So-named by crafty Portuguese colonists who spotted its pure beauty in the 16th century, ‘Flowers’ has leapt out of Bali’s shadow and is now Indonesia’s ‘one to watch.’ It’s truly beautiful; a tropical-coloured blend of fragrant forest, pristine beaches, rushing river canyons and authentic local life. Transport is improving and tourism is on the up – catch Flores now while it’s in bloom, not boom
Peaceful, but with an exciting and unpredictable bite, Sumatra has some unparalleled nature – a lush jungle thick with wild orangutans; bright turquoise volcanic lakes; isolated archipelagos, and barren beaches at every turn. It also has horrendous roads – be brave and patient and you’ll explore that longed for adventurer’s dream: the road less travelled.
Sprawling Sulawesi has been thrown into the spotlight as the home of the 2016 Solar Eclipse, but has been quietly minding its own business in the middle of Indonesia’s archipelago for centuries. An extraordinary land of four separate peninsulas separated by looming mountains, the region is split between the upland wood-carving Torajan people and the lowland Bujis, who fish, farm and hunt.
An Indonesian sleeping giant, Java is often dismissed as too chaotic, but without good reason. Its landscape gleams with emerald green rice as far as the eye can see, peppered with misty mountains and a central spine of smoking volcanoes. Aside from traditional Yogyakarta with its multi-tiered Buddhist temples, Java’s heaving cities aren’t enticing, so avoid them and indulge in all its best bits.
Not to be outdone by Komodo, Rinca (pronounced Rin-cha) is a smaller island, but close to transport links at Labuan Bajo, so can be easily done in a day. It has a denser dragon population and less grassland covering its steep slopes, so spotting dragons sunbathing in the bush is virtually guaranteed; you’ll probably glimpse monkeys, buffalo, wild pigs and Timor deer lurking too.
You head to Komodo for one reason: to lay eyes on the planet’s closest thing to a dinosaur – the Komodo dragon, a giant of a lizard that can measure up to 3 metres long. The island’s eponymous national park starts at Loh Liang, a bustling village teeming with chickens, goats and kids. They used to feed them live to the dragons (the goats, not the kids), but thankfully that’s now stopped.
Ubud is Bali’s spiritual heart – a point played up by tourism, but not to the detriment of its spiritual core. A hive of creativity set amongst emerald-green rice terraces, it’s known for its artistic outpouring of talented dancers, musicians, artists and craftspeople, the work of which lines its cultured streets alongside holistic healing centres and busy cafes. Organic cafes, naturally.
This national park is one of orangutan conservation’s good guys – a huge natural space of over 740,000 acres in central Kalimantan, Borneo, which began as a game reserve specifically for the protection of orangutan way back in 1937. It’s the only protected area in Southeast Asia with massive tracts of wetlands, lowlands, mature tropical heath and swamp forest as well as over 400 species of tree.
Kuta is possibly one of the least attractive places on Earth, let alone in Indonesia. Like the sleazy remnants of a three-day party, it’s a burned-out mess full of people wearing crap-sloganed T-shirts and talking rubbish. Unless you’re someone that likes to drop litter on beaches and drink until you’re sick, it’ll make you feel dirty, and not in a good way.
Alas, the Bali-bashing continues with Seminyak – an uninviting area of steel-grey sand and dirty sea the colour of bruises when they start to go brown. It is quite chic in a sort of splash-the-cash shopping and eating way, but sadly even some of the restaurants are ruined by pretentious expats, many of which have contributed to the areas overdevelopment with shouty, showy villas.
Completing Bali’s triumvirate of tat is Legian, an area favoured by unsuspecting honeymooners. The beaches here and nicer and cleaner than some, but because of the cheap bar scene, attention is drawn away from the golden sand by loutish tourists devouring beer and chips in their masses. Offensive tourists and a shocking amount of drug dealers lining the streets – bad combo.
By no means the fault of the park, which is in fact very beautiful, the finger of irresponsibility here points firmly at the guides who sell ill advised close encounters with orangutans to ill prepared tourists who think it’s cute to feed them. Sadly, the guides are likely doing it out of necessity, but left over nasi goreng does not a healthy orangutan meal make, so the experience is best avoided.