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19 Things to Do in Indonesia

Charlotte Boswell

An archipelago made up of over 17,000 islands, Indonesia is an incredibly diverse nation with over 300 ethnic groups and 700 languages spoken. Each island is completely different; discover the beautiful beaches of Bali, spot wild orangutans in Borneo's Kalimantan, explore Java's temples and volcanoes, sail the turquoise seas of Komodo National Park and meet the indigenous tribes of Papua. With so many islands to visit, here is a list of our favourite things to do in Indonesia.

1. Watch the sunrise over Borobudur temple

Situated near Yogyakarta in central Java, Borobudur is the world’s largest Buddhist temple that dates back to the 9th century. This architectural masterpiece, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, features three tiers of temples and a central dome that is dotted with sculpted Buddha figures and stupas. Borobudur dramatically sits atop a hill with spectacular views over lush rice paddies and mountainous landscapes, making it one of the best spots to watch the sunrise in Indonesia. For a truly impressive sight, climb to the highest level of Borobudur before dawn and wait as the sun slowly rises revealing the intricate temples and surrounding scenery.

Where: Yogyakarta, Java

borobudur temple yogyakarta java indonesia

2. Search for Borneo’s elusive orangutan

Known for their distinctive red fur and solemn faces, orangutans are the largest arboreal mammal that share over 96% of human genes, making them one of the most intelligent creatures. The Malay word orangutan translates as ‘man of the forest’, which is perfectly fitting for this beautiful species. The jungle of Kalimantan, Borneo’s Indonesian part, occupies 75% of the island subsequently making it a great place for rainforest treks and the chance for a glimpse of the shy, human-like primates. Tanjung Putting National Park in central Kalimantan is one of the most important sanctuaries for wild orangutans in Borneo and with over 5,000 habitants it is one of the best places to see these majestic creatures.

Where: Tanjung Putting, Kalimantan

baby orangutan borneo malaysia

3. Visit the 8th century temples of the Dieng Plateau

The Dieng Plateau is a marshy plateau that sits over 2000 metres above sea level in central Java. Dotted with colourful lakes, sulphurous springs, rolling hills covered in mist and ancient temples, Dieng is a place of natural wonder and beauty as well as cultural significance. One of the main reasons to visit the Dieng Plateau is to see the 8th century temple ruins from the glorious period of the Hindu empire in which the spectacular setting of this complex makes them so special. On the journey to the temples, pass billowing hot springs, coloured sulphur pools and remote villages which add to the wonderful experience.

Where: Dieng Plateau, Java

dieng plateau indonesia

Photo credit: Bryn Pinzgauer

4. Journey through Ubud’s rice terraces

Famed for its sweeping beaches and idyllic island lifestyle, Bali is also renowned for the famous lush green rice terraces that span across the island. One of Bali’s most noted rice terraces is Tegalalang located just north of Ubud. A truly spectacular site, one can spend hours wandering down the winding paths through the beautiful terraced rice fields framed by swaying palms and blue skies. Sunrise is a beautiful time to visit Tegalalang as the light rays break through the trees and light up the terraces, alternatively, sunset is a less busy period to visit yet still as spectacular.

Where: Ubud, Bali

ubud rice terraces

5. Spot rare Sumatran tigers on a night safari

Until the mid-20th century no fewer than three subspecies of tiger lived in Indonesia’s wild forests and swamps. However, poaching and habitat destruction led to extinction of both the Javan and Balinese tiger leaving the Sumatran relative the only remaining subspecies in Indonesia with less than 400 individuals living on the island. Distinguished by their orange coats and thick black stripes, these critically endangered majestic creatures still roam Sumatra’s Kerinci Seblat National Park, with up to 190 tigers inhabiting here. Take a night safari in the hope of spotting this elusive creature, and also keep your eyes peeled for other species including the rare Sumatran rhino, Sunda clouded leopard and Sumatran elephant.

Where: Kerinci Seblat, Sumatra

sumatran tiger indonesia

Photo credit: Bernard Spragg. NZ

6. Climb Mount Bromo and be inspired at sunrise

Mount Bromo, located in East Java, is one of Indonesia’s most iconic active volcanoes and also one of the most visited tourist attractions in Java. Named after the Hindi god Brahma, Bromo’s highest peak stands at 2,329 metres and visitors can climb Mount Bromo if the volcano’s activity status allows. Guided tours take visitors to the crater and early risers can trek to the summit and watch the sunrise over the Tengger massif and Mount Bromo, it is often said that it is one of the most awe-inspiring experiences in Southeast Asia.

