With its 17,508 islands, Indonesia is the biggest island nation in the world. So why is it that most of us have only heard of Bali – and maybe Lombok and the Gili islands at a push? What do the other 17,504 islands have to offer? I’ve searched out the most beautiful ones for you – discover what awaits you here in today’s article!
It’s almost unbelievable… There’s a country made up of a thousand dreamy islands, but all of them are almost completely overshadowed by the island of Bali. But, why? I asked myself exactly this question so I started searching for the most beautiful islands in Indonesia – the Balis of tomorrow, so to speak. I’ve managed to find some dreamy corners of the world that have remained pretty much untouched by mass tourism.
A holiday in Indonesia – it doesn’t always have to be Bali!
Orangutans, tigers and elephants wander through the thick, tropical rainforests of Sumatra. A rich variety of species and unique plant life mean that parts of the island have been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the sixth biggest island in the world, uncharted national parks await adventurous travellers who are looking for a special sort of nature experience. While the chances of seeing endangered Sumatran rhinos and Sumatran tigers in Gunung Leuser National Park in the north of Sumatra are rather slim, the chances of being able to watch orangutans in the wild are a little higher. If you’ve always dreamed of meeting the lovable, red-haired primates, Sumatra offers the best opportunities. Other wonderful national parks on Sumatra include the Kerinci Seblat National Park and the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. Together with the Gunung Leuser National Park, they make up the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, the group of rain forests on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Another of Sumatra’s tourist attractions is Lake Toba, created by a colossal volcanic explosion. With a length of 87 kilometres long and a width of 27 kilometres, it’s the biggest crater lake in the world. When the volcano erupted thousands of years ago, the consequences were felt all over the world. Isn’t it amazing how the power of nature shaped the island of Sumatra?
One more thing: Sumatra isn’t just blessed with lush nature – you’ve got lush beaches too! Because most of the island’s residents are Muslim, however, it is necessary to adapt to the country’s customs and respect the dress code as well as any bans on alcohol. But, don’t worry! There are plenty of places where you can swim without a problem and enjoy the gorgeous beaches. It’s easiest to reach Sumatra from Singapore. This means that you can also combine a trip to Sumatra with a sightseeing tour of the megacity.
Sulawesi – the orchid island
If you take a look at the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on a map, the shape of the island seems unusual as it juts out in different directions. Like so many other islands in Indonesia, Sulawesi has a volcano to thank for its rather strange shape. Volcanic activity has also created a real treasure trove for divers around the outlying islands in the northern part of the island, Sulawesi Utara. The Bunaken National Marine Park is one of the best diving areas in Indonesia. You can admire sharks, sea turtles and colourful coral during a diving tour. The beaches in the region also score points with holidaymakers because of their undisturbed beauty and seclusion. They’re a real paradise for anyone who wants a holiday completely removed from everyday life. Sulawesi is one of the undiscovered pearls of Indonesia!
Komodo – dragon island
Compared to the two previous islands, Komodo is very small – but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to discover here! Komodo’s nature is pristine and there aren’t any large towns. But nightlife and bustling street scenes aren’t why people come here. The main reasons travellers come to Komodo are to see the island’s most famous residents, the Komodo Dragon, or to explore the marine environments from the diving stations off the island. A diving tour is one thing I really recommend you do if you ever come here. The coast off Komodo is one of the most beautiful diving areas in Indonesia and it’s simply one-of-a-kind.
If you’d prefer a walk through Komodo National Park, you’ll need a guide who knows not only where the Komodo dragons are, but also protects visitors from potential attacks from these huge lizards. The reptiles can grow up to an enormous 3 metres in length! The dragons are quite relaxed and lie in the sun most of the time. As soon as one moves, lots of tourists usually run away!
You can also watch Komodo dragons on the neighbouring island of Rinca. You can take a day trip there from one of the more touristy islands like Lombok, Bali and Flores. I’m going to tell you how to get to and what not to miss on the wonderful neighbouring island of Flores now!
