Indonesia As A Whole
Indonesia is a country located in Southeast Asia. The country is an archipelago comprised of about 17,000 individual islands.
Beyond its natural intrigue, Indonesia is also a country with a rich cultural appeal. The nation is a melting pot of religions and cultures. While predominantly Muslim, there are pockets of Hinduism and Christianity. The country is also home to more than 300 ethnic tribes living in the lush rainforests with their own unique lifestyles and belief systems. In fact, some of these tribes have never been exposed to Western influence to this day. Despite this, the locals of visitable tribes are incredibly welcoming, and enjoy teaching visitors about their way of life.
I personally feel privileged to have had the chance to unlock the secrets of this island nation. I still wonder at the diversity of the islands, and the unique experience each offers the intrepid explorer. Indonesia is a nation that truly has it all. The key to enjoying a trip here to the fullest is to recognize this, and create a program that includes a taste of everything the nation has to offer – not just the tempting call of Bali. Of course, I adore Bali as well, but Indonesia as a whole, as you will see, has so much more to offer.
Indonesia best islands to explore
Bali (Island of the Gods)
Bali is undoubtedly the busiest island in the world. Everyone wants to go there, and everyone who visits falls in love with the island. Bali is most well known for its Hindu culture, its architecture, and its natural wealth. In Bali you will find breathtaking Hindu temples, a volcano that calls to the adventurous (though hikes on this volcano are best left for morning birds – you’ll want to set off early!), mystical waterfalls, rice terraces, and charming beaches. You will also find beautiful accommodation options offered at all price levels, delicious restaurants, and great cuisine in general – you can find everything from posh cafes to neat local dives. Bali, of course, also has its nightlife, shopping boutiques, and neat art shops (including stores offering unique Balinese furniture). You can also find places to meditate or practice yoga, and cuisine options that allow for a vegan diet (don’t miss out on partaking in local produce). Don’t forget to hit the waves if you’re a surfer – Bali; especially at the southern end of the island; has some of the best waves for surfing. Finally, of course, Bali is a popular destination for influencers – from bloggers to vloggers, and so on. The island is truly the melting pot of the tropics, bringing people from all walks of life together in a little slice of heaven.
Fun Fact: Bali is a popular destination for Americans (and others, of course) to come rediscover themselves and search for the meanings of life and love. It’s basically like the real-life version of the story from Eat, Pray, Love.
Sumatra and Borneo
are ideal destinations for hikers. These islands offer options for day treks through the rainforests, where you will encounter many species of wildlife – especially orangutans, as Indonesia is home to the highest population of orangutans in the world. Tigers also call Indonesia home, but don’t fret, they prefer to stay away from civilization deep in the jungle. If hikes in the rainforest aren’t exciting enough for you, in Sumatra you will be amazed by the sight of the largest volcano crater lake (1,130km2).
Fun Fact: On Borneo you can find an interesting type of money (the Proboscis monkey) which stands out because of the phallic shape of its nose.
These three mini islands are located next to each other, and can be found between Bali and Lombok. These islands are great destinations for water-lovers. They offer fantastic locations for swimming, snorkeling, and diving. Each island offers a slightly different vibe: On Gili Trawangan you can find an epic nightlife scene, perfect for any party animal. Gili Memo is a bit more family friendly, so is the perfect place for couples of all ages and children. Gili Memo is especially neat because you can dive with turtles! Finally, Gili Air has the calmest vibe, and is perfected for independent backpackers and those looking for a laid-back and quiet atmosphere.
Nusa Lembongan is an island characterized by its raw beauty. This island would appeal to the true adventurer who does not mind ‘roughing it’ a bit on their trip. The island is rocky, and lacks quality roads. That being said, the island offers the unique experience of snorkeling with Manta rays. These breathtaking creatures can easily grow to be over a meter and a half long, and it is said that swimming with them is a truly unparalleled experience.
Lombok is located only a short difference from Bali, but only a handful of tourists make it over to this island. This fact, combined with the incredible beaches and lack of animals, makes it a surfer’s paradise. Away from the lure of the waves, Lombok also offers inland adventures. For those with grit, I absolutely recommend braving the three-day hike to the top of Mt. Rinjani volcano (3,726m). The hike is a difficult one, but absolutely worth it for the unforgettable views. The trail will take you through the crater to the highest point, then wraps back around through the crater bringing you close to the heart of the volcano. Here you will see a steaming lake and bubbling hot springs. The feelings of raw power from the volcano and brush with an alien landscape is certain to please any adrenaline-seeker, or volcano-enthusiast.
