Indonesia is also called the “empire of the 1,000 islands”, but there are even more than 17,000 islands, 1/3 of which are populated. The tropical island world between the Pacific and the Indian Ocean and along the equator has the largest volcanic islands in the world and is the largest island state on earth.
Dream beaches, tropical rainforests with exotic animals, delicate green rice terraces and mighty volcanic giants make for impressive natural experiences.
Some Indonesians still live in and with the rainforest as in the Stone Age. Indonesians also attach great importance to their traditions and cultural heritage. In stark contrast, in the big cities, like the capital Jakarta, the modern world has arrived. It is contrasts like day and night that you can experience in Indonesia. Enjoy our list of the 19 best places to visit in Indonesia.
19. Gili Islands
The Gili Islands are three small island splinters northwest of Lombok. They rise only a few meters out of the turquoise blue sea. Bright sandy beaches line the picturesque spots. Coconut palms tower high into the sky. The sound of the sea is often accompanied by beats from the numerous beach bars. Relaxing is just as possible on the dream islands as partying, water sports and yoga. It is exciting that the three Gili islands differ greatly in their atmosphere. Each island has its own charm. For all vacationers exists the perfect Gili Island.
Vacationing on Bali means: endless, palm-fringed beaches with the finest sand and crystal-clear water, hotspots for divers and surfers, tourist strongholds in the south, secluded bays in the north, rice fields and volcanoes. The island in Indonesia is a longing destination for recreation seekers and nature fans for good reasons.
On an area of about 5,600 square kilometers there are about four million inhabitants – and about the same number of tourists who travel to Bali every year. Because a vacation in Bali has long been an absolute must on every bucket list! Bali enchants: Whether beach and action, diving and snorkeling or the discovery of Balinese culture – a vacation in Bali will remain unforgettable.
17. Flores Island
The island of Flores, which covers more than 15,000 km², is part of the Lesser Sudan Islands in the province of Nusa-Tenggara. A large part of the nearly two million inhabitants are Christians, due to the missionary work of the Portuguese in the 16th century. However, the predominant Catholicism is still well mixed with traditional animistic belief structures.
While one can hike through tropical lowland rainforest mainly along the coasts, several volcanoes rise in the interior of the island, such as Gunung Kelimutu with its three crater lakes. One phenomenon of these lakes is their intense color, which they have changed in the last 25 years. The reason for this could be the minerals deep at the bottom of the lakes.
A few kilometers from the main town of Maumere there is a beautiful sandy beach, between Kewapante and Waiara. From here you can sail to the offshore islands of Besar, Kambing and Pemana. They attract with coral reefs, which have a variety of soft and hard corals. A little further east is the village of Wondong, which also has beautiful palm-fringed sandy beaches.
In the north of the island lies the Seventeen Islands National Park. From the fishing village of Riung, you can set off for the small offshore islands. Above water you can watch whales and turtles, under water you can admire the colorful coral gardens. In the northwest of Flores is the small town of Labuhan Bajo. The picturesque town is a hub, but it also has a beautiful harbor and great picture-book beaches to offer like Pantai Pede.
Lonely dream beaches with white sand, open people and significantly fewer tourists than on the neighboring island of Bali – Lombok is a small and not at all crowded island paradise. With around 2.5 million inhabitants, the island is not that small at all, but Lombok is much less well-known than Bali, for example, and allows authentic encounters with the predominantly Muslim population.
Look forward to postcard beaches like in paradise, varied landscapes and a charming island with an exotic culture away from mass tourism. In Lombok you will get to know culture, nature and the people still originally and collect unforgettable experiences on the spot.
It is not without reason that Yogyakarta is considered the pearl among tourist destinations on Java: in a relatively small area, it combines tradition, history and ancient temples with plenty of culture, nature and natural forces. Yogya, as the inhabitants affectionately call their city, occupies a special position simply because it is actually a special administrative zone, or more precisely, a sultanate. Officially, the ruling sultan acts as governor of the province.
Yogyakarta’s numerous sights are beautifully distributed between the unspoiled beaches in the south and the mighty Mt. Merapi in the north of the city. Right in the center of the city, one comes across the Kraton, the sultan’s palace from the 18th century, which is still partially inhabited. Particularly worth seeing in the intricate courtyard complex: the Golden Pavilion, which the sultan used for audiences and performances for a long time.
However, the palace district includes not only the actual sultan’s residence: The extensive complex also includes the royal water and pleasure palace Taman Sari with its dazzling white, winged facade, the Great Mosque (Masjid Agung) and the parade grounds Alun Alun Utara and Alun Alun Selatan.
