Indonesia is by far the least explored country in Southeast Asia for us. Simply because it’s big, and massive, and it’s just really hard to know where to begin, given there are 18,000 different islands to choose from. So there’s no doubt a lot to explore, and through the help of some fellow travel loving bloggers, I aim to share some of the best places to visit in Indonesia and things to do in Indonesia for tourists. Outside of Bali of course. And while I do have a personal love for Bali, an island I first visited near 15 years, and we later married in valleys of Ubud back in 2013. But the island is no doubt ridiculously developed these days, meaning any real adventure is found outside, in the lesser-known parts of Indonesia. Which are best explored Indonesia holiday packages.
At the same time, Bali may not be the best representative of the region anyway, with its hypnotic Hindu mysticism. As Indonesia is otherwise the most populous Muslim country in the world, so comparisons are often better made with the Malay cultures of Malaysia or even Singapore (check out some similar foods here). And the country is just so diverse and widespread that I don’t even know where to begin. Hence the help from my friends. So I start this list from the islands surrounding Bali, out to the easier accessed regions of Indonesia. (AirAsia Flight Routes: Bali, Lombok, Jakarta, Medan, Palembang, Pekanbaru, Surabaya, Yogyakarta).
By Kristin Addis of Be my Travel Muse: If I were to describe Lombok in a word, enchanting comes to mind. This island next to Bali receives far fewer visitors and yet it’s equally, if not even more, beautiful than its famous neighbour.
During my time there I visited six different waterfalls, including Tiu Kelep, a now Insta-famous location that was once a hidden gem of the island. There were more beaches than I can count, most of which I had all to myself. Instead of the usual loud beach bars and resorts, the beaches had cute little huts and coconut stalls, perfect for a quiet afternoon! Lombok is also home to the amazing Rinjani volcano, a bucket-list item to many. Finally, I recommend finishing your journey in Lombok with a trip to the Gili islands, all 3 of which are lovely in their own ways.
To get to Lombok, you can fly into Lombok’s Praya Airport, or take the ferry over from Bali or Sumbawa, depending on the direction you’re travelling from.
By Lola Méndez of Miss Filatelista: While enjoying the incredible nature of the Gili Islands there are many steps travellers can take to be responsible. This area was badly damaged during the 2018 earthquakes and is need of tourism in order to help rebuild. But don’t worry–it’s safe to visit and as gorgeous as ever. Stay in the eco-friendly Pesona Beach Resort which is walking distance from the boat pier on Gili T so there’s no reason to use the unethical horse-drawn carriages. Sea turtles are easy to spot right off the shore so just swim out instead of booking a boat tour which pollutes the ocean. Do your best to cut back on plastic use while in the islands and have a few vegan meals which will reduce your carbon footprint. You can even take a plant-based cooking class at the Gili Cooking School on Gili Air. The Gili Islands can be reached by fast boat from Bali or Lombok.
Sumba, Nua Tenggara
By Jill of Jack and Jill Travel The World: A short flight from the ever popular Bali, Sumba (province: Nusa Tenggara) feels like a completely different world. Relatively untouched, the beaches here are wild, the roads are rough, and tourist infrastructure is few and far in between. So why would you go to Sumba? What you get for this wildness are miles of empty white sand beaches (Waingapu, Tarimbang), waterfalls (Tenggedu and Lapopu Waterfall), and mangrove forests all for yourself. You can’t miss the dancing mangrove forests of Walakiri Beach. It’s especially stunning at sunset. Weekuri Lagoon is another can’t-miss spot – a clear blue lagoon with access to the ocean makes this an Instagram-worthy pool.
You also get to experience the unique indigenous Marapu culture. The tribes who live on Sumba still live by the old “adat” tradition. The live in houses with tall, sloping roofs made of dried grass and bury their ancestors inside massive stone tombs in their front yard. Some of these villages are open to visitors (e.g. Kampung Ratenggaro). This destination is not the easiest for the independent traveller, but those who make the journey will get to experience wild Indonesia as its best.
