With over 500 languages and a broad range of different religions, from mainstream Islam to obscure animist belief systems, Indonesia’s cultural mix is kaleidoscopic. Every group of islands has its own distinctive traditions, making this a compelling part of the world for anyone interested in exotic arts, crafts, music and dance.
The culture that tends to dominate the country’s image abroad is that of Java, where some extraordinarily rich art forms evolved in the royal cities of Jogyakarta and Surakarta (Solo). Music (particularly gamelan) and classical Javanese dance are still widely studied and performed here, and you can visit old factories in the backstreets to watch sumptuous batiks being made in the traditional way.
Bali’s unique Hindu-hybrid culture remains equally vibrant, with its own forms of gamelan, dance and ikat cloth, as well as painting – all of which may be experienced in and around the island’s culture capital, Ubud.
While modern Indonesia develops at a dizzying pace, numerous minority communities around the archipelago offer insights into more traditional cultures. The Baduy (Badu) of Java, Toba Batak people of Sumatra, Tana Torajas of Sulawesi and Banuaq of Kalimantan are just of few of the groups who welcome visitors to stay in ancestral long houses and family homes.