Indonesia Travel Guide: How to Make the Most Out of Indonesia's Islands

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Written by
Keith Jarman

Published on: September 20th, 2019

Last modified: March 21st, 2024

In the heart of southeast Asia, Indonesia is a wonderful place to get off the beaten track.

Home to over 17,000 islands, there’s something for everyone in this idyllic archipelago.

With so many islands to choose from though, it can be hard to know which island to go to first. To help you choose, we’ve put together this Indonesia travel guide to help you determine which island best suits your needs.

Bali: An introduction to Indonesia

Bali is undoubtedly Indonesia’s most famous island, and despite what you may think, there are still wonderful places to get off the beaten track here. One such place is Uluwatu, home to a postcard perfect white coastline and the spectacular Uluwatu temple. One of the most sacred temples in all of Bali, this beautiful religious site is perched atop rugged cliff top overlooking the lapping waves of the Indian Ocean. Beyond Uluwatu, there’s so much to do across the rest of Bali – everything from exploring the vibrant Ubud to scrambling up Mount Batur to catch a glimpse of the stunning caldera lake near the summit. The beauty of Bali is that on one island, you can experience a variety of different destinations. 


In Seminyak, you can spend your days making the most of the good surfing conditions or in exploring the local markets. For the rice terraces so synonymous with Bali and a window into the island’s most holy sites, head to Ubud. If it’s a five-star resort holiday you’re after, the endless beaches of Nusa Dua won’t disappoint, while Uluwatu is a great place to escape the crowds and is home to one of the most picturesque places of worship across Asia. All in all, Bali is a great choice for first-time visitors to Indonesia, and it’s the captivating different faces of the island coupled with the world-class resorts that keep people coming back for more. 


Java: The island for temple touring

Home to over half of Indonesia’s population, Java is a great island for getting to know the local life. As you head away from the capital Jakarta, you’ll uncover smouldering volcanoes, lush rice paddies and ethereal temples. The main feature of this mystical island though is Borobudur, one of the most evocative religious sights in Asia. A 9th-century Buddhist monument, this incredible structure stretches over three layers and has an incredible 72 open work stupas – each containing a Buddha – surrounding the main stupa at the top of the temple. We recommend visiting Borobudur at sunrise, when the glowing orange and purple light make this temple a magical sight. 

Borobudur, Java, Indonesia

Temples are synonymous with Java, and the impressive 10th-century Hindu temple complex Prambanan sits just to the west of Borobudur. Although Java is known for its temples, there’s a plethora of other things to do here – cycle and hike through rice fields, wander through fragrant tea and coffee plantations, watch the mesmerising lava of Kawah Ijen volcano or ride on horseback through verdant rainforests. 


Lombok: A local’s look at Indonesia

Bali’s smaller and quieter sibling, Lombok is the island to visit if you’re looking for oozes of natural charm and wonderful seclusion. Just a 20-minute flight or a pleasant two-hour boat journey from Bali, Lombok is still relatively undeveloped and its unhurried rice paddies, idyllic palms and dense tropical jungle all wonderfully untouched. Lombok is perfect for a beach getaway, with Suri beach in the north and a variety of white sandy bays in the south far from the tourist hotspots of Sengiggi and Materam. 


Lombok is also a perfect base for exploring the infamous Gili islands, as they’re easily accessible via a number of different boats. Visiting the three Gili islands is like stepping back in time, with bicycles and horses and carts the only form of transport. These hidden away islands are increasing in popularity, but a private boat is the perfect way to view the paradise beaches and snorkel in complete seclusion. 


Raja Ampat: World-class diving

Any diving enthusiast will no doubt have heard of Raja Ampat – an archipelago of Indonesian islands located just off the northwest tip of Papua New Guinea. Made up of over 1,500 tiny islands, Raja Ampat is characterised by forest covered islets, blissful coastline and crystal clear turquoise water. All of the islands in Raja Ampat are part of the Coral Triangle, making the islands’ waters some of the best in the world for diving. Over 35 species of fish and up to 40 corals are endemic to this region, so any diver is in for a captivating show. 


As the islands are so remote and uninhabited by humans, the best way to explore them is by boat. An exclusive private charter tailored to your specific needs is a great way to see the Raja Ampat islands in an unforgettable way. With rugged and scenic beauty, Raja Ampat is truly heaven on earth; diving the islands’ waters whilst lounging on a spacious deck between dives and tucking into al fresco dining is a truly world-class experience. 


Feeling inspired? Our expert travel designers are always on hand to help you explore Indonesia.