It’s hard to compile a shortlist of unmissable places to visit in Indonesia as there are so many! With over 17,500 islands making up the archipelago, you will never run out of things to see and do. Each region offers travellers a unique perspective to explore.
Indonesia is regarded as one of the best places to visit for the ultimate beach getaway. However, there is more than just world-class scuba diving, competitive surf breaks, and untouched bays!
It may come as a surprise to discover that these islands also offer lush mountains, rice fields, tea plantations, volcanoes and densely populated urban cities. Whatever your thing, these places in Indonesia are sure to deliver.
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21 Unmissable Places to Visit in Indonesia
If you are a city slicker looking for a vibrant blend of old culture mixed with a contemporary metropolitan vibe, then Indonesia’s capital city Jakarta will definitely draw you in.
Spend your day museum hopping and pay homage to Indonesia’s struggle for independence at the National Monument. Ride colourful bicycles around the historical centre of Kota Tua and eat like a local! There is some wonderful Indonesian food on offer here, including the mouthwatering chicken satay (sate ayam), fried rice (nasi goreng) with steamed vegetables and tofu with peanut sauce (ketoprak).
Come the evening, head to one of the city’s many malls for a shopping spree or dive into the buzzing nightlife scene instead.
Yogyakarta is the home of Indonesia’s cultural pulse. Besides the main attractions of Sumur Gumuling and Taman Sari, both incredible architectural feats, inside the city, you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied.
Check out Mantrijeron and its quirky mural-lined streets or pop into one of the art shops on Jalan Malioboro shopping street to see authentic pieces of Javanese art. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit Kraton Yogyakarta, the Kingdom Palace, a famous landmark in the region.
A mere 90-minute drive outside the city will take you to the breathtaking temple complexes of Borobudur and Prambanan, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Don’t forget to bring your camera as they are both great spots to catch a picturesque sunrise!
3. Gili Islands
These three islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air – have been described as paradise on earth. Popular with honeymooners and backpackers alike, there is no better place to recharge your batteries!
The biggest of the islands, Gili T, is known for its wild party vibes, diving and snorkelling. Gili Meno tends to be the couple’s choice with a quieter vibe and Gili Air is a good all-rounder. There is something for everyone!
Level up your Gili experience with some island hopping, booze-cruising or getting stuck into the live music scene. Alternatively, just head to one of the many white sandy beaches for some sunbathing or sign up for a calming spa treatment with a spectacular sea view!
Read more: Party Hotpots in Southeast Asia.
Unlike the rest of Indonesia, Bali has its traditional roots in Hinduism. A delightful melting pot of culture, cuisine, art and nature, this island paradise delivers on experience while still being first-time traveller friendly. What else does a backpacker want?
Bali is a big island offering a lot of variety, meaning you’ll be able to tick bucket list activities off your checklist no matter your hobbies! So whether you want to party, practice yoga, surf, enjoy the beach or soak up a bit of the tranquillity – Bali will have something for you!
Also read: 12 Amazing Bali Beaches + 3 to Avoid!
If you want to give the mass tourism of Bali a miss, go eastward to the neighbouring island of Lombok. Comparatively untouched, you will get to experience nature in its raw and rugged form.
For the adventurous traveller, hiking one of Indonesia’s highest volcanoes, Mount Rinjani is an activity that can’t be missed. Drink in the magnificent biodiversity, making your way along forested trails while taking in the epic scenery.
If your happy place is by the water, you’ll be delighted to hear that countless pristine beaches and hidden waterfalls are waiting to surprise you. You can even island-hop to the three Gili islands from here. And for the most intrepid? Consider a boat trip to the secret Gilis. We won’t tell if you don’t! 🤫
A hidden gem nestled in the lush green highlands of Northern Sumatra, Berastagi is a small town situated at an altitude of 1300 metres. Visit Berastagi to escape the heat of the city and seek outdoor adventures!
Many who visit here do so to tackle the trek up the imposing volcano of Mount Sibayak. Although a guide is not strictly required, the trail can be difficult to follow in places and after rain, it is also slippery. Unless you are confident hiking in this kind of setting, we would recommend splashing the cash and hiring a local guide.
