Whether searching for a sun lounger or an indigenous tribe, you will find it in this super-sized archipelago.
With over 17,000 islands spanning more than 5,000 kilometres populated by nearly 250 million people speaking 500 languages, Indonesia has enough travel experiences to keep the curious visitor busy for decades. Due to the unusually dramatic geology that created these islands, Indonesia can offer beach flopping, volcano climbing, wildlife spotting and temple touring in the space of a single day. Hedonists will delight in the party vibe of the major resorts, but equally there is ample opportunity for the intrepid to test their mettle in some of the farthest flung corners of civilisation. This vast and enthralling country has something for everyone, and our trusted local experts can show you the best of it!
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Top things to do in Indonesia
There are many wonderful experiences to be had on this vast archipelago. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts at the foot of this page, but in the meantime here are our top things to do in Indonesia.
Fall in love with the Gili Islands
The three specks of tropical perfection known as the Gili Islands tempt travellers to the pristine shores off the northern coast of Lombok. The snorkelling and diving opportunities are spectacular with rich marine biodiversity and great visibility year round. If you like beach relaxing followed a bit of lively nightlife - be that in bars or bustling restaurants - then Gili Trawangan is the island for you. For relaxation, head to Gili Meno and Gili Air, where deserted beaches are the order of the day and there's a ban on late partying.
Here be dragons
Tucked in between the islands of Flores and Sumbawa is Komodo Island. Komodo dragons are the world's largest lizard and are perhaps the most famous attraction of the islands. They can grow up to three metres long and will happily take on a large wild pig - and win. They aren't the only attraction of the island - the snorkelling opportunities are also a huge draw, and Pink Beach is one of only seven beaches in the world with special blush coloured sands.
Take in a temple or two
Easily accessible from the Javanese cultural hotspot of Yogyakarta (Yogya for short) is the evocative temple complex of Borobudur, which transports you back in time to the ninth century when it was constructed. Made up of three intricately carved temples - Borobudur, Pawon and Mendut - the complex was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. There are other Buddhist and Hindu temples scattered around the main three, providing ample exploration for a cultural day out on your trip to Indonesia.
Go Great Ape
Once widespread throughout Southeast Asia, wild orangutans are now limited to only two small areas. Tanjung Puting National Park lies on the Indonesian side of the Island of Borneo. The best way to visit this vivid jungle habitat is on a slow, winding river cruise. You’ll be able to relax on deck and watch the rainforest slip by as tropical birds flit across the water. Sumatran orangutans are a little smaller, and Gunung Leuser National Park is one of the best places to see them. As well as orangutans, the park hosts rhinoceros, elephants and the elusive Sumatran tiger. This is a slice of some of the most untouched forest ecosystems in the region, and is still far from the average tourist itinerary.
Be charmed by Bali
Indonesia’s most popular island, and the only stop for many visitors, beautiful Bali is becoming busier by the day. However, despite its popularity, the island still boasts some secret hideaways and is well worth a visit. Beaches line the coast offering surf breaks, snorkeling and diving, while central Ubud (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) offers yoga and a spiritual vibe amidst verdant rice paddies. Misty mountains rise up to the north where Hindu temple towns perch on high ridges and Bali’s loftiest peak, Mount Agung (3,142m), challenges the intrepid.
Lesser-known things to do in Indonesia
While there are many well-known things to do in Indonesia, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative Indonesian adventure.
Commune with the dead
One of the most enthralling indigenous cultures of Indonesia is that of the Toraja people of South Sulawesi. Tana Toraja is a lush region of green hills, fertile soil and plentiful buffalo, dotted with distinctive stilted houses called tongkonan. One of the most interesting aspects of the Toraja culture is the tradition of keeping deceased loved ones at home for months before burial. Funerals in Toraja society are incredibly important and people will save for years in order to host an extravagant week-long farewell. These funeral ceremonies are commonly open to onlookers and can offer a fascinating insight into a wholly different approach to matters of life and death.
Get a taste of the Spice Islands
The idyllic Maluku Islands offer blissful stretches of powdery white, palm-fringed sands, deep swathes of pristine jungle and dramatic volcanoes reaching up into perfect blue skies. What is surprising is that there are very few tourists to share it all with. During colonial times Maluku was the only producer of nutmeg and cloves - some of the most coveted and valuable spices at the time, their presence propelled these tranquil tropical islands to centre stage for several centuries.
When is the best time to visit Indonesia?
The best time to visit Indonesia is generally the summer time, as the weather is at its finest between April and October - ideal for beach lounging, island hopping and snorkelling the reefs. Strung along the equatorial region, the islands of Indonesia enjoy a pretty consistent level of heat and humidity all year round, but the wetter season runs from November to March, with rainfall peaking in January, but the tropical climate can deliver downpours at more or less any time of year. If you don't plan to spend much time on the beach then these wetter months could be an ideal time to visit Indonesia - the temples are quieter, the scenery lush and beautiful, and heading to the highlands can bring some blessedly cooler temperatures. It is worth factoring in Ramadan (when much of the country will be affected by closures) and Christmas (higher prices and lower availability) into your holiday plans.
Insider tips from our trusted local experts
Being local, our experts have an extensive knowledge of the secrets to experiencing the 'real' Indonesia. Here are a few of their top tips - ask them for other recommendations when you enquire to ensure you have the most in-depth experience whilst on holiday.
- There are so many delicious dishes to enjoy in Indonesia, but you must not leave without trying the richly spiced rending, a mouthwatering specialty of West Sumatra.
- It is important to dress modestly when visiting places of religious significance by covering your arms and legs. It’s a great idea to carry a sarong with you, so that you can easily cover up. Indonesia produces many beautiful fabrics, so you might end up with a full wardrobe of them.
- Sunsets in Indonesia are legendary with many a social media post celebrating their psychedelic majesty. Put the selfie-stick away and make it a daily ritual to sit down with a drink and enjoy the show.
Interesting facts about Indonesia
Indonesia is a fascinating country. But did you know any of our top three facts about it?
- Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world with more than 18,000 islands.
- Indonesian people are required to adhere to one of six official religions. These are Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Atheism is not illegal but is not socially acceptable or recognised by the state.
- Located on the border of two tectonic plates, Indonesia has over 400 volcanoes, of which 150 are active.
What to read before you go to Indonesia
If you're looking for something to get you in the mood before you set off on your travels to Indonesia, we've gathered a list of our favourite books to inspire you.
'This Earth of Mankind' by Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Written during his imprisonment this is the first in a series of politically-charged novels by one of Indonesia’s greatest writers. It tells the story of a young Javanese boy of royal lineage during the Dutch colonial period.
'The Year of Living Dangerously' by Christopher J. Koch
Set in 1965 Jakarta just before an attempted Communist coup, this novel charts a powerful love story unfolding in a tumultuous time. The book has also been made into a film starring Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver.
'Before Dawn' by Sapardi Djoko Damono
A collection of lyrical poetry selected from the long career of one of Indonesia’s best loved twentieth century poets.
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