Is Indonesia worth visiting? Let’s put it this way:Here’s a land of 17,000 islands, strung out from the Sulu Sea to the Indian Ocean, threaded by palm-topped beaches, blessed with some of the best surf this side of Hawaii, crumpled by smoking volcanoes and dashed with primeval jungles where orangutans still swing in the boughs of teak trees. AKA – yes! Indonesia is totally worth visiting.
If you’re lucky enough to get the chance to jet over to this sun-splashed corner of the globe, then get ready for a real wonderworld of adventure, culture, history, and natural beauty. From the surf meccas of Bali and Lombok to the remote rainforests that cover Sulawesi to the soaring mountain calderas that belch ash into the airs of Java, this land of coffee and coastlines could just be the experience of a lifetime.
So, is Indonesia worth visiting? Read on to see 11 reasons why we think this incredible archipelago nation should be on everyone’s bucket list. We’ve included some of the most iconic aspects of the country – like the isle of Bali, where the black-sand beaches tumble into the surf – along with some of the lesser known things – like the primeval dragons of Komodo. Let’s begin…
The Komodo dragon can reach up to 10 feet in length and weigh more than 300 pounds. They are the world’s heaviest lizard and a darn sight to be seen, that’s for sure. They stalk all of the protected and remote Sunda Islands, many of which now fall within the boundaries of the Komodo National Park.
Although they can walk up to seven miles a day, they much prefer to stay close to home, never venturing too far from where they were hatched. Eating up to an incredible 80% of their body weight in a single sitting, feasting on almost anything, these lizards are masters of camouflage, so make sure to keep your eyes open when visiting the reserve if you’re keen on an encounter.
In 1980, Indonesia established the Komodo National Park to help protect these unique lizards and their habitats. The preserve now stretches for 700 square miles and also provides a refuge for many other terrestrial animals, such as the orange-footed scrub fowl, the Sulawesi giant rat, and the Timor deer.
It also supports rich marine environments that host whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, corals, sponges, manta rays – the list goes on. What’s more UNESCO has now declared the whole area a World Heritage Site and it’s also darn stunning, with pink-tinged beaches and dusty mountains galore. Wowza.
Indonesia has some seriously fantastic hotels
Whether it’s in the capital city of Jakarta, by the shores of jet-setter-fav Nusa Dua in Bali, or a yoga retreat on the beautiful Gili Islands that dot the Bali Sea, you can get ready for some seriously spectacular hotel options in this corner of the planet. Fusing elements of Dutch colonial design with the mysticism of Southeast Asia, some of the stays here manage to take luxury to all new and dizzying heights. They often come with on-site spa facilities, gyms, and – of course – swimming pools of all shapes and sizes.
There’s definitely not enough room in this guide to list all of the enticing hotels across the 17,000 islands of Indo. However, we’ve picked out just one or two that lead the way, including five-star palaces in the buzzy capital and uber-romantic honeymoon spots on the Isle of the Gods. Check them out:
- The Hermitage ($$$) – A gorgeous hotel in the frenetic heart of Jakarta, The Hermitage is a Tribute Portfolio Hotel that oozes a nostalgic feel through it’s Dutch-era architecture. Inside, the rooms are grand and opulent, with chandeliers and marble bathrooms, with many opening to offer courtyard views of the swimming pool.
- The Apurva Kempinski Bali ($$$) – You won’t want to leave the Apurva Kempinski Bali. Set above the yellow-tinged beaches and reefs of Nusa Dua, it’s a highly rated resort hotel with a touch of classic Balinese style and a sumptuous spa to boot.
- Hotel Tugu Lombok ($$$) – Explore the remoter island of Lombok (more on that below) in style, by choosing to stay at this exclusive resort hotel on hidden Sire Beach. The villa suites spill onto the sands, or offer private pools in the gardens. It’s got honeymoon written all over.
- Menjangan Dynasty Resort ($$$) – Perched on the northwest tip of Bali, this highly rated resort is a honeymoon fav. Come for a remote beach overlooking the mountains, private yacht charters, scuba packages and more.
Bali & Lombok
If we had to pick out just two islands from the nigh-on 20,000 that make up the country of Indonesia for this list, it would have to be Bali and Lombok. They reign as the two most popular island destinations in the country, offering endless beaches, a hit of intriguing Hindu culture, and more surfing than you could possibly get through in a single trip.
Let’s start with Bali. The legendary Isle of the Gods, it’s not at all like the rest of Indo. The first thing you’re likely to notice is that the minarets of mosques have been replaced with the carved stone tops of Hindu shrines. On top of that, you get a trio of resort towns on the south coast – Kuta, Legian, Seminyak – that come packed with hostels and surf camps. Go further and you’ll hit Canggu, the world’s current digital nomad mecca. Go south and you come to Bukit, where surf breaks like Ulus and Padang Padang roar into the cliffs. It’s bucket-list stuff from head to toe.
