From the moment I found out I’d be moving to Jakarta, I started scouring travel blogs and websites for all the places I’d like to visit while living here. While I have a sort of love-hate relationship with Jakarta, I realize that I couldn’t be luckier to be based in Indonesia. Indonesia is a massive archipelago made up of more than 17,000 islands. With its surreal landscapes, exotic wildlife, Technicolor volcanic lakes and indigenous cultures, Indonesia really does have it all. And since I’m getting ready to do some traveling next month, I’ve been doing tons of research on places to visit in Indonesia. I figured I should compile the fruits of my labor into a blog post and share my findings with anyone who’s interested in traveling to Indonesia.
Here is a list of my picks for the top 10 places to visit in Indonesia. While I realize I probably won’t get to all 10 of these far flung destinations, I hope to at least scratch a few off of my list before leaving Jakarta next August. The plan is to pick at least one of these amazing locations to visit next month, and I could not be more excited!
My Picks: The Top 10 Places to Visit in Indonesia
1) Raja Ampat, Papua
Raja Ampat consists of more than 1,500 islands and islets and boasts some of the country’s most pristine coral reefs and richest marine life. The diving and snorkeling in this area is some of the best not only in Indonesia but in the world. Lately I’ve really wanted to give diving another shot – I did it once before in the Cayman Islands and loved it – and I figure that there’s no better place to get reacquainted with the underwater world than Raja Ampat. Since there are no direct flights to the area from Jakarta, getting here will be a bit of a pain. Think two flights, a three-hour bus ride, and a jaunt on a speedboat. But something tells me Raja Ampat is worth the effort.
2) Lake Toba, Sumatra
I first heard of Lake Toba from a good friend who not only told me that “this place is paradise,” but that it was her favorite destination in Indonesia. Considering she spent three months backpacking around the country, I was immediately intrigued. Then I read this post and I became obsessed. Lake Toba is located in northern Sumatra and is the largest volcanic lake in the world. It was the site of a supervolcanic eruption that took place some 77,000 years ago, resulting in a massive shift in the Earth’s climate and the near eradication of humans. In the middle of the lake is the gigantic island of Samosir, which has become a haven for backpackers in the past decade. There’s not much to do at Lake Toba other than chill out at a lakeside bungalow, hike and motorbike around the island, and cool off in the lake. But it sounds like a tiny utopia and I can’t wait to see this place for myself.
3) Tana Toraja, Sulawesi
Tana Toraja is an ethnographer’s dream. Located in Southern Sulawesi the villagers in this remote province adopted Christianity after the Dutch colonized Indonesia in the late 1500s. Today, the result is fusion of Christianity and animism. The Toraja people are known for their elaborate and unique funerary ceremonies, which are attended by hundreds of people and often last for days on end. They take death seriously and it’s not unheard of for families to store bodies for months, or even years, while they save enough money to give their loved ones a proper send off. The Toraja people believe that bodies should be buried above ground, so that they can watch over the living. Tombs are often dug into the sides of sheer cliffs or hung from wooden caskets, an eerie and fascinating sight.
(NOTE: These ceremonies have actually become a huge tourist draw in recent years, which honestly makes me think twice about visiting. I’m not a fan of exploiting other cultures and after doing a bit of research it appears that tourism might not be having the most positive impact on the Toraja people or their culture. It’s best to do your own research before visiting.)
4) Rinca Island, East Nusa Tenggara
I’ve pretty much always been obsessed with all things National Geographic and the second I first heard about Komodo dragons when I was a kid, I knew someday I had to see them for myself. Measuring up to 10 feet long and weighing in at no more than 150 pounds, Komodo dragons are remarkable creatures. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I started traveling in Southeast Asia, that I realized these giant lizards only inhabit five small islands in Indonesia, mainly Komodo and Rinca. After reading this post I’ve dreamed of visiting Rinca. The main reason to visit is to see the dragons, but it turns out that Rinca itself is quite a draw. The scenery on the island is unimaginably beautiful. And when visiting the dragons it’s also possible to tack on an all-day hike around the island and take a detour to its unreal pink sand beach.
