10 Otherworldly Places to Visit in Indonesia

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

10 Otherwordly Places to Visit in Indonesia

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

Lake Toba - 10 Places to Visit in Indonesia
Lakeside bungalows on Samosir Island, Lake Toba – Source

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 - 10 Places to Visit in Indonesia

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

Rinca - 10 Places to Visit in Indonesia

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

Kelimutu Lakes - 10 Places to Visit in Indonesia

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

Orangutans Kalimantan Indonesia - Raja Ampat - 10 Places to Visit in Indonesia

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

Gunung Rinjani - 10 Places to Visit in Indonesia

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 - 10 Places to Visit in Indonesia

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

Darawan, Kalimantan - 10 Places to Visit in Indonesia

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!

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

46 thoughts on “10 Otherworldly Places to Visit in Indonesia

  1. Great article. Good to see a wide variety of things in the list. I have only been to , Kelimutu, Komodo, Tana Toraja, and Lake Toba of those 10. Would love to get round to seeing the rest one day. That jellyfish lake looks interesting. Kalimantan seems a world away from the rest of Indonesia. So much to explore there. If I could add something to your list it would be Kerinci Seblat National Park in Sumatra. Such an adventure! 😀

    1. You’ve done so much more than I have. I’m jealous! Out of curiosity, what did you think of Tana Toraja? As I was researching it I started getting the feeling that it’s a huge tourist trap and that maybe it’s not as authentic as it used to be. My boyfriend and I are seriously considering going to Kalimantan next month! Do you have any other recommendations for places to visit there? And I will definitely look into Kerinci Seblat National Park. Thanks for the tip 🙂

    1. I know! It’s so amazing how many drastically different things there are to do in Indonesia. Researching all the different islands has been really eye opening…there’s just so much to do! Ha, the Komodo dragons are pretty scary creatures. It doesn’t help that they are venomous and have been known to attack humans. Yikes!

  2. You’re right that Indonesia is filled with beautiful places! One of the things that impressed me most during our two-month visit was also how diverse each island is—every one has a different vibe, a different culture, and sometimes different topography & natural wonders, so even if, say, Bali isn’t your cup of tea, you might find that Lombok or Java is more your speed.

    We tried our best to sample the country widely during our visit and actually spent extensive time over on Flores. We initially went over because we wanted to visit the Komodo islands and dive there, but then I heard about Kelimutu and decided that we had to visit it. I’ll admit that it was really fantastic to see in real life, but Flores was definitely our least favorite island that we visited. It’s hard to travel, the accommodation is generally very poor (but quite expensive, especially given the standards) and because of Kelimutu’s location, there is no easy way to get there so it will be a slog. Pretty much every traveler we met who overlanded Flores agreed that it was rather grueling and nightmarish, so I can’t in good conscience recommend others go out of their way to visit (and really, the only way you’d end up on Flores is if you went out of your way to get there). Kelimutu is not really close to where you go to see the dragons (you’d probably base yourself in Labuan Bajo, which is a really terrible run-down port town), so you’ll either have to fly to another airport from Labuan Bajo and do a couple hours by car/bus, or do a rather grueling two days overland to reach Moni and then back again. If you do decide to head to Flores, send me an email and I’ll send you some recommendations for your trip so you can avoid the mistakes we made!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…Melancholic Musings on Florence

    1. I didn’t know you guys traveled to Indonesia. I didn’t see anything on your blog about it, so I figured it wasn’t a country you visited. I would have loved to read about your travels here! I’ve only been to Java and Bali, but it is so crazy how culturally different those two islands are. They feel like two different countries. I’ve heard that Flores and Sumatra are primarily Christian which boggles my mind.

