This beguiling nation of over 17,000 islands is home to a huge diversity of adventures to choose from. It's hard to beat Indonesia for the sheer range of experiences on offer.
The world’s fourth most populous country is like 100 countries melded into one: a kaleidoscope of a nation that sprawls along the equator for 5000km. Indonesia is a land of so many cultures, peoples, animals, customs, plants, sights, art and foods that it defies homogenization.
The people are as radically different from each other as the variety of landscapes you'll see. Over time, deep and rich cultures have evolved, from the spiritual Balinese to the animist belief system of the Asmat people of Papua.
Beaches & Volcanoes
Venturing across Indonesia you’ll see a wonderfully dramatic landscape as diverse as anywhere on the planet. Sulawesi's wildly multi-limbed coastline embraces white-sand beaches and diving haunts, while Sumatra is contoured by a legion of nearly 100 volcanoes marching off into the distance, several capable of erupting at any time.
Bali's beaches are the stuff of legend, but you don't have to travel far to find even more beautiful and less touristed stretches of sand in Nusa Tenggara. The Banda islands in Maluku, Derawan in Kalimantan and Pulau Weh off Sumatra all offer superb beaches too.
Dramatic sights are the norm. There’s the sublime: an orangutan lounging in a tree. The artful: a Balinese dancer executing precise moves that would make a robot seem ungainly. The idyllic: a deserted stretch of blinding white sand on Sumbawa. The astonishing: crowds in a glitzy Jakarta mall. The intriguing: tales of the beautiful Banda Islands' twisted history. The heart-stopping: the ominous menace of a Komodo dragon. The delicious: a south Bali restaurant. The solemn: Borobudur's serene magnificence.
This intoxicating land offers some of the last great adventures on earth. Sitting in the open door of a train whizzing across Java, gazing out at an empty sea while on a ship bound for the Kei Islands, hanging on to the back of a scooter on Flores, rounding the corner of an ancient West Timor village or simply trekking through the lush wilderness.
The great thing about adventure in Indonesia is that it happens when you least expect it. An orangutan swinging through the trees? Surfing breaks on remote islands? Yes and yes.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Indonesia.
Hindu TemplePrambanan Temple
Comprising the remains of some 244 temples, World Heritage–listed Prambanan is Indonesia's largest Hindu site and one of Southeast Asia's major attractions. The highlight is the central compound, where eight main and eight minor temples are assembled on a raised platform – an architectural crescendo of carved masonry and staircases, the high note of which is Candi Shiva Mahadeva. Prambanan sits within a large park dotted with lesser temples – a day is needed to do the site justice.
Buddhist TempleBorobudur Temple
Dating from the 8th and 9th centuries, and built from two million blocks of stone, Borobudur is the world's largest Buddhist temple and one of Indonesia's most important cultural sites. The temple takes the form of a symmetrical stone stupa, wrapped around a hill and nestled in a compound of trimmed lawns fringed with tropical hardwoods. Remarkable for the detail of the stone carving, this beautiful monument looks particularly enigmatic at dawn and dusk – a sight worth the extra entry fee.
These small, uninhabited and incredibly picturesque islands, 30km beyond Waigeo, feature heavily in Raja Ampat promotional material. It’s mainly liveaboards that dive here, but Wayag also attracts nondivers for its scenery, snorkelling and the challenge of scaling its highest peak, Pindito, also known as Wayag I. A second, slightly lower peak (referred to as Wayag II) offers equally breathtaking views.
WaterfallBanyu Wana Amertha Waterfalls
Newly developed as a tourist attraction in early 2018, the falls here are among the best on Bali. It’s about a 20-minute walk from the car park; a 500m trail, which is paved only with concrete stones and logs, winds through a village and coffee plantation. You'll eventually arrive at a large sign, where the path diverges to four separate cascades. Touches like colourful shrubs, bamboo huts and bridges make them especially Insta-worthy. Get here before the crowds catch on.
Archaeological SiteBada Valley
Seemingly scattered haphazardly around the hills near Lore Lindu National Park are some 400 ancient stone megaliths of unknown origin that might be over 5000 years old. A fine assortment of these can be found – with a guide – in Bada Valley, 60km west of Tentena, including the 4m tall, anatomically correct, leaning Palindo. While you can see many of the statues in one long day from Tentena, several villages do have homestays or guesthouses including Bomba, Gintu and Tuare.
Orang-utan feedings at Tanjung Puting National Park are part of an ongoing rehabilitation process, but also allow visitors a near-guaranteed opportunity to see the great apes in semi-wild surroundings. Feedings take place at three camps: Tanjung Harapan (3pm), Pondok Tangui (9am) and Camp Leakey (2pm). Times are generally fixed and scheduled to allow boat-bound tourists to visit all three on a two-night boat trip. Reaching camp feeding stations requires a short walk through jungle from the dock.
National ParkTaman Nasional Kepulauan Togean
Togean Islands National Park was gazetted in 2004, and in 2017 was declared a tourism area of national significance. The park encompasses 3400 sq km of ocean and 250 sq km of land, and contains several of Indonesia's endemic and endangered plants and animals. The islands are home to 596 species of reef fish, 315 species of coral and even a few primates including the Togean macaque and Togean tarsier.
The Ijen plateau's most extraordinary sight is the magnificent turquoise sulphur lake of Kawah Ijen. A night hike to the crater in which the lake boils will introduce you to blue fire, spectacular scenery and a group of men with what must be one of the world's most unusual jobs. Pay entry fees at the PHKA post.
Archaeological SiteBehoa Valley
The valley around Bariri village is littered with megalithic objects, including statues of human forms as well as massive kalamba (stone pots) and tutu'na (stone lids). The region is alternately called Behoa or Besoa. Trekking from here to Bada Valley (or vice versa) is popular.
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in Indonesia.
Where to go each month in 2020
Top 10 travel goals
The world's most colorful coral reefs
Solo travel in the spiritual heart of Bali
The best of Indonesia's Gili Islands
Just back from: Bali