Bali, Lombok, and the three Gili islands of Air, Meno, and Trawangan form the nucleus of Indonesia’s tourism industry. This tourism area includes two provinces - Bali and West Nusa Tenggara.
Just east of Java, Bali, with its legendary status, needs no introductions. Bali has held the imaginations of travelers captive for centuries with its exotic culture of arts, dance, music, and other unique traditions blended in a way that creates a deep and memorable impression on visitors. The Balinese people have perfected the art of holding onto a traditional lifestyle while developing a modern, 21st century tourism industry. Come here if you’re looking for a lush tropical wilderness. Come here if you’re seeking some of the best scuba diving in the world. Come here if you’re a surfer looking for fantastic reef breaks. Come here if you want to party around the clock. Come here if you want to sleepily pass your days on a powdery, white sand beach. Come here with your family, or come alone – you won’t be disappointed.
Bali’s provincial capital is Denpasar and is where the international airport is located. The highlights of Bali are Amed, Candidasa, Danau Bratan Area, Gunung Batur Area, Kuta, Lovina, Nusa Lembongan, Padangbai, Sanur, Tirta Gangga, Tulamben, and Ubud.
Lombok is just 25 miles east of Bali and is quite easily accessible by air and boat. It is often referred to as “the unspoiled Bali”, or “the laid back Bali.” Lombok is truly a tropical paradise. Most visitors begin their stay in Senggigi – the most developed tourist area on Lombok. It has a wide variety of accommodation, restaurants, night clubs, travel agents, and shopping options. On the south coast, beautiful Kuta beach has legendary status with surfers and beach lovers. Trekkers from around the world marvel at their experience in Mount Rinjani National Park At 3726 meters, Mount Rinjani is Indonesia’s second highest peak and a very active volcano. Mataram is the capital of the province. It’s a fun and interesting city to explore for visitors who are interested culture and history. East Lombok offers a rare chance to experience traditional life in rural Indonesia.
The three islands of Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan offer the chance to experience the best island life has to offer. Cars and motor bikes are not allowed, so there is a quiet atmosphere of sun and fun in a tropical paradise, and all that goes with it.
Jakarta is one of the world’s truly great cities. That’s a bold statement, I know. And, many would challenge it. The naysayers might ask - Where is the rich history found in Rome? Where is the culture of Paris? Where is the tradition of London? Where is the ultra modernism of Tokyo? Or, where is the diversity of New York?
In answer to those questions I would reply, “there, not here in Jakarta.” That is precisely what makes Jakarta a truly great city. Jakarta is completely unique unto itself. Jakarta is a frontier city – an inferno of activity blending ancient traditions with 21st century development. It’s the political, social, and economic hub of the world’s fourth most populous nation. How could it not be fascinating?
Come to Jakarta and you will find world class architecture, the trendiest designer shops, chic nightclubs, an array of five-star international hotels, and gourmet restaurants staffed by some of the best chefs thriving next to traditional food sellers and traditional markets.
You will sit in the worst traffic you have probably ever seen where an endless river of motorbikes swirl around cars like a wild river churns around its boulders. You’ll breathe some of the most polluted air in the world. A rat will likely cross your path more than once. You will likely be repulsed by the sight and smell of the open sewers and heavily polluted canals. And, the grinding poverty with its dirty street children, deformed people, and the elderly begging for their next meal in the shadow of a sleek high-rise will break your heart.
Through all the challenges of being in Jakarta, remember that you are witnessing the coming of age of a very young nation and of a people who struggled under colonial rule for centuries.
Jakarta is a traveler’s city and a business city – not a tourist city. You will enjoy and learn from Jakarta to the extent you discard any preconceived notions of how things ought to be, or how things were back home and accept, experience, and respect what is.
Check out our hotel, restaurant, nightlife, and activity guides to Jakarta. Then, book a ticket, buckle your seatbelt and ready yourself for one of the most dynamic experiences you will ever encounter.
