Indonesia is a fascinating destination with more than 17,500 islands to visit. Which ones should be at the top of your list? You can pick luxury, adventure or both on most islands. But the surfing, diving and wildlife experiences vary greatly across the archipelago. The following profile will help you decide what’s best for you:
Bali: This is the gateway for the vast majority of Indonesia’s tourists. It has some of the most opulent resorts in the entire country. It also has remote village experiences, spas, arts, volcanoes, surfing, diving and golf. It has thousands of fascinating Hindu temples, including Tanah Lot, Uluwatu, Besaki, Lake Bratan and more. You can drive from the hot beaches of Sanur, Kuta and Nusa Dua to the cool mountainside within two hours. It’s a small island, but it features amazing diversity for tourists.
Java: Jakarta is the center of action on this densely populated island. It has all of the comforts of home, including malls, high-rise hotels, golf courses and world-class dining. Other destinations include Yogyakarta, Surabaya and Bandung.
Yogyakarta is a university city and the spiritual capital of Indonesia. It also is known for the arts, including its traditional Javanese puppet shows. The world’s largest Buddhist temple, Borobudur, is nearby, so is the ancient Hindu temple known as Prambanan.
Bandung also enjoys the cooler weather, which is why the President’s summer palace is located there.
Sulawesi: This 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. This is another island with tremendous diversity, including highlands, home of the Toraja culture. The Toraja are known for their narrow, stilted homes with high arching roofs on each end. It’s also know for world-class scuba diving at Bunaken and Wakatobi.
Lombok: Lombok is often compared to Bali. The neighboring islands have many similarities and many differences. They are only about 20 miles apart. Both islands have Hindu and Muslim influences, but in opposite proportions. Both islands have beautiful highlands and white sandy beaches, but Lombok is quieter and dryer than Bali for the most part. Tourism is already is the second-largest industry on Lombok. Mount Rinjani, beautiful coastlines, coral reefs, and stunning waterfalls highlight the list of popular destinations on Lombok.
The island’s topography is dominated by Mount Rinjani, a massive volcano that rises 12,200 feet out of the ocean. It is the second-largest volcano in Indonesia and it often is shrouded in clouds. The most recent eruption of Rinjani was in 1994. The volcano, and its sacred crater lake, is protected by Rinjani National Park, which was established in 1997. The towering volcano collects a great deal of rainfall, which tumbles down the mountain through a series of cold and cascading waterfalls below.
There are a series of small, but beautiful islands that surround Lombok. The most popular destinations are three islands off Lombok’s northwest coast called Gili Air, Gili Meno, and Gili Trawangan. Boat rides are available from Senggigi. (The word Gili is one of the local words for island). These islands are beautiful destinations with white beaches, colorful coral reefs, no vehicles, and limited electricity. Accommodations consist of basic huts on most of these islands. Gili Trawangan, the outermost of these three islands, however, features some nicer hotels with air conditioning and swimming pools. The nightlife on all three islands typically appeals to younger travelers.
Sumatra: Sumatera locally, straddles the equator. It is heavily forested and rich with rare wildlife. Numerous large reserves and preservation areas have been set aside, which makes the island ideal for ecotourism. The mountains in the west and the swampy plains in the east define Sumatra’s landscape. The backbone of the island is the volcanic Barisan Mountain chain, which runs the entire length of the island from north to south. Most of Sumatra was covered by tropical rainforest prior to the development of natural resource industries. The jungles are home to species such as orangutans, tapirs, Sumatran tigers and elephants.
Mount Leuser National Park offers 10,000 square kilometers of protected habitat for the Sumatran rhinoceros, orangutan, Asian elephant, and the Sumatran tiger. The park hosts 320 species of birds, 176 mammal species, 194 reptile species, and 52 species of amphibian. Meanwhile, half of all plant species on Sumatra are found in the forests of Mount Leuser. The park is easily accessible from the village of Bukit Lawang, which is 96 km northwest of Medan.
