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 Orangutans 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 an 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 archaeological 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.
Suggested tours to Indonesia
Tailor-made Tour 17 days from £3980 per person
Experience the highlights of Indonesia’s three most popular islands, from ancient Buddhist Borobudur to the Sumatran rainforest and Bali’s heavenly coastline, on this 17-day trip. It starts in the largest area of surviving jungle wilderness in Southe…
Tailor-made Tour 19 days from £6495 per person
Take a walk on Indonesia’s wild side to see endangered orangutans, Komodo dragons, proboscis monkeys and other amazing jungle creatures across a string of exotic, coral-fringed islands. Along the way you’ll have the opportunity to visit some of the c…
Java In Depth
Tailor-made Tour 14 days from £2565 per person
Get an ideal mix of culture, activity, nature and beach relaxation on our Java In Depth tour. Starting in Yogyakarta, home to Indonesia’s premier cultural site, the World Heritage Borobudur temples, you move west to Solo, centre of Java’s Batik indus…
A Honeymoon in Indonesia
Tailor-made Tour 20 days from £4200 per person
With its fabulously exotic monuments, teeming jungles and exquisite beaches, Indonesia has to be one of the world’s ultimate honeymoon destinations. Thanks to the abundance of luxury hideaways in the country, on a honeymoon to Indonesia, you can also…
Luxury Bali Adventure Holiday
Tailor-made Tour 18 days from £2990 per person
Sample Bali’s many and varied charms in this active, 18-day trip, which features some light trekking, cycling, dolphin watching, canoeing and white-water rafting, as well as experiences of authentic Balinese culture. There’s plenty of surf and sand i…
Java and Bali Overland
Tailor-made Tour 15 days from £2795 per person
Experience the scenic and cultural highlights of Java and Bali on this superb two-week road adventure. Winding from Jakarta across the island’s volcanic spine to the coffee and cocoa growing plantations of Kaliburi, it culminates with an ascent of Gu…
Java and Bali Explorer
Tailor-made Tour 15 days from £3470 per person
This tour gives you an ideal mix of culture, monuments, nature and beach relaxation in Java and Bali. Starting in Indonesia's second largest city, Surabaya, you travel west to see the spectacular and still active Bromo volcano. Visiting the town of…
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Indonesia Places and Experiences
Thanks to its fertile volcanic soil and plentiful rainfall, Java is the most populous island in the Indonesian archipelago. The nation’s sprawling capital, Jakarta, lies on its north coast, but the undisputed cultural hub is Yogyakarta, whe…
Borobudur encapsulates everything that’s most exotic about Java. Come before dawn and you can watch the first rays of daylight illuminate the faces of 1200-year-old stone Buddhas gazing west over a plateau of lush rice fields and palm grove…
Komodo and Rinca Islands
The world’s largest lizard, the legendary Komodo dragon, survives on 5 islands in eastern Indonesia – the most accessible of them, Komodo itself and nearby Rinca. Both are starkly beautiful, with parched, undulating hills of bleached grass…
Tanjung Puting National Park
Covering 4,000 sq km of tropical heath and swamp forest on a low-lying peninsula jutting into the Java Sea, Tanjung Puting is Kalimantan’s premier nature reserve. The reason for its great popularity is its 1000-strong population of oranguta…
Sulawesi is one of Indonesia’s four biggest islands, and its most curiously shaped. Four long peninsulas, divided by yawning blue gulfs, form a sprawling, 1,000km-wide ‘K’ shape, converge on its mountainous core, where a myriad of small vil…
Bali, to the east of Java, has always been considered the pearl in the necklace of Indonesia’s Sunda Islands. Its mix of spellbinding volcanic scenery, glorious beaches, pounding surf, lush tropical hinterland and a vibrant local culture ro…
Ubud is the place to stay if you’ve come to Bali hoping to experience traditional dance and ritual arts – or if you’re seriously into shopping! The town is jam-packed with absorbing little stalls, boutiques and crafts workshops where you ca…
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