1. Komodo National Park
Indonesia best-known national park comprises several islands and some of the country’s richest waters within 1817 sq km. Expect hulking mountainous islands blanketed in savannah, laced with trails and patrolled by the world’s largest lizard: the Komodo dragon. That’s the big draw here, and it’s easy to spot them, but there’s also big nature beneath the water’s surface where kaleidoscopic bait draws big pelagics like sharks and manta rays in great numbers. Nearby Labuanbajo, on the island of Flores, is the perfect traveller base
2. Balinese Dance
Enjoying a Balinese dance performance is a highlight of a visit to Indonesia’s most famous holiday island. The haunting sounds, elaborate costumes, careful choreography and even lighthearted comic routines add up to great entertainment. Swept up in the spectacle, you’ll soon understand why Balinese culture is among the world’s most developed. The music that often accompanies traditional dance is based around an ensemble known as a gamelan. The melodic, ometimes upbeat and sometimes haunting percussion is a night-time staple of life in Ubud (p247), Bali’s cultural centre.
The breathtaking Borobudur temple complex (p106) is a stunning and poignant epitaph to Java’s Buddhist heyday in the 9th century AD and is a highlight of a visit to Indonesia. One of the most important Buddhist sites in the world and one of the finest temple complexes in Southeast Asia, the temple consists of six square bases topped by three circular ones. Nearly 1500 narrative relief panels on the terraces illustrate Buddhist teachings and tales, while 432 Buddha images sit in hambers on the terraces.
4. Jakarta Nightlife
4If you have the stamina, Jakarta has the action, for this is Southeast Asia’s best-kept party secret. Sure, Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim nation where traditions run deep, but in Jakarta, almost anything goes – the scene can get very underground in the north of town. The city has it all: superstylin’ frequented by the oh-sobeautiful crowd, low-key bars where the soundtrack is vintage 1970s funk, altrock music venues and electro clubs where DJs attain messiah-like status
5. Tanjung Puting National Park
African Queen meets jungle safari in this ever-popular national park in southern Kalimantan, where you can not onlyget up close and personal with Asia’s largest ape, the orangutan, but also cruise the jungle in high style aboard your own private houseboat. The typically three-day journey takes you on a round trip up the Sekonyer to Camp , with stops at severalorangutan feeding stations plenty of impromptuwildlife spotting. Despite its comforts, the experience still manages to beauthentic adventure travel,and is open to anyone.
6. Raja Ampat Islands
The remote, still-being-discovered Raja Ampat Islands off Papua’s northwest tip are a diver’s dream. Raja Ampat is home to the greatest diversity of marine life on the planet, from giant manta rays and epaulette sharks that use their fins
to ‘walk’ on the sea floor to myriad multicoloured nudibranchs (‘sea slugs’), fantastic pristine coral, and every size, shape and hue of fish you can imagine. The snorkelling is great too, and the above-water scenery is just as unique and sublime.
7. Banda Islands
Here is a rich and intoxicating cocktail of history, culture and raw natural beauty. The Banda Islands (p435) – a remote archipelago draped in jungle and spice trees, fringed with white sand, surrounded by clear blue seas and pristine reefs – kickstarted colonisation and helped shape the modern world. Fly to the capital – Bandaneira – from Ambon, stroll the wide avenues, admire late-colonial relics, then charter a boat to the outer islands, where village life is warm and easy, and stress peels from your soul by the second.
Set 90km off the north coast of Central Java is an archipelago as remote and wild as any in east Indonesia, yet still accessible by ferry and flights from Semarang and Surabaya. The Karimunjawa Islands are a group of 27 coral-fringed beauties, some are uninhabited and off limits to visitors, but most are accessible on day tours from the main island of Karimunjawa (p154), jungled and mountainous, fringed with white- sand beaches and swaying with coconut palms. Magic.
9. Kapuas Hulu
At the headwaters of the Sungai Kapuas, Indonesia’s longest river, awaits everything you need for a primal jungle adventure. Step into the past at Kalimantan’s oldest longhouse perched high on its gnarled ironwood pillars. Snake through Danau Sentarum’s photogenic mudflats on narrow fish-packed waterways that are seasonally submerged. Soak up the port town of Putussibau. Tackle roiling rapids and leechinfested forests on the epic Cross-Borneo Trek. Or, strike off into the darkest corner of the island in search of new rainforest species in Betung Kerihun National Park.
10. Gili Islands
One of Indonesia’s greatest joys is hopping on a fast boat from busy Bali and arriving on one of the irresistible Gili Islands. Think sugar-white sand, bathtub-warm, turquoise waters and wonderful beach resorts and bungalows just begging you to extend your stay. Not to mention the coral reefs that are teeming
with sharks, rays and turtles. Savour the dining and nightlife on Gili Trawangan, the perfect balance of Gili Air and the pintsized charms of Gili Meno. Or simply do nothing at all.