Yogyakarta or Jogjakarta is pronounced “JOEG-ja-kart-a.” Locals simply call it "Jogja." It is Indonesia’s smallest province geographically but its spirit spans the archipelago. It’s the heart of Javanese fine art, culture, dance, performing arts, and music, as well as the home to intellectuals and an important center of Indonesian higher education.
Jogya’s 300,000 plus student population attend more than 50 colleges and universities located in the city, creating a youthful, energetic, and creative atmosphere. In the evening many students gather at the many lesehan eateries that transform the cities sidewalks into hip hangouts. Bamboo mats are placed around small tables graced with candles, creating an air of romance and intimacy. All kinds of local foods are served to the rhythm of a variety of music, while friends chat, lovers bond, and tourists take it all in.
Yogyakarta is unique in all of Indonesia in that it is still ruled by the Monarchy from the colonial period of the Dutch East India Company. By special arrangement with the Indonesian government, the Sultan of Yogyakarta serves as governor of the province. The city of Yogyakarta is its capital.
Yogyakarta is Java’s most popular tourist destination for internationals and Indonesians alike. It has limitless options for hotels, restaurants, entertainment, and tours. It’s a very easy city to get around and is easily enjoyed.
A good place to begin exploring is the Sultans Palace to get a feel for the rich history of the city and to see Javanese Palace architecture at its best. Then, a stroll down Malioboro Street is an unforgettable shopping experience where fine batik, silverwork, ceramics, earthenware, locally produced hand rolled cigars, traditional medications, leather, curios, wood carvings, furniture, masks, and puppets are among the many offerings.
Yogyakarta is the easiest and best place in Java to see traditional Javanese performing arts. The Ramayana ballet, traditional orchestra (gamelan), and a variety of leather puppet performances are held on a regular basis.
Indonesia’s most visited site, the fabulous Buddhist Borobudur temple is just an hour west of the city. Borobudur is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most impressive Buddhist temples in the world – certainly not to be missed. To the northwest lie the Hindu temples at Prambanan, which are a testament to Indonesia’s Hindu heritage.
Nusa Tenggara more than carries its weight in “The Ultimate in Diversity,” the tourism slogan of Indonesia. Lonely Planet describes Nusa Tenggara as: “Indonesia’s dazzling arc of eastern islands that stretches toward northern Australia is perhaps the most varied and rewarding part of the nation to explore.”
The Lesser Sunda Islands, as Nusa Tenggara is also known, are divided into the two Indonesian provinces of East Nusa Tenggara and West Nusa Tenggara.
Lombok and Sumbawa are the two largest islands in West Nusa Tenggara. Mataram, on Lombok, is the capital of the province. Scenery and surf are the best of what Sumbawa has to offer. Sumbawa’s rugged, scenic landscape is only enjoyed by the most hard core trekkers while surfers find their bliss at the surf camps in Sekongkang and Hu’u.
Of the roughly 550 islands in the province of East Nusa Tenggara, Flores, Sumba, Komodo, Rinca, and West Timor have the bulk of the population and receive the lion’s share of visitors.
Flores is a jewel of vibrantly beautiful scenery, culture, ample diving, snorkeling, and white sand beaches. The three colored lakes nestled in the crater at the summit of Kelimutu volcano are easily the highlight of Flores. Now days the three lakes colors are turquoise, green, and brown, but the colors have changed over the years due to minerals from the volcano dissolving into the water.
Sumba is the place to go to experience a tribal culture that is unmatched anywhere else in Nusa Tenggara. There are many traditional villages with traditional high roofed houses, beautifully carved megalithic stone tombs, and the finest Ikat weavings to be found anywhere. February and March bring the Pasola - horsemen armed with spears charging each other in a contest to spill human blood, thus ensuring a good harvest.
Komodo and Rinca are part of the World Heritage site, Komodo National Park – home the 100kg, three meter long, Komodo dragon. Known as Ora by the locals, the Komodo dragon was once a legend in the West until explorers confirmed their existence just over 100 years ago. Having no natural predators puts these giant lizards at the top of the food chain. They regularly dine on creatures such as water buffalo and wild pig.