How to get there: Flights from Denpasar (Bali) to Tambolaka (Sumba) or Waingapu (Sumba). Renting a car with a driver is the best way to go about. More on Sumba Island.
By Divyakshi of the Quirky Traveller: Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia is a melting pot of different races, ethnic groups and as metropolitan as it can get. The first thing that strikes you is the traffic!! Plan your travels in a way that you won’t just be seeing the rear of cars while you are stuck in traffic. A visit to the Fatahillah square is a must especially on a Sunday, if you love people watching and are fond of a carnival-like ambience. There is colour, there are performers and there is a lot of activity in this square! For a stunning view of Jakarta do not miss a meal at the Aston Marina Ancol hotel. If you are a fan of all things vibrant and want to stay at a hotel that has quirky wall art, look no further than YELLO Hotel Harmoni – Jakarta, with a yellow theme and funky elements all across the hotel! For shoppers, the Thamrin City mall is a one-stop shop to buy any and everything including Batiks and souvenirs!
For food lovers, it is a must to try out their local dishes. You can even check for discounts on restaurants in Jakarta through Eatigo app of up to 50% depending on the scheduled reservation.
By Nicholas of Rambling Feet: Yogyakarta is well-connected to other cities in Java by rail, and to the rest of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore by air. Many travellers thus treat it merely as a base for trips to Prambanan, Borobudur and Goa Jomblang, but the city does not lack its own attractions. It is the only place in Indonesia still governed by a Sultan. Despite Indonesia being a Muslim country, ancient beliefs and traditions still play a major role, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Kraton (royal palace)’s design and in court life.
Overall, ‘Jogja’ feels relaxed and perfect for recovering from those trips to ancient monuments and natural wonders. To the north of the Kraton is Jalan Malioboro, the main shopping district. When night falls, it turns into one long street market. It’s a popular area to shop for sarongs or munch on fried duck and catfish in one of the pop-up lesehan. If that doesn’t appeal to you, try the cafes, galleries and boutique hotels in Prawirotaman instead. It’s hard to leave a city with this many options unsatisfied.
Borobudur Temple, Java
Margherita of The Crowded Planet: If you love art and history and you’re spending time in Java, you simply cannot miss visiting the spectacular Borobudur temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Borobudur is a very easy day trip from Yogyakarta – it’s only just over an hour by bus, with frequent departures and tickets cost less than a dollar.
The most impressive thing about Borobudur is its size, but it’s worth taking a closer look to the temple to admire the Buddha statues and the stupas found on the temple’s three terraces, and to check the view over the surrounds. Getting to Borobudur for sunset is quite popular, and if you’re set on getting there early you may want to take a tour instead of going by bus – however, tours usually only allow you to spend two hours at the site, which is just enough to take in the majesty of this temple and all it has to offer.
By Claudia of My Adventures Across The World: One of the nicest things to do in Indonesia is visiting Prambanan. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the largest Hindu Temple in Java and it dates back to the 9th century. The towering central buildings are gorgeous to visit, but the site is quite spread so make sure you take your time around the site. The best time to visit is in the late afternoon, so that after visiting you have a chance to also admire the sun setting on the site. You can then move outside the site, as there is a nearby restaurant that serves good food, and then head to the theatre from where you can enjoy the Ramayana, a traditional dance show that portraits one of the most important tales in the Hindu religion. The setting of the site illuminated at night is simply beautiful.