Yogya is not only one of the most beautiful Indonesian cities, but also an important cultural center. Batik art, shadow puppetry, Ramayana ballet and silversmithing are particularly well represented here. Beautiful silverware and batiks can be found in the city’s markets, among other places.
A huge tropical garden landscape, single palm trees rising from the morning mist, numerous temples richly decorated, majestic and tapering against the immaculate blue sky – no, this is not the famous Angkor Wat. We are at Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple complex in Indonesia and one of the largest in Southeast Asia.
Located about 18 kilometers east of Yogyakarta, the huge complex is one of Java’s most famous and impressive sights, just like nearby Borobudur, and like the Buddhist temple complex, Prambanan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Very typical for the temple district are the high, pointed buildings, which despite their size appear surprisingly fragile and are arranged following a strict pattern. The heart of the complex is formed by eight main shrines, around which more than 250 individual temples are arranged. As is customary in Hinduism, the three largest shrines are dedicated to the three world leaders Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu.
Prambanan shares the fate of very many ancient structures on Java: After the temple complex was abandoned due to new rulers and fell into disrepair, ash and mud from the nearby Merapi volcano covered the buildings. Fortunately, one must say today – otherwise many a building would not have survived the many centuries. Nevertheless, the reconstruction of the temple district is still far from complete, and restoration work is ongoing.
On the Indonesian island of Java lies one of the cosmopolitan metropolises in Southeast Asia, the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta. Around 28 million people live in the largest metropolitan region in the Asian southeast.
Jakarta is the economic and cultural center of the country with many sights and attractions and is one of the most visited metropolises in the Asian region. The city area with many places and buildings worth seeing is located in the bay of Jakarta. The multicultural charm is the main feature of the metropolis.
Different cultures with customs and traditions can be found throughout the metropolis. Among the quarters worth visiting is Blok M, the business and shopping district in the south of the city. Many people come to the district during the day, where you can shop cheaply. The neighborhood is also very bustling at night. Bars and clubs can be found in Jalan Pelathan.
Among the popular neighborhoods is Glodok. In the traditional quarter of the Chinese you can find many modern shopping centers today. Among the interesting places is the Independence Square in Batavia rings. Here stands the national monument Monas. Numerous modern skyscrapers dominate the skyline of Jakarta downtown.
The most beautiful view of and from Borobudur is in the early morning hours, when the sun rises behind the surrounding jungle and the cones of the nearby volcanic chain, bathing the largest Buddhist monument in the world in golden light.
The tourists, who are rather few at the beginning of the day, quickly spread out over the huge park area or the different floors of the sanctuary. Those who walk all the galleries of the colossal step pyramid (typically Buddhist clockwise) can trace the development of mankind up to enlightenment in the form of millions of detailed reliefs – and walk several kilometers.
Faster, thanks to some stairs, one reaches the uppermost plateau with the bell-shaped central stupa in the middle. On the top plateau there are numerous stupas with life-size Buddha statues inside. The view over the Kedu valley and the surrounding volcanoes is simply breathtakingly beautiful from here. Since Borobudur is now the destination of numerous domestic and foreign visitors, it is recommended to visit the site very early or very late.
11. Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park
The Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park offers, apart from the spectacular volcano ascents, a diverse flora and fauna: for example, there are more than 200 endemic orchid species, more than 150 animal species, some of them very rare, such as the Indian muntjak, the Malayan porcupine, the Sunda pangolin or the leopard. The tropical rainforest of the national park is also home to 130 bird species.
Another very nice destination is the Madakari Pura waterfall. It can be reached in a detour on the way to the mountain village of Ngadisari. The village itself is located in a breathtaking landscape.
The name “Tengger” is derived from the mountain tribe of the Tengger, who live mainly around Gunung Bromo. The tribe includes about 600,000 people, Indonesian Hindus who have largely preserved their traditions. The highest festival of the Tengger is the Kasodo festival. It takes place in the 12th month of the Tengger calendar. Flowers, animals and food are sacrificed to their god, who lives inside the volcano, by throwing them into the crater.
10. Raja Ampat
The Raja Ampat Archipelago is located in the Halmahera and Seram Seas, in the so-called Coral Triangle southwest of the Bird’s Head Peninsula of New Guinea. Translated, the name means the “realm of the four kings,” alluding to the four main islands of Waiego, Misol, Salawati and Batanta.
Only 35,000 people live on a few islands, most of the more than 1,800 smaller and smallest islands are uninhabited. In total, the archipelago covers an area of over 45,000 km²; its islands, numerous reefs, sandbanks, headlands and lagoons are closely intertwined. The starting point for a visit to the archipelago is Sorong on West Papua.