West Timor shares its island with the independent nation of East Timor. The city of Kupang is the capital of East Nusa Tenggara, the center of business, and the busiest air hub in Nusa Tenggara, providing connections throughout Indonesia. West Timor has good trekking, snorkeling, and beach options, as well as traditional villages that readily welcome visitors. Lacking a well developed tourism infrastructure, it’s best suited to independent travelers who are used to making their own way.
Java is the hub of Indonesian society. It has enjoyed its role as a regional leader for centuries. Many powerful empires of yesteryear – Hindu kingdoms, Buddhist kingdoms, Islamic sultanates, and the Dutch East Indies all were based in Java. Today, Javanese culture is a collage of the architecture, arts and music these great civilizations left behind.
Home to the nation’s capital, Jakarta, and with over 60% of the population living here, Java is the most populous island in the world and heartbeat of Indonesia. With just under 7% of Indonesia’s total land area and the lion’s share of its population, it is also one of the world’s most densely populated places.
As expected in such a densely populated place, traffic in most parts of Java is extreme, to say the least, especially on weekends when city dwellers from Jakarta, Surabaya, and other cities head into the countryside for their weekend getaways. But there are remote places that are rarely visited such as Ujung Kulon National Park - the only place the endangered one-horned Javanese rhinoceros can be seen. During the week, Java’s more popular joys are readily accessible.
Javanese Wayang (puppet) theater and Gamelan (traditional orchestra) can be enjoyed in several varieties throughout Java. Originally court dances, you will find many traditional forms of Javanese dance performed as they have been for centuries, as well as modern renditions. Javanese dance is often characterized from Wayang theater and performed to hypnotic Gamelan music as it tells its intricate story.
Temples such as Cangkuang, Borobudur, Prambanan, Sukuh, and Singosari remain as permanent landmarks to Java’s epic past.
Geographically, Java is of volcanic origin, formed by thirty-eight mountains that run its full length, providing limitless camping and trekking that will take you through lush vegetation teeming with wildlife to remote mountain lakes and waterfalls.
At various times most of these mountains have been active volcanoes – some still are. Extremely rich soil has been left behind by all this volcanic activity. When traveling across Java you will see kilometer after kilometer of beautiful terraced hillsides covered with abundant rice, coffee, and other crops. Agra-tourism is a growing trend in Indonesia, allowing visitors to spend time on working plantations.
Java is well known for its surfing as well. Among its many surf spots, Plengkung is the most famous, having hosted the Quicksilver Pro surfing championship on many occasions.
Javanese Batik, Java’s most popular craft can be found throughout Java. An art form, it is cloth dyed into intricate patterns, each with a unique meaning traditionally signifying the wearers position in society. Other Javanese crafts include silverwork, rattan, and wood carving.
Sulawesi sprawls between Borneo and Maluku like a lazy sea serpent lying casually in the sea with its four huge tentacles stretched out for maximum relaxation. Formed by these four tentacles, four peninsulas framed by dramatic mountains make Sulawesi a decadent sight to behold, provide a sheltered environment for abundant marine life, create endless varieties of stunning beaches, and offer the easier mode of intra-island travel.
It has long been heralded as one of the top scuba diving destinations in the world – and rightfully so. The dive sights around Manado and Bunaken offer a rare wealth of biodiverse marine life that treat scuba divers to over 3000 varieties of fish and more than 300 different kinds of coral.
If you are not a scuba diver, don’t be deterred from going to Sulawesi. You will find a treasure trove of traveling bliss aside from scuba diving in this huge tropical paradise that is larger than half of the countries in the world.
One thing you will love about Sulawesi is the friendly people. All of Indonesia is known for its friendly people, but the people of Sulawesi take friendliness to a whole new level with their genuine, seemingly permanent smiles etched upon their faces.
Makassar, the largest city on Sulawesi and its economic hub, is at the island’s southern tip. It is famous for delicious sea food and nightlife – offering a welcome respite for the weary jungle trekker. After you’ve had a good meal or two and a night out, head over to nearby Pantai Bira village where you can see a variety of traditional ships being built, as they have been for centuries, and relax on the white sand beach while you absorb a sense of a way of life that once was.