Flores – an island full of craters
You can reach the island of Flores easily with a flight from Bali so it’s a great stop-off if you’re island hopping. If you want to spend more time there, I can recommend a boat trip lasting several days. The many islands that’ll pass you by on the journey seem like they’re from another world. They’re so pristine and beautiful! However, you should make sure that you book a reliable operator with a safe boat or it can be dangerous.
The main attractions on Flores are the breathtakingly beautiful beaches around the harbour village of Labuan Bajo and the three crater lakes of the Gunung Kelimutu volcano. These change colour every now and again and take on tones of bright blue, green and even black. It’s just crazy and really popular with backpackers. You should definitely go on a dive if you’re in Flores! The diving areas around the coast, like the ones in Komodo, are some of the most beautiful in Indonesia. Here, you can swim with manta rays, dolphins and – the dream for many divers – sharks. It’s simply unforgettable! Beach visitors don’t need to be afraid of shark attacks though because the interesting and often misunderstood creatures generally live miles away from the coastline.
Another feature of Flores is that Christianity is the dominant faith here. While most of the regions in Indonesia are Muslim, the residents of Flores still follow Catholicism after it was brought over in the 17th century by European missionaries. This means that holy buildings like churches and chapels are not rare on Flores.
Nusa Penida – a hidden paradise near Bali
The small island of Nusa Penida isn’t far from Bali. It is only 20 kilometres long but it offers an unbelievable natural beauty and many unspoilt beaches. The island’s biggest highlight is its spectacular cliffs that rise several hundred metres above sea level, and you can get incredible views of them from the vantage points at the top of them. It reminds me a little bit of Shipwreck Beach in Zakynthos. Simply spectacular! Stop off at Nusa Penida and explore the island at your own pace! There’s so much to discover from waterfalls and gorgeous, natural beaches to temples.
Java – home to Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta
I couldn’t possibly have missed out Java from my Indonesian islands report. The island, which belongs to the Great Sunda Islands along with Sumatra, Sulawesi and Borneo, is not only home to Indonesia’s diverse capital, Jakarta. It’s also dominated by a long cultural heritage and magnificent national parks. You can reach Java best from Bali as the popular island is one of Java’s neighbours along with Lombok and Sumatra. It’s best to book a short, cheap internal flight or take one of the regular ferries to get to the island.
Nature lovers will adore the Ujung Kulon National Park where Javan tigers and rhinos live. With some luck, they’ll even walk in front of your lens! Divers, on the other hand, will be particularly happy with Kepulauan Seribu National Park off the coast of Jakarta. The marine national park not only boasts a diverse range of species but also wonderful beaches. Borobudur, one of the biggest temple complexes in Southeast Asia, is especially worth visiting. In the middle of the island, Borobudur is surrounded by volcanoes. It is one of the most important religious sites in Indonesia.
The Sultanate of Yogyakarta
There’s no place that’s better for truly experiencing Javanese culture than the Sultanate of Yogyakarta, the former capital of Indonesia. What most people don’t know is that Yogyakarta is a part of Indonesia, but it’s also a sultanate in its own right! Kraton Palace, where Sultan Hamengkubuwono the 10th (bit of a mouthful!) lives and works, is open to the public, and tours offered in various languages will enable you to find out more about the significance of the sultan. Other major sights in Yogyakarta are the impressive Hindu temple Prambanan, Merapi Volcano and the street of Jalan Malioboro, where you can browse authentic night markets. Another must-see place is Borobudur, one of the largest temple complexes in the world. Borobudur is surrounded by volcanoes in the centre of the island and is one of the most important Buddhist sites in Indonesia, if not all of Asia! Particularly impressive is the peaceful co-existence of peoples of various faiths and creeds here in Java. 90% of the population are Muslim, but the customs and religious sites of various faiths are accepted and visited by all.