Mount Bromo, East Java
Manouk of a Bunch of Backpackers: In the middle of a barren and lunaresque landscape compromised of a sea of ash stands mighty Mount Bromo, one of the active volcanoes in Indonesia. Although Mt. Bromo itself is not even that high (2392 meters) compared to surrounding volcanoes, its beauty is not in size, but in the stunning surroundings. The best way to enjoy the views is through the Probolinggo approach. Here you start around 4AM and climb the neighbouring peak of Gunung Penanjakan (2770 meters). After sunrise, a car of minibus takes you to Mount Bromo. Here you can cross the black ‘Sea of Sand’ and start hiking Mt. Bromo itself. Once you’re at the crater rime, you will have sweeping views over the volcano and its surroundings. If you feel very lazy, you can opt for a horse ride. There are also several other volcanoes you can climb including massive, frequently smoking Gunung Semeru (3676 meters), which is a three-day trek. Some tours combine Mount Bromo with the equally impressive Ijen plateau. You can visit Mount Bromo from the town of Surabaya or from Probolinggo. Make sure to bring a wind jacket and a vest, as it’s windy and cold especially before sunrise!
Kawah Ijen, East Java
By Greta of Gretas Travels: If you’re looking for the best places to visit in Indonesia Kawah Ijen, on the island of Java, needs to feature on your travel bucket list. Kawah Ijen is an active volcano that doesn’t erupt lava, instead it releases methane and other gases, which cause the blue flames phenomenon. This is one of the only two places in the world where you can see the blue flames.
The hike up Kawah Ijen is pretty steep but well paved, as this is the road that the sulphur miners that work there do at least twice every day. To hike Kawah Ijen you will usually set off around 2AM so you can reach the top of the volcano by 4:30AM and see the blue flames, which only happen just before dawn.
Tumpak Sewu Waterfall, East Java
By Sam of Something of Freedom: The Tumpak Sewu waterfall in East Java is so incredibly beautiful that it’s hard to leave off any list of the best places to visit in Indonesia. Due to the relatively remote location of the waterfall, it’s the easiest way to visit by hiring a driver in Malang or Probolinggo to take you there on a day trip. It takes around 2-3 hours to get there from Malang or 3-4 hours from Probolinggo.
It may seem like a lot of effort to visit just one waterfall, but it is undoubtedly worth it. Surrounded by lush green jungle, the water plunges 120 metres over the edge of a steep cliff face – a truly astonishing sight. Unlike the overcrowded waterfalls in Bali, Tumpak Sewu is only visited by a small number of tourists, meaning you can enjoy the natural beauty of the waterfall peacefully.
Ijen Plateau, East Java
By Patrick of the German Backpacker: One of my highlights while backpacking Indonesia was certainly the Ijen plateau on Java. This volcanic plateau is known for the sulphur mining, where the famous blue fire is created at night. Therefore, most tours will take you to Ijen in the middle of the night and you’ll hike down into the crater in the dark. Be careful, the hike is pretty slippery at times and you will need to wear gas masks due to the toxic sulphur in the air. Once you’re down, you can watch the sulphur workers, who have to carry the heavy sulphur on their shoulders up the volcano and into the next village – a brutal job and seeing them working in this toxic environment is certainly a moment you’ll remember. During sunrise, you’ll have beautiful views of the crater lake while you’ll make your way up again.
Bandung, West Java
By Halef and Michael of The Round The World Guys: Foreign tourists flock to Bali as their main, and often only, destination in Indonesia. Oftentimes, other amazing places are overlooked. One of those is West Java.
The West Java capital of Bandung is the fourth largest city in Indonesia. The city has a great street food culture, so it’s helpful to learn a few Indonesian food facts before you go. Bandung is arguably one of the top culinary destinations in Indonesia, so foodies won’t want to miss it. Fertile volcanic soil, a relatively cool climate, and being the home to top universities in Indonesia, make it a prime destination for visitors for decades.
As flying is one of the easiest ways to get to Bandung – daily flights from Bali, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore are widely available. If you are in Jakarta, you can drive to Bandung, but you’ll have to brace yourself for the traffic. It’s normally a 2-3 hour drive, but it can take over twice as long. The best option is to take the train down. It’s convenient, cheap, and you will be able to take a peek at the lush green scenic view and rice paddy terraces of rural West Java.