Famous in books and movies, the artistic heart of Bali (p247) exudes a compelling spiritual appeal. The streets are lined with galleries where artists, both humble and great, create. Beautiful dance performances showcasing the island’s rich culture grace a dozen stages nightly. Museums honour the works of those inspired here over the years, while people walk the rice fields to find the perfect spot to sit in lotus position and ponder life’s endless possibilities. Ubud is a state of mind and a beautiful state of being.
12. Baliem Valley
Trekking in Papua’s Baliem Valley takes you into the world of the Dani, a mountain people whose
traditional culture still stands proud despite changes wrought by Indonesian government and Christian missionaries. You’ll sleep in their villages of grass-roofed huts, climb narrow jungle trails, traverse panoramic open hillsides, cross raging rivers by wobbly hanging footbridges, and be charmed by the locals’ smiles. A tip for those bridges: don’t look at the water, but do look where you’re putting your feet!
13. Pulau Bunaken
You know those gardens that seem to have hundreds of plant species artistically thriving together in small decorative plots? Now imagine that done with coral in every colour from stark black and white to intense purples. Next cover it all in clear water teeming with iridescent fish, some in thick schools. The water around Pulau Bunaken is more beautiful than you could imagine and yet it gets better: turtles the size of armchairs, reef sharks and, if you’re lucky, dolphins and dugongs that swim casually through the scene.
14. Tana Toraja
Life revolves around death in this countryside of rice terraces, boat-shaped roofs and doeeyed buffalo in Sulawesi. Tana Torajan funeral ceremonies last days, and involve countless animal sacrifices for the upper classes. The festivities start with bet-heavy bullfights then lead into days of prayer, feasting and dances. At the end, the deceased is brought to their resting place. This could be carved into a cliff face and fronted by their own wooden effigy, in a cave where relatives can visit the bones, or in hanging
graves suspended from cave edges.
15. Togean Islands
Almost smack on the equator, the blissful, off-grid Togean Islands are an unadulterated vision of the tropics, with blinding white-sand beaches fringed by coconut palms, a smattering of fishing villages, homestay digs,
and world-class snorkelling and diving on majestic coral reefs. Things are so mellow here that there’s even a jellyfish lake where the jellies don’t sting. You can forget all about news headlines and Facebook updates – internet access and cellular coverage is near zero.
Indonesia’s countless volcanoes don’t get much smaller and more perfectly formed than Gunung Api, a miniature Mt Fuji, which shelters the natural harbour of the Banda Islands. Topping out at a rather diminutive 666m, it erupted as recently as 1988, and can be climbed in an arduous three hours. Among the many others worth exploring are Bali’s Agung, Lombok’s Rinjani, Java’s Bromo, and the infamous Krakatau. Explorations can take several hours or days and guides are almost always recommended. One reward: stunning summit sunrises.
17. Gunung Leuser National Park
This vast slab of steamy tropical mountains and valleys of northern Sumatra is filled with cheeping, squeaking, growling animal life. It’s a naturalist’s and adventure traveller’s fantasy. Sitting pretty beside a chocolate-coloured river, the village of Ketambe is a relaxing place to rest up for a few days. More importantly, it makes a great base camp for multiday hiking expeditions in search of howling gibbons, lethargic orangutans and maybe even a tiger or two.
18. Indonesian Food
When you eat in Indonesia, you savour the essence of the country. The abundance of rice reflects Indonesia’s fertile landscape, the spices are reminiscent of atime of trade and invasion, and the fiery chilli echoes the passion of the people. Chinese, Portuguese, colonists and traders have all influenced the flavours, which include coriander, lemongrass, coconut, and palm sugar. Sate (skewered meat), nasi goreng (fried rice) and with peanut sauce) are justly famous; regional variations are endless.
19. Kerinci Valley
Detour from bustling Bukittinggi to West Sumatra’s Kerinci Valley, whose appeal lies in its many lakes and waterfalls, its lush, photogenic rice paddies and low-key, traditional villages. After something more strenuous? Then take up the challenge of the Kerinci volcano that looms above the valley and tackle it in a tough overnight climb. If wildlife is your passion, go in search of monkeys, civets, hundreds of bird species and the elusive Sumatran tiger in the Kerinci Seblat National Park.
South Bali’s Kerobokan (p216), and its neighbours Seminyak and Canggu, may be just north of notorious Kuta, but in many respects the trio feels like another island. They’re flash, brash and filled with hipsters and expats. It’s beguiling, rarefied and just this side of too-cool. The beach is part of a stunning swathe of sand stretching to the horizon in both directions. Countless boutiques, many run by top local designers, vie for your daytime attention. At night have a fabulous meal, then hit a club.