Young female tourist enjoying the beautiful landscape at Padar island in Komodo National Park- must visit places in Indonesia

9 Must Visit Places in Indonesia (That Aren’t Bali)

Indonesia! Just the name conjures images of turquoise waters lapping at pristine beaches, vibrant Hindu temples, and lush rice paddies swaying in the breeze. And yes, Bali, the “Island of the Gods,” absolutely delivers on that postcard-perfect promise. But Indonesia is an archipelago giant, a sprawling collection of over 17,000 islands, each with its own unique story to tell.

This island nation boasts a dazzling diversity of landscapes, from volcanic peaks clawing at the sky to ancient rainforests teeming with life. Whether you crave an adrenaline rush or a tranquil escape, Indonesia has something waiting to surprise and delight you. So, pack your bags, charge your camera, and get ready to discover the hidden gems scattered across this incredible destination.

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Sumatra

As the sixth-largest island in the world, Sumatra offers a dramatic landscape of towering volcanoes, expansive lakes, and lush rainforests. Your adventure here promises to be both diverse and engaging.

One of the crown jewels of Sumatra is Lake Toba, the largest volcanic lake in the world, formed by a massive supervolcanic eruption approximately 74,000 years ago. As you stand by its shores, you can’t help but be awed by the tranquil beauty and the enormity of the natural forces that created this serene landscape. 

Renting a scooter to explore the surrounding countryside at your own pace can be thrilling. The roads winding around the lake offer picturesque views and lead to charming villages where you can immerse yourself in the local Batak culture.

Want a taste of cultural experiences? Don’t miss the chance to visit the traditional Batak houses in villages like Ambarita and Simanindo. These intricately carved wooden houses are not only architectural marvels but also a gateway to understanding the rich history and traditions of the Batak people.

No visit to Sumatra is complete without exploring its lush rainforests. Head to the Gunung Leuser National Park, one of the largest national parks in the world and a part of the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra UNESCO World Heritage site. Here, you can embark on a jungle trek to spot the elusive Sumatran orangutans and other exotic wildlife like the Sumatran tiger, rhinoceros, and elephants.

Lombok

Horizontal shot of Mount Rinjani near the beautiful lake in Lombok, Indonesia

Known for its stunning beaches, epic surf spots, and the majestic Mount Rinjani, Lombok is a sanctuary for those who seek both relaxation and adventure.

One of the top places in Lombok for your bucket list is Mount Rinjani, Indonesia’s second-highest volcano. This active volcano offers one of the most challenging and rewarding treks in Southeast Asia. If you’re up for a multi-day hike, embarking on this journey will reward you with breathtaking views from the rim, overlooking the stunning Segara Anak Crater Lake. The lake itself is a sight to behold, with its deep blue waters and the smaller active volcano, Gunung Baru Jari, sitting at its center. While the trek is demanding, the natural scenery and sense of accomplishment when reaching the summit at sunrise are unparalleled.

If hiking a volcano isn’t quite your pace, Lombok’s beaches offer a more laid-back alternative. Kuta Beach, not to be confused with its namesake in Bali, is renowned for its crystal-clear waters and soft white sands. It’s a perfect spot for sunbathing, swimming, and even surfing. The surf breaks here are world-class, and whether you’re a beginner or an experienced surfer, you’ll find waves to suit your skills.

For a taste of local culture, take a short drive to the traditional Sasak villages such as Sade or Ende. Here, you can witness the unique architecture of the Sasak houses with their distinctive alang-alang (grass-thatched) roofs and learn about the daily lives and weaving traditions of the local communities. Purchasing handmade textiles or pottery directly from the artisans not only provides you with a unique souvenir but also supports the local economy.