Lake Toba, Sumatra
To get to Lake Toba: Siborong-Borong would be the closest airport to Lake Toba. And then it is Medan. There are direct flights from Kuala Lumpur (Air Asia) and Jakarta (Garuda, Citilink, Batik Air).
Mount Sibayak, North Sumatra
By Jason of An Epic Education: Northern Sumatra has a fascinating tectonic past. Nearby Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake in the world, and much of the area still bubbles with geothermal energy. One of the best ways to experience it first-hand is on a sunrise hike to the top of Mount Sibayak, an active volcano. The only thing better than this is breakfast in a hot spring afterward. Our guide picked us up in the town of Berastagi at 3:30am. Within 15 minutes, we were hiking through a tunnel of jungle foliage until the trail gave way to a lunar landscape. It’s cold up here before dawn. It’s especially bracing after the heat and humidity of the Sumatran rainforest. Neon-yellow steam vents offer warmth, if you can handle the blast of sulphur-infused air. After you hike back down, go for breakfast in a hot spring near the foot of the volcano. Here you can sip strong local coffee and chow down on a hearty bowl of nasi goreng…all while soaking in the tubs and gazing back at the volcano you just returned from.
Pulau Weh, Sumatra
By Gabor of Surfing the Planet: One of the major surprises you can find during your travels around Indonesia is situated at the Western end of Sumatra Island. The small island of Pulau Weh is a real paradise, and not too much known for most travellers. The island is near the city of Banda Aceh, where the earthquake happened that caused the infamous Southeast Asian tsunami in 2004.
Unlike other islands in Indonesia, Pulau Weh is not famous for its paradise beaches, but for its wonderful marine life and fascinating sites for divers and snorkelers. In addition, it’s a cheap and low-key place, where you can relax far from touristic areas. You can stay in a cheap small bungalow near the water and when you feel like, you just put your snorkel gear on and jump directly into a marine paradise.
The island can be easily accessed by ferry from Banda Aceh. Banda Aceh has its own airport, but you can also take a night bus from Medan (the main city in Sumatra) to the port.
Bangka Island, Sumatra
By Marya The Beau Traveler: It only takes an hour flight to the provincial capital in Pangkalpinang from the capital city Jakarta, the island was once exploited by mining industry for a long time. Bangka has been known as one of the world’s prominent tin-producing area.
Fast forward to today, the area is running out of their mining sources due to the exploitation that had been done. The local government has been trying to reroute their major income into tourism, although the tourism facilities are relatively less than their neighbour, Belitung Island.
However, it doesn’t make Bangka unworthy to visit because they actually are. Rent a scooter or a car to get around, since the main attraction is quite far from their centre in Pangkalpinang. From there, you could check out the Kaolin Lake in Air Bara. Once the major mining site, it has transformed into something that is surprisingly beautiful now that it is abandoned.
If you fancy the idea of enjoying some solitary time off the shore, go to Sungailiat area where you can find some quiet and calm beaches and even resorts to enjoy your time on the island to the fullest. Honestly, this could be one of the best getaways to relieve your stress if you come from a big, crowded city like I am.
By Safia of Nomad Junkies: The island of Saparua is located in the eastern part of the Indonesian archipelago. While the region of Maluku is undoubtedly off-the-beaten-track, the hassle of reaching this hidden gem will be highly rewarded by unspoiled white sand beaches and magnificent underwater coral gardens with rich marine life. The remote Lease Islands (pronounced Leh-ah-seh) are guaranteed to take your breath away as you get to enjoy this little paradise far from the tourist trail. Saparua, the most populated island and the only one with some sort of tourist infrastructure, can be accessed by ferry from Ambon (Tulehu Harbor) and the preferred mode of transportation on the island is by local bemo. Pack a snorkelling set and head to Putih Lessi Indah, an intimate resort with a stunning reef right off the beach where you can spend hours admiring thousands of colourful corals and fish species.
