting up to 20ft and perfect barrels. The beautiful Pura Luhur Uluwatu Temple is a must visit.
Things to do in Uluwatu
- Here you can visit some of the Bali’s amazing beaches; Uluwatu Beach, Padang Padang Beach, Bingin Beach, Dreamland Beach and more.
- Rent a scooter and explore this beautiful area.
- Visit the beautiful Pura Luhur Uluwatu Temple, be careful of the monkeys and bring a sharong.
Java island is the geographic and economic hub of Indonesia and home to the nation’s capital and largest city, Jakarta. Located between Sumatra and Bali, Java is known for it’s amazing temples and spectacular natural beauty with unreal beaches, volcanoes and jungles to explore.
Mount Bromo, is an active volcano and part of the Tengger massif, in East Java, Indonesia. Bromo is 2,329 meters high, not the highest peak but the most well known. One of the most active and spectacular volcanoes in Indonesia, the main attraction is to hike to the view point on Mount Penanjaka before sunrise, from here you have a spectacular view of the sun rising
The city Yogyakarta often called simply ‘Jokja on Java island is known for its traditional arts and cultural heritage. This amazing with city street art, galleries and a cool coffee shop around every corner is a must visit if you are a interested in cultural attractions, history and architecture. Eating in Indonesia is about more than me goreng and nasi goreng, go and try some other delicious dishes in the restaurants of Yogya!
Things to do do in Yogyakarta
- Borobudur Temple – a 113 foot high pyramid built between the 8th and 9th centuries by the ruling Buddhist Cailendra dynasty. Do a tour to get here for sunrise to take some spectacular photos.
- Prambanan temple this UNESCO world heritage site consist of 240 temples built by the Hindu-led X, the temple is a spectacular 47 meters high. See the amazing Ramayana ballet performance in the evenings with over 200 dancers and musicians performing in open air in front of this magnificent temple. Both temples can be visited in one day.
- The spectacular Jomblang cave is famous for the heavenly light penetrating the cave. The cave formed when a forest collapsed due to an earthquake, forming a 200 meter hole in the ground. You have to be in the cave at noon when light penetrates directly over the cave’s hole. An operator will let you down 90m to the bottom of the cave in time for the heavenly light.
Surfing Batu Karas
For learning to surf in Batu Karas in Java is the spot, it is known as ‘the best beginner surf break’in Indonesia. The soft right-hand surf break is perfect for learning. There are a few other more advanced breaks in the area, but swell consistency is not as strong as in other parts of Indonesia for advanced surfers.
The massive island of Sumatra stretching over 2000kms of spectacular rivers, lakes, mountains and more than a 100 volcanoes is home to unique indigenous people such as the former head hunter tribes of the Batak regions, rare and endangered species in it’s rain forests including one of the world’s largest remaining orangutan populations and some of the best surf on the planet in the Mentawai islands.
Surf Mentawai islands
The perfect barrels of the Mentawai Islands is high on the bucket list of most experienced surfers. This chain of about seventy islands and islets is located about 150 kilometres off Sumatra and has some of the most consistent breaks in the world. Waves average about 6ft, but can pick up to a monstrous 15ft. The uncrowded waves scattered amongst a vast array of reefs, point breaks and secluded bays is what many surfers dream about.
The biggest lake in Indondesia and number two in the world, Lake Toba is a large natural lake occupying the caldera of a supervolcano. This massive body of water is about 100 kilometres long, 30 kilometres wide, and up to 505 metres deep. This beautiful lake is both a nature lovers and adventure seeker’s delight. The water is nice and warm to swim in and with the amazing views chilling around the lake is great. The Batak people living around the lake is very different from other Indonesian people, visiting the villages around the lake is interesting.
Things to do at Toba Lake
- Swim and chill at the lake
- Hike to the top of one of the dormant volcanoes.
- Shower under the highest waterfall in Indonesia, Sipiso-piso waterfall.
- Rent a scooter and drive around the lake.
The name orangutan means “man of the forest” in the Malay language. We were very fortunate to see orangutans in the rain forests of both Borneo and Sumatra, the only two places where these critically endangered animals are still found in the wild. Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are two seperate species that differ a little in appearance and behavior. Only about 7500 animals remain in Sumatra. Sitting on the jungle floor watching the wild orangutans swing around in the trees is truly an amazing experience. The Orangutan sanctuary in Sumatra is located inside Gunung Leuser National Park across the river from Bukit Lawang.
The massive island Sulawesi, with it’s unique H-shape, is blessed with a unique mix of flora and fauna from both Asian and Australasian species. If you want to get off the beaten track, visit Sulawesi, I traveled around this amazing island for a couple of incredible weeks with local ferries, what an amazing experience!
The north of Sulawesi is home to some of the best dive sites in Indonesia like Bunaken and Lembeh strait, crystal clear seas and remote islands. At the south, the fantastic strange Tana Toraja has been mesmerizing travelers with their unique ancient culture and elaborate death rituals.
The small island of Bunaken located in the crystal clear waters of the Bunaken National Marine Park is home to some of the most spectacular diving and snorkeling in Indonesia. Most people on the island are here to dive and dive. I loved staying in a little bungalow, lying in my hammock and free diving around the island most of the day. The island is surrounded by unreal coral gardens with steep walls dropping hundreds of meters into the deep. The diversity and health of the coral reef here is breath taking. Diving is great with more fish species than on the great barrier reef, 5 different turtle species and a lot of pelagics like sharks and barracudas swimming by. Even the scarce dugong and saltwater crocodiles are residents here. The highlight of the island is snorkeling, the water surrounding the island is shallow and drops down a massive wall, you can float over the shallow coral or free dive down the wall. The reef is so colorful and beautiful with hundreds of fish species and turtles all over the place!