Where: Near Surabaya, Java

bromo volcano indonesia

7. Come face to face with a Komodo dragon

Komodo National Park located in the Lesser Sunda Islands is made up of Komodo, Rinca, Padar and a number of tiny tropical islands and sand bars. Komodo Island itself is home to the legendary Komodo Dragon and is the only place in the world where you can encounter these fearsome creatures in the wild. The ‘dragons’ are in fact the world’s largest lizards and use toxic saliva to poison and kill their prey. Visitors can now either take a guided day tour or multiple-day sailing trip to see the dragons up close whilst also exploring other aspects of the Komodo National Park including hiking the beautiful Padar Island and snorkelling the gentle, crystal waters.

Where: Komodo National Park, East Nusa Tenggara

komodo dragon komodo national park indonesia

8. Learn about the afterlife rituals of the Torajan people

The Toraja are an ethnic group indigenous to a mountainous region in southern Sulawesi. Rantepao, the heart of the Toraja community, is a fantastic place to visit when in Indonesia to witness the traditional culture and visit the remarkable homes with their elongated roofs and painted motifs. Another reason for visiting the Toraja region is to learn about the community’s elaborate funeral ceremonies and intriguing grave sites; their ultimate belief is that death is a celebration. Experience the long funeral proceedings and visit the local graves which feature carved effigies of the dead.

Where: Rantepao, Sulawesi

torajan people indonesia

Photo credit: Arian Zwegers

9. Watch the sunset over Padar Island

Padar Island is the third largest island in Komodo National Park located in the East Nusa Tenggara province and although lesser known than Komodo and Rinca, it is just as beautiful. Padar is known for its unique landscape where the rolling hills and rocky outcrops stretch out across the turquoise water. A popular activity is to take a late-afternoon panoramic hike to the top of the hill, along the way pass different coloured beaches and as you reach the summit be inspired as the sky and sea turn gold and the sun sets into the horizon.

Where: Komodo National Park, East Nusa Tenggara

padar island komodo island indonesia

10. Witness the Kecak Dance at Uluwatu Temple

A form of Balinese performing art that dates back to the 1930’s, kecak combines dance and drama and tells the story of the battle scene from the Hindu classic, the Ramayana. A trip to Bali wouldn’t be complete without experiencing a traditional kecak performance at sunset at the stunning Uluwatu temple. Situated atop a cliff overlooking the glistening sea, sarong-clad Indonesian men start chanting and beautifully dressed performers, adorned with gold headdresses and jewels, tell the important story through a heart-warming dance and story-telling performance.

Where: Uluwatu, Bali

kecak dance bali

11. Go diving in Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat, meaning ‘Four Kings’, is a cluster of spectacular islands off the coast of West Papua in Indonesia. Often referred to as the ‘World’s Last Paradise’, Raja Ampat is rather tricky to reach, think two flights and two boats, however you will have no regrets upon arrival. Four major islands make up Raja Ampat and the best way of getting around these is by hiring a boat with a local fisherman where you can explore ancient rock paintings, visit local villages and experience some of the world’s best dive sites. The archipelago is known for housing some of the most diverse marine life on earth including thousands of species of fish, coral and turtles; you will not be disappointed.

Where: Raja Ampat, Papua

raja ampat indonesia

12. Relax in paradise on the Gili Islands

Located off the coast of Lombok, the Gili Islands consist of three tiny tropical islands; Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. With no motor vehicles and few people inhabiting these islands, they truly are the idyllic place for relaxation. Gili Trawangan, the largest in the archipelago, is geared more towards backpackers and partying, whereas Meno and Air are advised for those who are looking for palm-fringed beaches, crystal clear waters and an exceptionally chilled and peaceful atmosphere. The Gili Islands are also known for their world-class diving and snorkelling opportunities; dive sunken shipwrecks, snorkel amongst rainbow coral and swim off the shore to see giant turtles bobbing on the surface.