Then you may want to head north to Tana Toraga where it will seem as though you somehow slipped out of the 21st century into a medieval odyssey of ancient Torajan culture and tradition.
Further north, the Togean islands are dangerous indeed. They are the kind of place where you stop for a day that turns into a week which stretches into a month and an expired visa!
Whatever itinerary you choose, one thing is for sure. Somewhere between Sulawesi’s six provinces - Gorontalo, West Sulawesi, South Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi, Southeast Sulawesi, and North Sulawesi – multiple ethnic traditions – eight national parks – super friendly people – superb scuba diving - awe inspiring trekking – and kilometer after kilometer of white powdery beaches, you will both lose and find something in “mysterious“ Sulawesi.
Sumatra is the pace to go if you want adventure - guaranteed. While it is true you won’t be met with the pointed spears of scantily clad natives who have a mind to serve you up for dinner, as the explorers of yesteryear were, and it’s also true that the lush rainforest is but a showdown of its former self, there is still adventure to be had – in abundance.
Sumatra is much larger than Japan – it’s about the size of Spain, and is divided into the ten provinces of Aceh, North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Bengkulu, Riau, Riau Islands, Jambi, South Sumatra, Lampung, and Bangka-Belitung Islands.
Within its borders you will find the Sumatran rhinoceros – one of the most endangered animals in the word, the Sumatran Orangutan – also on the verge of extinction, and the Sumatran tiger – it too is in peril.
You will encounter Bataks - formerly a very fierce cannibalistic people - who have always had a sophisticated culture. Don’t worry! Cannibalism has been out of vogue for 200 years, so do come and enjoy their architecture, culture, arts, crafts, music, and food.
The Mentawains are another of Sumatra’s ancient peoples. They too had a very sophisticated society which was based to egalitarian ideas. Today, there is still much to behold of this traditional way of life.
Sumatra spans over 2000 km from north to south and from sea level to over 3800 meters. It has volcanoes, hot springs, lakes, rivers, and untamed jungles. It has modern cities and traditional villages. It has a history that is both rich, and tragic. Most importantly, it holds an opportunity – a final opportunity to see what is left of a former world.
Traditional Sumatra is disappearing at an alarming rate. Her rainforests are being destroyed and her native peoples are being assimilated into modern Indonesian society.
The generation reading this page will be the last to witness live, that which out ancestors’ will be left with only books and museum exhibits of – the authentic Sumatra.
Maluku – The Moluccas - Jazirat al-Muluk – The Island of the Kings – The Spice Islands – the names themselves invoke a sense of adventure, of mystery, and hint of something to be discovered, stirring that yearning which lives deep within all of us who travel and demands to be fed.
When you arrive in Maluku, 1000 delightful islands will greet you with their peace and tranquility. The combined land area of all the islands is slightly more than Ireland, so as you can imagine, many of the islands are tiny, undeveloped, and uninhabited.
The major islands are Ternate, Tidore, Lease Islands, Ambon, Seram, Buru, Banda Islands, and the Kei Islands. Maluku is divided into two provinces. The island of Ternate is the capital of North Maluku Province and the island of Ambon is the capital of Maluku Province.
Maluku’s islands are remote and a bit difficult to reach so they remain an unspoiled paradise that rewards those who put forth the effort with picturesque white sand beaches and lush rainforests. The abundant coral gardens just off shore provide exceptional scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities.
The terrain is mostly mountainous, has some active volcanoes, and contains abundant wildlife, providing an unbeatable combination for a rewarding trekking experience. This is the only place on earth where you can see many species of birds in their natural habitat, such as the Lazuli Kingfisher, Purple-naped Lory , and the Salmon-crested Cockatoo, to name a few. Perhaps you will get lucky and spot a rare Marbled Cat as well.
History buffs will love the array of old forts, temples, museums, palaces, and other landmarks that record Maluku’s history back to the days of Dutch and Portuguese colonization, and even earlier to when the native Bandanese people actively traded spices as long as 3000 years ago.
The economy is strong and scars of the religious conflicts of a decade ago are nearly healed. Tourism in Maluku is definitely open for business should you develop a hankering to spend some time in one of the last affordable tropical paradises on the planet.