From there, look east. The isle of Lombok lies just across the strait. It’s much more than just a surfer’s paradise, although it is that, too – check out the breaks of Kuta Lombok. Massive volcanos like Mount Rinjani score the skyline for trekkers who want to find glimmering lakes on high. Fishing towns like Senggigi are now dotted with lux villas that spill onto the white-sand beaches. And this is the gateway to the smaller islands of the Gilis, for when you want to party and laze in hammocks and soak up the sun.
It’s not too expensive
Is Indonesia worth visiting if you’re traveling on a budget? Well, yes. Southeast Asia as a whole is considered to be one of the best bargain regions for those on a shoestring. Thankfully, Indonesia lives up to that rep. It’s one of the most inexpensive places to both live and explore in this corner of the globe. More than that, average vacation costs here are estimated to be around half of what they are in Thailand, and roughly in line with the prices paid in very low-cost countries like Vietnam.
Backpacking travelers can even get by on a budget of around $10 a day. With $20 a day, we think you’ll be able to add in some fun activities, while $40 a day gets you into the nicer restaurants and the better hotels. Talking of hotels, there are some excellent bargains to be had in these parts, with even 5-star palaces coming in at just over $55 a night on occasion, usually if you manage to get a good deal during the rainy season.
Some other sorts of prices you can expect in this wallet-friendly part of the planet are:
- A domestic beer like Bintang in a bar: 35,000 IDR ($2.40)
- A meal in an inexpensive local restaurant: 25,000 IDR ($1.70)
- An internal flight from Jakarta to Bali without bags: 570,000 IDR ($42)
The culture & history
Although Indonesia only found independence in the 1940s, its story goes back many millennia. In fact, the discovery of the so-called Java Man, the remains of an early hominid thought to be up to a million years old, indicate that the tale of this land goes back very far indeed. Little is known how the first organized towns and civilizations arrived, but arguably the most influential episode came with the coming of islanders from across the Pacific sometime around 2,000 BC.
That started a period where the archipelago of Indonesia was predominantly inhabited by seafaring fishing communities. The religion that first came to the fore also wasn’t the Islam that dominates today. Instead, it was Hinduism, which flourished with the Srivijaya trade empire that stretched from here to southern Cambodia and Thailand. Buddhism also arrived sometime in the 10th century, leaving mighty religious buildings like the great temples of Borobudur (a must-see for culture lovers on Java) in its wake.
The colonial era meant that powers from Europe came and fought over Indonesia, with a particular eye on the strategic sea trading lanes and the wealth of the rainforests. It’s possible to see traces of that age’s architecture in the structures of cities like Jakarta and Semarang today, while the National Museum of Indonesia is the place to go for a bit more background into that tumultuous but defining period.
Indonesia is an island nation. Yep, that means it’s probably going to be a touch trickier to get around than, say, Thailand. However, it also means there’s an abundance of ocean to explore. It’s pretty hard to get too far from the sea here, even when you’re clambering up the volcanos in the heart of Java.
One of the best and most sought-after spots for snorkeling and diving is Raja Ampat. It’s hailed as the crown jewel of the Coral Triangle, a region of rich coral gardens that, in turn, has been called the “Amazon of the Seas”. Heading there means getting to see an incredibly diverse range of marine life, including over 550 species of coral and more than 1,000 different species of coral fish. Tempted? The best way to arrive at Raja Ampat is by direct flight from Jakarta to Sorong and then a boat transfer out to the diving camps.
An alternative option is to hit the Gili Islands. They are another of the scuba hotspots of Indo but there has been a lot of recent discussion about out-of-control pollution levels. We’re not entirely sure what the situation is now, but when we visited in 2013, the Bali Sea that washes against the shores of these three pinprick islets of Lombok was clear and booming with life – sea turtles were a regular sighting even before breakfast!
The Indonesian kitchen is a hodgepodge of influences from all over the Indian Ocean basin. You get the fiery flair of Thailand mixed with the earthy subtleties of the Pacific islands, a touch of exotic Polynesia combining with the tangy umami of China and the Far East. Food lovers – especially those with a penchant for soy and chili – will not be disappointed!
One of the most well-known traditional dishes throughout Indonesia is nasi goreng. If you only have time to sample one national dish, make it that! It’s basically a quick-wok fry of rice, fried egg, kecap manis soy sauce, chili and green veggies, often topped with peanuts and beansprouts. There’s also a noodle version known as mie goreng. On top of that, you also might want to sample:
- Basko – A savory soup served with chicken broth, yellow noodles, fried shallots, celery, hot sauce, and special meatballs made with beef.
- Bir Pletok – A non-alcoholic beverage made from ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, sugar, and lemongrass.
- Gado Gado – A mashup of blanched veg, boiled egg, peanut sauce, and zingy citrus dressing.
- Satay – Try these skewers with peanut satay sauce from street-food vendors all across the country. They come in meat and in veg options, usually made from tempeh or tofu.
Finally, the same goes in Indo as goes in India, Thailand, and Cambodia: Eat local for the best experience. In Jakarta that means checking out the street food bazaars where Gulai Tikungan outlets abound, or hitting the traditional warung taverns (family owned kitchens) of Bali and Lombok. They’re also sure to be cheaper than the hotel eatery!
