The Top 15 Things to Do in Indonesia

Ancient Cultures, Excellent Food, Sunny Beaches and Much More

Aerial photograph of the Tegallalang Rice Terraces on Bali

 

Andrey Danilovich / Getty Images

While Bali remains Indonesia's undisputed favorite tourism stop, the 17,000 other islands in Indonesia offer plenty of surprises of their own. Take an extended itinerary beyond Bali to find the living remnants of an empire; street food that beats any five-star chef; beautiful beaches forgotten by the world; and trekking trails up active volcanoes, among many other things.

Plan your next Indonesia trip around the stops on this list, and open your mind to the possibilities.

01 of 15

Eat Street Food — or Any Food — in Jakarta

Pancong cake or kue pancong and sugar on a green plate

JokoHarismoyo / Getty Images

The city of Jakarta is one of the world’s top street food cities, bringing Sundanese, Balinese, Javanese and several other cuisines into one place. Jakarta’s food scene remains consistently vibrant as you go from restaurant to street stall, from the Padang restaurants native to Sumatra to an endless assortment of street food options.

Between visits to Monas and antiquing at Jalan Surabaya, look for kaki lima (food carts) and have as much as you like – local street food is not only delicious, it’s dirt-cheap!

Getting There: Fly in via Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (IATA: CGK, ICAO: WIII).

02 of 15

See Javanese Culture at Yogyakarta

A woman kneeling and a man in a mask standing, performing Ramayana at Prambanan, Yogyakarta

 TripSavvy / Mike Aquino

Address
Kraton, Yogyakarta City, Special Region of Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Home to the last reigning sultan in Indonesia, Yogyakarta retains trappings of the grand Javanese culture that once dominated Java.

The sultan’s palace – the Kraton – is still the living nucleus of Yogyakarta, immediately surrounded by a royal quarter that includes a pleasure palace, silver works and the Malioboro shopping district.

You can also visit Prambanan, a Hindu temple complex not far from the city dating back to the 9th century A.D. Stay after dark for a traditional Ramayana dance performance against Prambanan's eerily-lit towers.

Getting There: Fly in via Adisucipto International Airport (IATA: JOG, ICAO: WAHH), or ride an 8-9 hour train ride from Jakarta.  

03 of 15

Learn to Play a Sundanese "Angklung" in Bandung

Performance at Saung Angklung Udjo, Bandung, Indonesia

TripSavvy / Mike Aquino

Address
Jl. Padasuka No.118, Pasirlayung, Kec. Cibeunying Kidul, Kota Bandung, Jawa Barat 40192, Indonesia
Phone
+62 22 7271714

The bamboo instrument called the angklung is iconic to the Sundanese ethnic community centered around western Java. In the city of Bandung, stop by Saung Angklung Udjo to watch kids and teens play the angklung. You'll hear traditional music and angklung pop arrangements. Part of the show is interactive — the band leader can teach a whole hall of strangers into playing an immersive-sounding angklung orchestra

Getting There: Fly into Bandung via Husein Sastranegara International Airport (IATA: BDO, ICAO: WICC); the city is also accessible by bus or train from Jakarta.

04 of 15

Climb to Nirvana at Borobudur Temple

Peope sitting on the walls at Borobudur temple in the morning

TripSavvy / Mike Aquino

Address
Jl. Badrawati, Kw. Candi Borobudur, Borobudur, Kec. Borobudur, Magelang, Jawa Tengah, Indonesia
Phone
+62 293 788266

Borobudur is the world’s biggest Buddhist monument and a major sacred site in Southeast Asia: a terraced structure covered with over 2,600 carved stone panels and some 500 Buddha statues.

Built in 800 A.D., Borobudur represents the universe as its Buddhist builders understood it. You’ll mimic an ascent from ignorance to enlightenment as you climb the stupa's levels. The central stupa at Borobudur’s summit is empty – a symbol of Nirvana that every Buddhist aspires to.

On Waisak – the Buddha’s birthday – the temple becomes the endpoint for an early-morning procession featuring hundreds of Buddhist monks.

Getting There: Buses regularly make the one-hour drive from Yogyakarta to Borobudur.

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05 of 15

Hop Between Bali's Thousands of Temples

Pura Besakih temple complex in Bali, Indonesia

simonlong / Getty Images 

Address
Besakih, Rendang, Karangasem Regency, Bali 80863, Indonesia

Bali is culturally distinct from the rest of Indonesia – a majority-Hindu island with a vibrant indigenous culture and over 20,000 temples that embody the people’s strong faith.

Some of these temples are major tourist draws, like the Monkey Forest temple in Ubud; the “mother temple” Pura Besakih on Mount Agung; and Pura Luhur Uluwatu in South Bali, a sacred temple that also hosts a nightly kecak performance.