7. Lake Toba
Although volcanic eruptions are known for their destruction, sometimes they create something beautiful, such as the incredible Lake Toba. Formed around 74,000 years ago, the deep blue water of this ancient caldera lake is a sight to behold.
For a novel experience, plan to spend a few days in the middle of Lake Toba on Samosir Island. This place is a must for culture vultures who will relish the opportunity to learn more about the Toba Batak culture.
Also read: Recommended Sumatra Itinerary for Travellers.
8. Bukit Lawang
Answer the call of the wild in the rainforests of Gunung Leuser National Park. You can access this natural marvel from the tiny village of Bukit Lawang, located in North Sumatra. Most travellers come here in search of the same thing, to catch a glimpse of the Sumatran Orangutan.
If this activity is on your bucket list, make sure you put a lot of thought into the guide that you hire. You should only ever trek with an ethical company that respects the wildlife and environment. Do your bit for the planet and read more about trekking in Bukit Lawang here.
9. Pulau Weh
If overcrowded beaches give you a headache, then seek shelter on the lesser-visited island of Pulau Weh, situated a mere stone’s throw from mainland Sumatra.
Packed with lush tropical greenery and fringed palm trees, Pulau Weh offers a breathtaking underwater experience. This makes it an ideal destination if you are looking for plenty of marine life spotting opportunities.
This place also offers travellers the chance to get their own experience of island life. Flag down a Becak Motor and explore the landscape or plunge into the clear water and make some fishy friends!
Usually considered to be the gateway to Komodo National Park, Flores is often overlooked as a destination in its own right. However, it is a great place to spend some time.
The island is pretty large and it is easy to lose track of the days as you explore what it has to offer. From admiring the ‘Spider Web Rice Fields’ of Ruteng or taking a traditional tour of Bena village in Bajawa, there is plenty for the fearless adventurer.
Also read: Unique Islands in Indonesia.
11. Komodo National Park
Komodo attracts visitors for two main reasons. First (and most famously), you have the Komodo dragons. Arguably the most well-known of all Indonesian animals, the Komodo Dragon is the world’s largest lizard. Offering a glimpse into millennia gone by, it is easy to imagine these guys alongside the dinosaurs! (Even if that isn’t totally factually correct…)
Aside from the resident dragons, Komodo is surrounded by some of the best dive spots in Indonesia and attracts enthusiasts from the world over.
12. Raja Ampat
Remember that the best things in life are always worth the effort. This is an important lesson to keep in mind when you set out for Raja Ampat! The journey to reach this archipelago (consisting of either two flights or a flight and a ferry), might seem a bit daunting at first. While there are no direct flights to Sorong from Bali you can now fly direct from major cities such as Jakarta and Surabaya.
Once you touch down, you’ll be floored by sights so exotic and surreal that all the hard work will be worth it. Nicknamed by some as the ‘Amazon of the Reef’, Raja Ampat is home to one of the world’s most biodiverse diving locations.
No interest in diving? Travellers will still find that the lush island scenery and local hospitality make Raja Ampat a rewarding visit. Want to know something else? Raja Ampat was recently voted one of Southeast Asia’s best islands!
Sulawesi is one of Indonesia’s most beguiling islands. Once characterised by religious tensions, the result is a rich tapestry of traditions and ethnic groups. If you prefer your travel experiences to be coloured by culture, don’t miss a trip to this island to witness the incredible Torajan funeral ceremonies in Tana Toraja.
Be ready to witness hanging gravesites, elaborate burial celebrations, animal sacrifices (if you have the stomach for it) and the quaint village life of the nominated UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ke’te Ke’su. Death and the afterlife are treated in a truly unique way that you’re unlikely to see anywhere else.
14. Nusa Penida
Situated off the coast of Bali, this is the largest but least developed of the three islands that comprise the Nusa Islands. That means you get to explore island life still largely untouched by the perils of commercialisation.
Jaw-dropping sights are aplenty (if you dare the stairs in most cases!). Don’t miss the popular Kelingking Beach, Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach.
Enjoy the clear water as you snorkel with the manta rays or relax in the hidden gem that is Tembeling Natural Pool.