Borneo – the island of orangutans and pygmy elephants
Borneo, the biggest island in Asia, is west of Sulawesi. The island is split between three countries. Borneo not only belongs to Indonesia but also to Malaysia and the Nation of Brunei. This means that you can theoretically visit three countries during the same trip!
The island of Borneo has gained worldwide fame because of its unique plant and animal life. The tropical rain forests on the island are home to some of the richest ecosystems on our planet. Researchers are still discovering new species here every year and they can only be found in Borneo. International animal protection charities take care of preserving this unique habitat. Orangutans, rhinos, bears, pygmy elephants and many more species, which are extinct in the rest of the world, call Borneo their home. Did you know, for example, that orangutans only live in Borneo and Sumatra?
Tropical rain forests and divine beaches aren’t mutually exclusive in Borneo either. After an adventurous jungle safari, you can relax for a few days on the island’s gorgeous beaches. You can also explore the marine environments on a snorkelling or diving trip. If you do want to take a day trip to Brunei, you don’t need a visa. You can enter without a fuss using your passport. The Sultan of Brunei is one of the richest people in the world, in actual fact, and you can see this in the magnificent buildings and temples that he’s built across the country This is no ordinary holiday!
Papua – glaciers, coral and tropical rainforests
Our island hopping through Indonesia has brought us by plane to New Guinea, the second-biggest island in the world. This equatorial island is also full of Indonesia’s amazing biodiversity and natural wonders. New Guinea is split into the Papua region of Indonesia in the western half and the independent country of Papua New Guinea to the east. New Guinea is covered in a huge tropical rainforest, which is home to colourful birds of paradise, giant butterflies and exotic mammals like the tree kangaroo. The most amazing thing, though, is that you can also see the remains of a glacier on the island’s biggest mountain, Puncak Jaya. if you’re lucky enough to explore New Guinea, you’ll remember this really special trip for the rest of your life. It is one of the most remote and undiscovered islands in the world.
You can also take a trip to the separate country of Papua New Guinea in the east of the island. A journey here is for true explorers! If you do want to stop off at the island, you can get there most easily from Australia. It isn’t far to the dreamy Cook Islands either. ;)
Raja Ampat – a hidden gem
The Raja Ampat Islands are just a stone’s throw west of New Guinea. They are one of Indonesia’s hidden gems. Only 35 of the 1,500 islands in the archipelago are inhabited. The inhabitants of the islands are strongly dependent on the sea and the animals that live in it to make a living. Most of them are fishermen. Why should you come to Raja Ampat? Well, the archipelago is home to a unique marine ecosystem. Not even the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia can compete with its rich biodiversity. Thanks to its location in the Coral Triangle, an area, which is home to the greatest variety of species on the planet, Raja Ampat is one of the most unique diving areas in the world.
You can only get to Raja Ampat by boat. A ferry goes from Sorong, New Guinea, to Wasai, Raja Ampat’s main town. The somewhat cumbersome journey of 60 kilometres is definitely one of the reasons why Raja Ampat has been spared by mass tourism. Or perhaps you can tell me why such a paradise has had so little attention until now?! I count the archipelago as one of the greatest hidden gems on the planet and I strongly recommend a journey to this island paradise, especially if you’re a really passionate diver.
I don’t know about you, but I could start packing my suitcases right now and set off to other undiscovered Indonesian islands straight away! The beauty of nature particularly amazes me and it’s all over Indonesia’s islands!
The ever-popular island of Bali is a good place to start if you want to get a taste of Indonesia first and then see more. Believe me, once you’ve got Indonesia fever, you’ll want to discover as much of the biggest island country in the world as possible. By the way, if you’re looking for a cheap way to explore Indonesia and other countries in Asia, you should think about the Air Asia Asean Pass. With this, you can explore Asia with a flat rate on flights.
Let me know if you’ve already fallen in love with Indonesia and have any tips for future travellers. Which island is your favourite?
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