Getting There: Fly in to Bali via Ngurah Rai International Airport (IATA: DPS, ICAO: WADD); then visit the temples by hired car. Schedule your trip to coincide with a Balinese holiday like Galungan, or on your temple of choice’s odalan (anniversary).  

06 of 15

Party or Relax on the Gili Islands

Colorful beach umbrellas on beach, Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia

Cultura Exclusive / RUSS ROHDE / Getty Images

Address
Gili Trawangan, Gili Indah, Pemenang, North Lombok Regency, West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

The Gili Islands east of Bali started out as a backpacker's dream getaway, but has evolved into something more. Accessible by boat from either Lombok or Bali, Gili Trawangan is the island group’s main gateway. Its perimeter road, immediately adjacent to white-sand beaches, is lined with bars, restaurants and boats that can whisk you off to Gili’s other attractions. The islands ban motorized vehicles so to get around, rent a bike or ride a horse-powered cidomo cart from the beach to the more quiet inland villages.

Getting There: Take a boat to Gili Trawangan from either Bali or Mataram in Lombok.

07 of 15

See the Blue Flames on Kawah Ijen

smoking, blue sulfur flames in Kawah Ijen volcan

 

GODIN Stphane / hemis.fr / Getty Images 

Address
Pt. Perk. Lidjen, Tamansari, Licin, Kabupaten Banyuwangi, Jawa Timur 68454, Indonesia

The city of Banyuwangi in eastern Java may be famous for its batik, surfing spots and savannah-like park but as far as local experiences go, nothing beats the climbing trail to the Kawah Ijen volcano crater.

The trek up Kawah Ijen begins at about 3 a.m. – trekkers brave a dark, two-hour jaunt from Paltuding base camp, past sulfur miners and slower hikers to the lip of the crater. A downward hike then takes you to an acrid-smelling sulfur field, where the oxidizing chemicals create an eerie blue fire-like glow.

Getting There: Banyuwangi International Airport (IATA: BWX, ICAO: WADY) serves as the air gateway to the area; hire a car to take you to Paltuding.

08 of 15

See Life Collide With the Afterlife at Toraja

famous burial site in Lemo with coffins placed in caves carved into the rock, guarded by balconies of dressed wooden statues, images of the dead persons (called tau tau in local language)

fbxx / Getty Images

Address
Toraja, Romben Bar., Dungkek, Kabupaten Sumenep, Jawa Timur, Indonesia

The colorful world of Toraja’s funerary culture can be seen in the local way of life — reminding onlookers that the people of Toraja don’t see their departed ancestors as very departed at all.

Buffalo skulls on the tongkonan advertise the family’s prosperity – as buffalo are very expensive. An auspiciously-colored buffalo can sell for up to $75,000 at the Pasar Bolu market. The dead rest in hand-carved liang patane caves in Lemo, guarded by tau-tau gazing sightlessly over the rice fields.

Getting There: Fly to Makassar via Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport (IATA: UPG, ICAO: WAAA). From Makassar, ride a bus to Toraja.

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09 of 15

Learn to Make Batik at Laweyan Village

close up of a hand making a batik bird in Indonesia

Jean-Marc Rosseels / Getty Images

Address
Laweyan, Surakarta City, Central Java, Indonesia

Malaysia and Indonesia may argue over who did batik first, but there’s no contest on who does batik best. The batik-making villages of Laweyan and Kauman in Solo (Surakarta), central Java settle the argument.

The shops in Solo's batik villages are all occupied by ladies making handmade patterns. Kauman churns out classical designs in the dark brown favored by the Sultan in Yogyakarta. Laweyan’s batik makers aren’t afraid to use modern designs and vibrant colors.

See the ladies at work, or sit down and try to make batik yourself, drawing lines on white cloth with a canting pen dipped in hot wax.

Getting There: Fly in from Jakarta to Solo via Adisumarmo International Airport (IATA: SOC, ICAO: WAHQ), then hire a car to take you to the batik villages.

10 of 15

Dive in the Coral Triangle

Diver with barrel sponge on wreck of USAT Liberty, Tulamben, Bali.

Mark Webster / Getty Images

Address
Raja Ampat Regency, West Papua, Indonesia

Indonesia’s 10,000 islands lie in the southwestern corner of a biodiverse “Coral Triangle” that spans Southeast Asia. With climate change looming, you’ll want to dive into these waters as soon as possible: each dive destination reveals a unique undersea paradise blooming with plant and animal life!  

Top Indonesia dive spots include: Raja Ampat in West Papua, its thousand islets home to over 75 percent of the world's coral species; East Bali, site of the USAT Liberty wreck dive site; Wakatobi, home to the world's second-largest barrier reef; and Komodo National Park, whose strong currents must be mastered to see the local turtles, manta rays and occasional Komodo dragon!