The paradisiacal archipelago enchants its visitors both on land and on water. Many of the small and tiny islets that Raja Ampat encompasses have bizarre shapes like rock towers, or emerge from the water as limestone cones or round domes. Sea turtles lay their eggs on the snow-white sand beaches. Often the untouched rainforest of the islands comes very close to the coast.
On Waiego, one of the main islands of the archipelago, you can take tours through the jungle and swim in quiet mangrove bays.
The Raja-Ampat archipelago is a paradise for divers. Its coral reefs are the best preserved and richest in species in the world. Over 1,200 species of fish and several thousand species of mollusks inhabit the massive reef systems. Colorful schools of snappers, napoleon and parrot fish, various species of perch, sharks and whale sharks, various species of rays and many many smaller creatures such as the pygmy seahorses feel completely at home here.
For most people, the name Komodo automatically conjures up images of giant lizards, which are among the oldest land creatures in the world. And indeed, the island that gave the Komodo dragons their name is also their home. Since the predators, which can grow up to three meters in length and weigh 150kg, live exclusively on Komodo and some of the surrounding islands and their population is highly endangered, the entire island lies in the middle of a unique nature reserve, the Komodo National Park (Taman Nasional Komodo).
While larger groups approach the national park and the island as part of an excursion from Bali, for example, smaller groups or individual travelers can also reach the region via Labuan Bajo on Flores. The island is inhabited, but apart from a few villages and a ranger station, there is little to discover in terms of tourism. Only wild, scenic beauty and some of the world’s most remarkable creatures await discovery here.
The capital of West Java was a meeting place for the rich and powerful in colonial times as the “Paris of Java”.
Plantation owners spent their weekends here. Hotels and villas wrapped themselves in European art deco facades of the 1920s, and the cooler temperatures provided soothing relief to the heat-stricken European flesh.
Today, Bandung is on the fast track and has already claimed the title of the fourth largest city in the entire archipelago. The area is known as a major industrial center – a transshipment point for textiles and leather goods. Shirts, jackets and pants made by designers are sold here at low prices.
The city is linked to world history through the so-called Bandung Conference, which in 1955 advocated peaceful coexistence between Asian and African states. Today, the conference building, which was named “Gedung Merdeka” (“Building of Independence”), houses the Asia-Africa Museum, which is worth seeing and recalls the spirit of 1955 with original furniture.
In the immediate vicinity of this architectural gem, around Jl. Asia-Afrika, a number of villas and art-deco hotels proudly uphold the heritage of colonial architecture, offering much for the eye.
A special piece of cultural heritage can be found in the famous Wayang Golek dolls. These are considered the main actors of the traditional shadow theater and are available for purchase on Jl. Braga. Also, this street, which is one of the oldest streets in the city, charms the flâneur with a lively mix of galleries, cafes, bars and exclusive restaurants hidden behind colonial facades. With plenty of history behind them.
7. Bukit Lawang
Orangutans in the wild are a sight that only very few people have ever experienced. The “forest people” with the reddish-brown fur are among the most endangered species in the world. Here in Indonesia, the great apes still live in the wild – both the Sumatran orangutan and its relative from the neighboring island, the Borneo orangutan.
Visitors have one thing in mind – to come face to face with these fascinating creatures of the forest. About 80 kilometers northwest of Medan, in the province of North Sumatra, is the “gateway to the hills,” as Bukit Lawang translates.
The village of Bukit Lawang has an unusual manageability. Basically everything is within walking distance, from one end of the village to the other you need a comfortable half hour.
The natural crowd puller, however, is without question the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center near Gunung Leuser National Park. Here, orangutans released from captivity are nurtured and prepared for life in the wild again. Rangers show the primates how to survive in the wild. Twice a day, the monkeys are fed on their own platform, which is always an unforgettable experience for visitors.
The sanctuary was founded in the early 1970s to safeguard the population, which has declined sharply due to hunting and deforestation of the natural habitat. Today, around 5,000 orangutans live in the Bukit Lawang area.
Like Banjarmasin, life in Samarinda, the capital of East Kalimantan, is dominated by water. Samarinda is located on the Mahakam River – it is best to take a boat to discover the city and its features. This is quite easy, because the most imposing buildings, such as the Islamic Center, which is visible from afar, are located on the water. It is noticeable, however, that all the houses are about the same height.
The reason for this can be found in the history of the city: when the Bugis settled here from the 17th century onwards, all houses were built to the same height to express that all who lived here held the same rank. No house and no person should be higher than others. The term for this, Samarenda, became the name of the city.
Samarinda is known, on the one hand, for the sarongs of the Bugis, which are best bought in Bung Tomo Street in Samarinda Sebarang in the south of the city. There, the sarongs, which are machine-made elsewhere in Indonesia and flogged for little money, are still produced by hand and sold directly by the manufacturer.
