Indonesia leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller. Locales, culture, architecture, wildlife, cuisines, and more, there’s so much to admire and cherish in a country of 17,000 islands, 150 volcanoes, and 273 million people. If the diversity of options is overwhelming, join us, as we narrow down them for you. Here’s your rundown on the best things to do in Indonesia.
Best Things To Do In Indonesia
Visit the Beaches
When it comes to beaches, you are spoiled for choice in the world’s largest island nation. From urban oceanfront beaches to secluded coves and rocky foreshores infested by giant lizards, there’s a little paradise for every beachgoer. Here’re the top beaches in Indonesia.
1. Pantai Merah
Pink sand beaches are a rare commodity, with only seven existing globally. Nestled on Komodo Island, Pantai Merah is a sight to behold with stunning views of the azure sea crashing on the vast stretch of pink sand. As a side note, the microorganism, Foraminifera leaves a red pigment that lends this beach its characteristic pink color. Outnumbering the human population here, the Komodo’s namesake lizards roam freely on the beach, giving you one more reason to visit this secluded sanctuary. The coral colonies obscured within the shallow waters are also worth exploring. However, the entry fee is applicable.
2. Nusa Dua Beach
Nusa Dua represents a typical Bali beach with stunning white sands, abounding serenity, calm waters, and sheer diversity of things to do in Indonesia. Courtesy the coral reef projections, the water near the beach is calm, and ideal for swimming and snorkeling. And, the waters beyond the reef break serve as playgrounds for surfing enthusiasts. A stone’s throw from the Ngurah Rai International Airport, the beach also affords jet skiing, parasailing, and scuba diving experiences. Don’t forget to board the glass-bottom boats for some mesmerizing views of underwater marine life dwelling near the coast.
3. Trikora Beach
Head straight to Bintan Island to experience the natural wonder, Trikora Beach, that is. If the picturesque boulders dotting the vast stretch of pristine white sand fail to impress, the soothing, tranquil environment will. Call it a fisherman’s delight with anglers from across Indonesia and beyond converging here, hunting for Ikan Bilis. While the beach is perfect for relaxation, recreational avenues come in the form of kite surfing, especially from June to September and November to March.
4. Sire Beach, Lombok
Tucked away in the secluded part of Lombok, Sire Beach is a stunner. The unspoilt charm of a white sandy strip with verdant surroundings is accentuated by the picturesque Mount Rinjani standing majestically in the backdrop. The tranquil, shallow waters invite you to take a dip and snorkel while the sandy strip supports beachcombing, romantic strolls, and jogging. When done exploring the beach, head straight to the local villages with a legacy of craftsmanship in pottery and textiles. Buzzing markets and cascading waterfalls are also nearby, ready to flabbergast you. A golf link is also at a mile’s distance.
4. Nusa Penida, Bali
Your search for the most iconic beaches in Indonesia ends on Nusa Penida Island. A collection of five photogenic and less explored beaches on a deserted island offers the perfect ambiance for unwinding in the lap of Mother Nature. Feast your eyes on the dramatic cliff mimicking an open-mouthed monster in Kelingking Beach. Panoramic cliffs, verdant surroundings, and pristine white sands are in all readiness to blow you off your feet in Atuh Beach while Crystal Bay Beach affords some unforgettable views of the sun setting into turquoise waters. Likewise, Tembeling Beach is your entryway into the wilderness with ample avenues for swimming, cliff jumping, and getting up close and personal with the civilizations of the bygone era.
5. Cimaja, Java
If surfing is a priority, then Cimaja makes sense. Just endure a tiring four-hour journey from Java to get to this pebble-ridden beach and take on the waves as they come. ‘The Point’ is the best jumping point for intermediate and pro surfers while newbies can access relatively calmer waters. Want to hone your surfing skills? Well, the local surfing schools keep you covered. While surfing is an all-year-round affair, the best time lasts from April through November. In case you find the beach too crowded, feel free to hire a bike and explore the gems that lay hidden in this picturesque location.
6. Ngurtafur Beach, Warbal Island
Well, it’s not a typical beach on the coast but a massive snake-shaped sand dune amid a spectacular blue ocean. This strip of golden sand stretching 2 kilometers into the ocean is difficult to access but makes up for the ordeal with some awe-striking vistas, soul-soothing quaintness, and a cool breeze. As a host to Australian pelicans, typically between April and May, the beach is a paradise for birders. The leatherback turtles also roam free here. The beach is best visited at dawn when the tide is low.
7. Nyang Nyang Beach, Bali
Imagine going through a shipwreck while basking in the sun. It’s no ordinary shipwreck but a graffiti-ridden social media sensation. With it in the backdrop, your selfies are bound to attract eyeballs on Instagram. However, there’s more to Nyang Nyang Beach than this. The mile-long deserted seascape offers complete seclusion and some great hiking avenues into the verdant cliffs and the historic Uluwatu Temple. The terrain is inhospitable with chances of going astray running high. But the temple and views from the cliff top are worth it.
