Indonesia is so much more than just Bali, although it is easy to forget that there are around 14,000 other islands to discover. In fact, Bali is a bit of an oddity within the archipelago, as Hinduism is playing a much greater role here than anywhere else in Indonesia where Islam is the dominating religion.
But limiting your views of Indonesia to Bali only, as pretty as it may be, would be a bad choice. There is so much more to see and do here. From a rich artistic culture to great food sourced directly from the Indian Ocean, from dramatic volcanic landscapes to dreamy remote beaches somewhere in the middle of nowhere, from cheap backpacker options to luxury resorts with everything you ever dreamed of, it’s easy to lose yourself in the kaleidoscope of colours and impressions.
Other islands to consider for a trip to Indonesia include Lombok with the outlying Gili islands and Flores which is also the gateway to the Komodo National Park. A vivid party scene in the beach resorts such as Kuta and Seminyak, and a busting city life in metropolitan Jakarta, both contrasting with rural landscapes of romantic rice terraces and lush rainforests inhabited by monkeys – Indonesia is a country of diversity and contrast.
Swim with the mantas, visit orang-utans in the wild, or come really close to a Komodo dragon, there’s a lot to take in for adventurers as well.
Most holiday travellers will enter Indonesia through the dashing and brand-new Denpasar Airport in Bali. From here it’s just a short taxi ride to most hotels and hotels in Kuta Beach and Seminyak. Bali’s unique Hindu culture can be best experienced in fascinating Ubud in the centre of the island. For surfers and beach enthusiasts the area around Bingin in the island’s far south is ideal. Adventurers should attempt an early morning climb of Mount Batur, one of Indonesia’s countless volcanic peaks, or at least enjoy the stunning views from the town of Kintamani.
Not far from the capital Jakarta, just a short trip on the place, is Yogyakarta. A hip and trendy city which is world-renown for its coffee shop culture, street art and general artsy vibe. Two main Hindu temple are not far from here: Prambanan and Borobudur.
For more adventure and cultural experiences, consider spending a couple of days in Lombok. Famous for its stunning unspoilt beaches, this island feels decidedly less touristy and more laid-back than well developed Bali, in particular if you find your way out to the neighbouring Gili Islands. The best beach to visit is probably Selong Belanak with its colourful fishing boats sitting on snow white sand, which can be best reached on a rented scooter. You can also attempt a hike through the thick Indonesian jungle to stunning waterfalls and enjoy a refreshing and apparently rejuvenating dip in the middle of nowhere. Or maybe you would like to visit some of the villages that have opened up to visitors and that sell traditional handicrafts or offer glimpses in their traditional way of life.
No visit to Indonesia would be complete without a trip to Komodo National Park. To access the park you will need to fly into Flores and charter a boat in Labuan Bajo. The trip out to Komodo will not only get you up close to the famous and endangered Komodo dragons but you can also see such beautiful wonders of nature as the pink beaches, the manta rays, turtles and dolphins. The Komodo National Park is also a paradise for experienced divers.
An up-and-coming destination in Indonesia is West Papua province where you will find the stunningly beautiful archipelago of Raja Ampat. This area is said to be one of the best preserved marine sanctuaries in the world. The sparse human occupation in this region offers glimpses into one of the most unspoilt places worldwide.
Cheap options for island hopping include the local ferries which are also used by the locals, however a more convenient way to travel is the service of the local airline Garuda. Flying from one island to the other has the unbeatable advantage of seeing this wonderful archipelago from above – the jade peaks, gorgeous beaches and lush rainforests had me with my nose glued to the plane window.
Facts at a glance:
What I like most about Indonesia: My absolute highlight was the Komodo National Park which really is a sight to behold. Gliding through the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean from one island to the next, surrounded by untamed nature and spoilt with the most outrageous sunsets, this little piece of paradise really deserves a status on any travel bucket list.
What I don’t like about Indonesia: The incredible heat from early morning to late at night is really something you need to get used to. If you are out and about a lot then you need to remind yourself to take it slowly, however if you are a pool and beach person then I am sure you will appreciate this climate. Toilets can be more than a miss than a hit, in particular when you are in less developed areas.
Must-do’s: It does require some planning and a bit of a budget but if you manage to get out to the Komodo National Park then you won’t be disappointed. There is not just the dragons to see but a simply stunning landscape that is so untouched by humans that it feels like visiting a Garden Eden.
What to pack: Indonesia is a hot and humid country, so make sure you pack lose fitting cotton clothes in which you can breathe freely. For visiting rural areas, temples and other out of the ordinary places, make sure your knees and shoulders are covered at the very least. Temples will hand out sarongs to cover up, or buy your own as a handy souvenir. Stock up your travel pharmacy with digestive meds, pack sunscreen and strong insect repellent, shades and a hat. You may need to consider Malaria prophylaxis, check with your doc.
When to go: Avoid high season if you can, which is in July and August. You will pay up to 50% more on accommodation if you need to travel in that time. The best time for Bali is May, June and September, while October to April is the wet season.
Best beaches: With more than 14,000 islands to choose from it’s really hard to pick a favourite. I really loved the beaches I found in Lombok such as Selong Belanak but there is so much more to discover in Indonesia.
Good to know: For the most part Indonesia is an Islamic country, and so there are many women covered up and muezzins calling for prayer. I didn’t find this disturbing at all, it is just part of the culture. Hinduism with its intricate artistic design is probably more visually appealing and adds to the reasons why Bali is such a popular tourist destination. It’s important to remember though that there are situations where bikinis are not appropriate, no matter where you are in Indonesia. And under no circumstances ever drink tap water or eat food that has been lying around for a long time. Drug offences are harshly persecuted, so be warned. Gay couples need to be vigilant.
What to eat: Fried rice is the standard dish in Indonesia, or alternative you will find fried noodles with some vegetables. In general, a lot of things are fried in Indonesia, such as fried chicken or fried banana, and if it’s not fried then it’s grilled. Grilled fish by the beach is a popular Indonesian picnic food for local families who spend their weekends by the beach.
What to buy: You cannot leave Bali and not take home some kind of wood carving. There are so many different objects to choose from, elephants, temple dancers, masks, gods, etc. that you will be spoilt for choice. Another great souvenir is a traditional handwoven sarong which will come in handy when visiting some of Bali’s famous temples too.