Balinese beaches | Komodo dragons | Thousands of island adventures
The Indonesian archipelago, between the Asian mainland and Australia, comprises 17,000 islands. Its ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity is correspondingly great – more than 500 languages and dialects are spoken by its 246 million people, whose fascinating customs and lifestyles are a major attraction.
The largely volcanic nature of the islands has created tall cloud-swept mountains swathed in the green of rice terraces or rainforest, dropping to blindingly bright beaches and vivid blue seas, which form the backdrop for Southeast Asia’s biggest wilderness areas and wildlife sanctuaries. This also provides an endless resource for adventurous trekking, surfing, scuba diving, or just lounging by a pool in a five-star resort.
Travel across the archipelago is pretty unforgettable, in tiny fragile planes, rusty ferries and careering buses. Some of the most rewarding experiences come when you least expect them, and in Indonesia, an enforced day’s malinger between transport in an apparently dull town might end with an invitation to watch an exorcism, or to examine a collection of ancestral skulls over coffee and cigarettes.
Orang-Utans: See these enchanting creatures at Bukit Lawang, close to the Sumatran capital, Medan.
Tanah Toraja, Sulawesi: You will see few Western faces in this gorgeous, mountainous home to the Torajans in region of Sulawesi, which sprawls within a tortuous outline resembling a one-thousand–kilometer letter “K”. Those after a more languid experience can soak up tropical sunshine on the Togian Islands.
Borobudur, Java: The largest Buddhist temple in the world and the greatest piece of classical architecture in Indonesia.
Kelimutu, Flores: The most spectacular sight in Flores is magnificent Kelimutu; the three craters of this extinct volcano, each, contain a lake of different, vibrant and gradually changing colors. In the east of Flores, high-quality ikat weaving still thrives.
Kalimantan: With few roads, the interior’s great rivers are its highways and a trip up one of them will give a taste of traditional Dayak life and introduce lush areas of dense jungle.
Borneo by river: Cruise past mangroves, jungle and stilt villages along Indonesia's longest river, the Sungai Kapuas.
Gili Islands: Three perfect tropical islands off Lombok, each with its own character.
Krakatau: The glassy black cone of Anak Krakatau, the child of the world’s most famous volcano, still smolders angrily off Java.
Tarsiers, Sulawesi: Spot the world’s smallest and cutest primate in the Tangkoko Reserve, northern Sulawesi.
Ubud, Bali: Bali’s cultural capital boasts unmissable art galleries, dance performances and festivals.
Yogyakarta, Java: At Yogyakarta, locally called “Jogja”, classical Javanese arts, including dance, poetry and puppet shows, still thrive.
Pasola festival, Sumba: This annual pageant of horseback spear throwing is one of the most spectacular festivals in Indonesia.
Face the dragons: Meet the world’s largest lizard on barren Komodo or atmospheric Rinca. Komodo National Park, a group of parched but majestic islands, homes the Komodo dragon, or ora, as it is known locally, which lives nowhere else.
Surfing at G-Land, Java: Renowned for its awesome barrel waves, Grajagan Bay or 'G-Land' in East Java attracts some of the world's best surfers.
Snorkeling and diving: Indonesia has some of the best dive sites in the world, including many that are almost completely unexplored. Immensely rich sea life means that snorkeling and diving are big draws at resorts in Kuta and Bukit peninsula. Dolphin-watching is the main attraction in Lovina on the north coast.
Volcano climbing in east of Bali
Breathing deeply in the thin air, a climber’s first view of Gunung Rinjani, with its deep gorges, hot springs, waterfalls, a turquoise lake, and a perfect volcanic cone, is otherworldly;.
At 3,725 meters, Indonesia’s second highest volcano is sacred to the local Muslim Sasak and Hindu Balinese, who manage treks into Rinjani National Park. En route to the summit, often wreathed in smoke and mist, visitors may glimpse the rare black ebony leaf monkey, gray macaques, crested cockatoos, and shy civet cats.
Sustainable tourism projects provide a livelihood for many locals. Rinhani received the National Geographic Society’s World Legacy Award in 2004 for its effort to nurture cultural shows, village tours, religious festivals, oral histories, and mountain lore, adding depth to a rigorous climbing experience. The classic three-day trek aims not for the steep summit, but for the jade-colored Segara Anak, or Child of the Sea, a crescent-shaped lake amid volcanic debris, 600 meters below the rim. More adventurous hikers tackle the edge of the caldera, which affords vast views of the Java Sea.
Twice a year, thousands of Sasak and Balinese pilgrims make offerings of rice, fish, and betel nuts to the deities of the lake and mountain. They regard the ascent of Rinjani as a spiritual adventure as much as a physical one.
Planning: Lombok www.indonesia.travel. Gunung Ranjani National Park www.lombokrinjanitrek.org. The park charges a modest entrance fee. Closed Jan–March during monsoon season.
Best of the Best
The islands of Indonesia are among the youngest spots on Earth, formed only 15 million years ago. Thus the country, especially Bali and Java, is home to the largest collection of active volcanoes in the world. More than 150 centers of volcanism are found throughout the archipelago, with eruptions that have catastrophic consequences. With the equivalent impact of several hydrogen bombs, the 1883 eruption of Java’s Mount Krakatoa killed 36,000 people. Subsequent 20th-century eruptions at the volcano built a new island, called the child of Krakatoa, Anak Krakatoa. Visit www.krakatoatour.com for itineraries.