Offering unparalleled natural beauty, fascinating cultural encounters, buzzing nightlife and some of the world’s most picture-perfect beaches, Indonesia is a destination you’ll end up wanting to visit over and over again. Here are 15 reasons to travel to, and fall in love with, Indonesia.
As the largest island nation on the planet, with thousands of isles straddling the Indian and Pacific Oceans, it’s hardly surprising that Indonesia is home to, arguably, the world’s best beaches.
Thanks to the warm tropical waters surrounding its islands, the beaches that make up the 80,000km of Indonesia’s coastline are especially inviting. Some of the top picks include, but are certainly not limited to, the following incredible destinations:
- Gili Islands, a group of three small isles off the coast of Lombok. Each boasts heavenly white sand beaches, turquoise waters and pristine reefs.
- Belitung (below), an island east of Sumatra, offers unsurpassed stretches of sand, with Tanjung Tinggi Beach being one of the most popular and picturesque. Characterised by mammoth boulders and crystal waters, the island will have you hard-pressed to find a more appealing beach.
- Riung sub-district, on the north coast of Flores Island, is a gateway to 17 Islands National Park, a marine reserve home to some of the most unspoilt coral reefs.
2. Water sports
With such a vast collection of islands making up the Indonesian archipelago, the South-east Asian country offers world-class opportunities for water sports.
From swimming with sea turtles in the Gili Islands to surfing at famous breaks in Uluwatu, Bali, there’s plenty to entertain adrenaline junkies. Naturally, the rich marine ecosystems surrounding the islands provide excellent snorkelling opportunities, with some of our favourite spots being Pink Beach on Komodo, Cape Kri (Raja Ampat) and Macan Island, which, less than 90km north of Jakarta, makes it an ideal weekend getaway.
With about 300 different ethnic groups making up the Indonesia’s population, the country’s cuisine is as rich in diversity and flavour as the people who call the nation home.
Some of the most popular dishes visitors can enjoy include the famous fried rice nasi goreng, satay and gado-gado (traditional mixed salad), which is customarily made up of boiled egg, vegetables, fried tofu and lontong (rice wrapped in banana leaf).
Each region specialises in certain distinct tastes and traditional dishes. It’s therefore highly recommended that you explore and discover the delicious array of local cuisines on offer.
Indonesia is famous for its coffee. In fact, coffee products from the country are so popular around the world that the name of its most populous island, Java, has become a synonym for the caffeinated brew. Production of coffee in Indonesia began in colonial times, with the Dutch introducing its cultivation. Since then, its coffee industry has exploded, with arguably some of the world’s finest versions of the beloved drink.
Any coffee-loving visitor will no doubt be spoilt for choice when it comes to sampling the nation’s best brews. One of the most famous types of Indonesian coffee, and a must-try for the daring, is kopi luwak (below), which contains partly digested berries that have passed through the digestive tract of a luwak (civet).
Considering the vast number of ethnic groups that make up the Indonesian population, it’s unsurprising that the archipelago is bursting with rich and diverse cultures. Influences seep through from a variety of sources, including Indian, Arabic, Chinese, European, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist and Islamic.
Some of the most iconic and fascinating cultural expressions are the traditional dances of the Javanese and Balinese people, including the various types of wayang performances, such as the traditional shadow puppet performances (below) that have their origins in the mythologies of Hindu and Buddhist traditions.
Other notable aspects and expressions of Indonesian culture include handwoven Borneo-Indonesian basketry and made-in-Indonesia textiles, such as Sumatran songket cloths and Javanese batik.
6. The capital
Though many international tourists may forego a visit to the capital on their way to more popular Indonesian destinations, such as Bali, as the economic and political centre of the country, Jakarta does, in fact, offer much in the way of attractions and fun things to see and do.
As a bustling and cosmopolitan city, Jakarta is full of fascinating landmarks, monuments and museums, all depicting the rich and interesting history of the former Dutch colony. Merdeka Square and the Monas monument in the city centre offer stunning vistas of the city skyline and feature strikingly beautiful architecture.
