Here are the best things to do in Indonesia, from diving and surfing to hiking volcanoes, spotting wildlife and visiting temples and rice terraces.
Indonesia is an epic melting pot of over 250 million people scattered across more than 17,000 islands. Located on the Ring of Fire, the country is known for its beautiful yet volatile volcanic landscape dotted with rainforests and laced with exotic islands. Indonesia’s location on the trading route between the Middle East and Asia has resulted in a diverse mix of 300 ethnic groups, over 700 spoken languages and multiple religions, which all exist today under a democratic republic. This is neatly represented by the country’s national motto: Unity in Diversity. There’s no shortage of things to do in Indonesia, from hiking active volcanoes to spotting Komodo dragons and wild orangutans. Indonesia has some of the most favoured beaches in Southeast Asia, as well as world-renowned diving, snorkelling and surfing destinations.
Top things to do in Indonesia… you’ll find a rich mix of religion, diverse age-old culture, modern cities, varied scenery and unspoilt islands in Indonesia. The country is particularly popular with water sports enthusiasts because of its fantastic coral reefs, marine life and waves, which are perfect for diving, snorkelling and surfing.
Indonesia has a patchwork of different religions and ancient beliefs, from Confucianism to Animist shrines, Hindu and Buddhist temples and Christian churches. As Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world, daily routines are characterised by the beautifully-eerie sound of the call to prayer echoing from dome-topped mosques. The island of Bali is known for its incense-filled Hindu temples, monks and sacred Monkey Forest. One of the top things to do Indonesia is visit one of the country’s eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including 9th century Borobudur and Prambanan temples and the Sangiran archaeological site.
Indonesian music, dance, painting, carving, craft and puppet-show traditions have been proudly passed through the generations and thrive today throughout the country, especially in cultural capitals Bali and Yogyakarta. Favourite things to do in Indonesia include watching dancers in golden costumes perform traditional Balinese routines and strolling through markets laden with crafts in Ubud. Java’s artistic heart lies in Yogyakarta, a city bursting with historic sites, from royal Sultan’s palaces to water temples. In far-flung parts of Indonesia you’ll come across ethnic groups who live in forested villages, such as the Toraja people who have elaborate funeral ceremonies.
Here are some of Indonesia’s top cultural experiences:
Borobudur Temple – 9th century UNESCO site and the world’s biggest Buddhist monument.
Prambanan Temple – one of the largest Hindu temples in Southeast Asia and a UNESCO site.
Ubud - the cultural capital of Bali, famed for its art, markets, museums and Monkey Forest.
Sangiran Early Man Site – UNESCO archaeological site full of human fossils.
Demak Great Mosque – one of the oldest mosques in the country built in the 15th century.
Yogyakarta – the cultural and artistic heart of Java, with historic buildings and a royal palace.
Tana Toraja – home of an ethnic group known for their unique funeral rites and houses with boat-shaped roofs.
Party-goers head to Indonesia’s idyllic islands for evenings filled with drinking and dancing on moon-spilled beaches. One of the top things to do in Indonesia is visit Gili Trawangan, a picture-postcard desert island with no motorised transport, carpets of white sand and turquoise waters teeming with turtles and other sea life. Beach bars and clubs stay open all night on Gili T and dance music competes with the early-morning call to prayer. Bali is also famed for its nightlife, which is at its most frantic in tourist hotspot Kuta, especially along the wide beachfront which is crammed with places to drink and dance. Ubud is Bali’s more relaxed nightlife area, known for live music and cosy bars.
The classier party spots in Indonesia are found in Bali’s Seminyak, a beach area known for luxury resorts and fancy restaurants. Seminyak has a range of trendy modern bars and clubs which attract well-known DJs and celebrities. Indonesia’s modern capital city Jakarta is also a mecca for clubbers and has hundreds of roof-top bars and clubs as well as cheaper bars. As a heavily Muslim country, Indonesia’s party scene does quieten down during Ramadan and drinking may be frowned upon in more conservative areas of the country such as Aceh. Looking for nightlife-related things to do in Indonesia?
Here are the top spots to check out:
Gili Trawangan – a tropical island with beach bars, live music, clubs and a Full Moon Party.
Kuta – a tourist favourite crammed with dance clubs, surfer pubs and classy beach lounges.
Seminyak – high-class spot in Bali with trendy bars, modern clubs and A-list parties.
