For many of us, we will get to experience a gap year. A truly incredible time in our lives, and in my opinion an important experience in shaping our future years, especially if done solo. Some of us go to do European Summer, others head to the wonders of South America, to date my favourite trip was backpacking around South East Asia! So much to do and see, but for some reason, Indonesia with its spread out islands can get overlooked with most of us just visiting the famous Bali.
Did you know Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world, it is made of 17,000 islands! This means there are literally endless things to explore and many of which are still undiscovered! I have put together an amazing list of things to do in Indonesia a vast and cultural region, which hopefully inspires you to add it to your next trip!
Sulawesi sprawls in the centre of the amazing Indonesian archipelago. It is one of their main islands with attractions to please adventure and nature lovers alike. The coastline boasts pristine beaches with crystal waters to match, whilst the contrast of lush mountain and jungle are every hiker’s dream. Animals lovers fear not there is something here for you too with the calm and friendly Crested Black Macaque living in the north of Sulawesi.
1. Climb the Hill of Love
Bukit Kasih or Hill Of Love is located in the Minahasa Regency of North Sulawesi. On arrival, we were greeted by a mob of men with their owls wanting photos, thank goodness none of the group acknowledged this poor attempt at tourism. This sulphuric hill spans over 2435 steps to the top, and with active sulphur that has eroded parts of the track, the walk is eerie, to say the least. This highland is called the Hill of Love because it is where people from different religions can gather and worship their own faith symbol in peaceful harmony. There are five houses of worship: a Catholic Church, a Christian church, a temple, a mosque and Hindu temple.
2. Get to know the friendly locals
I whole-heartedly believe we become better humans by exploring and learning about other cultures. The best way I have found to do this is to immerse with the locals. The Indonesian people are some of the friendliest, welcoming and cheekiest people I have ever met! Everyone we came across always made sure we were enjoying our time!
3. Visit Palu
Head to the amazing Tanjung Karang Beach, I was absolutely blown away by its beauty it is a great place to relax, snorkel and enjoy a soccer game with the locals. For more information on what to do and where to stay in Palu have a read of our ‘guide‘ or watch our Palu video on youtube.
4. Have lunch at Tondano Lake
Tondano Lake, the largest lake in North Sulawesi, sits 600 metres above sea level. It covers an impressive 4,278 hectares and with its lush vegetation and mystical mountain backdrop, it makes for a spectacular lunch stop. The lake, situated by the village of Remboken is around 30 km from Manado. Enjoy the locally caught fish at one of the many food stalls and restaurants surrounding the lake.
5. Snorkel Bunaken Island
Bunaken Island is located in the bay of Manado in northern Sulawesi, Indonesia. Its main attraction is the incredible marine life. We took a ferry from the Harbour Marina port which took around 40 minutes. The translucent waters of the Bunaken seas allow for fantastic snorkelling, just be aware of the incredible albeit a tad scary cliff drop on the edge of the coral reef then plunges down more than 25 metres.
6. Explore Tangkoko National Park
The Tangkoko Nature Reserve is a flora and fauna conservation area on Mount Tangkoko in the district of Bitung in the province of North Sulawesi, about one hour’s drive from Manado. The reserve is attractive for its unique wildlife, in particular, the Black Macaques.
Bonus: just on the other side of this jungle is Black Sand beach. We caught the last glimpse of light, the perfect way to end the day!
Java lays between the islands of Sumatra and Bali, dotted with volcanos and lush rainforest it is the economic centre of Indonesia and home to the nation’s capital- Jakarta. Although the 5th largest island in Indonesia, Java is home for over 130 million people, making it one of the most populated places on the planet!
7.Climb Mt Bromo
Mount Bromo is one of Indonesia’s most scenic places to visit which involves getting up in the middle of the night to hike to the summit for a stunning sunrise. You can actually keep climbing up to the edge of the crater of Bromo itself. There are a few steps to the crater, but once there you can see the steam rising up from the volcano with the view of the sand dunes below.
8.Explore the ancient temples of Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta is a city located in the southern region of Java known for its traditional arts and cultural heritage. Visit the ancients temples like Borobudur and Prambanan. This region is also located at the foot of the active Merapi volcano!
Mount Ijen is the world’s largest highly acidic crater lake, it is also known for the mysterious blue flames that it produces. The views after the sun come up are really something! See photo below of local miners carrying heavy baskets filled with chunks of sulphur out of the crater. I recommend organising a tour, a lot of Indonesia is quite rural and not really built for tourism yet. This is both the charm and hindrance.
If you are up for the challenge and not short on time give it a go solo but otherwise check out this tour- Mt. Ijen Blue Fire Trekking Tour.
10.Trek the lush rolling hills of Dieng Plateau
The spectacular lofty volcanic plateau of Dieng (Abode of the Gods), is home to some of the oldest Hindu architecture in Java. With more than 400 temples, this sulphuric volcanic area( last erupting in 2009) is an interesting spot to add to your itinerary!
-Read: Top five things to do in Dieng Plateau, Indonesia by Dan Flying Solo
11.Dive/snorkel at Karimunjawa
This paradise is a cluster of 27 islands that are just off the coast of central Java. This hidden archipelago isn’t necessarily on the tourist trail to the extent of some of the other attractions in Java and that means good news for you. Come here to bask under the sun for endless hours, snorkel and dive in the clear blue waters, and just simply relax. This spot boasts some of the best beaches on the island of Java and the locals are proud of this still pristine spot.