Do not miss the opportunity to explore the Gili Islands, located just off the northwest coast of Lombok. These three small islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air – are accessible by a short boat ride and offer a tranquil escape. Each island has its own character: Gili Trawangan for vibrant nightlife, Gili Meno for secluded romantic retreats, and Gili Air for a mix of both. Snorkeling and diving around these islands are exceptional, with abundant marine life and coral reefs. The waters are so clear that even a casual swim can turn into an encounter with turtles and a multitude of fish.

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Komodo Island

Komodo dragon close up

Embark on an adventure to Komodo Island, an exhilarating destination that offers far more than its legendary dragons. Situated within the Komodo National Park, this island is not just the home of the fascinating Komodo dragons but also a hub for some of the most spectacular marine life and landscapes in Indonesia.

Your journey on Komodo Island begins with the dragons themselves. These ancient creatures, resembling a scene out of a prehistoric era, can be observed during guided treks. These treks are conducted by experienced park rangers who ensure your safety while providing insights into the life of the world’s largest living lizard. Walking through the rugged terrain of the island, you’ll learn about the dragon’s diet, habits, and the conservation efforts that protect them.

Away from the dragons, Komodo Island is a paradise for water enthusiasts. The island is encircled by rich, vibrant coral reefs that make it a premier destination for snorkeling and diving. Sites like Pink Beach, named for its blush-tinted sands due to crushed red coral, offer not only unique beach relaxation but also excellent snorkeling right off the shore. The underwater world here teems with life–colorful corals, manta rays, sea turtles, and a plethora of fish species await your discovery.

For a more adrenaline-pumping activity, consider a trip to the currents of Batu Bolong, an underwater rock pinnacle. Here, marine life is exceptionally abundant due to the nutrient-rich waters brought by the strong currents. Advanced divers often remark on the mesmerizing experience of diving in this location, where the biodiversity rivals some of the best diving spots globally.

Boating around the Komodo National Park offers another perspective on this magnificent area. You can rent a boat for the day to hop between islands, including a visit to Rinca Island, another habitat of the Komodo dragons. Each island in the park offers its own unique set of attractions, from secluded coves to dramatic viewpoints overlooking the vast Indonesian archipelago.

Yogyakarta

Prambanan temple in Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta, affectionately known as Jogja, is the heart of Javanese culture and a treasure trove of historical and artistic wonders. This vibrant city, filled with tradition yet bursting with youthful energy, offers an enticing blend of ancient relics, cultural performances, and lush landscapes.

One of the key places to visit is the Prambanan Temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This collection of towering Hindu temples features striking spires that rise dramatically against the backdrop of the Central Javanese landscape. Each temple is a masterpiece of Hindu architecture, adorned with detailed stone carvings that narrate the epic Ramayana. To fully experience the magic of Prambanan, attend the Ramayana Ballet, performed on an open-air stage against the temple as a backdrop—an enchanting experience under the stars.

Kalimantan

The enchanting island of Kalimantan is a land famed for its virgin rainforests, diverse wildlife, and vibrant indigenous cultures. Kalimantan offers a rich variety of experiences, from its natural beauty to cultural richness.

To get you started, visit Borneo, home to one of the primed destinations in the region, Tanjung Puting National Park. This park is renowned for its orangutan conservation. A visit here typically involves a river cruise on a traditional klotok boat, which not only allows you to delve deep into the lush rainforest but also gives you the chance to observe orangutans in their natural habitat. The feeding stations along the river provide guaranteed orangutan sightings, a truly unforgettable experience that brings you face-to-face with these magnificent creatures.

Kalimantan’s rich rivers not only support its dense forests but also its human cultures. The indigenous Dayak communities, with their longhouses, traditional dances, and ancient rituals, are central to the Kalimantan culture. Participate in a homestay experience to learn about their way of life, their symbiotic relationship with the forest, and their traditional crafts, which often include intricate beadwork and weaving.

For those looking to relax, the Derawan Islands in East Kalimantan offer crystal clear waters and soft sandy beaches. These islands are a haven for divers and snorkelers, with sites like Kakaban Island featuring a lake full of stingless jellyfish you can swim with. The marine diversity around the islands is staggering, and the coral reefs are some of the most pristine in Indonesia.