Lake Toba is the largest lake in Southeast Asia. The lake has a large island, Samosir, out in the middle, where visitors can stay overnight. Steep cliffs, pine trees, and several villages of Batak people surround the lake.
Prapat is the major village on the lake, where accommodations are abundant and ferries to Samosir Island are frequent. Plus, the Siguragura Falls, approximately 200 meters high and one of the highest in Southeast Asia, is located nearby. Affluent travelers from Indonesia, China, Japan, and Singapore flock to Lake Toba. Take a flight to Medan and then a ride a bus south to the lake.
Way Kambas National Park is home to wild elephants. The park also hosts a training center for the elephants, providing an excellent opportunity to view them up close. The center trains elephants for numerous purposes, including agriculture, logging and entertainment.
Kalimantan: Borneo is the third-largest island in the world. Indonesia governs the southern two-thirds of Borneo, while Malaysia and Brunei control smaller northern and western sections. Indonesia calls its region Kalimantan, which is Indonesia’s second-largest province. It generates a substantial amount of wealth for the country because of its vast natural resources, including timber and gold. Its extensive oil reserves are now a key part of Indonesia’s economy, and diamonds, rare woods, rattan, and resin also are harvested from the island’s interior.
Camp Leakey and Tanjung Puting National Park (TAHN-joong POO-teeng) have millions of acres for orangutans, proboscis monkeys, macaques, hornbills, flycatchers, kingfishers, drongos, mynas, bee-eaters, broadbills, herons, falconets, eagles, bulbuls, cormorants, agile gibbons, snakes, and crocodiles.
Ex-captive orangutans can be viewed at Camp Leakey and the Tanjung Harapan Rehabilitation Station. Dr. Birute Galdikas, a leading orangutan expert and award-winning conservationist, established Camp Leakey in 1971 as a study and rehabilitation center. It is currently supported by the Orangutan Foundation International. In the early 1980s, orangutan rehabilitation was moved to Tanjung Harapan to prevent overpopulation at Camp Leakey. Indonesian rangers work with scientists to rehabilitate ex-captive orangutans before releasing them into the forest within the park.
The orangutan (in Indonesian it means man of the forest) is only found on two islands in the world—Borneo and Sumatra. There just a few thousand left in the wild.
The park is approximately 30 kilometers from Pangkalanbun, which can be reached by air from several cities, including Semarang, Pontianak, Palangkaraya, and Banjarmasin. From Pangakalanbun, travelers can reach Kumai by car or motorcycle. From Kumai, the Park is reachable by speedboat or a slow riverboat, called a kelotok, along the Kumai and Sekonyer rivers. Park permits must be obtained from the PHPA Office in Kumai. Hotel accommodations are available in Pangkalanbun or Kumai. Up the river, you can stay at the Sekonyer Eco Lodge or the Rimba Lodge, near the park. Campers can use the Tanjung Harapan area within the park.
Flores: Flores is located east of Komodo and south of Sulawesi. 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.
Flores is known for its mountainous terrain, but it also has good snorkeling and diving locations along the west and north coasts, especially near Komodo National Park and on the northern coast near Maumere and Riung. Scuba diving within the park is excellent.
Flores has several active and dormant volcanoes, including Egon, Ilimuda, Kelimutu, Lereboleng, and Lewotobi. Mount Ebulobo is the most active of them all and Mount Inerie is the tallest at nearly 7,300 feet. Only Java and Sumatra have more active volcanoes than Flores. The mountainous island also has had its share of deadly earthquakes. Flores is just a mile or so east of Komodo, which means Flores has several Komodo dragons of its own on the western side of the island. The male dragons swim the channel that separates the two islands in pursuit of food.
The most magnificent sites are the colored lakes inside the Kelimutu volcano. Each lake is a different color of blue, green, or black. The colors change over time.
Indonesia is the fourth-largest nation in the world with more than 267 million people. The country is comprised of more than 17,500 islands, including Bali, Borneo, Java, Lombok, Sumatra and Sulawesi. Learn more about Indonesia.