Kei Islands, Maluku
By Nikki & Michelle of Cheeky Passports: If you’re looking to get off the beaten track in Indonesia, head over to the Kei Islands in Maluku, a lesser-explored group of islands with crystal-clear water and white-sand beaches. The main island of Kei Kecil is very laid-back, home to fishing villages and some incredibly friendly and curious locals!
You won’t find much development here, and the accommodation is rather basic, but if lounging on a hammock on a long, empty beach is your thing, you’re as close to paradise as you’re going to get! You can also ask a boatman to take your island hopping around the archipelago, or head to Ngurtafur, a spectacular sandbar, that slithers across the turquoise waters of the Kei Islands.
The Kei Islands may be accessed via a short direct flight from Ambon, also in Maluku, or via a long journey on the crowded Pelni boat which runs (infrequently) between Ambon, Kei and Banda islands.
Mt. Kelimutu, Flores Island
By Jess of the Longest Bus Rides: Mt. Kelimutu is a popular stop for people visiting the island of Flores, Indonesia. It’s famous for the 3 coloured lakes on the mountaintop and Waturaka is a village along the road up the mountain. Waturaka is awesome because many families offer a homestay experience with an in-depth cultural experience, including food. You get a feel for village life, whether it’s Sunday afternoon relaxation or Tuesday pre-dawn work. The village is proud of its nearby waterfall, which is an easy little hike. There is also a tiny hot spring in which you can bathe in the rice paddies. Most importantly, the people are very friendly and welcoming.
Getting to Mt. Kelimutu from Labuan Bajo (Komodo National Park), Bali or Jakarta is quickest by flying into Ende. Then, take a bus, taxi, or motorbike to the mountain. The most popular place on the island of Flores is Komodo National Park where people visit the Komodo dragons, snorkel and SCUBA.
Komodo and Rinca Islands
By Nicky Williams of Go Live Young: Komodo and Rinca Islands are within Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and home to the elusive Komodo Dragons. These islands are all about the dragons, but they’re beautiful too. Trekking with Komodo Dragons on these islands is a true bucket list activity. The Komodo Dragon is a monitor lizard, growing up to 3 metres in length and weighing up to 100kg!
The only way to get to the islands is by boat, usually from Labuan Bajo in Flores. We embarked on an overnight trip so that we had plenty of time to explore these islands. In order to find Komodo Dragons you trek with a guide, armed only with a forked stick! Walks are of varying lengths and take you off into the wilderness. We were lucky enough to see plenty of dragons during our treks on the two islands.
Try to get to the islands early as the Dragons are more active before the heat of the day. We visited Komodo Island soon after sunrise and the Dragons were really active and out looking for food.
Padar Island, Komodo
By Sophie of the Wanderful Me: A small, yet vibrant little island located in Komodo National Park, Padar Island boasts a beautiful savannah landscape, mind-blowing ocean views, three incredibly-coloured beaches, and was even once home to the notorious komodo dragon.
While many visit this island as a side-stop on their adventure to the islands of Rinca and Komodo, the other two islands in Komodo National Park, others come specifically to this remarkable island to see the unique coloured beaches for themselves.
Surrounded by three mesmerizing turquoise-blue waters that are encompassed by three different coloured beaches, be prepared to have your breath taken away! One beach is a dusty pale baby pink, another is a stark, yet beautiful, charcoal black, and the third is a glistening pearly white. Sounds almost too magical, doesn’t it?
By Marco of Thinking Nomads: Bintan Island is an idyllic Indonesian island just one-hour ferry ride from Singapore. People come to Bintan island because of its lush forests, rolling hills, and pristine beaches, giving visitors plenty of opportunities to get close with nature.
