Indonesia with its humming metropolis, sacred temples, captivating rainforests, magnificent volcanoes, and a bounty of marine life; the 4th most populous country in the world gives travellers a million reasons not to skip it.
While first-timers often flock to the beaches of Bali, there’s plenty of brilliant spots to find elsewhere in this massive Southeast Asian nation. Each of the 17,508 islands is unique, and a lifetime won’t be enough to tick all of Indonesia’s gems off of your wishlist. If you’re at least attempting to see some of the highlights, read our guide on 10 of the most stunning places you can find in Indonesia.
1. Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park
Having some of the most overwhelming mountainous landscapes, this national park indeed is an iconic place and almost like a billboard for tourism in Indonesia. Be prepared to share this area with many other travellers, because it is the most visited place on the island of Java. However, this shouldn’t discourage you from visiting this breathtaking sight.
The real beauty lies within the sunrise, when the peaks of Mt. Bromo, Mt. Batok, and in the background towering Mt. Semeru reveal themselves in the first daylight. Several viewpoints enable you to soak up the incredible scenery, like Mt. Penanjakan and King Kong Hill. To have a look into the steaming mouth of Mt. Bromo itself, climb the stairs to the crater rim, and see the steam gushing deep below. The top edge of the crater is a perfect setting to take some memorable photos.
2. Gili Islands
From an aerial perspective, this tiny tropical archipelago looks like a chain of sandbars with vibrant vegetation in the middle. This island group west of Lombok is favoured among backpackers, and not just for its bars and booze cruises. The Gilis are magnetic thanks to their beaches, legendary sunsets, and all living creatures below the sea surface.
The largest island, Gili Trawangan, is blessed with incredible beaches. Head over to Sunset Beach for the perfect Instagram shot; sway over the sea on a wooden swing, while the sun descends over Mount Agung on Bali in the background.
The pure spectacle lays underwater, especially around Gili Meno. The Gilis are known to be home to some of the most gentle sea creatures: turtles. Chances are high that you’ll encounter green sea turtles or hawksbill turtles. Floating next to the slowly grazing turtles makes it worth travelling to the Gilis alone for.
The Gili Islands have decent dive spots as well, with stingray, octopus, and reef sharks as their prominent residents.
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3. Kawah Ijen
Java is carved by the forces of nature, and Kawah Ijen is an excellent example of the magic it can create. Kawah Ijen is a stratovolcano standing at 2769 meters, and within its crater lies a highly acidic lake. From Ijen basecamp you can endeavour a strenuous hike to the crater rim, and then descend to the toxic lake. The grey-green colour of the lakes is quite odd and contrasts beautifully with the yellow interior of the mountain.
Kawah Ijen is an active sulphur mine, and you’ll see miners bear enormous baskets with sulphur up to the summit. Wear a gas mask when going down to the lake, for the sulphurous gases and steam cause a bad smell and irritation of the eyes.
A vast majority of the visitors start their hike around 1 am and wait for the sun to rise on the shore of the lake or on the brink of Kawah Ijen. Temperature-wise this is the most ideal setup; the nights are chilly on this altitude, which is best for this type of hiking. Nonetheless, it’s possible to climb up during the entire day.
4. Komodo National Park
This nature reserve between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores offers way more than just exciting encounters with the gigantic lizard it’s been named after. Komodo National Park receives very little rainfall, which results in an arid landscape you won’t find elsewhere in Indonesia.
Wherever you go in Komodo, you’ll be astonished by its pure beauty. Head for the viewpoint on Padar Island, from where you look down on mountain peaks, inlets, and sandy beaches. See the first image in this article to see what we mean.
The diving and snorkelling in Komodo National Park are world-class. Kanawa Island is memorable for its coral and turtles at shallow depths, while Manta Point is the best underwater destination to see the amiable manta rays. Batu Bolong, Yellow Wall and Crystal Rock all have stunning coral gardens, large fish, reef sharks, and chances are you might even spot a dolphin.
Komodo and Rinca are the prime locations to see the Komodo dragon in its own habitat. Seeing the largest lizards in the world feels like an episode of Animal Planet come to life. Local guides lead you to the reptiles during a walking tour on the islands.
5. Lake Toba
This lake, located on the island of Sumatra, was created after a massive volcanic eruption roughly 75,000 years ago. Besides the gorgeous scenery, you’ll find around this basin in the northwest of Sumatra, the altitude of 900 meters causes a relieve of the humidity and pollution of the Indonesian cities.
