Bali, Borneo and Beyond
Here are 15 reasons to visit Indonesia, home to more than 17,500 islands, including Bali, Borneo, Java, Sumatra and Papua.
Indonesia’s sprawling capital, home to 10 million people, is a “melting pot of cuisines and cultures,” wrote Simon Parker for Telegraph Travel in 2015.
“The old town of Batavia will transport you to Indonesia’s Dutch colonial past while the fashionable Menteng district is a hive of live music venues, exclusive restaurants and hip hotels,” he added. “World-renowned restaurants, bars and nightclubs perch on top of towering skyscrapers, while shoppers can choose from dozens of gargantuan shopping malls.”
The world’s largest lizards exist on just five Indonesian islands – Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang, and Padar. They are truly fearsome, weighing up to 150lbs and possessing toxic bites, allowing them to hunt and kill far bigger animals – even humans.
Stanley Stewart visited the islands on a cruise for Telegraph Travel last year. He wrote: “Our guide Harry Christensen, a proper ocker Aussie who has been sailing these waters for years, told us how the Komodo’s venom induces shock and heart failure in its victims, how it dislocates its jaws like a snake to devour large prey, how it is a miniature replica of a much larger Jurassic ancestor. ‘AMAZING!’ Harry raved, flapping his arms like a man trying to escape his own body. ‘These dragons inspired the legends of King Kong!’”
Named one of Telegraph Travel’s top 20 places to visit back in 2014, lesser-visited Sumatra is a wild and beautiful hotspot for adventure.
“Most visitors head to see the orang-utan of Bukit Lawang,” wrote Guyan Mitra at the time, “and the army of vigilante elephants which are commissioned to protect the northern rainforest of Tangkahan (seriously). You can join them for their dawn lake-shore bath, and scrub their nails before the morning patrol. Topped off with a cup of strong Sumatran coffee, there are few better ways to start a day.”
“The seriously intrepid should consider a trip to Kerinci Seblat, the biggest national park on the island, where you may get to see tigers and the Sumatran rhino, if you’re lucky. Creature comforts are few, but the rewards are high. There’s also hiking across the lunar craters of the volcanoes of Berastagi, lakeside lounging in Danau Toba, diving with whale sharks in Pulau Weh, and surfing off the Mentawaii Islands and Pulau Nias.”
Nowhere in the world offers better diving than the Coral Triangle, an area of the Pacific Ocean that includes the waters around Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands. One of the best ways to explore it is on a liveaboard boat around the Raja Ampat Islands in Indonesia’s West Papua province. Divers will find 75 percent of all the world’s know coral species, and up to 2,000 species of reef fish.
It might be the most populous island in the world, with around 140 million residents, but Java has plenty of places to escape the crush. There are 12 national parks to explore – including Unesco-listed Ujung Kulon – and volcanoes – including Bromo and Merapi – to hike up.
Java is also home to the world’s biggest Buddhist temple, Borobudur, with its intricate lattice stupas set among paddy fields. It’s often crowded, so consider lesser-known sites such as Pawon, Mendut, Plaosan Lor and Kalasan, which retain an air of contemplation and peace.
“This is one of very few islands that manage to combine spirituality and hedonism; visitors can witness coming-of-age ceremonies, as well as enjoy sundowners, first-rate dining and chic shopping,” says Telegraph Travel’s Michelle Jana Chan. “At Ubud, the island’s cultural capital, there are frequent musical and dance performances, as well as galleries selling woodcarving, silverware, textiles, paintings and sculpture. There is trekking around terraced rice fields and two volcanoes in the north, Agung and Batur. Bali Barat National Park is a haven for deer, boar and macaques, and the offshore Menjangan Island has dive sites with schools of batfish, giant trevally and jacks.”
Millions of people visit Bali each year seeking a beach paradise, but they may do better looking about 30 miles east, to the lesser-known island of Lombok, known for its good surf, spectacular beaches and mountainous interior, or the neighbouring Gili Islands, ringed by coral reefs.
“Until recently the Gili Islands were mainly visited by backpackers paying £10 a night for simple beach accommodation,” wrote Michelle Jana Chan back in 2012. “Now the biggest island, Gili Trawangan, is going upmarket with the opening of villa resorts, eco-lodges and spa retreats. But there is still a bohemian feel: instead of cars and motorcycles, local transport is by bicycle or horse-drawn carts called cidomos.”
“The wild island of Borneo (of which Kalimantan makes up around two thirds) has enchanted adventurers since the days of the Victorian explorers,” says Michelle Jana Chan. “Today, little has diluted that raw experience, and among its attractions are rainforests, indigenous tribes and the orangutans of Tanjung Puting National Park.”
This Unesco World Heritage site on the island of Papua, is vast – covering 9,674 square miles – and home to a huge array of ecosystems, including mangroves, rainforest, alpine tundra and equatorial glaciers. Its highest point, Puncak Jaya, is the tallest mountain between the Himalayas and the Andes.
There are 123 mammalian species and 630 species of bird, including many that are endemic to the region. But much of the park remains unexplored – so scientists believe more are waiting to be discovered.
Java’s second city, Yogyakarta, is the cultural and spiritual hub with all-night shadow-puppet performances, concerts and art exhibitions. It is also the best base for exploring the aforementioned Borobudur and the vast Hindu temple complex of Prambanan, with its principal temples dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma and hundreds of surrounding shrines.
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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.