On the other hand, Samarinda offers itself as a starting point for tours in the surrounding area, be it to the Tanah Merah waterfall, which is located about 14 kilometers north of the city and makes a wonderful recreational destination with its park, or to the Pampang Culture Tourism Area. In this area, about 20 kilometers from Samarinda, visitors can learn more about the Dayak Kenyah or Lamin tribes, their dances, customs and way of life.
Surabaya in Indonesia is especially known for its old town, the Arab quarter, the Kampong Ampel. A covered and always well-visited bazaar street, Jl. Ampel Suci, leads to an important pilgrimage site: the 15th century Great Mosque Masjid Ampel with the tomb of the founding father wali Sunan Ampel.
A little further south of the Arab quarter, one comes across the Jembatan Merah, the Red Bridge. Here, where today you can hardly move forward because of the traffic, was once the heart of colonial, Dutch Surabaya. In view of the heavy traffic, it is best to take only a brief look at the large former warehouses of the Dutch and then disappear into the lively alleys of Chinatown, which is located to the northeast.
After all the hustle and bustle, you desperately need a place where you can take a deep breath and relax? Then welcome to Hok Teck Tian Temple, the spiritual heart of the neighborhood. The courtyard of the 300-year-old Buddhist shrine is the oasis of tranquility you’ll most likely crave…
4. Tana Toraja
The mountainous territory is surrounded by lush rice terraces, dense forests, high mountains and fertile valleys. In the midst of this hideaway, the indigenous “Toraja” people have maintained their traditional lifestyle for centuries, heavily influenced by spirits, demons and cult practices.
The name means “people from the hill country” and comes from the Buginese language. The ethnic group of Bugis, which is native to Sulawesi, once lived in the lowlands and gave that name to the inhabitants of the highlands. Later they adopted it for themselves. Although the Toraja largely converted to Christianity under Dutch missionaries, they continue to hold on to their animistic death cult, thus shaping the deeply mystical aura of this region.
According to their belief, life on earth is merely a transition. It only really begins in the afterlife. For this reason, the dead are embalmed and laid out in the house until the surviving relatives can raise enough money for a proper burial.
Once the burial is over, the bodies are ready to be hung in wooden coffins on a rock face or laid to rest in a rock tomb (a cave or rock niche carved out specifically for this purpose). “Tao Taos,” elaborately carved wooden figures with facial features of the deceased and draped in their robes, guard the mortal remains with the precious grave goods in the eternal stone.
The village of Lemo is known for its hanging tombs, while Londa boasts rock tombs. And in Suaya the tomb of the royal family can be found.
3. Lake Toba
Admire the natural spectacles around Lake Toba, which is the largest crater lake in the world. Lake Toba was formed by the eruption of the Toba supervolcano, which is considered the largest volcanic eruption of the past two million years. The resulting cauldron is said to have contributed to the cooling of the climate and thus ultimately to the emergence of man.
Hear more about the so-called Toba catastrophe theory while standing in front of the impressive lake. Also visit the Sipisopiso waterfall, which plunges from a height of about 120m at the end of an underground river. From the cave of the waterfall you can enjoy a breathtaking view over Lake Toba.
In the middle of Lake Toba lies the island of Somosir, which was formed about 75,000 years ago, has a rich culture and beautiful natural features. The volcanic island is mainly inhabited by the Batak people and features traditional longhouses in their villages. Get a taste of Batak culture at a dance performance in Simanindo! The 400 year old stone sarcophagi of the Sidabutar royal family are also a popular sight.
The capital Medan in Sumatra alone holds numerous sights that you must have seen. In your Sumatra travels you can see the Maimonn Sultan Palace, which even today is still inhabited by the Sultan. Guests are also impressed by the Chinese temple Vihara Gunung Timur and probably the most beautiful mosque in Indonesia. Medan is considered an interesting melting pot of different cultures and inspires by the peaceful interaction of the Chinese, Malays and Batak people among themselves. Stroll leisurely through the colonial quarter, which has some Dutch architecture.
1. Tanjung Puting National Park
The Tanjung Puting peninsula in southwestern Kalimantan was declared a national park of the same name in 1982. The 4,159 km² area was also declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. The national park consists of several ecosystems, besides the predominant marshland (freshwater and mangrove swamps) there is also lowland rainforest, dry forest and coastal forest.
Tanjung Puting is home to protected and endangered species such as the Malayan bear, maroon langur and proboscis monkey. However, it is best known for the orangutans living there, for which the first reintroduction station in Indonesia was founded here.