With its alluring mix of beaches, volcanoes, temples, stunning scenery, artistic and cultural wealth, the island has long been the jewel in the Indonesian tourism crown. Nail is the enclave of a unique and colorful form of Hinduism, and of its thousands of temples Besakih, Tanah Lot and Uluwatu are the three most impressive. The festivals celebrated at all these shrines are a colorful and vibrant celebration of the devout traditional lifestyle that has drawn tourists to the island for decades most visitors also go to the southern beach resorts Kuta, a heady, hedonistic mix of hotels, shops, restaurants and nightlife, but there are plenty of quieter resorts around the coast, and a few secluded spots remain for total relaxation. Those interested in art, crafts, music and dance usually head for Ubud, a cool, laid-back town with galleries, studios, performances and classes galore and plenty of local walks among the rice-terraces to engage the more energetic. The still smoking Gunung Batur, in the volcanic centre of the island, is a popular climb, usually done in the pitch dark so as to arrive at the top in time to admire the glowing sunrise.
The obligatory sunrise views of this mountain in east Java, with the peak and its equally stunning neighbours rising from an almost other worldly sea of sand, are simply spell binding. There are also plenty of wails to enjoy in this cool, attractive region.
Java’s number-one tourist attraction, this colossal, multi-tiered temple is the world’s largest Buddhist stupa. Over a thousand years old, the temple, though now ruined, is still surprisingly evocative, with over three thousand reliefs detailing scenes from everyday life and the path followed by the soul to enlightenment, along with ancient tales illustrated the journey.
In northern Sumatra, this is Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake. Its central island, Samosir, is the heartland of the Toba Batak people and offers great scenery, trekking and relaxation, with the option of visiting megalithic stone complexes, local villages and hot springs.
The animals at the orangutan rehabilitation centre at Bukit Lawang in Sumatra are arguably the most famous example of Indonesia’s wildlife. The centre aims to reintroduce into the wild orangutans that have been rescued from captivity; visitors here are welcome to watch the twice-daily feeding sessions.
An apparent throwback to the age of dinosaurs, these creatures, actually the world’s largest lizards, live on Komodo in Nusa Tenggara, the chain of islands stretching between Bali and West Papua. The largest ever recorded was more than 3m long and weighed in at 150kg, though most of the dragons aren’t quite so enormous.
The highlight of many visits, Indonesia’s marine life is startling in its diversity. Current centres for diving are Bali, Gili Islands off Lombok, and Sulawesi
This region of Sulawesi is home to the Torajan people, who have a wealth of traditional architecture and ceremonies, most famously funerals. Also on offer are plenty of opportunities for trekking in the scenic highlands
The city is the heartland of Javanese arts; exhibitions of art and batik, and performances of music, drama, puppetry and dance abound, with courses available for visitors. The Kraton, the old walled city, is well preserved for architecture buffs, and Yogyakarta is ideally placed for excursions into the surrounding countryside and – if it hasn’t blown its lid recently – treks up Gunung Merapi, Indonesia’s most volatile volcano.
The most westerly of this string of islands, Lombok, is a great antidote to its more developed neighbors, Bali. Its highlights include Gunung Merapi, Indonesia’s second highest mountain, with a huge crater lake; the tiny Gili Islands off its north-west coast; and the unspoilt south-coast beaches. The further east you go Nusa Tenggara, the less tourist infrastructure there is, so the more time you’ll need; highlights here include Sumba’s unspoilt beaches and traditional ikat weaving and the three-coloured lake of Keli Mutu on Flores
Baliem Valley in West Papua
It’s time-consuming and expensive to get here, and to really explore the area you’ll need trek long distances and often sleep extremely rough. But the scenery is dramatic and splendid, and the tribes of the area are managing to retain an age old lifestyle and culture, often despite considerable pressure from outsiders.
G-land off the south coast of Java and Desert Point off the southwest coast of Lombok at Bangko. Bangko are just two of many legendary Indonesian surf spots.
Staying in a longhouse
The indigenous Dyak peoples in the interior of Kalimantan have retained their traditional beliefs and ways of life to varying degrees. Their communal longhouse dwellings – long wooden structures raised on stilts – have survived and are being restored, and many welcome visitors
The Prambanan temple complex
The Hindu temples here, accessed from Yogyakarta in Java, are soaring, intricately carved structures dating from the ninth century AD. Visits at dawn and dusk are especially atmospheric.