And that’s just the start.
There’s so much to love about Indonesia. It’s one of the most culturally diverse places in the world, with over 300 ethnic groups and more than 500 languages being spoken by 246 million people.
You’ll want to give yourself lots of time here, or plan your itinerary so that you go in-depth with one region rather than spreading yourself thin. (It’s a big, big country.) Better yet, hire a local guide in Indonesia to help you make the most of your time there. Not convinced? Read on!
I’m a bit of a fanatic when it comes to volcanoes, and so this is one of the biggest appeals in Indonesia for me. There are nearly 100 of them here!
Mount Bromo is the most famous of them all, and easily accessible. At 2329 metres high, it’s best known for its surreal beauty. It stands inside the Tengger Caldera Sea of Sand, constantly spewing smoke. Seeing the sunrise from here is a mind-blowing experience. Another extremely active volcano is Krakatoa, once responsible for one of the world’s deadliest eruptions. Getting up close is risky, but you can camp out on Rakata Island to enjoy the glowing eruptions in the evening.
If you’re in Lombok, Mount Rinjani is a must-see. It’s also very active, but you can trek to the top (although it’s a grueling hike). Still, the beauty of it all is incredible – especially its crater lake, Segara Anak.
Mount Batur in Kintamani is another beauty you can see on an Indonesia volcano tour, and a good opportunity to do some hiking as well as visiting some local traditional villages around the crater lake.
Indonesia is home to many wildlife sanctuaries, and many exotic species. Orangutans and Komodo dragons are two of the most popular attractions.
There are wildlife sanctuaries known as “orangutan camps” in Kalimantan, and some are only accessible by boat. You’ll be going deep into the jungle, surrounded by lush forest, and guided along by conservationists who genuinely care about protecting these gentle primates. From Borneo it is also possible to see orangutans at Tanjung Puting National Park.
But perhaps the most exciting wildlife experience is taking a journey to Komodo Island – home to the famous (and terrifying) Komodo dragons (giant lizards endemic only to Indonesia). Yes, you’ll want a guide for this trip.
Why do you need a guide to see Komodo dragons? Well, they’re 8 to 9 feet long and weigh up to 200 pounds, can see things from as far away as 300 metres, and can run up to 20 kilometres per hour. So, yeah, nobody really wants to come face to face with one on their own.
The Sungai Kapuas is Indonesia’s longest river, and one of the best ways to see it is by boat. It flows on endlessly, for 930 kilometres. Amazingly, not too many tourists do this, and so embarking on this river journey means you get to spend lots of quality time with the locals.
You can start in Pontianak and end in Putussibau, which takes about five days. The river itself isn’t the most beautiful part of the journey – it’s kind of murky and dirty, but you’ll get to cruise past traditional stilt villages, and partake in some real Indonesian culture.
Even better: a river cruise is one of the cheapest ways to see wildlife up close. Keep an eye out especially for proboscis monkeys with the goofy long noses – they’re native to Borneo.
The Prambanan temple is the largest Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva from ancient Java. Completed in the 10th century, this sprawling complex is actually made up of three temples decorated with reliefs of the Ramayana and dedicated to the three most important Hindu divinities – Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. There are also three temples dedicated to their animals.
Prambanan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so you can expect many crowds most of the time. At one point, as many as 240 temples were standing on this site.
But while you’re here, take the time to visit the nearby Borobudur Temple Compound, sometimes considered more beautiful than Prambanan. This famous Buddhist temple from the 8th and 9th centuries is located in central Java and takes on a three-tiered formation rather than aiming for epic heights like Prambanan does.
Ubud is Indonesia’s cultural centre, in the heart of Bali. Although some people grumble about the area’s recent boom in popularity (mostly due to Eat, Pray, Love), the fact of the matter is that Ubud is still one of the most significant, worthwhile destinations in the country.
For example, Ubud is well known for its traditional Barong dance, an exciting dance drawing a giant lion played by two people. Then there’s Celuk Art Village, full of gold and silver craftworks in the district of Sukawati. The Ubud King Palace and Art Market is another place full of artistic Balinese wonders.
One must-do in Ubud: visit the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. These adorable little Balinese macaques occupy three temple houses, and they’re cheeky little devils – and not the least bit shy! The temple itself is an interesting (and somewhat foreboding) destination, with one of its entrances showing children being eaten by Rangda figures.
Don’t be tempted to hand over any treats to the monkeys, though. It’s strictly forbidden!
Looking for that classic beach vacation with endless sun, gorgeous beaches, and that slow-and-steady lifestyle…with some partying thrown in? The Gili Islands are where to go.
Located off the northwest coast of Lombok, the Gili Islands are made up of white-sand beaches and turquoise waters. The party island is known as Gili Tarwangan, where you’ll find the best nightlife and a constant string of restaurants. Gili Meno is considered the honeymoon island, for exactly the reasons you’d imagine. And then there’s Gili Air, which is kind of a mix of the two, where the island is divided between a quiet and peaceful section and then a busier, more upbeat place.
Just a note: there’s no such thing as fresh water on the island, and even the showers pump out seawater (unless you’re in a ritzy resort). There are also no police on the islands. You have to take the bad with the good, and the good far outweighs the bad.
Food! The number of traditional Indonesian dishes is endless. You’ll need months to try them all! But I mean, who doesn’t love a good eating challenge? Yum.
Nasi goring is one of Indonesia’s signature dishes, and probably the country’s favourite (depending on who you ask). It’s fried rice with eggs, prawns (or meat of your choice), chili, and veggies. Eat with kerupuk for the perfect meal. You can also try Mie goring, which is like nasi goring but with fried noodles.
Another hearty dish: mie, a noodle dish in chicken broth soup, topped with chicken, scallion, kai choy, and dumplings. Also try bakso, Indonesian meatballs in a chicken broth soup.
After a big night out, grab some street food, like sate, which is skewered grilled meat in peanut sauce. Try some martabak or martabak telor, pan-fried stuffed pancakes (usually filled with minced beef, scallions, and onions). And then there’s bakwan, a deep-fried mix of veggies. Okay, I’m officially starving.