      When we were backpacking around earlier this year we were totally deterred from traveling to Flores because of the amount of time it would not only take to get there but to travel overland across the island. I read a lot of horror stories too. One thing that bums me out about traveling to some of these more remote locations is that getting there is really tough. Plus, it seems like accommodation prices are really high but the quality is really poor. Anyway, I will definitely let you know if I decide to brave Flores. Some advice would be much appreciated 🙂

  3. Raja ampat is at the very top of my list for anywhere! If only it wasn’t so difficult to get to and the diving wasn’t so expensive. Indonesia is such a beautiful and diverse country. I’m hoping to head to Malaysia next month – slightly off topic but pretty close! 🙂
    Katie recently posted…Winter Squash Pasta with Sage Recipe

    1. Raja Ampat looks so amazing! It seems like every place in Indonesia is really hard to get to. Such a pain! Wait, what? You’re going to Malaysia?! Where are you planning on going? I love it there. How exciting 🙂

    1. It’s very exciting! It’s really amazing to me that travelers come here and only do Bali and maybe Java. Obviously I’m guilty of doing the same thing. But, like me, I think a lot of people don’t know about all the other amazing places in Indonesia. That’s part of why I wanted to compile this post. Before I started doing all this research I really didn’t know what exactly Indonesia had to offer. It really is a massive and diverse place! I’m definitely excited to do something a little different and see a few of these amazing sights…but I’m really having a hard time choosing where to go!

  4. Justine, Justine, Justine! You’ve killed me with an urge to get my butt to Indonesia! Those places look so absolutely stunning, I would pick a favourite but how could you? The jelly fish lake has been on my travel bucketlist for a while now since seeing that video; but the Raja Ampat and the mountains, the lakes and volcanoes; I’m in absolute awe. 2015 will bring me to Indonesia, I’m sure of it. 🙂
    Hannah recently posted…Six (very valid) reasons why I’m moving to Australia

    1. Indonesia is pretty incredible, isn’t it? The jellyfish lake just calls my name. I HAVE to get there sometime soon. And yes, Raja Ampat sounds incredible too…there’s just too much to choose from!.

  5. Wow, great list! The colour of those mountain lakes is unreal. Candy apple red? That must be quite the sight. You’re so lucky to have all these amazing destinations close by. I’m particularly jealous of the jellyfish lake and Raja Ampat. Those are 2 places I would love to experience myself. I thought the only jellyfish lake was the one was in Palau, but it’s nice to know that there are other options. 🙂
    Shelley recently posted…Gone, but Not Forgotten: Puppy Love

    1. You should google the lakes. One of them seriously turns bright red. It’s crazy! I thought the only jellyfish lake was in Palau too, but when Aaron informed me that there’s one in Kalimantan I just about died from excitement. I’m not sure why I want to swim with them so badly, especially considering I have an irrational fear of jellyfish. But I just think it would be such a cool experience!

    1. I know! My list keeps getting longer and longer. I’m actually leaning toward doing Rinca in January. Do you have any recommendations of places to stay in Lebuan Bajo or the islands surrounding Rinca and Komodo? I’ve heard that some of the accommodation isn’t so wonderful so I thought I’d check with you!

    1. Whoa, we just commented on each other’s posts at the exact same moment! I know, it’s weird being an expat in Indonesia. Being a professional traveler would be SO much better! Aaron and I still can’t decide where to go next month. I think we’ve narrowed it down to Derawan or Rinca. Although Gili Air is kind of calling my name too…

    1. I really want to see the orangutans. It’s definitely something I’ve been dreaming of doing since college. My only hesitation about going next month is that it’s the height or the rainy season here and I’m not sure if the weather will be a problem. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t be an issue!

  6. Oh wow, there are so many amazing and out of this world places on this list! If I were you, it’d be a tie between Lake Toba, Moni, and Gunung Rinjani, but I think anywhere you go will end up being completely amazing. I look forward to seeing your posts on a few of these amazing locations 🙂 Maybe I will head over to Indonesia afterall…
    Katie @WorldWideVegetarian.com recently posted…What I Ate in Montreal

    1. It is so hard to choose Katie! I almost went to Lake Toba last month. But there was a volcano erupting a few miles away and the whole lake is enveloped in ash. I saw video coverage on the news and the visibility was almost nonexistent! I think I’ll wait until the volcano stops erupting 😉 Kelimutu Lake sounds awesome but kind of hard to reach. I need to start working out hardcore and then I’ll do Rinjani! Right now we’re thinking Derawan or Rinca OR we’re thinking of taking a diving course in the Gilis so that we’ll actually be able to take advantage of all the amazing diving in Indonesia 🙂

    1. Totally! There is so much to see here and a lot of people underestimate just how big this country is. It would definitely take years, if not a lifetime, to see it all!

