The Indonesian archipelago has somewhere between 17,000 and 18,500 islands, of these roughly 8,000 have been named and only 900 are permanently inhabited. Although these statistics do vary according to who you ask, you get the picture that there are a lot of islands. This results in an incredible abundance of things to see and do for visitors to the region.
Whether you are a holiday maker who wants to relax and sunbathe, or a more active traveller interested in hiking, surfing and exploring some truly remote parts of the globe, there is something for everyone.
This archipelago has a clear tourist trail and also offers some secluded havens, with many local populations still living by ancient ways, although this is decreasing as modern life encroaches. However, perhaps the most interesting thing is not just the stunning natural environment (including a chain of volcanoes and pristine paradisal beaches) but the unique flora and fauna that have evolved here. Due to the location between Asia and Australia, these islands have a habitat unlike anywhere else in the world, which has fostered native flowers, vegetation and wildlife that cannot be found anywhere else.
Here are a few of the unmissable islands and activities; this is far from a comprehensive list as it would be impossible to compile such a thing, but these are a few recommendations if you find yourself in this part of the world.
Bali is probably the best known of Indonesia’s islands and has a mixed reputation; it is hotspot for young Australians to come for a wild weekend, however, it also offers far more than that. There are incalculable great restaurants, beach spots and stunning quiet natural spaces to explore on this sizeable island; it is nearly 6,000 km2! I would recommend steering fairly clear of the party strip in Kuta, or most of the places within a short drive of the airport, unless you are looking for cheap drinks and loud music. If you are, then by all means, enjoy!
My recommendation would be to head to Ubud; this quaint town has a lot to see and do, with a fraction of the tourists that you will find on any of the areas around the edge of the island. The monkey forest here is a must – hundreds of monkeys all over the place, as well as temples set in a stunning natural forest, making for jaw-dropping scenery and some hilarious encounters.
The stepped rice paddies are also a must see; they are easily accessed from the road, and you can walk right down into them and up the other side. All of this is surrounded by forest vegetation – it really is a sight to behold. After the rice paddies visit one of the nearby waterfalls, for example Tegenungan, which is an idyllic place for a swim and one of the most stunning rock formations you will see on Bali. There is so much more to do here, but these are just a handful of suggestions.
The three Gili islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air – are all characterised by idyllic sandy beaches, turquoise waters, their no motorised vehicles policy and the turtles, so many turtles!
The islands are known as the ‘Turtle Capital of the World’ and each island offers fantastic opportunities for snorkelling and diving with these majestic creatures. On top of this, these three islands all offer something a bit different from the each other.
Gili Trawangan is the most developed of the three islands and sees the most tourism. Aside from restaurants, home stays, dive shops, bars etc. Gili Trawangan is particularly renowned as a party island and is famous (or perhaps infamous) for its magic mushrooms.
Gili Meno is the smallest, least developed and most relaxed of the Gili islands; it has no nightlife at all. It is a lesser traversed tourist spot, but is perfect for visitors seeking more total escapism from western life. The top things to do here are swimming, diving, relaxing in a hammock, reading, playing chess, and eating food from local cafes on the beach.
Gili Air is somewhere between the Trawangan and Meno in its vibrancy. There are bars and a small nightlife scene (you may even stumble upon a two-day beach party here) but it is nothing compared to Gili Trawangan. There is also a range of accommodations to suit every budget, but the main things to do here are swimming, snorkelling and surfing.
Lombok is next door to Bali but very different, having a quieter and more laid back vibe, and a fraction of the tourists, however, there is a lot to be found to keep you entertained. It has, of course, stunning beaches and turquoise waters, but it is particularly famed for the fantastic surf – check out Selong Belanak, a world famous surfing beach. Or if surfing is not your thing, you can snorkel, dive and swim here too.
The island of Lombok has much to offer visitors aside from beaches and the sea. It is formed around Mount Rinjani, Indonesia’s second-largest volcano, and tours are organised that will allow you to climb this spectacular mountain and give you the chance to see some unbeatable views. There are also cultural and religious sites to be seen; visit the Pura Lingsar temple, built in the 16th century and the holiest place on the island, where you can enjoy the space devoted to worship by a mystical branch of Islam, and even feed the holy eels in the lily-covered pond.
Flores is an incredibly fertile island, its name meaning ‘flowers’, and has an environment that is marked by its lushness in comparison to many of the other islands in the Indonesian archipelago. Its landscape comprises of volcanoes, forest, beaches and rice fields, and its incredible beauty is making it an increasingly visited spot on the tourist trail.
If in Flores, you must go to the summit of Kelimutu; the craters created by three extinct volcanoes have evolved into lakes that, due to the balance of minerals and elements in their waters, are continually gradually changing colour. It really is a magical site and one not to be missed.
There are an incalculable amount of things to do and see in the Indonesian archipelago, which could never be comprehensively listed in one place. There isn’t even enough space to list all of the islands in one article. However, here are a few specific recommendations of things that you may not want to miss out on if you find yourself visiting these tropical isles.
- If you are on Gili Meno, check out the Gili Meno Bird Park in the middle of the island. It is home to hundreds of species of birds in a natural and free environment, from peafowls and pelicans to parrots and macaws – this place has got them all and it makes for an awe-inspiring experience.
- The Komodo Dragon is native only to a set of islands in the Indonesian archipelago; Komodo, Rinca and Padar, which now make up the Komodo National Park, whose aim is to preserve the entire unique bio-structure of this area. Visit the park for a look at a totally unique part of the world. http://komodonationalpark.org
- If you are in Bali, it is recommended to rent scooters on days that you wish to go and visit surrounding natural attractions. There are multiple hire places where you can rent bikes for a cheap daily fee and it is the easiest way to get around. It is also a good idea to always have some small notes on you as most of the attractions charge tourists a small fee for entry.