Over and above the points of cultural and historical interest, Jakarta also boasts a thriving nightlife scene so night owls will be able to enjoy many fun evening excursions through the city’s many clubs and bars.
With a primarily tropical climate, Indonesia has some of the world’s lushest forest environments, home to several hundred, if not thousands of animal and plant species, such as the tarsier (below), many of which are endemic to the nation.
In fact, 51 per cent of Indonesia is covered in rainforest, making it one of the greenest countries on Earth. It’s therefore recommended that visitors include in their plans a forest excursion to explore the vast tracts of fertile and verdant ecosystems.
While there are plenty of affordable travel options for budget-conscious tourists, Indonesia also offers some serious luxury. One such establishment is the aptly named Hanging Gardens of Bali (below), a seven-star boutique resort in Ubud, Bali, with a very Instagrammable swimming pool.
Due to its geographical location on the edge of at least three tectonic plates, Indonesia is home to numerous volcanoes and natural volcanic formations. Two of the most beautiful volcanoes worth visiting – if for nothing other than that epic volcano selfie – are Mount Semeru and Mount Bromo, both in the eastern half of Java.
10. Lombok island
To the east of famed backpacking and spiritual destination Bali lies the island of Lombok. Blessed with thick forests, magnificent waterfalls and amazing hiking, the island provides visitors with some of Indonesia’s most epic scenery.
For the intrepid adventurer, a multi-day trek up Lombok’s Mount Rinjani is an absolute must. Enjoy views over Lake Segara Anak (below), the crater lake atop the mountain – a glorious reward at the end. Of course, Lombok and the many islets surrounding it boast some of Indonesia’s prime beaches, so make sure you check those out too.
11. National parks
Lorentz National Park located on the Indonesian half of the island of Papua is so ecologically significant, it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It is, in fact, South-east Asia’s largest national park and features dramatic landscapes and rich biodiversity, including mangroves, rainforests and even equatorial glaciers. Some of the unusual fauna you may encounter while visiting Lorentz include more than 600 colourful and exotic bird species, echidnas, a variety of marsupial species, such as the cuscus (Australasian possum), quoll and the lesser-known dingiso, a tree kangaroo species discovered only in the late 20th century.
12. Bali as a spiritual centre
Bali’s status as a backpacker’s haven and island paradise is well known the world over. Though it offers stunning beaches, delightful local delicacies and some of Indonesia’s best nightlife, it’s the spiritual side of the island that draws many.
Balinese culture is steeped in rich mythology, healing traditions and spiritual symbolism, with influences from a variety of sources, including Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Buddhism. With a wealth of awe-inspiring temples and centres offering spiritual and yoga retreats, there’s a way for every visitor to connect with their inner spirituality and refresh their mind, body and soul.
The Indonesian islands offer some of the world’s most iconic and beautiful temples that are well worth a visit. On Java, you can visit Borobudur – the impressively vast structure that is the largest Buddhist temple complex on the planet.
In Bali, you can take a purifying dip in the waters of the Hindu Tirta Empul temple and visit the epically located Tanah Lot, perched magically atop an outcrop on the coast off Beraban village.
14. Orang utans
Home to several unique species of fauna found nowhere else on Earth, Indonesia is an animal lover’s paradise. One of the country’s most iconic mammal species is the orang utan. As the only great ape found in Asia, this critically endangered animal is a humble, gentle and incredibly beautiful creature, which, when viewed in its natural habitat, can provide travellers with some of the most memorable travel experiences.
One of the best places to catch a glimpse of this mighty ape in the wild is Tanjung Puting National Park in Indonesian Borneo. It is famed for its orang utan conservation efforts and boasts some of the most magnificent forest and mangrove landscapes.
15. Komodo dragons
The largest living lizard species in the world, Komodo dragons, is another iconic Indonesian animal species, They are remarkable creatures that provide those daring enough to encounter them – with the constant presence of a local expert guide of course – one of the most unique travel experiences.
– TEXT BY SAUL LIPCHIK
PHOTOS: 123RF.COM, HANGING GARDENS OF BALI FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.