Looking to knock Indonesia off your list of Southeast Asian countries that you’ve yet to visit? Don’t just stay in Bali and call it a day, though it should definitely be included in your trip. As one of the most expansive and populous nations in the region, it has much more to offer than what’s available on its most popular island.
This holistic backpacker’s guide to Indonesia will cover what’s interesting in its various regions, from Sumatra in the west to Flores in the east. Let’s get started.
1) Lake Toba, Sumatra
Those seeking a taste of wild Indonesia will be best served by heading to Sumatra, Indonesia’s largest island. Despite its size, the thick jungle and soaring mountain ranges of the interior have kept much of the island sparsely populated, which has made destinations like Lake Toba much more peaceful than other tourist draws.
Created by a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago, the crater lake that exists today is a haven for paddlers. The magma flowing beneath the surface heats up many natural springs to the delight of those that love hot water.
Outside of Chinese New Year, this spot is not overwhelmed by visitors, making it a great destination for those sick of crowded tourist traps.
2) Kalimantan, Borneo
Want to go even further off the beaten path? Head to Kalimantan, which is what the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo, is named.
As one of the world’s most bio diverse places, wildlife enthusiasts will want to consider including this part of the country on their itinerary. With hardly any tourists traveling here, you can mix with the locals and experience real adventure in your travels more effectively, than most other parts of Indonesia.
From blissfully empty beaches to jungle tours that put you in touch with orangutans and proboscis monkeys; you’ll have the time of your life in a part of the world that defines exotic.
3) Jakarta, Java
Craving a taste of the big city? You’ll get a heaping spoonful of it in Jakarta, as it ranks as one of the world’s most populous cities, with more than 30 million people living in its metro area. While travel around the region can be challenging (there is no subway system, heavy rail coverage is limited, and it can take up to an hour and a half to get to the airport from downtown in the middle of the day), its attractions are worth enduring its transit issues.
Kota Tua (also known as Old Town Batavia) is a throwback to the days when the Dutch ran the country as a colonial occupier, while Jakarta’s status as capital ensures the street food here is incredibly diverse; as dishes from every corner of the nation is represented on its sidewalks.
4) Yogyakarta, Java
Considered to be the cultural capital of Indonesia, Yogayakarta is a must stop for those heading across Java on their way to Bali. Home to countless artisans specializing in batik, an art form that’s unique to Indonesia, and various other crafts; this is the perfect place to pick up souvenirs for the family.
Additionally, there are two UNESCO recognized historic sites located just outside the city; Prambanan, a Hindu temple dating back to the 9th century, and Borobudur, a Buddhist complex built in the 8th century; both of which are considered national treasures.
5) Kuta, Bali
While the tourist buzz around Indonesia’s most popular beach can be a bit overwhelming, even at the best of times, those that love a good party shouldn’t turn down a week at Kuta Beach in Southern Bali. Nights spent at Skygarden will blur into days spent on the beach in the attempt of learning how to surf. With cheap eateries offering local and foreign favourites, for little more than a few dollars a plate at the most, you may find yourself lingering here longer than you planned.
6) Ubud, Bali
The other hub of tourism on Bali can be found in its interior, just before the terrain rises into the volcanic mountains further north. In Ubud, some of the best Balinese temples on the island can be found, and those seeking to deepen their understanding of yoga will find no shortage of teachers living in this expat haven.
Lovers of our simian cousins will want to spend some time in the Monkey Forest; take care if you’re carrying any food though, as the resident macaques will think nothing of snatching it straight from your hands. While those that want to witness a highlight if Balinese culture, should take time to see a dance show at either the Ubud Palace or Pura Taman Saraswati; the spellbinding movements of the performers could very likely be the highlight of your trip to Indonesia.
Once one heads east of Lombok, you begin to get back into off-the-beaten track territory once again. Of all the less trafficked destinations in this part of Indonesia, Flores has the most to offer the budget traveller. It’s close to Komodo National Park, which features scenic volcanic peaks, along with numerous hot springs, and is surrounded by reefs that make for world class diving, for those savvy enough to travel out this far east in the country.