Don’t miss a visit to the bustling markets of Pontianak or the floating market of Banjarmasin, a unique cultural spectacle where local traders convene on the river at dawn to sell their goods from boats. This is a fantastic opportunity to capture vivid photographs and to sample local delicacies, providing a taste of the everyday life and vibrant community spirit that defines Kalimantan.

Raja Ampat Islands

High angle shot of Piaynemo Natural Park in the ocean captured in Raja Ampat, Fam Islands

Bali may be famous for its beaches, but for a true escape into a wonderland sculpted by nature, look towards Raja Ampat. This archipelago, nicknamed the “Four Kings,” lies off the coast of West Papua and boasts a staggering collection of over 1,500 islands.

Your adventure in Raja Ampat might begin with its world-renowned diving. The waters here are among the richest in the world in terms of marine biodiversity. Whether you are a seasoned diver or trying it for the first time, the variety of underwater experiences is unparalleled. Sites like Cape Kri and Blue Magic offer you the chance to swim amidst schools of fish so dense that they literally block out the sunlight. Expect to encounter everything from tiny, vibrant nudibranchs to majestic manta rays, and even the elusive wobbegong sharks.

Snorkeling in Raja Ampat is equally rewarding, with many shallow reefs accessible right from the beaches of your island resort or homestay. The clear, calm waters ensure that even those staying above the surface can witness the dazzling array of coral and fish.

Kayaking is another way to explore the hidden corners of Raja Ampat. Paddle through the mangroves, navigate between limestone cliffs, and discover secluded coves where the only sounds are the paddle in the water and the calls of tropical birds.

When it’s time to unwind, simply find a quiet beach, where the only footprints will likely be your own. Watch as the sunset paints the sky with hues of orange and pink, a quiet moment that underscores the untouched beauty of Raja Ampat.

Flores Island

Aerial view of Kelimutu National Park's crater lakes on Flores Island, Indonesia

Flores Island, stretching east from Komodo Island to Lembata Island, offers a myriad of experiences that cater to both the serene traveler and the thrill-seeker.

One of the island’s most iconic sights is the Kelimutu Volcano, renowned for its three crater lakes, each displaying different colors ranging from turquoise to dark green and even red, depending on the mineral content at any given time. A visit at sunrise offers a spectacular view as the early light shifts the colors of the lakes in mesmerizing patterns. The trek to the viewpoint is gentle and the reward is a panoramic vista that’s simply breathtaking. 

For those drawn to the sea, Flores’s 1,500 kilometers of coastline are a haven for divers and snorkelers. The waters off the coast, particularly around the 17 Islands Marine Park near Riung, are alive with vibrant coral reefs and a plethora of marine life. Snorkeling or diving here, you’ll be enveloped in a world of color and life beneath the waves.

Away from the landscapes, explore local culture in villages like Bena and Wae Rebo. In Bena, a traditional village nestled at the base of Mount Inerie, you’ll find rows of thatched houses and megalithic formations, and learn about the Ngada culture that has remained largely unchanged for centuries. Wae Rebo, hidden high in the mountains, offers a unique opportunity to see authentic Manggarai houses and experience village life through community-run tourism that supports the preservation of their heritage and traditions.

The Togian Islands

This relatively untouched destination offers crystal-clear waters, rich marine life, and a serene atmosphere that makes it a perfect getaway for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of more tourist-heavy locales.

The archipelago is part of the Coral Triangle, which boasts a diversity of marine species unmatched anywhere else in the world. Dive sites around the islands cater to all levels, from shallow reefs ideal for beginners to deeper, more challenging sites for experienced divers.

Snorkeling in the Togian Islands is equally rewarding, with accessible coral gardens that teem with colorful fish just a few strokes away from the sandy beaches. The clear, warm waters ensure a pleasant experience as you float above vibrant coral formations and maybe even spot a turtle gliding by.