15. Nusa Lembongan
This island is more developed than Nusa Penida, so you’ve got a choice of many more activities here. Surfers can enjoy the world-famous waves, yogis can practise asanas on unpopulated tropical beaches and explorers can plonk themselves atop motorbikes and hit the road.
Why not hang out with the manta rays that this place is most famous for or explore the surrounding Nusa islands? It is easy to visit Nusa Penida on a day trip or cross over to Nusa Ceningan (the third of the trio islands). It is connected to Nusa Lembongan by bridge.
Also read: Nusa Lembongan Dive Guide.
This tiny surfing village will give you a hundred reasons to hit the pause button in your life! Picture an idyllic coastal setting with waves that your surfboard longs for.
Enjoy life chilling in a hammock, with the evenings reserved for barbecuing and socialising with the locals. Make the most of delicious traditional dishes from the warungs and treat yourself to plenty of local beer to wash it all down!
17. Baliem Valley
Explore the Wild West of Asia! The Baliem Valley, situated in West Papua might be a challenging destination to navigate but promises to deliver an emotionally rewarding experience.
Extremely remote with rugged trails, bamboo bridges, and mysterious jungles, your wanderings will take you through multiple villages where you can experience the traditional culture of the local Dani tribe.
Modern influence is catching up fast, so head for the valley before the indigenous culture which makes this region unique vanishes forever.
18. Kawah Ijen
Situated in East Java, Kawah Ijen is an active volcano that ranks high on many an adventure bucket list. Also known as the ‘Blue Fire Volcano of Java’, a trek here promises to be one that you won’t forget!
Known for the vibrant colour of its stunning greenish-blue crater lake (also the world’s largest acid lake, so don’t be tempted to swim!), this is an operational site for sulfur extraction as well.
To catch the sunrise over the volcano and witness the amazing blue flames, be ready to don your trekking shoes as early as 1.30 am to make it in time!
19. Pulau Nias
Once a firm stop on the hippie trail in the ‘60s, Pulau Nias is now the surfing Mecca of Indonesia! No matter whether you’re a beginner or a certified surf superstar, the waves will deliver here.
Located off the coast of West Sumatra, this island also presents a knockout culinary experience with its mouthwatering variety of seafood. Don’t miss the coconut curry with crab meat and barbecued smoked fish. For the culturally inclined, the local festivals are sure to keep you intrigued!
Also read: A Guide to Surfing in Sumatra & Surfing in Asia.
20. Mentawai Islands
This chain of islands floats off of the western coast of Sumatra. For all those wave worshippers who don’t like overcrowded hotspots, these remote islands are a slice of paradise you’re unlikely to share with many others.
When you tire of surfing, go for a long beach walk or sunbathe while you listen to the sea lap at the shore. Liven up your evenings with the delicious local fare and get chatting with the locals.
Why not try to learn a bit of the Mentawai language? The Mentawai people have some incredible stories to tell!
21. Banda Islands
The magical Banda Islands are a scuba diver’s paradise, boasting some of the world’s best diving locations. Located in the Banda Sea, this group of tiny islands is surrounded by sea volcanic activity. All kinds of marine life are waiting to be discovered here, including shivers of hammerhead sharks in the cooler months.
Many travellers have never heard of these islands and they are definitely remote! Travel by air or sea (ferry is the most popular way) from Ambon Maluku to the seaport of Banda Neira. Banda Neira offers guests a chance to explore the famous Spice Islands which are rich in cultural and culinary history. Nutmeg has long grown in the rich soils of the mountains.
There is a slower pace of life here and you can enjoy watching the sunset and grilling fish with the locals while your worries melt away. The local community will welcome you with kind-hearted hospitality and a smile.
Remember that much of Indonesia is off the beaten track and some places take a lot of work to reach. However, with some planning and a hearty dose of backpacking spirit, you can be sure you’ll have the time of your life.
If you are new to Indonesia, we recommend starting on the popular island of Bali as it is a very tourist-friendly destination where it is easy to meet other travellers. From here you can decide how adventurous you want the rest of your journey to be!
How many of these places in Indonesia have you added to your bucket list? In our opinion, the hardest thing is deciding where to go first!
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