From ancient empires to tourist-friendly islands and everything in-between, Indonesia’s wild landscapes, crystalline waters, and rich cultures present the potential for activities that cater to every conceivable taste. Idyllic white-sand beaches, powerful surf breaks, astonishing dive sites, fiery volcanoes, and dense unexplored jungle inhabited by exotic animals and birds, attracts adventurers from all over the world. With over 17,000 islands in the archipelago, the possibilities of where to go and how to spend a holiday in Indonesia are endless. Here are some of the best places to visit:
Bali is the smallest province in Indonesia, yet it is by far the most visited of Indonesia’s islands, and the only Hindu society in the whole of Southeast Asia. The splendor and diversity of the landscape is legendary; volcanoes climb heavenwards into the clouds and terraced rice fields cascade down to the sea with the resplendent summit of Mt Agung dominating the scene.
This incredible natural beauty is combined with an exotic history and a rich culture defined by palaces, temples, flower-scented festivals, and gorgeous arts. Everyday life revolves around a combination of Hindu traditions and animist beliefs that have imbued the island with spiritual vitality and depth. Consequently, temple ceremonies govern the Balinese calendar. Activities abound from surfing, golfing and diving, to adventure tours, theme parks, shopping, fine dining and a vibrant nightlife.
Towering mountains, awesome waterfalls, magnificent coral reefs, a colorful Sasak culture, ethnic markets, and tranquility are among Lombok’s many charms. Appealing to the adventurous, Lombok attracts travelers who seek to experience something uncommercialized and unique, such as trekking the mighty Mt Rinjani, which rises 12,224 ft above sea level to form the second highest peak in Indonesia.
For others, it might be an opportunity to encounter a traditional, rural way of life exposing a fascinating integration of Muslim and Hindu cultures. The island produces some remarkable handicrafts, and artisans can be seen at work creating textiles, baskets, and pots. The tiny Gili Islands are a great attraction for divers, while fun-loving partygoers will be tempted by the nightlife of Gili Trawangan.
The rugged island of Sumbawa, east of Lombok, is a remote yet beautiful place, known for its waves, sandy beaches, rainforests, and wild terrain, with celebrated surfing spots and magnificent coral reefs. In 1815, Sumbawa’s Mt Tambora blew its top, causing the biggest volcanic eruption in the collective memory of mankind.
Java is the economic heart of Indonesia, a melting pot of religions and cultures, and one of the most densely populated islands on Earth. Historically, it has been home to Indonesia’s most glorious kingdoms and has produced the archipelago’s finest art and architecture. Here, you can climb the numerous volcanoes that span the island, tour the cultural city of Yogyakarta, see the sunrise over Borobudur − the world’s largest and most impressive Buddhist temple, enjoy the serenity of the national parks, tour coffee, and cacao plantations, and witness egg-laying turtles at Sukamade Beach.
Dragons do exist, and the prehistoric atmosphere of Komodo still remains today. On two small islands, the world’s largest lizard reigns supreme – a scale-covered monitor with spiked claws, armor-clad body, snake-like head, and fierce jaws from which flick a long yellow forked tongue – Indonesia’s living dinosaur. In addition to the dragons, and an extraordinary variety of birds and wildlife, the waters of the Komodo National Park are home to over 1000 species of marine life.
The region offers world-class snorkeling and diving on the coral reefs, as well as superb trekking through a jagged volcanic landscape where savannah-wrapped hills offer spectacular views. You can also expect to see flying foxes, sea eagles, cockatoos, grey macaques, water buffaloes, butterflies, jungle chickens, rare orchids, distinctive lontar palms, and kapok trees.
Flores is a long, narrow mountainous island – green and lush in the west and dry further east, stretching 220 miles in length. Eighty-five percent of the population is Roman Catholic but ethnographically the island is very diverse. Like most of East Indonesia, the older animist beliefs coexist with the new faith. Kelimutu is an active volcano on Flores, and one of Indonesia’s most incredible natural wonders, with three crater lakes. The lake colors vary with changing mineral contents (or supernatural activity, depending on who you ask) from white, turquoise, and red to black, green, and the color of Coca-Cola.
Kalimantan, occupying three-quarters of the island of Borneo, is an adventure in every sense of the word. Vast and remote jungles, snaking rivers, and majestic mountains serve up endless opportunities for epic rainforest exploration. This is the best place to see the noble orangutan sharing the jungle canopy with acrobatic gibbons and proboscis monkeys. The indigenous people, collectively known as Dayak, still retain age-old traditions and have long lived in harmony with this rich, challenging landscape; their longhouses can be found near Kalimantan’s many waterways, creating an extraordinary sense of community.
Raja Ampat, in eastern Indonesia, off the coast of Papua, has been described as the ‘Last Paradise on Earth.’ It is the country’s largest national marine park and the world’s most biodiverse marine region, with more recorded fish, coral and mollusk species than anywhere else on the planet. As stunningly beautiful above water as it is below, the region is an archipelago comprising over 1,500 small islands, cays, and shoals carved by the elements into fanciful pinnacles covered with lush vegetation.
These surround the four main islands of Misool, Salawati, Batanta, and Waigeo, and the smaller island of Kofiau. The islands feature rugged and steep limestone coastlines covered with virgin rainforest, home to an extraordinary wealth of exotic bird life, including five different bird-of-paradise species.
Maluku’s 11 tiny and isolated Banda Islands were once the world’s only source of nutmeg, shaping the history of colonialism in the East Indies from the 16th century onwards. Despite their illustrious history, the Banda Islands are a place that time seems to have forgotten. While foreign visitors are nothing new, these days the intrepid visitors come not to trade for spice (although you will find plenty in the market in Banda Neira) but to absorb the historic atmosphere, snorkel, scuba dive and wonder at the richness of the local seas.
Here, you can visit the old forts, Dutch colonial houses and other remnants of colonial times, stroll through the nutmeg plantations, climb Gunung Api (Fire Mountain), and marvel at the dolphins that cavort alongside the local boats.
Until the 19th century, the tiny islands of Ternate and Tidore were the world’s only source of cloves, controlled by two rich and powerful sultanates, both fierce rivals for control of the trade. When the first Europeans arrived in the 16th century, Ternate courted the Portuguese and Tidore courted the Spanish. Both European powers played the islanders off against each other but it was the Dutch in the following century who eventually won the game.
Each island is dominated by a towering volcano. Attractions include historic forts, clove forests, sandy beaches, and immaculate villages with candy-colored houses and streets lined with flowers.
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