For a unique cultural experience, visit the Bajau villages. The Bajau, or “Sea Gypsies,” are known for their traditional lifestyle centered around the sea. Observing their daily routines and witnessing their exceptional free-diving skills offers insights into a way of life profoundly connected to the ocean. Engage with the community and learn about their sustainable fishing techniques and boat-building skills.

Kayaking is a fantastic way to explore the calm waters of the Togian Islands. Paddle at your own pace and discover secluded bays, hidden coves, and untouched beaches. The island’s geography makes it ideal for kayaking enthusiasts to explore extensively, providing a sense of discovery and adventure with each paddle stroke.

Another must-visit site is Lake Mariona, a jellyfish lake located on one of the islands. Similar to the more famous Jellyfish Lake in Palau, you can swim with millions of stingless jellyfish in a surreal, other-worldly experience that is both thrilling and meditative.

Java Island

Kawa Ijen Volcano crater and lake

In the city of Jakarta, you can experience its rich history and culture at the National Museum or explore the old town of Kota Tua to get a feel for the city’s colonial past.

Traveling east, make your next stop at Bandung, the capital of West Java. Known for its cooler climate and lush surroundings, Bandung is perfect for nature lovers. Visit the Tangkuban Perahu volcano, where you can drive right up to the rim to view the active craters and their steaming vents. Explore the nearby tea plantations, such as the vast expanse of the Malabar Tea Plantation, where you can walk amidst the tea bushes and learn about tea processing.

As you travel further east, Mount Bromo in East Java offers a dramatic landscape that’s not to be missed. Embark on an early morning trek to the viewpoint of Mount Penanjakan and witness a breathtaking sunrise over the surreal, lunar-like landscape of the Tengger caldera. The experience of watching the sun rise over the mist-laden caldera with Mount Bromo smoking gently is truly unforgettable.

End your journey on the enchanting plateau of Ijen, famous for its turquoise sulfur lake and blue flame phenomenon. Hike up the crater before dawn to witness the natural blue flames produced by the ignited sulfuric gas. As day breaks, watch the miners as they extract sulfur amidst the striking landscape of the crater lake.

In Conclusion

Bali might be a postcard destination of Indonesia but it’s not the only place to have on your bucket list. Indonesia is a sprawling archipelago, a treasure trove of experiences waiting to be discovered.

From the volcanic giants of Sumatra to the untamed rainforests of Kalimantan, and the underwater paradise of Raja Ampat to the rich cultural tapestry of Java, Indonesia offers something for every kind of traveler.

So, where are you headed to?

FAQ

What is the best time of year to visit Indonesia?

Indonesia has a tropical climate, with warm temperatures year-round. The dry season generally runs from April to October, which is ideal for most outdoor activities. However, if you’re chasing waves, the rainy season (November to March) can offer better surfing conditions, particularly along the southern coasts of Java and Bali.


Is Indonesia safe to travel to?

Generally, Indonesia is a safe destination for travelers. However, as with any trip, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and practice taking necessary precautions. Be mindful of petty theft, especially in crowded areas. Reliable transportation options are widely available, and if you’re unsure about an area, ask your hotel or accommodation for recommendations.


What should I pack for a trip to Indonesia?

Pack light, breathable clothing for the tropical climate, along with a good pair of walking shoes for exploring. Sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses are essentials. If you plan to visit religious sites, bring clothing that covers shoulders and knees. Don’t forget a universal travel adapter for charging your devices.


What are the must-try dishes in Indonesia?

Indonesian cuisine is as diverse as its culture. Don’t miss out on Nasi Goreng (fried rice), Satay (grilled meat skewers), and Rendang (slow-cooked meat curry). Each region has its specialties, so be sure to try local dishes like Gado-Gado in Jakarta or Babi Guling in Bali.

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