What do you expect in a country located in the heart of a highly seismically-active zone? Of course, volcanoes! Indonesia is home to over 150 volcanoes but not all are created equal. Some are dormant and exude charm, enigma, and magnificence while some, are active, and hence, off limits. Here’s a rundown on the top 5 inactive volcanoes that deserve a visit.
1. Mount Bromo
Nestled in Java’s very own ‘Ring of Fire,’ this active volcano is an ambient of several lava-spewing volcanoes and mounts in East Java. With Mt Sumeru gracing the backdrop, this 2,329-meter-high volcano is a sight to behold, especially when the sun gradually emerges from behind only to smear everything in golden hues. Feel free to bask in the wilderness of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, a nature reserve encompassing the volcano since 1919.
If you find Mount Bromo too dangerous, Mount Pananjakan could be the best vantage point. As a side note, the volcano borrows its name from Brahma, the ultimate creator according to Hindus. The area is inhabited by Tenggerese who follow a syncretic culture marked by complicated rituals and sacrifices. Feel free to visit the Hindu temple, Pura Luhur Poten, an architectural marvel donning black stones and an extensive campus with several enclosures.
2. Mount Kelimutu
A crater lake is a common sight in dormant volcanoes, but there is something special about the Kelimutu crater lakes. Feast your eyes on a natural wonder with three lakes that stick out in a rugged, desolate, and dreary backdrop of a 1,639-meter-high volcano’s crater. They all share the same name, Kelimutu, denoting ‘the boiling lake’, and the same purpose – to house dead spirits. However, the lakes are unique in that they don different colors at different times. The volcano is housed in the Kelimutu National Park, a nature reserve for 19 endemic and endangered species.
3. Mount Rinjani
The towering presence of Mount Rinjani is one of the defining features of Lombok Island. Perched in the namesake national park, the volcano provides some Insta-worthy photo opportunities and a fine ambiance to indulge in. Just a stone’s throw from the volcano is the 3.7 X 5.3-mile caldera featuring a sparkling blue crater lake, Segara Anak. Hot springs also dot the caldera. The area has a religious significance as well, serving as a hotspot for Hindu rituals. If you prefer not to climb the summit for safety’s sake, hike into Mount Rinjani National Park to be mesmerized by the greenery, dramatic waterfalls, and enigmatic valleys.
4. Mount Krakatoa
Calling Sunda Strait home, Krakatoa is young, active, and dangerous but a spectacle nonetheless. The volcano burst onto the scene in 1883 with the most powerful eruption ever in recorded history, taking a heavy toll on life and property and impacting the local climate. The eruption even shaped the Anak Krakatau Island (Child of Krakatoa), which eventually surfaced in 1930 from the caldera. Anak Krakatau is the best vantage point for some jaw-dropping views of the fire-spewing mount. It’s a stark reminder of the fury of nature unfolding at its destructive best. The vast expanses of sparkling shallow water not only afford panoramic views but snorkeling opportunities as well.
5. Mount Sumeru
For Sumeru (denoting the great mountain), the name says it all. The feeling of being belittled creeps in when in the presence of this majestic 3,676-meter high caldera in the coastal plains of East Java. For the uninitiated, Sumeru is a Sanskrit word referring to a mythical mountain right at the Earth’s center. As if the fire-belching caldera wasn’t striking enough, there’s much to explore here. Call it a secluded sanctuary with rough, rocky landscapes on one hand and expansive, green meadows with diverse flora on the other. Add to it the glistening crater lake, Ranu Kumbolo, the mountain comes across as a hiker’s paradise.
A melting point of cultures and ethnicities, Indonesia has some culinary credentials. It’s wise to create a checklist of culinary delights to savor on your forthcoming trip to the island nation. Here are the best recommendations for more evolved tastes.
The condiment is a popular fare in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and beyond but it has penetrated into the general Indonesian psyche. Such is the popularity that restaurants even highlight it as their premium dish. The chili-based sauce pairs well with virtually all foods, enhancing their taste and flavor. Typically, they crush and grind chili, garlic, shrimp paste, lime juice, sugar, salt, ginger, and shallot to create sambal. The consistency and flavor vary from one recipe to the other but one thing stays the same across the board, its delectable taste.
Nothing beats the popularity of Satay, Indonesia’s unofficial national dish. Originating as street food, Satay underwent several modifications to evolve into a regular fare across the country. While taste and flavor vary from vendor to vendor, Sate Madura is the most popular variant, typically served hot with rice cakes and salad. However, don’t forget to round off the dish with spaghetti ice cream to keep your digestive juices flowing.