11 of 15

Meet the King of Lizards at Komodo National Park

Komodo dragon sniffing around the ranger kitchen on Rinca Island, Indonesia

TripSavvy / Mike Aquino

Address
East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

The massive Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis) dominate the Komodo and Rinca islands in their namesake national park in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara.

Some 2,500 dragons live on Rinca; its savannah-like territory only sparsely covered in trees and given totally to the dragons and their natural prey (rusa deer, wild boar and macaques).

A short trek around Rinca takes an hour to finish, beginning and ending at the ranger station near Loh Buaya, winding past resting dragons and a nesting site before ascending a hilltop overlooking Rinca's northern shore. A park ranger will walk alongside you with a long, forked stick to ward off any curious dragons.

Getting There: Fly in from Bali to Labuanbajo's Komodo Airport (IATA: LBJ, ICAO: WATO). From Labuanbajo, you can hire boats to take you to Komodo National Park.

12 of 15

Visit a Sacred Lake in Rinjani National Park

Gunung Rinjani's Senaru crater during sunrise

Abdul Azis / Getty Images

Address
Mount Rinjani, Sembalun Lawang, Sembalun, East Lombok Regency, West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

Out of Indonesia’s many volcanoes open for trekking, the 12,000-foot (3,700 meter) Gunung Rinjani is probably the most challenging to attempt — and the most rewarding to finally conquer.

Looming high above the island of Lombok east of Bali, Mount Rinjani stands in the middle of a 41,000-hectare national park. Choose from several trails, beginning with a hike from Senaru up to the Segara Anak crater lake; to a more challenging climb from Sembalun Lawang to Rinjani’s summit.

After finishing your trek, consider visiting the Sasak Sade Village near the capital of Mataram to see how the locals live.  

Getting There: Fly in to Lombok via Zainuddin Abdul Madjid International Airport (IATA: LOP, ICAO: WADL), then take a hired car to either Senggigi or Senaru. Local guides can be hired at either town.

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13 of 15

Watch Orangutans Play in Tanjung Puting

A mother orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) carries her baby on her back in the rainforest of the Tanjung Puting National Park in Borneo

Goddard_Photography / Getty Images

Address
Teluk Pulai, West Kotawaringin Regency, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia

The Tanjung Puting National Park covers about 1,170 square miles (3,040 square kilometers) of jungle in Central Kalimantan, Borneo Island. A community of orangutan lives amidst the park’s forest canopy. You can have a face-to-face encounter with the apes at the Camp Leakey research station, where scheduled meals at the jungle feeding stations attract orangutans and other denizens of the jungle.

Getting There: The trip to Tanjung Puting is as fun as the destination; fly in from Jakarta to Pangkalan Bun via Iskandar Airport (IATA: PKN, ICAO: WAGI), where a hired guide can take you by car to Kumai. From Kumai, you’ll ride a houseboat known as a klotok, beginning a two-day ride up the Sekonyer River to Tanjung Puting and Camp Leakey. 

14 of 15

Party Like a Batak at the Lake Toba Festival

Largeroup of men holding oars, rowing a bloat towars a group of seated men

Barry Kusuma / Getty Images

Address
Lake Toba, North Sumatra, Indonesia

It’s the most unique Indonesian festival on the calendar, a grand five-day party on the shores of the world’s largest volcanic crater lake on Sumatra Island.

The Lake Toba Festival celebrates the culture and history of the native Bataks, whose refined ways contrast with the violent origins of the massive lake (its last eruption almost 70,000 years ago caused a global winter).

The Festival strings together a series of Batak cultural exhibitions and product-related events. All of this unfolds with Lake Toba as a breathtaking backdrop: a reminder of nature’s beauty and occasional unpredictability.

Getting There: Fly in to Silangit International Airport (IATA: DTB, ICAO: WIMN) from Jakarta, then hire a taxi to cover the 1.5-hour ride to Lake Toba.  

15 of 15

Ride the Waves in Bali and East Java

man surfing off Gili Air, Indonesia

John Seaton Callahan / Getty Images

Out of Indonesia’s 59,000 miles (95,000 kilometers) of coastline, a few hundred make up some of the world’s best surfing destinations.

Bali’s beaches remain a runaway favorite for surfers, who come during peak surfing season between April and October to take advantage of South Bali’s easygoing beach breaks, the many surf schools, and the party scene after dark.

(While popular, Bali’s beaches are by no means completely safe: follow these beach safety rules when you get there.)

Beyond Bali, surfers also go to Nusa Lembongan, Mentawai in West Sumatra and Banyuwangi in eastern Java to find off-the-beaten-path breaks.

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The Top 15 Things to Do in Indonesia