Where: Gili Islands, Lombok

gili islands indonesia

13. Feast on Indonesian cuisine

Like other Southeast Asian cuisine, the food in Indonesia is fragrant, spicy yet sweet and flavourful. With its distinctive style and influences from China, India and Europe, Indonesian cuisine differs from region to region. Whilst nasi goreng - fried rice, satay - chicken, beef or vegetable skewers, and gado-gado – a peanut sauce salad, are national favourites, the varying islands have their own take on dishes and cooking techniques. Beef rendang, a fragrant spicy curry that originated in western Sumatra, bebek betutu, a roast duck dish famous in Bali and Java’s famous fried spring rolls, lumpias, are all examples of Indonesia’s reginal cuisine. Don’t forget sambal, a fiery chilli sauce, that accompanies pretty much everything!

Where: Everywhere, Indonesia

indonesia food

14. Swim with stingless jellyfish off Kakaban Island

There are only two places in the world where you can swim with stingless jellyfish, one of them is the South Pacific island of Palau and the other is Kakaban Island in Indonesia. Kakaban is part of the beautiful Derawan Islands that sit in East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. The most distinctive feature of the island is the land-locked lake which is surrounded by dense mangrove forests and filled with millions of stingless jellyfish. Although a little tricky to get to, diving into the cool and gentle waters of Kakaban Lake and swimming with hundreds of tiny jellyfish is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a must-do when in Indonesian Borneo.

Where: Kalimantan, Borneo

jellyfish kalimantan indonesia

Photo credit: Riza Nugraha

15. Marvel at the tri-coloured crater lakes of Kelimutu

Situated in central Flores, Mount Kelimutu is a volcano that features three striking volcanic crater lakes at the summit. The lakes are famous for differing in colour from blue to green and red to black, as well as changing colour all the time which is thought to be triggered by the continued volcanic activity combined with the gases beneath the water. This natural phenomenon can be seen by hiking to the summit where many visitors choose to camp near the volcano to witness a spectacular sunrise over the crater lakes as they change colour.

Where: Flores, East Nusa Tenggara

kelimutu indonesia

16. Discover the beautiful Pink Beach on Komodo Island

Pink Beach on Komodo Island is one of world’s seven pink beaches and is a highlight of any Komodo National Park trip. The sand itself gets its striking colour from microscopic animals called Foraminifera which produce a red pigment on the surrounding coral reefs. When the tiny fragments of red coral combine with the white sand it creates a soft pink colour that is visible along the shoreline. Enjoy the panoramic views of the crystal-clear sea, green rolling hills and fascinating pink sands.

Where: Komodo National Park, East Nusa Tenggara

pink beach komodo national park waters

17. Take a Balinese cookery class

Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali, is the perfect place to embark on a culinary adventure and take part in an authentic cookery class. There are numerous cooking schools throughout Ubud to choose from. Start your day early as you explore the bustling Ubud markets and handpick the freshest herbs, spices and vegetables ready for the class. Transfer to a local village where you will be welcomed by a local family; discover Balinese life and start setting up for the cookery class in a beautiful garden kitchen. You will learn about various locally sourced ingredients and cooking techniques before starting to cook delicious Balinese and Indonesian dishes such as satay, steamed fish in banana leaf, corn fritters, mie goreng and sambal. After all your hard efforts, be rewarded by enjoying the hand-prepared feast, all washed down with a cool Bintang.

Where: Ubud, Bali

balinese cooking class

18. Visit the ancient village of Batak on Lake Toba

Lake Toba in northern Sumatra is Southeast Asia’s largest lake and also the world’s largest volcanic lake. Formed over 75,000 years ago Toba is a natural lake that sprung from the crater of a dormant volcano. It is now a popular spot to spend a few days and appreciate the stunning natural scenery that surrounds the blue water. Visit the ancient village of Batak in Ambarita where visitors can learn of the Batak culture and cannibal rituals as well as exploring the intriguing stone replica houses which are the graves of long dead Batak kings and nobles. Alternatively, learn about Batak weaving techniques and other art and craft forms such as blowpipe making.

Where: Medan, Sumatra

lake toba indonesia

19. Practice the ancient art of batik

Often referred to as the cultural capital of the island of Java, Yogyakarta has a thriving arts scene which includes the famous Batik factories. Batik is a typical textile technique in Indonesia that involves dying fabrics that have been outlined using wax, creating colourful patterned cloth. During a trip to Indonesia you will notice that many locals wear Batik as part of their modern-day clothing. It is possible for visitors to tour these factories and even try their hand at creating Batik.

Where: Yogyakarta or Surakarta, Java

batik art indonesia

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