In the interesting Tana Toraja in the highlands of Sulawesi culture life revolves around death. Christianity is the main religion, but the faith still maintains animist beliefs on death, believing all non-human entities such as animals, plants, and even inanimate objects or phenomena possess a spiritual essence. They send their dead off in extravagant ceremonies that last days and it is possible to attend these ceremonies. During the bloody ceremony buffaloes and pigs are slaughtered, music play and people dance while boys catch blood in bamboo tubes. Burial does not happen immediately after death a corpse is embalmed and kept in a special house until the family has enough money for the funeral which can cost tens of thousands of dollars, this sometimes takes years.
Things to do in Tana Toraja
- Attend a funeral ceremony
- Visit the hanging graves
- The region produces excellent coffee and renting a scooter visiting coffee farms was something great to do in this area.
The Togean Islands is an archipelago of 56 tropical islands and islets off the coast of Central Sulawesi. The islands are known for crystl clear water, white sand and tropical rain forests. Getting to these fantastic little islands is quite a mission, but we had some unreal adventures in one of my favorite places on earth!
Things to do in the Togean Islands
- Diving on health coral reefs in the clean water of Kadidiri and diving on a WWII plane wreck.
- Staying with local people the famous Bajua people in a ‘sea gypsy village’
- Swimming in Mariona Lake, a jelly fish lake, where millions of these creatures lost the ability to sting.
Lembeh Strait separating the islands of Sulawesi and Lembeh is known to be home to some of the strangest creatures in the ocean. This Mecca for dive photographers is known as “The Best muck-diving site in the world”.
Muck diving gets its name from the muddy sediment that lies at the bottom of many dive sites. The visibility is usually not incredible and there are no coral at these sites, but the animals that live here are incredible! It is like diving on another planet. Critters like colorful nudibranchs, anglerfish, shrimp, blue-ringed octopus, all sorts of frog fish even hairy frog fish and rare pygmy seahorses is commonly seen here. I counted 14 different seahorses on one dive!
If you are an experienced diver that wants to see something different I can really recommend Lembeh. I stayed on Bunaken and did day trips to Lembeh.
Flores is located in the group of Lesser Sunda islands, exploring here leads you to smoking volcanoes, crater lakes, and beautiful rice fields. The used-to-be-off-the-beaten-track island is placed on the map by it’s unusual and unique wild life. The capital Labuanbajo gets very busy in season, with many new hostels and hotels popping up every time we visit. The island serves as launch pad for visitors to Komodo island and diving in the spectacular Komodo National Park marine reserve.
Komodo National Park Marine Reserve
I think Indonesia is the best country for diving in the world and Komodo National Park is definitely one of the dive highlights. The amount and variety of fish is unreal, millions of reef fish of all shapes, colors and sizes, plenty of massive pelagic fish and sharks hunting in crystal clear water on the pristine coral reefs. Diving with more than 10 massive manta rays gliding in the crystal clear water around you is an experience I will never forget.
See Komodo Dragons
Dragons, 200 pound, 8 feet tall, ancient venomous lizards really live on some Indonesian islands. The biggest attraction on Flores island is seeing Komodo dragons. The Komodo dragon, is a species of lizard found in the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang, and Padar. This is the largest living species of lizard, growing to a maximum length of 3 metres (10 ft) and 70 kilograms.
Komodo dragons can be seen in the wild on Komodo island or Rinca Island and can only be seen on a tour, these leave daily from Labuanbajo. On Komodo you do a hike for about one and a half hours, the dragons are often found close to the ranger station towards the end of the hike. On Rinca the lizzards tend to mostly hang around close to the ticket office, but we saw many here.
Rinca island is closer to Labuanbajo then Komodo, so the boat trip takes less time. I would really recommend that you combine your tour with diving or snorkeling. With some diving companies you have the option of seeing the dragons instead of one of your dives. We did this one day, swopping the third dive on a 3 day package for a dragon tour. I have also done a 3 day boat trip from Lombok to Flores which included seeing the dragons on both islands.
Komodo dragons hunt and ambush prey including invertebrates, birds, and mammals with the Timor deer making up a big part of their diet, humans have been attacked in a handful of cases, so be careful and don’t get to close!
Interesting documented attack – Sharon Stone’s exhusban Phil Bronstein, was seriously injured by a komodo dragon when he entered its enclosure at the Los Angeles Zoo after being invited in by its keeper.
Raja Ampat is known for rugged jungles and it’s rich marine life, many experts agree it is home to the best diving in the world. Raja Ampat meaning ‘The Four Kings’ is the most eastern Island of the Indonesian Archipelago located on the island of New Guinea, the island is divided between two countries; Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. The archipelago comprise over 1,500 small islets, and shoals that surround it’s four main islands Batanta, Salawati, Misool and Waigeo the main island with most accommodation. If spectacular and unique fauna and flora gets your heart pumping Raja Ampat is the place for you, hosting about 75% of the world’s marine species the diving is not easily matched. Here you can really see everything; amazing macro photography diving with from strange looking frog fish to tiny pigmy seahorses, a variety spectacular pelagic species such as majestic Manta Rays, schools of tuna, plenty of shark species, massive whale sharks and unusual critters like the wobbegong and even dugongs walking underwater!
Action is not only underwater with plenty of amazing animals, plants, interesting settlements and activities to experience on the surface. Enjoy having the tropical beaches of Gam island all to yourself! Kayak around the island and see giant clams on the colorful reef below, be surrounded by schools of dolphins while you follow the rugged coastline. Visit some of the local villages and experience the unique Papua culture. Arborek is a well known village to see locals doing traditional dances and the Arborek, snorkel under Arborek jetty and be swallowed by bait balls of thousands of sardines!