Flores & Komodo Islands
Flores is a destination for the cultural traveler. Here you will find an intriguing traditional village which will transport you back in time. A visit to this village will allow you to experience life before modern luxury – you will not find a modern bed and mattress here, rather ancient sleeping arrangements. Instead of stoves, you will find cauldrons. If you enjoy your visit, you can choose to extend it to hang out with locals and even spend a night in one of their traditional houses. This brush with an ancient culture is too exciting to pass up.
If life in a traditional village is not for you, you can instead venture to the town of Labuan Bajo, from which you can embark on a several-day boat trip to the surrounding islands. One highlight this trip includes is a stop on the island of Padar, which features pink sand beaches and stunning views. Yet another less-known attraction on Flores is the Kelimutu Volcano, on which you can find three differently-colored lakes and a beach of blue stones (hint: this is an amazing place to view the sunrise!).
Komodo is a place for any amateur (or professional) zoologist or reptile enthusiast – it is home to the largest species of lizard in the world: the Komodo dragon. The area around Komodo and the other islands offers a diving paradise filled with incredible underwater species and sights. It is one of the best diving locations in the world, and even offers diving spots suitable for enthusiastic beginners.
Java (capital city Jakarta) is the most densely populated island in the world. As such, it offers a visit of a different pace than the other islands. Even here, though, you can find excursions into nature. I personally recommend planning a hike to the famous Mt. Bromo volcano. Java is also home to monuments to human achievement, namely the UNESCO World Heritage sites of the Borobudur complex and the Prambanan Hindu Temple complex (both located in the city of Yogyakarta).
This island is truly a secret paradise on Earth. It offers untouched nature, unspoiled landscapes, and distinctive traditional villages (characterized by their super long roofs). Most importantly, this island is almost completely unvisited by tourists. During my stay here I met a total of sixteen other tourists – ten of them alone were surfers, whom I encountered in one big group. Otherwise, it was just me and the locals. I rented a scooter and triumphantly traversed the island, discovering countless breathtaking views and deserted beaches everywhere I looked.
On Sumba you will also find the best hotel in the world: Nihi Sumba (formerly Nihiwatu). It is a destination designed for billionaires. Otherwise, the rest of the island is relatively wild. For this reason it is important to plan in advance, and know where to go to find accommodation and food. There are almost no hotels or restaurants on the island. The restricted access to hotels results in a magically simplistic and wild atmosphere, that can certainly only be found in this unique location.
Fun Fact: Swinging in a hammock across from the Nihi Sumba resort and sharing a view of the bay with some of the world’s richest people is a priceless experience.
On this island you can find the fascinating area of Tana Toraja. This is a location in the mountains where the presence of death is a more fascinating allure than the presence of life. The local village barracks have roofs distinctly shaped like boats. To this day the local people practice incredible death rituals and water buffalo ceremonies. It is even possible to go experience a traditional funeral during your visit.
To give you an idea of this community’s unique recognition of death, the ceremony goes something like this: When a member of the village passes away, the body is not buried until a cache of buffalo is accumulated (that in and of itself is an expensive affair – the buffalo are not cheap to come by). The purpose of this collection is so the dead can go to heaven. It is believed that the more buffaloes are collected, the higher the caste the deceased will be born into in the next life, and thus the quicker they can reach eternal paradise. Dead bodies are also maintained (in a process similar to mummification) as a part of the funeral process. Unlike our funerals, theirs can take up to 10 years to be prepared. After the funeral finally takes place, the deceased is interred into a cave or hole in the rocks (often pre-made for the dead).
Aside from this intense death ritual, the island itself is like a fairytale – on the surface you see looming mountains, sprawling rice fields, picturesque panoramas, and grazing buffaloes. Beneath the surface, there is the mystique of the local rituals and the hidden caves of the dead.
Interesting Fact: Many of the people here are perpetually in debt thanks to the high price of the buffalos. Younger family members inherit the debt from the funerals of those who have passed away.
Raja Ampat & Maluku Islands
These islands are the best destination for lovers of the sea, beaches, and diving. Here you will find hundreds of green islands nestled in the sea, surrounded by breathtaking coral reefs and crystal clear sandy beaches. The untouched beauty makes it feel like anything is possible there.
So, do you long to seek (and find) all the treasures Indonesia has to offer? Do you dream of hopping from island to island, meeting orangutans, natives, and encountering the roaring sea, sleeping volcanoes, and Hindu temples along the way? If so, give me a shout and we will work out your dream itinerary for your personal journey!