Jakarta – head to the capital city to find world-class DJs, roof-top bars and chic clubs.
Ubud – a more laid-back nightlife scene with reggae bands, jazz evenings and quiz nights.
Expect plenty of meat-heavy dishes in Indonesia served with rice or noodles and sprinkled generously with spices. Throughout the country, the smell of barbequed meat wafts from street carts selling popular snacks of satays cooked over hot coals and covered in sticky peanut sauce. One of the most common things to doinIndonesiais try one of the country’s staple dishes, Nasi Goreng, which consists of fried rice with vegetables and meat served with a fried egg on top, accompanied by crackers. For breakfast, get your fill of colourful, succulent fruit and dip sweetened bread rotis into a cup of Indonesia’s strong, fragrant coffee.
To cater to the Muslim population, meat in Indonesia tends to be goat, chicken or beef rather than pork. One of Indonesia’s most famous meals is the Rendang curry from Padang, made with stewed beef cooked in coconut milk and fragrant spices. You can also try Bakso, a savoury meatball and noodle soup. For a healthier option, Gado Gado vegetable salad with the signature peanut sauce is a tasty option, while superb fresh seafood can be found throughout this island nation.
Here are some must-try Indonesia dishes:
Nasi Goreng – a typical fried rice dish found throughout the country
Gado Gado – a vegetable salad served with peanut sauce.
Satay – small meat or fish kebabs with a peanut sauce.
Bakso –asavoury chicken or beef meatball noodle soup.
Rendang – beef curry from Padang.
Roti – sweetened bread often eaten with coffee for breakfast.
One of the top things to do in Indonesia is enjoy some of the country’s 17,000 tropical islands. Sun worshippers can have their pick of gorgeous fine-sand beaches fringed with coconut palms and warm topaz waters. Bali is a beach haven to suit all tastes and one of the best spots on the island is the aptly named Dreamland, a sheltered stretch of sand ideal for a secluded afternoon in the sun. Senggigi on nearby Lombok offers more relaxing, paradisiacal coves and bays bordered by mountains. For a romantic getaway, head to Komodo National Park to discover Pink Beach, where red coral fragments mingle with pale sand to produce a pink-tinged carpet of sand. Indonesia’s strong swells and waves draw surfers from all over the globe to its popular surfing beaches, which include Grajagan in Java and beaches in the Sumba islands.
Explore Indonesia’s diverse underwater oasis full of turtles, sharks, colourful coral and hundreds of fish varieties. Thanks to exceptionally clear water, much of this amazing world can be experienced by snorkelling off islands such as the Gilis, a trio of desert islands with pristine beaches. The Raja Ampat islands have been tipped as the most untarnished in South-East Asia. They lie in the famous Coral Triangle, which is the most biodiverse marine habitat on earth, making it one of the world’s best diving and snorkelling hotspots. Discover more world-famous dive sites in Pulau Weh in Sumatra, Komodo Islands and the Banda Islands. The Liberty Wreck in Bali is rated as one of the top things to do in Indonesia by diving enthusiasts.
Here some of Indonesia’s best beaches:
Raja Ampat - an archipelago of over 1,000 jungle-covered islands, said to be some of the most beautiful in Southeast Asia.
Gili Trawangan – a vibrant Islandwithfind sand and turquoise water perfect for snorkelling.
Grajagan Beach, Java – a famous surfing spot known as ‘G-land’.
Banda islands – a remote group of 10 small volcanic islands with first-rate beaches and snorkelling, located in Maluku province.
Karimunjawa – the largest of 27 islands designated as a marine park off the coast of central Java. The island has clean, sparsely populated beaches surrounded by reef-filled waters.
Senggigi, Lombok - offers a series of relaxing bays set against jungle-covered mountains.
Dreamland Beach, Bali – a quiet beach sheltered by cliffs with big waves for surfers.
Pink Beach, Komodo National Park – one of seven stunning pink beaches in the world.
Pulau Weh, Sumatra – one of the world’s top diving spots, with sands surrounded by jungle.
Nihiwatu Beach, Sumba – offers remote stretches of pristine sand and impressive sunsets.
