I’m sure you’ve all probably heard of Bali, Indonesia; perhaps through the movie Eat Pray Love. But did you know that Bali is just one of over 17,000 islands in Indonesia; the fourth most populous country in the world and has over 300 spoken languages? So theoretically if you tried to see a new island every day, it would take roughly 50 years to physically visit every single island. Indonesia boasts magnificent temples, stunning active volcanoes, idyllic stretches of beach, the fearsome Komodo dragon, and even the orangutan. It has vast and varying cultures, delicious cuisine, and some of the friendliest, most accommodating people in the world. Feeling like an adventure yet? In this article, I will cover some of the more popular islands in Indonesia, top attractions, and some of my personal favorites. You’ll quickly see why I continue to return time and time again to this stunning country.
Bali will always hold a special place in my heart. I recently spent two months in Canggu, Bali, working and exploring the beautiful island. The Balinese are incredibly friendly people, who are quick to invite you in and make you feel welcomed. Bali is predominately a Hindu island, where shrines are attached to every building, house, and restaurant; offerings are something you will inevitably step on as you enter in to get a massage or bite to eat.
Kuta is one of the most popular area’s of Bali, full of tourists, backpackers, and party goers. There are endless souvenir stands, massage shops, scooter rentals, restaurants, bars, and clubs. You’ll be at no shortage of entertainment here, and if you like to party, then the nightlife is booming. For less than $10 you can get dinner and unlimited drinks at one of the most iconic bars in Kuta: Sky Bar. I personally try to stay away from Kuta, and instead make my way north to Ubud!
Ubud is a yogi’s paradise. This laid back town is full of people looking to practice yoga, meditation and really anything that will get them closer to a spiritual awakening. Enjoy an array of local and western food; heavy on the healthy, organic, vegan side. Travel to monkey forest, where for about $3 you can feed a monkey, and even hold one if they’ll let you! Take a coffee tour, to discover how coffee is made, along with a free coffee and tea tasting of over 10 different flavors. Try the Luwak coffee: coffee sourced from the poop of the Luwak animal, it is considered the most expensive coffee in the world. Don’t be deterred by how it is produced; Luwak coffee is one of the best coffees you’ll ever taste.
If you’ve ever wanted to climb an active volcano, now is your chance! Mt. Batur is one of the most popular active volcanoes to hike in Indonesia, and don’t worry, the last eruption was in 2000, so you should be fine for a few more thousand years. The best time to go is for the sunrise. You leave around 4 am in the morning, and the hike takes approximately two hours. Challenging as it may be, the view from the stop will make it all worth it. After you descend back down, grab a beer at one of the many natural hot springs next to Lake Danau Batur and take in the view around you.
By far my favorite island in Indonesia, Java is an island very near it’s neighbor, Bali. Predominately a Muslim island, (as is the majority of Indonesia) you will definitely have to dress a bit more modestly here. Still, the people are just as friendly, and the landscape and various temples are breathtaking.
Don’t miss this volcano! It has yet to make it into Lonely Planet, although I have no idea why. It is one of the most unique experiences in all of Indonesia. What makes this active volcano so different to the others? The blue fire. Kawah Ijen, or “Gunung Merapi” meaning mountain of fire, is a sulfuric crater volcano. You have to make this hike to the peak during the middle of the night, so you can fully experience the electric blue flame of Kawah Ijen.
One of the most famous and most frequently visited volcanoes in Java is Bromo. Yet another active volcano, Bromo is just one of three volcanoes located in the mountain town of Cemoro Lawang. Bring a jacket and some long pants if you want to hike this volcano- with an altitude of 656 feet above sea level, Bromo is a bit cooler compared to the stifling heat experienced in much of Indonesia.
Located in central Java, Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple not only in Indonesia but the world. Built in the 9th century during the Sailendra Dynasty, Borobudur is created with the intention of attaining Nirvana. As you climb the steep steps to the top, you are forced to look down, so as not to trip. This is an intentional design, with the intention of creating a sense of prayer to Buddha by those who make the climb to the top. Take a photo with one of the over 500 Buddha statues, and explore the many levels of this stunning temple.
Komodo Island, Indonesia
For all you dinosaur fans out there, Komodo Island is just the place to get your Jurassic Park fix. Home to the prehistoric man-eating komodo dragon, Komodo island is accessible by boat, but don’t let this deter you; this small island in Indonesia is a must see.
The Komodo Dragon
Of course many flock here to witness firsthand the fearsome komodo dragon. The dragon, or monitor lizard, is the largest lizard in the world, growing up to 10 feet in length! A carnivorous reptile, the dragon feeds predominately on deer but will attack any animal that wanders into its path if it is hungry enough. Although generally a very sedentary animal, these dragon’s have been known to attack and even kill humans. But you’ll be completely fine as long as you stay smart, and travel with a guide or with a group of people.
Komodo island is home to one of the only pink sand beaches in the world. The pink sand comes from the microscopics animals called Foraminifera, which produce a red pigment. This pigment is found on local coral reefs, and as it breaks off, the red color mixes with the white sand and voila! Take a dip in the crystal clear turquoise waters and enjoy the picturesque landscape surrounding you.
Gili Islands, Indonesia
The Gili Island’s are a set of three small desert islands located off the coast of Bali. These island’s don’t permit any scooters, and certainly no cars; the main modes of transportation are bicycles, or Cidoos (horse and cart). These islands are the perfect place to relax, unwind, grab a pina colada and enjoy some time in paradise.
Gili Trawangan (Gili T)
This is the largest of the three islands, although you can walk around the entire island in around two hours. By day enjoy snorkeling along the white sandy beaches, or even try your hand at scuba diving. By night get ready to party! Gili T is full of bars, with a different event on every night of the week. Buckets are a popular choice of drink here, consisting of liquor and mixers, but drink slowly; they are stronger than you think!
This is the perfect romantic couples retreat. Gili Meno, the smallest of the three islands, is truly a picture perfect honeymooners destination, but be aware that it really is full of lovestruck couples. If you are traveling as a couple, or in a group then I would recommend this island for its white sandy beaches, clear waters and excellent snorkeling. However, if you’re traveling alone then perhaps it is a destination to visit another time.
Last but not least, Gili Air is a bit of a mix of the other two Gili islands. There are places to party at night, but in general, it has a much more chilled out, hippy vibe. During the day grab some snorkeling gear and hit the water, bask in the sun with a cold Bintang beer, or explore the tiny island. By night head to a beachside restaurant for some fresh seafood and relax at one of the bars with all the new friends you’re bound to meet here.
I hope this article inspires some of you to book a flight to Indonesia; just writing this makes me crave returning. It really is an experience not to be missed, and the best part is knowing that the flight costs will be your most expensive investment. Once you’re in Indonesia the cost of actually traveling around the country is dirt cheap. A local meal costs anywhere from $1-3 dollars, accommodation is usually under $10, and a bus trip or boat trip will cost less than $15. Indonesia is a country with a bargaining culture, so bargain everything. I’ve bargained for my prices at hotels, street food stalls, fruit stands, and even pharmacies. Literally, almost every price is negotiable. If you master this skill, then you won’t have any problems traveling cheap. So stop spending your money on expensive restaurants and nights out, and start saving for your trip to Indonesia!
You’re so close! Why not spend a year abroad working in Australia?