5) Moni, Flores
The tri-colored lakes of Mount Kelimutu might be the trippiest natural phenomenon I’ve ever seen. Located in central Flores, the three volcanic lakes are becoming an increasingly popular destination due to their unique colors, which range from candy apple red to pitch black to jade green. The variation in color is caused by volcanic activity and chemical reactions from volcanic gases. It’s an incredibly surreal landscape and other travelers have assured me it’s definitely worth seeing in person. An added plus is that the lakes are located on the island of Flores, which is also the base for seeing the Komodo dragons. I’m hoping to tackle both in one trip!
6) Puncak Jaya, Papua
I’m not sure when I first heard of Puncak Jaya but I’m pretty sure I saw a commercial for it while I was watching TV in my apartment in Jakarta. I remember being shocked that after traveling and even living in Indonesia, I had no idea this country had snow. Seriously, snowcapped mountains in Indonesia? It just doesn’t seem right.
Puncak Jaya (also known as Carstensz Pyramid) is actually one of the world’s highest peaks and is one of the Seven Summits – the highest peaks on each of the seven continents. The cost is a mere $10,000 USD to make the climb and of course only the most expert of climbers can attempt the brutal climb. And since I clearly don’t have the extra scratch, and I’ve never actually climbed anything aside from Monserrate in Bogotá (does that count?), I don’t think I’ll be making it to Puncak Jaya in this lifetime. But I still think it’s pretty cool that these snow-dusted mountains are located right here in Indonesia.
7) Tanjung Putting National Park, Kalimantan
I was an anthropology major in college which means some of my studies revolved around great apes. I’m also a huge animal lover and one of the things my on bucket list is to observe orangutans in the wild. For those who don’t know, there are two types of orangutans. The Sumatran orangutan – which is found on the island of Sumatra – is critically endangered; it’s estimated that there are only 7,000 left. The Bornean orangutan is found on Borneo (an island shared by Malaysia and Indonesia’s Kalimantan) and there are only about 40,000 of these amazing creatures left. The rapid decline in both populations is mainly due to deforestation. Palm oil plantations play a big role in the loss of Indonesia’s forests. And the fact that Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil doesn’t help matters. Putting National Park is a great place to spot these endangered creatures in their natural habitat. It also helps to raise awareness about this issue, which is an added bonus.
8) Gunung Rinjani, Lombok
Ever since I read this post about the 3-day trek to the summit of Rinjani, I’ve found myself daydreaming of doing this hike. Even though I think it would be highly challenging for me – and realistically I’m not sure I’d be physically able to reach the top – the experience seems pretty spectacular and I’d really like to give it a shot. Hiking up this beautiful active volcano, glimpsing its turquoise crater lake, camping on the caldera and reaching the top of the 3,736 meter summit are all things that would be a dream come true for me.
9) Mount Ijen, Java
Mount Ijen was on my itinerary for my big backpacking trip to Indonesia earlier this year. The plan was to do a sunrise tour at Mount Bromo and then move on to Ijen. But after my disastrous tour experience in Bromo, I decided to skip out on the tour to Ijen, a decision I since regret. Ijen has become increasingly popular with tourists because of its beautifully blue and highly acidic crater lake. While it is a sight to see during the day, it is actually the lake’s nocturnal “blue fire” that is the biggest draw. In the middle of the night, travelers hike two hours up to the crater’s edge to get ringside view of the neon-blue flames that emanate from the lake. The breathtaking show is actually caused by sulfurous gas emissions. The crater also happens to be a major sulfur mining site. For just a few dollars a day, miners haul heavy loads of yellow sulfur chunks from inside Ijen’s crater. The conditions are appalling and workers rarely have protection from the noxious fumes. The miners themselves are also part of the tourists draw.
10) Derawan, Kalimantan
A few years ago Aaron showed me this video of some guy swimming in a lake full of jellyfish in Palau. At that moment we promised each other that someday we would find a lake teeming with jellyfish and jump in. Well, maybe not jump; we wouldn’t want to hurt the little guys! Seriously though, it’s one of the cooler things I’ve ever seen and I’ve been dreaming of buying a GoPro and recreating that video for a couple of years now. So when I found out that Derawan, Kalimantan, is one of the few places in the world that actually has a lake inhabited by stingless jellyfish I became absurdly giddy. And after reading this post, it was a no-brainer that Derawan would be on the the shortlist for our January travels.
If you could pick one, which destination would you choose to visit? I seriously can’t decide where to go first. Help me out!