3. Nasi Goreng
Treat your taste buds with Nasi Goreng, a pre-cooked fried rice dish embellished with veggies, eggs, and meat. From restaurants to street vendors, the recipe and presentation styles are distinct. Some might use tamarind and garlic to invoke a tangy taste while others prefer fish or chicken over mutton. Some might even skip meat outright. However, you are free to customize Nasi Goreng to your exact specifications.
Craving for something healthy? Well, Gado-Gado will exceed your expectations. It’s a salad comprising fresh leafy greens, boiled eggs, tofu, potato and more, subject to the Island you are on. In Java, you can savor pecel, a salad dish with uncanny resemblance to Godo-Godo. Don’t be surprised if the vendor offers Godo-Godo with the tangy, thick Sambal to make it an unforgettable gastronomical experience. Specifications might vary, but most recipes involve blanching the leafy greens and frying the other ingredients separately.
5. Ikan Bakar
In an island country, fish has to be the culinary mainstay. However, no seafood compares to the gourmet taste of Ikan Bakar even though it might seem like any other grilled fish. Usually, the chefs marinate the fish in a mixture of coconut oil, soy sauce, and a variety of spices before placing it on the grill. The end result is an explosion of different aromas and a sweetish taste that lingers on for a while. They serve it hot, typically with Sambal, Colo-Colo, and other sauces.
Temples, Monasteries & Mosques
Some painstakingly crafted temples, monasteries, and mosques showcase Indonesia’s rich cultural heritage. Even if you aren’t a believer, these engineering feats will keep you hooked with their craftsmanship and attention to detail. Just don your sarong and embark on a spiritual journey and see for yourself why a temple run is one of the best things to do in Indonesia. Here’re your best options.
Feast your eyes on the world’s biggest Buddhist temple, perched in the Kedu Valley, Central Java. With a three-tier structure and sturdy volcanic stone construction, the architectural marvel has stood its ground since the 8th century, unfazed by natural calamities and even terrorist bombings.
Upon the five sizable terraces lies a hollow circular structure, which tapers towards the top. And, atop sits an impressive stupa, adding to the structure’s magnificence. The compound is spread across 2500 sq. mts. and features 72 stupas, each affixed with a Buddha idol and perched on a circular platform.
A brainchild of the Shailendra rulers, the temple was engulfed by volcanic ash for over a millenia until 1814 when the Englishman, Thomas Raffles stumbled on it. The first restoration happened from 1907 to 1911 under the supervision of archeologists from Holland. However, it took UNESCO to restore it to its former glory in the late 1970s.
Overflowing with symbolism and peace, Borobudur is an entryway to Buddhist philosophy. The stupa serves as a reservatory for Buddhist religious objects while the temple mound represents the mythical Meru Parvat. Likewise, the Mandala denotes the universe with the square base depicting the Earth, while the circle stands for heaven.
2. Pura Luhur Uluwatu
On a 70 meters, cliff on the southern tip of Bali sits one of the most enthralling sites in Indonesia, Pura Luhur Uluwatu. The ancient Hindu temple astounds as much with its dramatic location as with its picture-perfect architecture. Flanked by lush greenery, the structure overlooks a turquoise sea with waves crashing on the cliff to ooze froth and clouds of mist.
The tiny temple features black stones and an expansive campus with several enclosures. The inner sanctum lies next to the cliff’s edge, making it a vantage point for a full profile of the turquoise sea, surf breaks, and the setting sun. A majestic Brahmin statue graces the enclosure behind the sanctum sanctorum overlooking the Indian Ocean. The campus is accessible via two gates embellished with intricate floral carvings. Built centuries after the main structure, the Pura Dalem Jurit shrine houses three terrific idols.
The origins and history of the temple are shrouded in mystery. Like many other temples in Bali, Uluwatu is also a vision of the revered monk, Mpu Kuturan. The Javanese sage, Empu Kuturan added to the temple’s initial shape somewhere around the 11th century. It took another saint, Dang Hyang Niratha, to render the structure the glory we marvel at today. The temple underwent several rounds of restoration, notably after being set on fire by lightning in 1999.
One of the Island’s directional temples, Uluwatu has an unmistakable religious significance. It’s considered the merging point of the Hindu “divine trinity” – Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh – with Mahesh being worshiped here in the form of Rudra who embodies the universe. As a side note, Luhur denotes “a thing originating from divine intervention,” while Ulu means “land’s end” and Watu, “the rock.’
In the heart of Java, 17 kilometers from Yogyakarta, lies a hub of temples that represents the region’s engineering prowess and a taste for grandeur. The UNESCO World Heritage Site greets you with over 508 stone temples mostly in shambles though, reminding of their erstwhile glory. Varying in size, the temples bear the characteristic conical shape with Kalasha sitting atop them. The main temple stands tall at 47 meters, flanked by 16 smaller but equally impressive structures.
