Steaming volcanoes, ancient temples, untouched rainforests and bustling metropolises are all part and parcel of the 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia. Rich in diversity, both natural and man made, this region could keep you fascinated for years on end, let alone months, weeks or days. From the dense urban jungle of Jakarta to the laid back surfer vibe on the beaches of Bali, to the thickly forested mountains and hill tribe villages of the Baliem Valley, there is always something interesting and new to see in incredible Indonesia.
Although not the biggest island in Indonesia (that title belongs to Sumatra), Java is for all intensive purposes the heart of the country. This is where the capital city and head of government resides, and it is the most populated of all 17,000 islands with over 57% of the Indonesian population living here. The capital of Jakarta is a non stop hive of activity, where you can hear the call to prayers vying for attention with the buzz of motorbikes and roar of buses on the heavily congested streets that wind their way through shopping malls and skyscrapers. To the west is the the artistic and cultural capital of Yogyakarta, where the kraton ( the sultan’s palace) is still inhabited by members of the royal family. Visitors could spend days here just exploring the labyrinth like lane ways of batik workshops, jewelry shops, cafes, small warungs, and guesthouses. This is the jumping off point to the incredible temple of Borobudur, with its stunning stone stupas and carved reliefs, and the ancient Hindu temple of Prambanan. Further west is the active volcano of Mount Bromo, where daily tours take you to the top of the peak to watch the sun rise over the surrounding volcanoes, and to the crater, which resembles a surreal moonscape.
As the most well known tourist spot in Indonesia, this small Hindu island is starting to resemble less of a tropical paradise and more of a crowded urban center, especially during peak season. That being said, it is still possible to find peace, tranquility, culture and nature on ‘the island of the gods’. The most heavily populated and visited areas are in the south of the island, in particular, Kuta, Legian, and Seminyak. This is where the islands most debaucherous nightclubs, high end restaurants, and busiest beaches are located. Surfing is big here, although those in the know head further south to the Bukit Peninsula to catch mad breaks and deserted beaches. Nusa Dua is where the big resorts lie and where package type tourists sun themselves on the private beaches. Ubud is the centre of art, spirituality and culture, and has a reputation of attracting soul seekers of all sorts, although the constant addition of new bars, restaurants, and shops is starting to draw in a younger, more lively crowd. East of Bali, the seaside towns of Padangbai, Candidasa and Amed are great for chilling out on the beaches with a book in hand, and the north and west of the island are even less touristy, and a good place to get away from it all. No matter where you go in Bali, you will constantly be surrounded by friendly and warm people, intricately detailed temples and the sweet scent of incense and frangipani flowers, which are offered to the gods.
Intrepid travelers and nature lovers often bypass touristy Bali and hectic Java to head to the incredibly scenic island of Sumatra. This is an island of superlatives, with the world’s biggest volcanic lake, Danau Toba, Indonesia’s highest volcano, Mount Kerinci, and the world’s largest (and smelliest) flower, the Rafflesia arnoldii, which is found only in Indonesia. Trek through lush jungles where orangutans roam, take in the views of the calm blue waters and rugged mountains of Danau Toba, eat spicy Padang food straight from the source in Padang, or surf the incredible waves off of the Mentawai Islands or Pulau Nias. And with miles of rainforests, scores of active volcanoes, gorgeous fertile valleys, deserted white sand beaches and fascinating tribes that still retain their traditional customs, Sumatra is a destination that won’t fail to amaze even the most seasoned adventure travelers.
This oddly shaped island in the Indonesian archipelago is known for its interesting cultural practices and superb diving sites.A not to be missed spot here is Tana Toraja, where the houses are shaped like wooden boats, and death is a cause for huge ceremonial rituals. Here, when a member of the community dies, preparations begin for a massive festival that can last up to a week or more. At the festival, sacred water buffalos are pitted against each other and then slaughtered for consumption, while frenzied dances and music ensue. After the festival, the deceased’s body is placed in a cave or hung from a bamboo cage and a wooden effigy is placed next to their resting spot to protect the spirit of the dead. And the diving here is among the best in the world, stretching from the Bangka Island group in the north, all the way to Wakatobi in the south, it doesn’t get much better than this for crystal clear warm waters, vivid coral reefs, and brightly colored marine life.
Kalimantan is the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo, which is the world’s third largest island. The Indonesian part of Borneo stretches over 2/3 of the island, and is home to one of the world’s oldest rainforests, rugged mountains, sandy coastlines, and gushing rivers. Despite the massive oil, mining and logging activities that are threatening to displace scores of wildlife and traditional villages, there are still massive tracts of jungle that have been virtually unexplored. This is a trekkers dream, with lush jungle trails that pass by majestic rivers, Dayak villages, and floating markets. If you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of primates such as orang-utans and long-nosed proboscis monkeys, eagles or the elusive freshwater dolphin. In addition, there are hot spring, caves, lakes and white water rapids here for intrepid explorers who want to get out there and explore the great outdoors in this amazing unspoilt region of Indonesia.