Indonesia holidays overview
Made up of some 17,500 islands, only 6,000 of which are inhabited, Indonesia is as wide as the Atlantic Ocean and spans three time zones. Bali beaches are the stuff of tropical dreams, but venture further and you’ll be rewarded with fascinating wildlife, smoking volcanoes and traditional tribal cultures. Artistic Ubud is cool and Java’s historic temples paint a vivid picture of the country’s past, but Indonesia’s trump card is lesser-known islands like Flores and Sulawesi that still offer an opportunity to tread where few others have. Lose yourself in our Indonesia travel guide.
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An adventurous tailor-made journey through Java, Indonesia
Best time to go to Indonesia
Being located near the Equator, Indonesia has a pretty even climate, with two long seasons – the cooler wet season from November to April, when rain typically falls for a few hours every day, in sudden tropical downpours, and the warmer dry season that runs from June to November. As a rule of thumb, if you’re heading to Bali alone, you can pretty much go whenever you want as the weather is ideal year-round. But June to September is the ideal time of year for island-hopping in Indonesia. Learn more about the best time to go to Indonesia.
Map & highlightsFor many travellers, Indonesia is practically synonymous with Bali with its idyllic beaches and lurid nightlife. But there are still quiet corners of this over-touristy island, and ways to escape the crowds such as hiking or cycling. Lesser-known islands include jungle-clad Sulawesi, renowned for diving and animist traditions, and Kalimantan on Indonesian Borneo, where you can see endangered orangutans. Flores, best-suited to adventurous travellers who are content with basic infrastructure, is the gateway to Komodo and its fearsome dragons. And then there is Sumatra, Indonesia’s ‘wild west’ – smoking volcanoes and dense forests where orangutans are accompanied by elephants and tigers.
Bali has one founding foot in Buddhism and the other in Hinduism and has retained the chilled out sense of calm bestowed upon it by history. Despite commercialisation and a fair bit of boozy partying, it’s a beguiling island with a paradise landscape and a very creative culture, which has helped keep it far more trendy than tacky. Bali has it all – you just need to pick the bit that suits you.
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.
Kalimantan makes up about 2/3 of Borneo – a wild and enchanting island that offers the kind of raw experience that adventurers crave. The home of abundant wildlife, traditional Dayak riverside villages and very few roads, the rivers of Kalimantan are its roadways and will lead you by boat on an exciting jungle expedition through the untamed sights and sounds of the Tanjung Puting National Park.
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 10ft 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.
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.
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.
Pint-sized Bali has suffered from mass tourism and over-development, but that doesn’t mean responsible travellers need avoid it. Pockets of remote beauty are found both on the coast and inland, best reached by guided hiking or cycling trips: emerald-green rice terraces, quiet fishing villages, coffee and spice plantations, and calmer beaches in the north. Ubud is the hotspot for culture (and yoga) on Bali, and you can escape the more commercialised aspects in the backstreets. Bali holidays are also a delight for foodies, letting you indulge in a rich blend of Malay, Indian, Chinese and uniquely Balinese cuisines.
Centrepiece of the Coral Triangle, Sulawesi is a world-class destination for diving and snorkelling, particularly in Bunaken National Park, and it is often combined with Borneo and Raja Ampat. But there’s more to life here than what goes on below the surface. Cultural Sulawesi holidays can introduce you to the famous floating village on Lake Tempe, canoe tours through the vast limestone landscape of the Maros Pangkep Karst Forest, and the fascinating and complex cultural identities in the south. Here, Islamic and Christian faiths intermingle with animist beliefs, elaborate funeral ceremonies and ornate ancestral architecture.
The Indonesian islands of Kalimantan and Sumatra are the only places in the world where orangutans are found in the wild, and tragically their habitat continues to shrink. Every trip to a sanctuary, strip of virgin rainforest or rehabilitation project makes a contribution to the conservation of orangutans and many other species of Indonesian wildlife – more so if you actually get hands-on with a volunteer project. Still undeveloped, Kalimantan is pioneer territory for travellers, and the best place to see wild orangutans here is Tanjung Putting National Park, which you explore either on foot or by houseboat.
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Fierce, fork-tongued and frighteningly fast, komodos are about as close to dragons as you can get or, probably, would ever want to get. Komodo National Park, where they menace the islands of Komodo, Rinca and Flores, is undergoing some worrying developments that are being closely watched by conservationists. Tours here are always accompanied by trained guides armed with pointy sticks, and introduce you to the giant lizards’ behaviours and diet. There are several ways to explore Komodo National Park, from day trips to overnight tours on liveaboard cruises, and even kayaking expeditions where you’ll sleep under canvas on private islands.
What’s great about family holidays in Indonesia is that the one thing all kids instantly gravitate towards – adventure – can be found here in abundance, whether that’s kayaking with komodo dragons, touring waterways by houseboat in search of endangered orangutans, or learning to scuba dive in one of the world’s best places for beginners. Tourism infrastructure on islands such as Bali and Lombok is well-developed and ideal for families. And for more intrepid types with older kids, islands such as Sulawesi and Sumatra offer everything from snorkelling off beautiful beaches to jungle trekking, and tribal culture as welcoming as it is colourful.
Types of holiday
You can barely move for adventure holidays in Indonesia, with everything from sea kayaking and liveaboard diving expeditions, to volcano trekking and snorkel safaris. Any James Patterson novels you’ve picked up at the airport will remain firmly unread. Certainly for first-time travellers to Indonesia wanting to get off the beaten track, small group holidays have much to recommend them, with expert guides leading the way and all the logistics taken care of. But if you have a firm idea of what you want to do, and would like to cherry-pick destinations, activities and experiences all the way, tailor made holidays let you do just that.
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