Where to go in Indonesia
Make the most of your time
Where to go in Indonesia is largely based on how long you’ve got – to explore the entire country would probably take a lifetime, so pick a region that you’re interested in and make the most of it. This doesn’t mean that you won’t see a lot; the infrastructure across the country is pretty good and transport is cheap, so if you want to get out and about during your free time you can jump on an east-west train out of Java for £10, or hop on a high-speed boat from Bali to Lombok in 90 mins. Otherwise, you’ll be driven on reasonably good roads and using domestic flights.
Bali has one founding foot in Buddhism and the other in Hinduism and has retained the chilled out sense of calm bestowed upon it by history. Despite commercialisation and a fair bit of boozy partying, it’s a beguiling island with a paradise landscape and a very creative culture, which has helped keep it far more trendy than tacky. Bali has it all – you just need to pick the bit that suits you.
So-named by crafty Portuguese colonists who spotted its pure beauty in the 16th century, ‘Flowers’ has leapt out of Bali’s shadow and is now Indonesia’s ‘one to watch.’ It’s truly beautiful; a tropical-coloured blend of fragrant forest, pristine beaches, rushing river canyons and authentic local life. Transport is improving and tourism is on the up – catch Flores now while it’s in bloom, not boom.
An Indonesian sleeping giant, Java is often dismissed as too chaotic, but without good reason. Its landscape gleams with emerald green rice as far as the eye can see, peppered with misty mountains and a central spine of smoking volcanoes. Aside from traditional Yogyakarta with its multi-tiered Buddhist temples, Java’s heaving cities aren’t enticing, so avoid them and indulge in all its best bits.
Kalimantan makes up about 2/3 of Borneo – a wild and enchanting island that offers the kind of raw experience that adventurers crave. The home of abundant wildlife, traditional Dayak riverside villages and very few roads, the rivers of Kalimantan are its roadways and will lead you by boat on an exciting jungle expedition through the untamed sights and sounds of the Tanjung Puting National Park.
You head to Komodo for one reason: to lay eyes on the planet’s closest thing to a dinosaur – the Komodo dragon, a giant of a lizard that can measure up to 10ft long. The island’s eponymous national park starts at Loh Liang, a bustling village teeming with chickens, goats and kids. They used to feed them live to the dragons (the goats, not the kids), but thankfully that’s now stopped.
A sleepy little port town, Labuan Bajo is the gateway to both the Komodo National Park and boat trips to Rinca, but is well worth a standalone visit. Its landscape is like a tropical savannah peppered with swaying sea coconut palms and, ever the opportunist, development has reared its head bringing a swathe of unexpected nightlife too. Catch it while you can.
Like an unassuming sibling kept in the shadows by its precocious elder, Lombok – and this is top secret – actually has wide-open beaches that are prettier, whiter and, mercifully, quieter than it’s late-night neighbour, Bali. Not yet cursed by ‘cool’, there are fewer facilities and transport’s a bit trickier, but that means less pollution, less crowding and glorious unspoilt beaches too.
Not to be outdone by Komodo, Rinca (pronounced Rin-cha) is a smaller island, but close to transport links at Labuan Bajo, so can be easily done in a day. It has a denser dragon population and less grassland covering its steep slopes, so spotting dragons sunbathing in the bush is guaranteed; you’ll probably glimpse monkeys, buffalo, wild pigs and Timor deer lurking too.
At 8.37am on the 9th March 2016, just south of Palu in central Sulawesi a total solar eclipse – one of the natural world’s greatest spectacles in which the moon passes between the sun and the Earth and completely covers the sun’s disk – will take place for an entire 2 minutes and 50 seconds; longer than anywhere else across Indonesia. Pretty spectacular stuff and well worth booking a vacation for.
Sprawling Sulawesi has been thrown into the spotlight as the home of the 2016 Solar Eclipse, but has been quietly minding its own business in the middle of Indonesia’s archipelago for centuries. An extraordinary land of four separate peninsulas separated by looming mountains, the region is split between the upland wood-carving Torajan people and the lowland Bujis, who fish, farm and hunt.
Peaceful, but with an exciting and unpredictable bite, Sumatra has some unparalleled nature – a lush jungle thick with wild orangutans; bright turquoise volcanic lakes; isolated archipelagos, and barren beaches at every turn. It also has horrendous roads – be brave and patient and you’ll explore that longed for adventurer’s dream: the road less travelled.
Ubud is Bali’s spiritual heart – a point played up by tourism, but not to the detriment of its spiritual core. A hive of creativity set amongst emerald-green rice terraces, it’s known for its artistic outpouring of talented dancers, musicians, artists and craftspeople, the work of which lines its cultured streets alongside holistic healing centres and busy cafes. Organic cafes, naturally.
Kayaking & Komodo dragons (10 days):
Bali ► Labuan Bajo ► Sebayor Kecil ► Papagaran ► Wainilu ► Rinca ► Nusa Pimpe ► Kelor ► Labuan Bajo ► Cunca Wulang Waterfalls ► Labuan Bajo ► Bali
Best of Bali (15 days):
Bali ► Ubud ► Mt. Batukaru ► Munduk ► Bali Barat National Park ► Denpasar
Komodos & orangutans (12 days):
Denpasar ► Uluwatu Temple ► Bali ► Java ► Borneo (Kalimantan) ► Camp Leakey ► Tanjung Puting National Park ► Java ► Bali ► Ubud ► Labuan Bajo ► Rinca ► Komodo National Park ► Bali
Travel times in Indonesia
The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in Indonesia.
- Bali – Ubud: 20 mins by road
- Bali – Java: 4hrs 40 mins by road, flight, road via Denpasar
- Ubud – Rinca: 2hrs 20 mins by road, flight, road via Labuan Bajo
- Java – Kalimantan: 9hrs 40 mins by road, flight, road via Jogjakarta and Palangkaraya
- Kalimantan – Tanjung Puting National Park: 2hrs by flight, road via Palangkaraya
- Rinca – The Komodo National Park: 2hrs by boat
- Komodo National Park – Bali: 2hrs 45 mins by boat, flight & road via Labuan Bajo