It also has a rich and diverse culture: during the era of the spice route, Bintan was an important trading post for Malaysian, Chinese, Buginese, Arabian, and European merchants. The cultural exchange that took place among migrants is reflected in the diversity we see today around the island, be it languages, architecture and religions.
But also food: popular dishes such as carrot cake, fried noodles and kuey teow (flat rice noodle) were heavily influenced by the Chinese. On the other hand, some restaurants provide a wide array of halal comfort food for the majority Muslim population.
To Reach Bintan Island by air; Raja Haji Fisabilillah Airport in Tanjung Pinang is the airport in Bintan Island. By ferry; travelling from Singapore to Bintan Island is easy and one can take a ferry from the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal in Singapore, which is near the international airport. It takes approx one hour to reach Bintan via ferry. By the ticket online to save money.
Baliem Valley, Papua
By Miguel of Travelsauro: When most travellers decide to visit Indonesia, they go for the classic spots such as Java, Bali or Lombok. Those places are really cool, and I love them. However, I think they’re missing out on a whole bunch of wonders in more remote islands. Try taking a trip to Papua, you’ll be open yourself up a new Indonesia you didn’t know existed.
The island is divided in two parts, and while the eastern part belongs to the independent country of Papua New Guinea, the western part belongs to Indonesia. Wamena is one of the best places you can visit within Papua as it offers the perfect combination of awesome landscapes, great hiking trails, and unique local people. To get to Wamena, you’ll have to fly from Jayapura because there are no paved roads. Once you are in Wamena, I recommend that you hike to the Baliem Valley.
On one hand, you’ll see beautiful canyons, mountains and rivers. On the other hand, you’ll meet the local tribes known as Dani and Yali. These people live in wooden huts and wear nothing more than a few loincloths.
If you speak some Indonesian, they will provide you with food and accommodation. Otherwise, I recommend that you hire a guide. Whatever you do, don’t miss Papua!
Kupang, West Timor
By Roobens of the Black Travel Blog: A lot of travellers decide to spend some time in Indonesia, but most of them stay in the same places: Jakarta, Bali, the Gili islands, sometimes Flores Island… Very few make it to Kupang, in West Timor! They don’t know what they’re missing. Kupang is a peaceful, beautiful town! Admittedly there’s not that many things to do there, but you cannot miss Lasiana Beach, a wonderful beach with white sand… and almost empty! You can also relax in Pasir Panjang, another nice beach or Batu Nona Beach. If you have some time, you can even go to Kera, a small relaxing island located 30 minutes away by boat. If you wanna have some peace and avoid the crowds of tourists, Kupang is the place to be. Not only you won’t see many tourists, but the locals are lovely! The easiest way to get there is by flight! Either from Bali, or from Flores Island!
By Verislav of Global Castaway: Indonesia is one of the most diverse countries in the world that draws millions of tourists every year. And while a lot of people flock to Bali, go searching for Dragons in Komodo or hike volcanos in Java, one of the most amazing places on earth somehow manage to stay under the radar. The island of Borneo is the third largest island in the world, the largest one in Asia and is covered in dense 140 million years’ old jungles. It’s one of the oldest rainforests in the world and a centre of evolution to many species of plants and animals.
Nowadays, the most famous inhabitants of the island are the Borneo Orangutans. Critically endangered, there are not many places left where you can see those incredible apes out in the wild.
Add the orangutans to the 394 species of fish, 100 species of amphibians 105 species of lizards, 600 species of birds and 288 species of mammals, and you can see why this incredible island should be a must-have stop in your Indonesia itinerary.
3 thoughts on “Beyond Bali: An Introduction to Indonesia”
Lake Toba info is out of date. Siborong-Borong airport is much closer to Lake Toba than Medan, and there are direct flights there from Kuala Lumpur (Air Asia) and Jakarta (Garuda, Citilink, Batik Air)
Thanks Jonathan. Have updated the info above 🙂
Haven’t heard about Java much. New knowledge gained today. Thanks for posting.