Indonesia has one of Asia’s most dangerous landscapes, with smouldering volcanoes, bubbling geothermal springs, geysers and sulfur lakes. Volcano trekking is one of the most popular things to do in Indonesia and visitors often head to Bromo, Batur, Rinjani and Krakatau to get up close to awe-inspiring volcanoes. This fiery scenery is contrasted by the country’s thousands of peaceful islands dotted amongst clear waters bursting with marine life. Calming fields of vivid green-and-yellow rice sway in the warm breeze and rise in terraces toward the sky, whilst modern cities and ancient towns bustle with life. Don’t miss Flores, named after its beautiful flowers, which has a combination of volcanoes, lakes, timeless villages, rice fields and hidden beaches. Flores is the jumping off point to Komodo Island, where you’ll find man-eating lizards, unique pink-sand beaches and small fishing villages.
Indonesia’s crowning glory could be its prehistoric rainforests, which represent one of the most vital ecosystems in the world and are home to endangered species like the wild orangutan. Although Indonesia’s rainforest and wildlife is under threat from logging, burning and poaching, efforts are being made to preserve this essential habitat. Many areas are now designated as national parks, reserves and UNESCO sites and in Borneo, you’ll find areas of lush, untouched forest still buzzing with wildlife. The Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra is one of the largest conservation areas in the whole of Southeast Asia and is home an estimated 10,000 plant species, 200 mammal species and 580 bird species. At the Tangkoko Reserve, take a safari with a professional guide for the best chance of spotting the bug-eyed Tarsier, the world’s smallest primate, and the endangered Sulawesi Bear Cuscus.
Here are some of the best scenic things to do in Indonesia:
Mount Bromo – take a trip to watch the sunrise over this active volcano in Java.
Flores and Komodo – protected islands in Komodo National Park where you can spot Komodo dragons.
Goa Gajah – a sanctuary with elaborate cave carvings from the 9th century.
Tangkoko Reserve – a stunning nature reserve in Sulawesi where you can see timid tarsiers.
Campuhan Ridge Walk – a scenic path through spectacular rice fields and terraces in Bali.
Sumatra – the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra is a UNESCO site covering 2.5 million hectares, comprised of three national parks full of wildlife.
Sungai Kapuas – take a trip along Indonesia’s longest river, surrounded by wild Borneo jungle.
Indonesia is great beach holiday destination, but it also has plenty more to keep you busy. Here are some of the top things to do in Indonesia:
Komodo dragons – visit Rinca and Komodo islands to catch a glimpse of these dinosaur-like creatures.
Explore natural UNESCO sites - these include national parks and areas of rainforest which harbor rare wildlife such as endangered orangutans.
Snorkelling and diving – there are colourful coral reefs and marine life throughout Indonesia, especially in Raja Ampat, the Gili Islands, Wakatobi and Pulau Weh.
Volcano trekking – tackle one of Indonesia’s many active and non-active volcanoes for unbeatable views. The most popular include Rinjani, Batur, Bromo, Krakatau and Kelimutu.
Surfing - surfers flock to Indonesia for its gigantic waves, the most popular spots can be found on beaches off Bali, Lombok and Grajagan in Java.
Orangutans – Sumatra is one of the only places in the world where you can find wild orangutans. Visit The Bukit Lawang orangutan sanctuary in Sumatra to see them for yourself.
Traditional shows – catch a dance or music show throughout Indonesia, particularly in Bali and Yogyakarta.
Spas – relax in one of Indonesia’s world-class spas, the best of which can be found in Bali. Have a Balinese massage, take a yoga class or join a meditation retreat.
Try Batik – take a class in this traditional Indonesian art form of decorating cloth with dye and wax.
Visit the Monkey Forest – wild macaques roam free in Ubud’s Monkey Forest. Just watch out for your belongings and be aware that monkeys can bite.
The annual horseback spear-throwing Pasola festival in Sumba takes place in February or March and is one of the top things to do in Indonesia. Over 50 men on horseback take part in the jousting contest, which is based on an old war ritual which gives thanks to ancestral spirits and is thought to bring a good harvest. Ramadan is closely observed in many parts of Indonesia.
When to go
Indonesia essentially straddles the equator, so the temperature is hot and humid all year-round. However, throughout most of the country, the dry season is between May and September, while the rainy season falls between October and April. There are some exceptions to this rule; in Maluku and Papua the wet and dry seasons are reversed and it rains in the north of Sulawesi during June and July. In Sumatra, the rains fall between October and January in the north and November and February in the South.