Indonesia is up there with Hawaii and France and Australia as unquestionably one of the world’s most legendary surf destinations. A number of the most iconic waves around make their home here, and there are spots to suit all levels, from complete beginners to total pros.
Bali is usually the go-to place. We’ve surfed there for years, and, although line ups have swelled a lot, the quality of the breaks and the surf infrastructure is, simply, on another level. First time riders can make for the bumping resort town of Kuta on the south coast, where oodles of rental spots and trainers are located right on the sand. Oh, and all of the waves there are relatively easy-going beach breaks. Those looking for a challenge should be sure to venture to Bukit – a peninsula to the south that holds the likes of Uluwatu, Padang Padang, and Green Balls.
Don’t go thinking that the surf in Indonesia is limited to Bali, either. The next-door isle of Lombok has epic intermediate reef breaks in its own Kuta on the south coast, along with strong point breaks in Sengiggi. Then you get the likes of G Land in East Java, a barrelling left-hand rifle bolt of a wave that attracts the Kelly Slaters among us. Finally, upcoming surf areas like the Mentawais also beckon, offering empty reef breaks and unexplored coastline.
Nature and national parks
Indonesia is a wild, wild land. Make no mistake that the likes of Kuta, Bali and Jakarta are more than outnumbered here by untamed swathes of rainforests, smoke-belching mountains and idyllic coastal reserves where you’re more likely to meet a manta ray that a coconut tout. Yep, for those who really want to stray off the beaten path in Asia these days, Indonesia has plenty of options, including well over 50 designated national parks. Ones we think are worthy of the bucket list include:
- Komodo National Park – A strange land of pink-tinged beaches and islands inhabited by prehistoric dragons (see above for more info on this one!).
- Mount Leuser National Park – A vast enclave of old-growth forest in Sumatra, where you might just spot an orangutan in the wild!
- Bunaken National Park – Covering the rich coral gardens of Sulawesi, this one’s for encountering angelfish, seahorses, and brain sponges.
- Ujung Kulon National Park – A one-horned rhino that’s uber-endangered still lives in this highly protected reserve in Java, as do leopards, gibbons, and macaques.
- Kerinci Seblat National Park – Encompassing 14,000 square kilometers of land, this rather unknown park is for the Bear Grylls out there, offering sightings of wild forest elephants and off-radar trekking.
To dazzle the Insta feed
Indonesia is pretty darn stunning. We’ve probably already hammered that home by waxing lyrical about the coral-tinged beaches of Komodo and the smoky mountains of Java. What’s certain is that it’s a veritable palette for the Instagram artist and the budding travel photographer. There are locations here that will dazzle on your feed; places that will garner thumbs up as faster than the surf barrels peel into Uluwatu.
Of course, half the fun will be in finding the most photo-worthy locations for yourself. But here are a few suggestions to get started with:
- Tanah Lot – A Balinese temple on a craggy rock surrounded by the Indian Ocean.
- Borobudur – The rows and rows of stone-carved stupas here look especially moody at sunrise.
- Mount Bromo – Catch a mist in the valley below and Bromo rising up in the middle: Bingo!
- Hanging Gardens Of Bali – Lush terraces of palm trees and paddies in the heart of Bali. There’s a hotel with an infinity pool that’s a darling of the influencer crowd.
It’s easy to get to
Okay, okay, so we appreciate that this is a subjective thing. It all depends on where you start from, right? True. But the point is that Indonesia is one of the hubs of Southeast Asia. It’s well placed on the Equator between the isles of the Philippines to the east and the Malay Peninsula to the north. Basically, if you’re looking to put together a trip from one end of the region to the other, it’s an obvious pitstop on the way.
More than that, it serves as an arrival point for loads of low-cost short-haul connections, not to mention a destination for oodles of long-haul flights that come in from Europe and North America. Take the Soekarno–Hatta International Airport in Jakarta as an example. It’s the most popular arrival point in Indo, but by no means the only one. Still, there’s a line up of flights going there that includes connections to Kuala Lumpur with AirAsia, Singapore with Batik Air and others, and everywhere from Sydney to Texas with the bigger carriers and flag carriers.
Trends in airfare revealed by Momondo show that the cheapest time to look for flights to Indonesia is around March, and then again in October. There are noticeable peaks in the cost of tickets around Christmas and New Year. It’s also always a good idea to book your seats as early as possible, as flights to major tourist destinations like Jakarta and Bali can skyrocket at short notice.
So, is Indonesia worth visiting?
Is Indonesia worth visiting? How could that ever be in doubt? This incredible country of ancient Buddhist temples and rich Islamic culture ranges from the Sulu Sea to the edges of Malaysia. As it goes, it offers of endangered beasts, some of the finest surf spots on Earth, taste-bud tingling food, trekking through old-growth jungle, and some pretty fantastic hotels. What’s more, this guide is really only scratching the surface – there are oodles more reasons why Indo should be in your sights but we’ll let you discover them for yourself when you land!