With some of the best beaches you’ll ever see, jungles to explore and volcanoes to climb, it’s a great country for backpackers. But, with all these amazing islands, cities and bays to visit in the archipelago, how do you narrow down those must-see locations for your first visit?
Ask us, of course! Here are the 7 spots in Indonesia we think you’ll like the most.
1. Bukit Lawang
Jungle trekking, fireside singsongs and orangutan sightings – Bukit Lawang is the entry point to the Gunung Leuser National Park and your gateway to adventure. You’ll find the riverside town three hours west of Medan with lots of hostels all offering guided jungle experiences.
The locals will take you into the jungle, where you’ll wade through waters, and hike the hills before setting up camp to hear stories about Jackie the Bandit – the most famous of the resident orangutans. From there it’s all rope swings, rafting and swigs of jungle whisky before you float back down to the town.
You can also make the journey to Lake Toba, the world’s biggest volcanic lake.
2. Gili Islands
Put your phone away because these three paradise islands offer everything you need for a week of seclusion and relaxation, including limited internet. Just off the coast of Lombok, the Gili Islands have those postcard-perfect white sandy beaches, coral reefs and cute homestays, minus any cars, dogs or real commercialisation.
Gili Trawangan is the liveliest of the three with a little nightlife, paddle boarding lessons and beanbag beach areas. Gili Meno is the place to go to swim beside the turtles and Gili Air is the spot for pure escapism. It’s the least developed of the islands, but has coconut groves, snorkelling and surfing to keep you occupied. Watch out for those pesky honeymooners though.
3. Mount Bromo
Ever fancied dicing with death at the mouth of a volcano? This is your chance. Most hostels and hotels in the city of Surabaya in Java will offer a midnight ride to watch the sunrise over the country’s most hiked volcano. Travelling up a nearby peak as part of a fleet of 4x4s, you’re given oversized puffer jackets before you walk the last stretch with your fellow bleary-eyed travellers to watch the dusky sky turn a magical shade of pink.
Once you’ve got over the incredible view you trek up the volcano itself, where you’ll see steam and lava bubbling below – and all this before breakfast.
If you’ve been on the lookout for your own ‘mother of dragons’ moment you may find it here. Komodo is another one of Indonesia’s 17,508 islands and it sits just off Timor Leste. It has beautiful bays ringed in pink sand, volcanic slopes, rugged terrain and a few fiery residents…
Komodo is home to over 5,000 of the world’s largest lizards, the Komodo dragon. This is their native home and they roam freely throughout the UNESCO World Heritage Site, so when you’re taking that walk or going for a dip don’t be surprised if you have a feisty companion tagging along.
Seriously, be careful.
We’re cheating a little here, but this quaint little town in the north of Bali is lush with greenery, brimming with cosy homes and full of authentic Indonesian restaurants. You’ll find yourself a homestay here no problem and can then use Ubud as a base to visit the area’s surrounding temples, like the Elephant Cave and Pura Padang Kerta. With plenty of tours leaving from the town, you’ll get to dip your toe in healing waters, pray to the gods and wrap up in authentic batik all in one day.
Back in the town itself there’s the famous monkey forest, but beware of buying bananas unless you want to be mounted by a flurry of menacing monkeys. They’re vicious little fuckers.
If you want Indonesian culture, crafts and cuisine then Yogyakarta is for you. Sandwiched in between Mount Merapi and the Indian Ocean, this Java hotspot has natural beauty that’s matched by the beauty of its ancient temples and ruins, like that of Borobudur and Prambanan.
Indonesian myths and legends surround this place and you can get to know them better by seeing the city’s artwork and dance shows, as well as taking a tour or two with a local.
7. Thousand Islands
So there’s not quite a thousand but just north of Jakarta there are 128 islands that all offer a slice of heaven – all crystal sands, turquoise waters and palm trees – for city dwellers, and if it’s good enough for Jakarta’s residents it’s good enough for us.
Although 45 of the islands are open to tourists, only six offer accommodation: Ayer, Bidadari, Putri, Kotok, Sepa and Pantara. You can island hop or stick to one. Just make sure you dive, disco, jet ski and canoe your way around this stunning section of the country.