Arguably, the temple was the Sanjaya dynasty’s response to the grandeur of the nearby Borobudur temple built by the rival ruling clan, the Shailendras. The construction began somewhere around 840 CE under the patronage of King Rakai Pikatan. However, natural calamities and unstable polity led Prambanan to fade into oblivion by the end of the 10th century. Although it was formally rediscovered in the 18th century, the restoration efforts ensued only in the early 1900s.
The massive complex has three zones, one inside the other. Once confined by a boundary wall, the outermost zone flaunts open spaces that were used for recreation and assemblies. The next zone is populated by 224 stone temples, different in sizes but similar in architecture. Some have been fully restored to their former glory while the rest lay in ruins. The arrangement of temples is remarkable, in four square rows with a common center. The innermost row has 44 shrines, while the sequential outer rows feature 52, 60 and 68 shrines respectively.
Just step into the innermost zone, you’ll come across 8 main and 8 lesser temples on a rectangular raised platform. Three of the holiest shrines are found at the center, dedicated to the Hindu divine trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. Temples attributed to the vahanas (vehicles) of the three divine figures – Hansa, Garuda and Nandi – are at an arm’s distance from their temples.
4. Pura Ulun Danu Beratan
Head straight to Bedugul in Bali to witness the splendor of Pura Ulun Danu Beratan in the midst of the stunningly clear and still Lake Beratan. Surrounded by picturesque hills, the shrine seems to be elevated by the mist emanating from the lake, rendering it a phantasmagorical appearance. Established in 1633, the temple is attributed to Dewi Danu, the goddess of water.
The painstakingly crafted gates without doors welcome visitors inside the walled temple complex with a squarish layout. The three unroofed enclosures are confined within the wall that allows passage through three adorned gateways. The outermost enclosure hosts non-religious activities and historical artifacts while the second one is used for preparing offerings. All the ceremonies take place in the innermost courtyard that features the sanctum sanctorum.
The pagoda-style roofs characterize the shrines, also referred to as Merus. The highest Meru, Pelliaggih belongs to Lord Shiva and his better half, Parvati. Located just outside the complex, the meru dedicated to Buddha renders Pura Ulun Danu Beratan a multi-religious disposition. Expect to come across several smaller Hindu temples that dot the entire canal route when descending the hill.
5. Tanah Lot
Tucked away on the west coast of Bali on a 3-acre rock, Tanah Lot is a part of the seven sea temples on the Bali coast, meant to hedge the Island against the “ills” rolling on sea waves. However, it’s more than just that. It’s a cultural icon for plenary indulgence, ceremonies and photography, keeping a steady stream of visitors all year around. Witnessing the jaw-dropping sunset is one of the cherished things to do in Indonesia when the entire complex is draped in golden hues.
Tanah Lut’s location is simply stunning, just offshore, on an outcrop that has been consistently reshaped by the roaring waves. Just make your way through a stone causeway on the elevated cliff at low tide to get to a complex of three Hindu shrines. Made of wood with pagoda-style thatched roofs, each shrine is home to three deities. The geometric design is in line with the Vastus Shastra, representing Hindu beliefs and local legends. The main deity here is the sea god, Dewa Baruna.
Typical of other temples in the region, there’s a dearth of documented history and excess of legends. In the 16th century, Dang Hyang Niratha stumbled upon the place and lodged here for a night. Enamored by the location, the sage requested the locals to come up with a rock shrine dedicated to the sea god. Constantly battered by sea waves, the coral reef that serves as the substratum gradually eroded, rendering the temple unstable and dangerous. With Japanese funding, the Indonesian government restored the reef artificially in the early 1980s.
6. Sewu Temple
Be mesmerized by the beauty and spiritual vibrance of Sewu Temple, a Buddhist temple second to Borobudur in size. Spread across 185X165 meters, the rectangular-shaped complex has four entry points, each guarded by an immaculately chiseled Dwarpala on either side. Once inside the complex, the sight of 249 magnificent structures in a Mandala arrangement arrests your imagination, while also giving you a sneak peek into Buddhist spiritual philosophy.
The temple premises also comprise 240 guardian temples identical in shape and size and erected in four rows with a common center. The number of temples varies according to the rows – 168 in the two outer rows and 72 in the inner ones. Later desecrated, ravaged, and looted, the inner shrines initially housed bronze Buddha idols.
With so many things to do in Indonesia, expect a blast in this diverse Island nation. From pristine beaches to volcanoes and architectural wonders, there’s much to cherish and admire. So, pack your bags and embark on a journey of a lifetime. Keep us updated on the things you did on your Indonesia trip via the comment box below. For more such compelling content, stay tuned to Duniakagyan.
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