Ancient Buddhist ruins framed by backdrops of luminous green rice terraces and conical volcanoes trailing plumes of smoke... Dancers decked in intricate, jewel-encrusted headdresses, tracing graceful arcs in the air with long, gold fingernails and lengths of canary-coloured silk... Shoals of kaleidoscopic fish streaming through coral reefs... Vast, unexplored swathes of rainforest where Orang-utans lumber through the branches.
Indonesia offers the modern traveller a non-stop parade of arrestingly exotic experiences. The trick is knowing where to find them. Scattered like a emerald necklace across the South Pacific, the country is vast – a chain of 17,508 islands draped over 500km of ocean between Indochina and Australia.
As an introduction to Indonesia’s intensely beautiful landscapes and traditional lifestyles, you can’t do better than three islands in the so-called Sunda Shelf – Java, Bali, and Borneo.
Thanks to its fertile volcanic soil and plentiful rainfall, Java is the most populous in the archipelago. The nation’s sprawling capital, Jakarta, lies on its north coast, but the undisputed cultural hub is Yogyakarta, where visitors come to experience traditional Javanese music, dance, arts and crafts, as well as to visit the great archeological sites of Borobudur and Prambanan nearby. Smouldering in the background, a phalanx of active volcanoes form an otherworldly hinterland, where you can climb in the pre-dawn gloom to gaze over the rim of giant craters for the sunrise view of a lifetime.
Bali, to the east of Java, is also dominated by volcanoes looming over coastlines of gorgeous white-sand beaches and transparent seas. Thanks to its spellbinding natural beauty, this is by far Indonesia’s most visited island. Busy, first-world resorts cluster along its south coast, but Bali’s unique, Hindu-dominated traditional culture still holds sway at the interior town of Ubu – crucible for a wealth of sumptuous art forms, from gamelan music to ikat weaving.
Nature rather than culture tends to be why most people travel north across the Java Sea to Kalimantan, Indonesia’s share of Borneo. The island’s vast jungles retain some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet, as well as indigenous minorities who until a generation ago remained entirely aloof from the modern world. Kalimantan’s star attraction, however, is the beguiling, copper-haired Orang-utan, which can be seen close up at several rescue centres.
Whether you want to base your journey around wildlife, paradise beaches, traditional culture, tropical boutique resorts, outdoor adventures or a cross-section of all these, TransIndus can put together the perfect Indonesia tour.
Area: 1.9 million square kilometres
Population: 237 million
Religions: Muslim (86%), Christian (9%), Hindu (2%), Others (3%)
Languages: Bahasa Indonesian, some English is spoken in the tourist areas
Time: The Indonesian archipelago is divided into three times zones:
Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan Barat and Kalimantan Tengah + 7hrs (GMT)
Bali, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara islands, Sulawesi and South and East Kalimantan + 8hrs (GMT)
Irian Jaya + 9hrs (GMT)
When to go
The driest period in Indonesia falls between April and October, with July and August the peak season for beach resorts in Bali, Lombok and elsewhere. At other times of year, you can expect more rain, although even in the dry season, the jungle regions of Sumatra and Kalimantan receive near daily downpours, which, however, quickly pass. Humidity levels vary greatly. While islands such as Komodo and Rinca are surprisingly arid, rainforest areas remain sticky year round. The only properly cold places in Indonesia are the very tops of the high peaks, where temperatures may plunge to near freezing before sunrise.
Indirect flights are available on Thai International, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Malaysian Airlines and Sri Lankan airlines, among others. From the UK, flights into Jakarta and Bali take about 17hrs including transit.
The main tourist towns and islands in Indonesia are well connected by air.
Cruises are available on the Komodo Shalom or Ombak Putih, a modern yet traditionally designed and built Buginese schooner to the Komodo Islands. An island cruise is also available on the modern Baruna Explorer.
Rail travel is possible in Indonesia, although not of the standard seen in more developed nations. As road travel is relatively easy and convenient we would recommend train travel only for enthusiasts.
Road conditions are generally good and allow a good exploration of the countryside. Private road travel is by car or minivan. The car used is generally a spacious Toyota Innova, seating three plus the driver comfortably. For parties of 3 or 4 a bigger vehicle is used, usually the Mitsubishi Van, which can seat five plus the driver.
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Yogyakarta to Surabaya: an incredible week in Java, from the moment of our arrival till our departure we were enthralled by Indonesia. Smoking Mount Bromo, spa treatments, wonderful scenery, a knowledgeable guide, a careful driver, interesting and comfortable hotels, delicious food. It was a memorable and most enjoyable trip. Thank you Amrit and the team at TransIndus: be sure you will see us again!Mr & Mrs Horsburgh, Tailor-made Indonesia read more comments