Bali & Lombok
The mere mention of Bali evokes thoughts of a paradise. It's more than a place; it's a mood, an aspiration, a tropical state of mind. Bali's Essence Yes, Bali has beaches, surfing, diving, and resorts great and small, but it's the essence of Bali – and the Balinese – that makes it so much more than just a fun-in-the-sun retreat.
The heart of the nation, Java is an island of megacities, mesmerising natural beauty, and profound traditions in art, dance, spiritualism and learning. Boasting a dazzling array of bewitching landscapes – iridescent rice paddies, smoking volcanoes, rainforest and savannah – most journeys here are defined by scenic excesses.
If jungle rivers get your blood running, then be prepared for rapids. Occupying three-quarters of Borneo, the world's third-largest island Kalimantan harbours a vast and legendary jungle cut by countless rivers, including two around 1000km in length. Within this primordial puzzle something extraordinary always lies around the next bend.
Jakarta may be the nation’s capital, but the Javan identity is at its strongest here, in the island’s historic heartland. As the seat of Java’s first major Indianised civilisation, as well as the great Islamic sultanates centred on the kraton of Yogyakarta and Solo, Central Java (Jawa Tengah) remains the province in which the island’s cultural pulse beats loudest.
South Bali & the Islands
You won't have seen Bali if you haven't fully explored south Bali. The island's capital, Denpasar, sprawls in all directions from the centre and is a vibrant place, offering traditional markets, glitzy malls, great eating and plenty of Balinese history and culture, even as it threatens to absorb the tourist hubs of Seminyak, Kuta and Sanur.
Long overshadowed by its superstar neighbour across the Lombok Strait there's a steady hum about Lombok that catches the ear of travellers looking for something different from Bali. Blessed with exquisite white-sand beaches, epic surf, a lush forested interior, and hiking trails through tobacco and rice fields, Lombok is fully loaded with equitorial allure.
Ubud & Around
A dancer moves her hand just so and 200 pairs of entranced eyes follow the exact movement. A gamelan player hits a melodic riff and 200 pairs of feet tap along with it. The Legong goes into its second hour as the bumblebee dance unfolds with its sprightly flair and 200 butts forget they're still stuck in rickety plastic chairs.
If you’ve ever been into white sand, azure bays, frothing hot springs and hidden traditional villages, Nusa Tenggara is your wonderland. Here’s an arc of islands that is lush and jungle-green in the north, more arid savannah in the south and in-between has some of the world’s best diving, limitless surf breaks, and Technicolor volcanic lakes.
Ubud is culture, yes. It's also home to good restaurants, cafes and streets of shops, many selling goods from the region's artisans. There's somewhere to stay for every budget, and no matter what the price you can enjoy lodgings that reflect the local Zeitgeist: artful, creative and serene.
Many tourists only experience the lush, volcanic panoramas of West Java (Jawa Barat) through the murky window of a speeding bus or train but this dramatic, diverse region has plenty to detain the inquisitive traveller. Historically it's known as Sunda and its people and language are Sundanese.
Kuta & Legian
Loud, frenetic and brash are just some of the adjectives commonly used to describe Kuta and Legian, the centre of mass tourism in Bali. Today's wall-to-wall cacophony has become notorious worldwide through often over-hyped media reports and the Australian TV show What Really Happens in Bali, with its focus on tourists behaving badly.
The least densely populated of Java’s provinces, East Java (Jawa Timur) is a wild, rolling region with dizzying peaks, smoking volcanoes and unspoilt panoramas. While the regional capital Surabaya has all the accoutrements of a booming Indonesian city, including freeways, multiplexes and a trademark traffic problem, there are far more attractive bases.