Indonesia is a land of contrasts, a land where the spiritual manifests itself through diverse cultures, magnificent temples, and artwork, while Mother Nature holds untold treasures in her dramatic seascapes, landscapes, flourishing wildlife, and active volcanoes.
Planning your holiday in Indonesia is just as pleasant as an uneasy task since there is so much to see and each part of the archipelago offers unforgettable experiences. Discover what to see in Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago.
Located 25 miles northwest of Yogyakarta on the island of Java, Borobudur is an ancient Buddhist temple in the shape of a mandala. It was built over a period of some 75 years in the 8th and 9th centuries out of an estimated two million blocks of stone. The temple was abandoned in the 14th century when it is believed that much of the population moved to eastern Java due to volcanic eruptions, and for centuries it lay hidden in the jungle under layers of volcanic ash until it was rediscovered in the 1800s.
Today it is one of the top UNESCO World Heritage sites. Comprising six square platforms with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues, it is considered one of the greatest Buddhist sites in the world and one of Indonesia’s best tourist attractions.
Mt Bromo is an active volcano that lies in the middle of Tengger caldera, a crater of fine volcanic sand in East Java. It sure is a great spot for those looking for some adventures in Indonesia. At 7,641 feet, it is not the highest peak of the massif, but it is the best known. The top of the volcano has been blown off and the crater inside constantly belches white sulfurous smoke. Travelers wake up in the early hours to stand on the rim of the caldera at sunrise for an ethereal view of Mount Bromo and the Sea of Sand.
Lake Toba, on the island of Sumatra, is an immense volcanic lake about 62 miles long, 19 miles wide, and up to 1,657 ft deep. Formed by a gigantic, catastrophic volcanic eruption between 69,000 and 77,000 years ago, it is the largest lake in Indonesia and the largest volcanic resurgent caldera on Earth. The island in the middle – Pulau Samosir – is a Singapore-sized island in the middle of Lake Toba; it is actually the fifth-largest lake island in the world inside of the sixth-largest island in the world.
Kawah Ijen is a mysterious crater lake, located at the core of a reserve that spans the slopes and summits of three volcanoes. It is one of the most acidic lakes in the world and the site of a labor-intensive sulfur mining operation. Every day an elite class of hardened men known as the ‘sulfur slaves’ tirelessly hump baskets of yellow rocks, weighing up to 200 pounds, from the lake’s edge, up to the crater rim, and then back down the side of the mountain.
The lake is milky turquoise in color, and its mineral purity and surrounding volcano walls provide a surreal sight, especially at night, when the combustion of sulfuric gasses emerges in the form of blue fire.
Visiting Bali is one of the very highlights in Indonesia. Jatiluwih, in the heart of the Tabanan Regency in Bali, is also known as Bali’s ‘rice bowl’. It is the most agriculturally productive region on the island, with 1500 acres of rice terraces stretching from the coast and following the graceful hillside topography to as high as 2300 feet above sea level.
The glorious scenery will unfold in front of you like a map as you journey along a narrow winding road up the inclines of Mt Batukaru through steep terraces planted with Asia’s staple crop. Jatiluwih is true to its name, which means ‘extraordinary’ or ‘truly marvelous’, and this scenic point offers a truly breathtaking view.
One of the most dramatic and venerated temples in Bali is Pura Tanah Lot, dedicated to the sea spirits and founded by Nirartha, one of the last Majapahit priests to come from Java in the 16th century. The temple is perched on a craggy wave-lashed rock just at the edge of the frothing white surf and glistening black shoreline; it is probably the most photographed sight in Bali.
It can only be reached at low tide and the surrounding rocks are rumored to be inhabited by sea snakes. The best time to visit is in the late afternoon when you can see the splendid profile of the temple silhouetted against the setting sun.
Pura Luhur Uluwatu, on the southwest tip of Bali’s Bukit Peninsula cannot be missed. This 11th-century temple is balanced on the very edge of a narrow rocky cape, overhanging perpendicular cliffs 200ft above the crashing breakers of the Indian Ocean. Its grey volcanic stone, glowing with the radiant colors of the setting sun, will leave you with a lasting and haunting memory of spiritual Bali.
Located on the island of Sulawesi, spanning green lush rice terraces with blue misty mountains as a backdrop, Tana Toraja is home to the indigenous Toraja people. The architectural style of their ‘Tongkonan’, boat-shaped ancestral houses, are immediate standouts, but the people are also known for their bizarre funerary rites including the practice of ‘walking’ dead mummified bodies.
Funerals are elaborate ceremonies, and the customary gravesites include cave graves, hanging graves, tau tau (life sized wooden effigies), and baby tree graves.
The less known fact about Toraja is that produces the country-famous coffee. Put Tana Toraja on your Indonesia itinerary if diving deep into local cultures and coffee plantations is your thing.
No trip to Indonesia would be complete without seeing some orangutans. Tanjung Puting National Park in Kalimantan, Borneo, is home to the largest orangutan population in the world, as well as other primates, birds, and reptiles. Though orangutans still live in the wild, several sanctuaries rescue and protect these beautiful, endangered creatures as land development infringes on their natural habitat.
The easiest way to get there is on the local boats, converted into Borneo cruise boats. The experience remains very intimate and authentic, as you enter the rainforest on a small wild river.
The island of Krakatoa is located in the Sunda Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra. In 1883, the dramatic eruption of Krakatau Volcano and a resulting tsunami devastated the entire region. Those humans who did not perish fled, and the land reverted to forest.
Anak Krakatau, “Child of Krakatau”, the youngest of the islands formed by the eruption, forced itself above the surface in 1930. This young and volatile volcano continues to rise higher out of the sea and has frequent and significant eruptions, belching smoke and fire. The island can easily be reached by boat or ferry from Pulau Sebesi.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, Wakatobi is an island group situated at the end of the southeastern ‘petal’ of the orchid-shaped island of Sulawesi. It has the highest number of reef and fish species in the world and is also the playground of dolphins, turtles and even whales. The island group comprises 143 islands of which only seven are inhabited. Besides its underwater majesty, Wakatobi offers white-sand beaches, mangrove forests, traditional weaving villages, blacksmiths, and historical ruins.
The royal village of Ubud has long been recognized as Bali’s artistic and cultural hub. It is home to a small treasure trove of museums and galleries, a traditional market and a royal palace, while in the neighboring villages, you can watch the island’s most accomplished painters, stonemasons, woodcarvers, mask makers and silversmiths at work.
Furthermore, Ubud is surrounded by most of the attributes that entice people to this exceptionally beautiful island –ancient temples, palaces, emerald rice terraces, vertical river gorges, coconut palms and lush jungle. Knee-buckling views incorporating distant volcanoes are among the most prized in the world.
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