The time you spend in Kalimantan will change you. You’ll carry away with you a sense of awe, of wonder, and of having experienced a piece of an ancient mystery. Kalimantan is one of the last wild jungle frontiers on earth. See it quickly before the chainsaws of progress forever erase it.
Kalimantan is located on the world’s third largest island – Borneo – which also includes a portion of Malaysia and the nation of Brunei. Kalimantan is the Indonesian portion. It covers an area roughly the size of France and is divided onto four separate provinces - West Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, and Central Kalimantan.
Visiting Kalimantan is like living a legend. It’s a place of ancient shamanism, headhunters, white water rapids, orangutans, exotic flora, and fauna – a place where wild and life truly come together.
Traveling in Kalimantan – as delightful as the experience can be – is not for the faint at heart traveler. You won’t find much is the way of air conditioned, cushioned comfort here. You’ll likely find yourself on a wooden boat cruising one of Kalimantan’s many rivers or on an old bus slogging your way through the dense jungle on roads that will test your resolve.
When you leave, you will be wondering if you discovered something wonderful in Kalimantan or if Kalimantan helped you discover something wonderful within yourself.
The Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua cover the western half of the world’s second largest island - New Guinea. The eastern half of the island is the independent nation of Papua New Guinea.
Papua’s secrets are deeply held by the tallest mountains between the Himalayas and the Andes, dense rainforests, and lack of infrastructure. Covering a vast area bigger than Spain, the interior of Papua is impenetrable to all but the most determined expedition explorers and is one of the last places on earth that remains partially unexplored. Experts believe the area contains indigenous tribes who have never made contact with the outside world and numerous species of flora and fauna that remain undiscovered.
What is already known about Papua is that it has the world’s most diverse range of indigenous cultures. The Amungme, Asmat, Bauzi, Dani, Kamoro, Kombai, Korowai, Mee, Sentani, Yali, and Yei indigenous groups are the most well known, but there are many, many more. Some of these tribes have adopted some modern ways, but many continue to live as they have since the Stone Age. These tribes are trying desperately to preserve their languages, traditions, arts, and way of life in a modern world that is growing less and less interested in cultural preservation.
Papua is one of the most biodiverse places in the world as well. It boasts around 200,000 species of insects, 20,000 plant species, 650 bird species, over 400 amphibians, and 450 known butterfly species. Much of Papua’s flora and fauna is unique and can be seen nowhere else, making it irresistible to biologists, naturalists, bird watchers, and other lovers of the natural world.
The Baliem Valley is the most accessible and popular tourist destination in the interior and affords visitors a superb opportunity to experience the culture of the local Dani tribes. There are many trekking opportunities ranging from half day self-guided treks to multi-day guided adventures. As in all of Papua, there are no roads into the interior. Flying into the city of Wamena is the only way to get there, but is quite easily arranged on Trigana Air Srrvice from Sentani.
If you are inclined toward extreme adventure, climbing the 4884 meter Puncak Jaya will get you started completing Messner’s Seven Summits list – a mountaineering challenge to climb the tallest mountain on each of the seven continents. But do it soon if you want to see the equatorial glaciers just below its summit – they are melting quickly due to global warming.
Scuba divers are heading to Raja Ampat in increasing numbers. Papua’s crown of being one of the most cultural and biodiverse areas in the world doesn’t stop on land. Raja Ampat is the world's most biodiverse marine region with more recorded fish, coral and mollusk species than anywhere else on Earth.
Pulau Biak is another popular scuba diving destination that is well known for its large number of WWII wrecks.
For those with a lot more money to spend and a desire to get off the beaten track, Wasur National Park and the Asmat region hold an opportunity to get a glimpse of a natural world few others see. There is a large variety of endemic flora and fauna to see as well as the opportunity t witness the lives of the nomadic Asmat people, who live along the rivers, or further inland the Kombai and Korowai people living in exemplary, multi-level tree houses – certainly a sight to behold! Travel in this area cannot be done independently, so must be arranged through agencies in Jayapura or Merauke.