Have you seen this Bali and beyond too?
This vast country’s 17,000 islands would take years to explore. The world’s largest island nation, Indonesia comprises about 17,000 islands sprawling over almost two million square kilometres either side of the equator. It includes half of the world’s second-largest island, New Guinea, and most of the world’s third-largest, Borneo, as well as rugged Sumatra and busy Java. Its distinctive wildlife includes pygmy elephants, tree kangaroos and the Komodo dragon; its dramatic landscape embraces ancient rice terraces, untamed jungle, islands with pristine coral fringed by white sands and lava-spewing volcanoes. Indonesia’s cultures are as diverse as its geography. Swept by the Indian and Pacific Oceans, it’s one of the best diving destinations in the world – many would argue the best. Year-round breaks in warm, tropical waters bring surfers flocking to Bali, as well as nearby Lombok and the westerly Java islands.You could spend years exploring Indonesia and barely scratch the surface. We focus on the most-visited areas – Bali, Java, Lombok and up-and-coming Flores and Komodo – with some suggestions for adventures further afield.
Bali is busier than ever, with tourist numbers hitting record highs. However, sometimes it can seem as if the whole world has joined you to watch the sunset on Kuta beach. There are places where you can relax with very little company.
More people live on Java , which makes for slow travel and congested cities. Yet this is also the heartland that defines Indonesia: shadow puppets, courtly ritual, elaborate dances, smouldering volcanoes and timeless landscapes. Home to the world’s largest Muslim population, it’s also studded with ancient Hindu temples, and its quarter of a billion inhabitants practice six officially recognised religions, as well as a range of animist rituals.Banyuwangi in eastern Java is reached by an hour-long ferry hop from the port of Gilimanuk in north-west Bali, making the Ijen plateau above Banyuwangi a natural trip from Bali. Head here for hot springs, coffee plantations, spice gardens, perfectly conical volcanoes and a stunning crater lake where locals still mine blocks of sulphur. In Central Java, the eighth-century Buddhist temple of Borobudur, serene in the lush volcanic highlands, is one of the world’s great religious monuments. The cultured university city of Yogyakarta, one of few Indonesian cities with a preserved historic centre, is much more than just a base for exploring Borobudur and the temples at nearby Prambanan.
All most visitors to Lombok see of this intriguing island are the trio of white sand isles known as the Gilis, off the north-west coast: party-hearty Gili Trawangan, stylish Gili Air and less-developed Gili Meno. Fast boats run directly from Bali to these hedonistic hotspots, which are famously free of powered vehicles. While there are many better diving destinations in Indonesia, the Gilis are a popular base to learn both scuba and free diving.
After Lombok, the most visited of the hundreds of islands that make up Nusa Tenggara, although Sumba is increasingly popular too. Most people fly from Bali to Labuanbajo, the gateway to spectacular diving and the dragons at Komodo national park.