It’s home to some spectacular cities, islands and remote communities, but the enchanting isle of Bali is probably the first place that comes to mind when you conjur images of Indonesia. With its black sand beaches, majestic waterfalls and rolling rice fields, who can blame you? It’s the most popular holiday destination in the country, but are there places to visit in Indonesia other than Bali?
As the world’s largest island nation, Indonesia is brimming with mesmerizing landscapes and different cultures. There’s something for everyone wherever you go in this country, and although Bali offers its own plethora of diverse experiences, there are a host of magical destinations beyond the Island of the God’s that shouldn’t be ignored.
We’re here to show you that Indonesia is so much more than the glitzy tourist hub and these destinations deserve a visit. From the bustling capital, to the dense Sumatran jungle, Indonesia is just waiting to be explored. Let’s get into it.
Located just a few hours by sea off Bali’s east coast, Lombok is a vast Indonesian island, part of the Lesser Sunda Island chain. Well known for its lush white sands, breathtaking waterfalls and epic surf spots, it has no shortage of sights to rival Bali’s and the island is drawing more visitors year after year.
Kuta, like the neighborhood of the same name in Bali, is a particularly popular surfer’s destination, while Gerupuk on the south of the island, and Ekas and Selong Balanak are all great for beginner’s waves. Mount Rinjani is also a pull factor for adrenaline junkies. Located in the north of the island, this active volcano rises almost 4,000 meters above sea level, making it Indonesia’s second highest point.
The multi-day trek to the crater is a worthy experience for all adventure seekers, but climb at your peril as Rinjani has erupted as recently as 2016.
There’s plenty else to do in Lombok, whatever your holiday style. Diving, snorkeling, and a sea turtle hatchery, there’s even a pearl farm here. For everything Bali has to offer with a bit more nature and fewer crowds, Lombok is your best bet.
Situated off Lombok’s west coast, Gili Trawangan, or Gili T, is the largest and most popular of the three Gili Isles, offering a remote island paradise removed from civilization. Gili Trawangan is a tropical playground, and not far off a desert island if it weren’t for the slight development of infrastructure over the last few years of rising popularity.
The laidback, white sandy shores are a place for bare foot relaxation, with fantastic sunset spots, charming boutique hotels and motor-vehicle-free pathways. The only transport on Gili T are bicycles and horse and carriages, and this element alone will have you transported back to decades gone to enjoy the slower pace of life.
It might be larger than the neighboring isles of Gili Meno and Gili Air, but Trawangan is still just three kilometers long and two kilometers wide and you can ride around the whole island in under an hour. It has a mere population of 800, but has earned quite a reputation as a party hub with its English pubs, backpacker hostels and local drinking culture. Unlike Bali, the Gilis and Lombok are Muslim islands, but there are no strict alchohol laws and foreigners have been partying here since the 1980s.
Snorkel the Gili Meno underwater statue, lose yourself in the ocean views as you cycle along the shoreline, and guarantee turtle sightings, especially in the low season. You don’t even need to be snorkeling in the Gilis to catch a look at one of these aquatic beauties, they’ll often pop up from the surface of the shallow waters for air. You won’t find that in the wild waves of Canggu, that’s for sure.
Covered entirely by the Komodo National Park, Komodo Island is an otherworldly region and a bucket list Indonesian travel destination. Comprising rusty-red volcanic hills, dense forests, savannah planes and pink sands, you won’t find anywhere like it in the world and it’s just a few hours by plane from Bali.
If you hadn’t already guessed, Komodo is also the home of the infamous Komodo Dragon, the closest surviving species to the dinosaurs. These large monitor lizards are formidable predators and they populate the island of Komodo exclusively in their thousands.
The only accommodation on Komodo itself is a small collection of bungalows operated by the national park, usually reserved for film crews and you can’t visit the island without a guide. The most popular way to see Komodo National Park is to embark on a boat charter to enjoy the island from the water and its incredible marine life at the same time.
Explore the coral reefs, hike the mangrove shrublands and watch the sunset from the ocean. Komodo is also home to a unique view point where you can see a pink sand beach, a black sand beach and a white sand beach all at the same time.
Although technically belonging to the same island group, Nusa Penida is separated from Bali by the Badung Strait and offers some of the most spectacular natural beauty within a stone’s throw of the Island of the Gods. Tantalizing azure waters, limestone cliffs and Instagram-worthy viewpoints, the island often makes its way into the highlights lists of all Bali’s visitors, and for good reason.
Nusa Penida is less than an hour from Bali by boat and so makes for a great day-trip if you’re situated on the island. Authentic and laidback but still tourist-friendly and with enough facilities, Nusa Penida is also great for a few night’s stay and there’s enough to keep you busy. From the crystalline tidal lagoons to the iconic T-rex viewing point, the alluring waters of Crystal Bay and the treacherous trek to Diamond Beach, you won’t be bored.
Nusa Penida is also usually at the top of the list for snorkeling and diving trips in Bali with diverse marine life from turtles to manta rays and expansive coral reefs. You’ll find underwater statues and temples between Penida and its neighbor, Nusa Ceningan, and you can spend hours in the water being hypnotised by the colorful submarine life.
