Despite Indonesia being made up of an astonishing 17,000 islands, a huge number of visitors focus exclusively on Bali. While Bali has a great deal to offer travellers, from ancient temples and glistening rice terraces to thick jungle and paradise beaches, there is so much more to Indonesia than this one island alone. We have travelled to the farthest-flung reaches of this exotic archipelago to be able to offer you all-encompassing itineraries taking in some of the country’s most remote regions and unique experiences. We spoke to our Asia specialist Hannah about her experiences travelling around Indonesia and why she thinks it’s worth venturing to some of the lesser-known islands.
Think of Indonesia and most of us will picture Bali. Despite being one of the smaller Indonesian islands, it is one of the most popular with travellers and many of the images of Indonesia that are most familiar to us are indeed of Bali. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful island with so much to see and do – stunning scenery, fascinating culture and world-class surfing to keep the adrenaline junkies entertained. On my first trip to Indonesia this was where I spent much of my time, but as I discovered on a more recent visit, there are numerous other islands that really shouldn’t be ignored. I love the more undiscovered and exotic feel found on some of the lesser-visited islands and would definitely recommend venturing beyond Bali.
Indonesia’s immense natural beauty and atmospheric volcanic scenery are the perfect antidote to the pressures of modern day living. Whether you crave activity or relaxation, the country’s landscape provides the perfect environment and backdrop for a wide range of activities. Jungle trekking, volcano climbing, hiking and biking through the lush rice terraces or cruising the waterways in a traditional klotok are some of the best ways to explore.
Wildlife lovers will relish the opportunity to see playful orangutans swinging through the trees in Sumatra and Kalimantan, or to go in search of the Komodo dragon on the aptly named Komodo Islands, the only place on the planet where this fearsome creature is found. With a significant percentage of the world’s coral reef and plenty of shipwrecks to discover, the diving and snorkelling in Indonesia is also some of the best in the world. And if all that leaves you in need of some beach relaxation, you’ll be spoilt for choice with miles of empty golden sands, secluded bays and beautiful boutique beach resorts. Or for a different approach to R&R, head to one of the small fishing villages along the shoreline of the many crater lakes found on the islands, particularly Lake Toba in Sumatra. There’s nowhere better to kick back and enjoy the sunset.
Indonesia enjoys a rich cultural heritage, with many beautiful Hindu and Buddhist temples as well as Muslim mosques to visit. I was blown away by my sunrise visit to the ancient Buddhist temple complex of Borobudur on Java. Owing to the far-flung location of many of Indonesia’s lesser-visited islands, the country also has an enduring tribal culture, with many ancient traditions and rituals still intact in rural communities. The islands of Sumba and Sulawesi are particularly rewarding for those keen to explore this aspect of Indonesia.
Finally, if urban buzz excites you, there are plenty of bustling cities to explore, not least Indonesia’s capital city Jakarta. As Indonesia continues to develop, its cities are characterised by an intoxicating jumble of old and new; fading colonial grandeur sits alongside 21st-century shopping malls, while traditional street markets jostle for space with tumbledown buildings. I urge you to spend some time perusing the many street stalls selling authentic handicrafts such as batik fabrics, detailed wood carvings, handwoven silks and exquisite jewellery, and do try the street food too! Nasi goreng is a real treat – it’s a special Indonesian fried rice topped with a fried egg and covered in the sweet, spicy and ubiquitous sambal sauce. As one of the largest producers of coffee in the world, there’s a caffeine fix on every corner too.
Earlier this year, Indonesia’s national airline Garuda Indonesia launched a direct flight from London Heathrow to Bali. Garuda also operate a whole network of internal flights, making it really easy to combine Bali with the other wonderful islands featured above. This new flight route from the UK makes it easier than ever to explore this kaleidoscopic land of natural beauty.