The largest volcanic lake in the world is best explored by motorbike, or – for a more unique perspective – by kayak. There’s even a couple of designated kayak routes that allow you to explore the traditional tribal villages and surrounding mountains.
One of the top sights to see is the Sipoholon Hot Springs, a picturesque bundle of pools. Due to minerals and a high concentration of sulphur, the colours of these springs are both eccentric and stunning.
Another beloved spot around Lake Toba is the Sipiso-Piso Waterfall. The 120-meter high waterfall is one of the tallest in the country and plunges down into a lush valley.
6. Lorentz National Park
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the largest national park in Southeast Asia, the only place in Indonesia with snow and glaciers; superlatives aren’t enough to do the status of this reserve justice. At 4884 meters above sea level, Puncak Jaya is the eye-catcher of Lorentz National Park and the highest mountain between the Himalayas and Andes. Through a private expedition, you can attempt to conquer this legendary peak; a trek of a lifetime that leads from tropical rainforest to wetlands and alpine ground.
The other draw of Lorentz National Park is the abundance of unspoiled jungle, which will satisfy the needs of every nature lover. This UNESCO park is a joy for birdwatchers; photogenic species in the dense forests include crowned pigeons and birds of paradise.
The town of Timika has plenty of travel agents and is the gateway to the national park.
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7. Raja Ampat
Indonesia is part of the Coral Triangle, a vital reef system in the seas of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Few dive destinations on earth can compete with Raja Ampat when it comes to species of fish and coral. On and around the reefs of this beautiful dive destination in Papua live over 550 species of hard coral and more than 1400 species of fish, making it one of the most diverse areas on earth.
The diving is excellent anywhere in this archipelago, but specific dive sites stand out even more. Descend to the enchanting world of Cape Kri, the record-holding site for most fish species during a single dive: 283. In Blue Magic, you’ll be surrounded by large fish like barracudas, manta rays, and reef sharks. Chicken Reef is a fantastic place to find small species of fish and wonderful corals, but you’ll most likely encounter sharks as well.
Raja Ampat also is a suitable destination for non-divers, with plenty of snorkelling, island-hopping and bird-watching opportunities. This stunning group of islands provides a home to the red bird of paradise and a wide array of aquatic birds. Many resorts can arrange guided walks through the thick forests of Raja Ampat.
8. Seram Island
The Maluku Province doesn’t appear on many places-to-go lists, but the fact that it’s been flying under the tourist radar is actually a good thing. The main island of Maluku is called Seram and this is blessed with an abundance of nature.
Manusela National Park is a prime area for trekkings if you want to experience the mountains, jungle, and many endemic bird species and mammals of the island. Another highlight of this park is the Hatusaka Cave, which is the deepest cave system in Indonesia to date.
True adventurers can test their stamina during an expedition to the summit of Mount Binaiya, at 3027 meters it is the highest peak on Seram Island. The cloud forests and incredible wildlife around this peak make the challenging trek very rewarding.
South of Flores lies Sumba, a relatively unexplored island. However, this doesn’t mean Sumba should be skipped; the stunning beaches and waterfalls make this destination quite alluring.
Traditional beach destinations in Indonesia include Bali and Lombok, but it’s hard to ignore Sumba when it comes to picture-perfect oceanfronts; from the massive rock formations on Watu Malado Beach to the natural rock arch on Bwanna Beach and the secluded cove of Mandorak Beach.
Sumba could be dubbed the waterfall capital of Indonesia; the turquoise pools and green surroundings of Matayangu Falls and Lapopu Falls are simply breathtaking, and so is the multi-level drop of Lokomboro Falls. Scattered across Sumba, you’ll find plenty of other scenic waterfalls.
10. Tanjung Puting National Park
Being one of the largest islands in the world and having century-old cloud forests, Borneo can’t be left behind on this list. On the south coast, you’ll find Tanjung Puting National park, a conservation area that measures 4150 square kilometres and is the natural habitat of orangutans. With its swamps, mangroves, rivers, and rainforests, there’s plenty to discover in this large park.
The most captivating way to explore Tanjung Puting is by boat cruise. Sail over the Bornean waters with chances of spotting orangutans, clouded leopards, the odd proboscis monkeys, and 6 other primate species. If you’re out of luck and don’t detect any wild orangutans, you can visit the camps of the Orangutan Foundation. This nonprofit organisation takes care of formerly captivated animals and eventually releases them back into the wild.
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