Sitting on the northwest coast of the island of Java, Jakarta is Indonesia’s modern capital with an eclectic mix of cultures and architectural influences. The city is the economic, cultural and political center of Indonesia, and believe it or not, the largest and most populous city in Southeast Asia with almost 11 million inhabitants.
Jakarta is a megacity by all means and a world away from Bali’s shores where Denpasar is as urban as it gets. But this is why Jakarta deserves a visit and you’ll find exciting nightlife, shopping, and entertainment at every turn.
Like many other Asian metropolises, the city has a bad reputation for its high levels of pollution and traffic-choked center. But with most Indonesian tourists heading to the islands, Jakarta retains an authentic feel with which Bangkok can’t compete. Friendly and welcoming locals make the most of the party scene which is known to be among the best in Asia. You’ll also find a unique blend of Javanese, Malay, Chinese, Arab, Indian, and European influences that have trickled down into the language, art, and cuisine.
The old town, Kota Tua, is scattered with Dutch colonial buildings and you’ll also find Jakarta’s Chinatown here, known as Glodok, and the old Sunda Kelapa port, where traditional wooden schooners still bob up and down. Check out the high rise sky bars to enjoy a sundowner as the day ends over the city, and check out the man made beaches to the north.
Jakarta might be a world away from Bali, but Sumatra is a universe away from both. The elongated island located west of Java and south of the Malay Peninsula is known for its rugged terrain and wild natural beauty. It might be home to some bustling cities like Medan and Banda Aceh, but with smoldering volcanoes and tropical rainforests, Sumatra is best known for its mesmerizing wildlife.
The island also has some of Indonesia’s richest oil reserves, coalfields, and gold and silver deposits. Most of the country’s rubber, coffee, tea, and pepper are also grown here on plantations and much of the island is protected by national parks. Kerinci Seblat National Park is Indonesia’s largest wildlife reserve, covering 14,000 square kilometers of jungle and mountains. Closely followed by Mount Leuser National Park which dominates 8,000 square kilometers of the island and is home to one of the richest tropical rainforests in the world.
The Leuser Ecosystem provides food and water to millions of Indonesian and the unique biodiverse forest has been relied upon by generations of the Gayo, Alas, Kluet, Aneuk, Jamee, and Karo peoples who occupy Mount Leuser. Also known as Gunung Leuser National Park, it straddles the border of North Sumatra and is one of the world’s most important conservation areas. The endangered Sumatran orangutan lives freely here and here alone beneath the dense canopy. Some of the last remaining populations of wild tigers in Asia also wander the rainforests.
Not just anyone can venture to Sumatra’s wild national parks, but wildlife tourism and conservation trips give visitors the rare chance to observe some of the animal kingdom’s most majestic beasts in their last remaining habitats. Jungle treks and volunteer programs are a good option for those hoping to visit Indonesia’s furthest northwest lands.
Located in eastern Indonesia, Sumba is one of the Lesser Sundas and a unique island where deserted paradise meets rugged freedom and cultural awakening. It might be just a few hours from Bali and Lombok, but Sumba is far less trodden and one of the poorest of Indonesia’s islands. Still, visitors have the chance to learn about the worshipped ancestors, natural spirits, and unspoken all-hearing god of the Marapu people here, from the comfort of the island’s luxury accomodation.
Perhaps what Sumba has become most famous for in recent years is the Nihi resort, launched in 2012 and voted the number 1 hotel in the world two years in a row. The island is now renowned for its surfing, and tourists flock from far and wide to ride the iconic wave at Nihi Sumba, if they can afford to.
You’re also likely to have seen images of the wild sea horses that dwell in the shallow waters of Sumba. Horses have been part of the cultural identity of the island since the 18th-century and Nihi Sumba homes 17 of their own Sandalwood stallions, the island’s native breed, that roam freely along the beaches, unknowingly poised for the perfect postcard shot.
There are places other than Nihi to stay on Sumba, but the island has quickly become associated with upscale resorts. Still, it remains a beautiful place for finding oneself in nature and experiencing a different side to Indonesian culture.
Where in Indonesia is cheaper than Bali?
Bali is a budget-friendly destination and you don’t need to break the bank when visiting the Island of God’s. Still, it is not reflective of Indonesia as a whole and is one of the most expensive destinations in the country. Consider Northern Sumatra, East Java and even Lombok if you want some real Southeast Asian shoe-string deals.
Is Jakarta worth visiting?
Jakarta is an underrated travel destination and often forgotten by tourists who head straight to the islands of Indonesia. Overshadowed by other Asian metropolises like Bangkok and Saigon, it’s usually not top of the list for city breaks either, but Jakarta is definitely worth visiting and the capital is brimming with history, fascinating architecture, and some of the best nightlife on the continent.
When is the best time to visit Indonesia?
Indonesia is a vast island nation and the weather differs depending on which region you visit. The best time to visit Bali and the Lesser Sunda Islands, including Lombok, the Gilis and Sumba, is between May and October when the dry season is at its peak and you can expect blue skies, little rain, and great surf.
May, June and September are the best months for seeing Java when the humidity isn’t at its strongest like it is in the depths of summer, but you can still expect little rain. And while Sumatra is driest from May until September, you should expect occasional showers no matter the time of year here with the humid and tropical climate. Indonesia’s wet season dominates October until April all over the country, but you’ll also find fewer crowds and the best deals at this time, if you’re willing to brave the rain.