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.
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.
Getting There: Fly in via Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (IATA: CGK, ICAO: WIII).
See Javanese Culture at Yogyakarta
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.
Learn to Play a Sundanese "Angklung" in Bandung
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.
Climb to Nirvana at Borobudur Temple
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.
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).
Party or Relax on the Gili Islands
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.
See the Blue Flames on Kawah Ijen
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.
See Life Collide With the Afterlife at Toraja
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.
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.
Dive in the Coral Triangle
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!
Meet the King of Lizards at Komodo National Park
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.
Visit a Sacred Lake in Rinjani National Park
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.
Watch Orangutans Play in Tanjung Puting
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.
Party Like a Batak at the Lake Toba Festival
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.
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.)