    1. Flores is definitely a contender! Ugh, we are the worst at making decisions. Now we’re kind of thinking of doing a diving course. We’d like to actually be able to do some diving in some of these destination, like Derawan and Raja Ampat. But I’ve only been diving once in high school and Aaron has never been, so we’d really like to get certified!

    1. Aren’t these places crazy? It’s so weird how I’d never even heard of most of these places when I was traveling around Indonesia earlier this year. I suppose that’s why I wanted to compile this list, so other travelers could get a better idea of just how much Indonesia has to offer besides Bali!

  7. I have always thought about that one day I’m going to Indonesia. But now, looking all those beautiful pictures and reading about those places, I really really want go there. It seems Raja Ampat is very top of my list, and Rinca Island sounds great and exciting as well.

    1. I cannot even convey how amazing Indonesia is. It really does have it all! I’ve heard such great things about Raja Ampat and Rinca. Obviously they’re on the top of my list too! I hope you have the chance to come here soon 🙂

  8. Wonderful list! I have spent nearly four months in Indonesia this year and feel I have barely scratched the surface!

    Just been to Komodo today and the dragons were amazing! The islands around as well are out of this world. Having been to Raja Ampat they are really close in standard but the remoteness and diving in Raja make it my favourite. The rest of the list I still need to crack on with too 🙂

    Raja wasn’t actually that stressful at all to get to (other than getting detained in Papua’s police station for hours, which, I assume isn’t the norm) . By far, the most beautiful place I have seen. Glad it is at the top of your list!

    1. I know what you mean Daniel! I spent two months traveling in Indonesia and then I lived in Jakarta for a year, and I still don’t feel like I’ve scratched the surface. Ha, I’m pretty sure I never even made it to one of the places on my Indonesia bucket list. I’d really like to go back for an extended trip there at some point. I’m dying to explore Sumatra and Sulawesi.

      I was supposed to go to Komodo and Rinca a few months ago. Everything was booked and I had to cancel last minute. So disappointing, but great to hear that you loved it! And I REALLY wanted to go to Raja Ampat. I do hear that the diving is out of this world! What? You got detained in a police station?! Oh Indonesia. The weird shit that happens…

      Where are you headed next and how long are you traveling there?

    2. Justine! As Indonesian, I’m so thankful you made this list like a hint for people who want to visit this beautiful country. I wonder if you ever come to Pontianak, West Kalimantan, the place where I stay. There’s a lot of places to go in here. We’ve got Kapuas River which is the longest in Indonesia, and you can enjoy the Kapuas River Cruise. You should come! let me know if you’re interested.

      And anyway, I’m so jealous of Daniel. I live in Indonesia but haven’t had possible time to explore Raja Ampat
      You should come to Pontianaktoo, Dan!

      1. Thanks Putri 🙂 Indonesia is such a large and diverse country. I feel like you could spend a lifetime exploring it and still not see it all. I’m so bummed I never made it to one of the places on this list. I’m jealous of Dan too 😉 I will definitely be back to Indonesia to do some traveling soon!

        1. You should! 🙂 You know, I’ve been spending time a few hours to read over this blog. Your articles are so inspiring and get me jealous at the same time. I really want to travel a lot and have those amazing experience in my life. I’ve also just known you learned Spanish. Maybe we can exchange language if you don’t mind. Would like to meet you one day!

  9. I have a good news for you. Raja Ampat also has stingless jellyfish lake too in Misool Islands. Not only one but five lakes said locals. But only two are acessible. Now you can choose between Derawan and Raja Ampat

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge