Indonesia has to be high on the list of the world’s best places to visit and explore, at least for people who love islands, variety and adventure.
There are certainly lots of islands in Indonesia. With more than 900 permanently inhabited, another 16,000 rocks, islets and uninhabited islands, and plenty of volcanic action changing all these numbers from year to year, no one could ever claim to have seen it all.
Are you thinking of visiting this fascinating, sometimes frustrating, and always surprising country? You won’t regret it, and the further off the beaten path you go, the better the travellers’ tales you’ll have to tell.
For most “tourist” visitors the beaten path leads to Bali. It’s a wonderful, slightly wacky place where mass tourism to the beaches in the south co-exists with a living vibrant Hindu culture all over the island. There are quiet unspoiled beaches away from the din of Kuta, with charming rustic places to stay, fabulous snorkelling, and super people. There are volcanoes to climb, temples to marvel at, and sophisticated inland resort villages like Ubud to enjoy.
Bali’s unique, of course. But then so is every island, and they all have something amazing to offer.
Java, where you’ll find Indonesia’s capital, also has its ancient capital of Jogjakarta, and the even more ancient Buddhist temple of Borobadur. One of my own cherished memories is eating a family Christmas lunch of Padang food (lots of small dishes, eaten with your fingers) on the pavement outside a restaurant in Jogjakarta, watching the local world go by.
In the eastern part of Java you can visit the summit of Bromo, an ancient super-volcano, and walk over the huge ash-filled crater to climb the mini-volcano that’s slowly growing in the middle.
South of Java, northern Sumatra has some of the best of Indonesia’s remaining rainforest. It’s home to an endangered population of wild Orang-utans, some of which (or should that be “whom”- they are the most
charismatic of the great apes, and in my opinion deserve to be referred to with the human pronoun!) can be seen in and around the rescue centre of Bukit Lawang. I loved waking up one morning in a super little hut and glancing over the river to see a mated pair of Orangutans progressing gently along the opposite bank.
Also in Sumatra is Lake Toba – Indonesia’s biggest lake and the world’s biggest volcanic lake- filling the 100km long, 30km wide crater of another super-volcano. Its island of Samosir is the size of Singapore, but with minuscule population. You catch a lake ferry to the Tuk-Tuk peninsular for a lovely laid-back tropical experience.
So where next? Maybe to the eastern islands? How about a journey across Flores to the fishing port of Labuanbajo, to hire a boat for the short trip to Rinca, to see Komodo dragons? What a spectacle they are! And the sea in which Rinca sits is also one of the great diving areas of the world. Apart from the dragons, my abiding memory is watching the superb sunsets from the comfort of the dining terrace of the excellent Golo Hilltop guesthouse on the outskirts of Labuanbajo.
And so to my personal favourite island in the world. Gili Air lies off the island of Lombok, which is the next island to the east of Bali. Lower-key than Gili Trawangan, its ‘parties on the beach’ neighbour, It has no cars or motor bikes, plenty of low-key places to stay, a couple of bars, a few dive operators, horse-drawn buggies to ride around on, and the best, happiest vibe I have ever come across.
And finally, if some of what I’ve said so far has made you want to visit Indonesia, you’ll certainly want to spend a day or three in Jakarta, and you will need a place to stay that doesn’t cut too deeply into your travelling funds. Somewhere you can expect a warm welcome from fellow travellers who know what you need from budget digs. Jakarta is 6 degrees south of the Equator, and the brand new 6 Degrees South hostel and B&B is the very best place for travellers to stay in Jakarta.