Bali, Borneo, Beyond
With more than 180,000 islands, Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world. The islands are home to 167 active volcanoes, more endangered species and more beaches than any other nation.
Indonesia has some of the largest remaining tracts of tropical forest anywhere in the world. It also features some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling spots in the world. Adding to the beauty are millions and millions of smiles along the way. Where should you visit?
Raja Empat: Located off the northwest tip of the island of New Guinea, Raja Empat (the Four Kings) comprises more than 1,500 small islands. Marine surveys suggest that the marine life diversity around these islands is the highest on Earth. It’s one of the greatest diving destinations in the world. The abundance of marine life is due in part to its incredibly low human population density and the nutrient-rich ocean currents nearby.
Tanjung Puting National Park: The Tanjung Puting National Park is located on the island of Borneo. The park is a popular ecotourism destination, with many local tour companies offering multi-day boat tours to view wildlife and visit the research centers. Wildlife include gibbons, macaques, clouded leopards, sun bears, pythons, crocodiles and – most famously – orangutans.
Borneo is home to the world’s most dense and remote rainforests, as well as about 12 million people, 75 percent of whom live in Indonesia’s Kalimantan region. Given the harsh nature of Kalimantan’s interior and lowlands, most settlements are along the rivers and coasts.
Unfortunately illegal logging and forest clearing for agricultural uses (including palm oil) are a major threat to the park. If you are lucky, you can meet founder and director, Birute Galdikas, who has devoted her life to orangutan conservation and research.
Komodo National Park: Encompassing both Rinca Island, Komodo Island and a number of smaller ones, Komodo National Park is famous as the home of the Komodo dragons, giant carnivorous monitor lizards. The reptiles roam freely over the islands, and visitors rely on experienced tour guides for sightings and safety. Komodo National Park also is a world-class scuba diving destination.
Komodo is dry, hot and barren, with rainfall occurring between November and March. Komodo is a small island of 280 square kilometers. It is located between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores. The Island has about 800 human inhabitants and double that number of dragons.
Flores: Lying to the east of Komodo, the island of Flores offers an array of natural and cultural sights. The most famous attraction in Flores is the Kelimutu volcano caldera, which has three lakes fed by volcanic gas. The lakes change color according to the amount of oxidation in the water.
This island is home to hundreds of different ethnic groups who speak many languages. It seems to be a transition point between the Malay and Papuan races. The west coast of Flores is one of the few places, aside from the island of Komodo itself, where the Komodo dragon is found in the wild.
Torajaland (Tanah Toraja): This highland region of Sulawesi is home of the Toraja people, who are famous for their massive peaked-roof houses and spectacular burial sites. The region also features some interesting monoliths.
Sulawesi, or Celebes, is one of the most beautiful destinations in Indonesia. It’s the world’s 11th largest island. With abundant beauty and natural riches, Sulawesi could become one of the major nature-based tourism centers in Southeast Asia.
Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park: Best known for its awesome scenery of a vast, ancient volcanic crater and a host of picturesque volcanoes. The park is named after two mountains, Mount Semeru, Mount Bromo and the Tengger people who inhabit the area.
Semeru is the highest mountain on Java as well as one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes. The smoldering cone of Bromo stands in a sea of volcanic sand, surrounded by the towering cliffs of the crater’s edge.
The region also is famous for Java Man (homo erectus), a set of human fossil remains, which date back about 500,000 years. The fossils were found near the Brantas River in East Java. Since then, evidence of other prehistoric cultures also has been found, including the Solo Man discovery in Central Java.
Lombok: This island is just east of Bali. It has similar landscapes as Bali, with less commercialism and fewer crowds, but it’s gaining fast. The island’s northern area is dominated by Mt. (gunung) Rinjani, which climbs to 12,224 feet out of the sea. Trekking draws many tourists to Lombok. The full climb takes several days.
The three Gili Islands, just off Lombok’s northwest coast are the most popular beach destination, but the island is developing its version of Kuta Beach on the south side of the island. The traditional market in Senggigi is worth a visit.
Yogyakarta: This ancient city is the most popular tourist destination on Java, due to its proximity to the famous temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. The city is a center of art and education.It offers good shopping and it’s known for its unique batik fabrics.
It’s also one of the nation’s centers of influence. The sultanate of Yogyakarta, was formed in 1755 when the Sultanate of Mataram was divided in two by the Dutch East India Company. The Sultan Hamengkubuwono I spent the next 37 years building the new capital, with the kraton, or palace, as the centerpiece. This is the sacred sanctuary where Javanese culture is preserved.
Yogyakarta lies in one of the most seismically active parts of Java and has been struck by several earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In 2006, an earthquake flattened more than 300,000 houses. In 2010, Mt. Merapi erupted again and killed dozens of people.
Bali: This small island is one of the world’s most popular beach destinations. The varied landscape, rugged coastlines, tropical beaches, lush rice terraces and volcanic hillsides all provide a picturesque backdrop to its colorful, deeply spiritual and unique Hindu culture. Be sure to visit the great temples, including Uluwatu, Tanah Lot, Danau Bratan and Besaki. The combination of people, culture, spirituality and spectacular beaches have made Bali the most popular tourist destination in Indonesia for years.