Easily the most popular and touristy place in all of Indonesia. The desirable aspects of this destination is a mix of cheap flights from neighbouring countries, the relaxed island vibes and the range of prices and accommodations to suit all types of travellers.
For a more in-depth view of Bali visit our “Ultimate Travel Guide“.
12. Climb Mt Batur
The most popular trek in Bali is most definitely Mt Batur, rise at 2 am and venture up to the summit for a glorious sunset. The hike takes about 2 hours and most tours include coffee and a light breaky for the price of around 45 USD. You can organise your trek whilst you are in Bali at most street vendors or head here to book before you arrive.
13. Get centred and explore the rice fields in Ubud
I couldn’t recommend Ubud more highly, it’s the healing centre of Bali, perched high in the mountains surrounded by lush rainforest and rice paddies. The city centre is a little busy these days, stay a Suarti Boutique Village just on the outskirts of town amongst the rice paddies. See a traditional Balinese performance, engage in the full Ubud culture with daily meditation and yoga practices and shop at the famous Ubud markets!
14. Enjoy the beautiful beaches
Bali is home to magnificent beaches but a lot are overrun with tourists and sellers and have sadly lost their charm. Here are some of my favourites that are a bit quieter; Sanur, Nusa Dua, Padang. Or head to Bingin, Keramas and Uluwatu for some epic surf breaks!
15. Eat up a storm
Bali is a foodie heaven with, cuisines, budget and flavours to please everyone. Traditional local dishes are served at small warungs for a couple of dollars, head north to Ubud for inspiring raw and vegetarian dishes (pictured below). Seminyak and Canggu are home to some of my favourite cafes and don’t miss a seafood feast at sunset on Jimbaran Beach!
+Favourite Seminyak Resturants
+Top Cafes for Digital Nomad
+Bali Food Diary
16. Appreciate the Hindu Culture
Although multi-religious, Bali is predominantly Hinduism. Originally from Java, this blend of Shivaism and Buddhism is fascinating, spiritual and complex.
In Balinese Hinduism, the indigenous beliefs manifest in the belief that nature is “power” and each element is subject to influence from spirits with ancestry worship playing a huge page. Spirits and ancestors are treated with respect, with daily offerings (Canang Sari) that are made from betel leaf and topped with colourful flowers that all have symbolic meaning. These are then placed in temples, shrines, in front of stalls and even in their cars!
17. Shop until you drop!
Once Bali shopping equalled to cheap knockoffs, Bintang singlets and tie-dyed sarongs. All these still exist in the abundance of markets, there is now also a more sophisticated shopping experience. From high-end boutiques, incredible homewares, inspiring custom piece and surf shops scattered through the heart of Seminyak and surrounding areas.
18. Learn to Surf
There are many beaches in Bali that don’t have big swell making them the perfect spots for learning to surf. World renown Aussie surf tour company Mojosurf now has lessons operating in Bali! They cater specifically for beginners and intermediate surfers who want to learn how to surf or improve their surfing in a fun and safe environment. There are also many retreats and camps that combine surfing and yoga in an all inclusive deal- Check out The Chill House.
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Lombok and the Gilis Islands
Measuring almost as big as Bali, Lombok is the quiet and quaint neighbour. From its volcanic centre to idyllic beaches, Lombok rewards travellers a richer and off the beaten track adventure. Just a short boat ride away, off the west coast, you will find the Gili Islands. Three exquisite islands that boast white sand shores with coconut palms and surrounded by coral reefs teeming with marine life. Gili Trawagran the largest and most popular will make you forget any troubles you had on the mainland, whilst its smaller sisters Meno and Air are great spots to snorkel and basically do nothing except soak up all the good island vibes!
19. Enjoy a Swing at Sunset
You would have seen this location all over Instagram, it’s literally famous. Since the construction of the Datu Swing at Hotel Ombak in 2014, many other oceans swings have surfaced all of Gili T. Line up to get your epic Instagramable shot or bask in the beauty of Indonesia’s glorious sunsets!
20. Stay in a Beach Bungalow
Get into the full island life and stay in a traditional beach bungalow. Beach huts line the entire island of Gili T and vary in price.
See my top picks below:
21. Island Hop
Take a speed boat from the coast of Bali at Padang Bai to the Gilis and Lombok! Sitting amongst turquoise seas, these 4 islands are lined with beach bungalows that sit below endless coconut palms and fringed by white sand beaches!
22. Explore the Island by Bike
23. Visit the exciting night markets
Choose from sate sticks, fresh seafood, vegetables, rice and all the sauce. Night markets alway have this buzz and energy about them. I always feel really in the midst of the culture whenever I visit night markets.
24. Hike up Mt Rinjani
Definitely worth visiting even if you aren’t doing the full trek to the summit; there are plenty of great hikes and things to see even if you don’t go the whole way. Check out the 2-Night Mt Rinjani Beginner Trekking Tour with Trek Rinjani Mountain.
25. Explore the islands Waterfalls
Tiu Kelep Waterfall – At Sendang Gile and Tiu Kelep Waterfall, white water plunges down bright green cliffs, thick with tropical vegetation. Reach the first waterfall via a short, simple hike through lush forest
Benang Kelambu Waterfall – An hour drive from Mataram, with falls that are over 20 metres high and cascade over the edge of a cliff through a curtain of lush green plants.
Mangku Sakti Waterfall- A series of waterfalls in a gorge. To get to the waterfall you need to follow small winding roads into the highlands of Lombok.
Komodo & Flores
Komodo Island, part of the Lesser Sunda chain of Indonesian islands, famous for the Komodo dragon. The Komodo National Park covers the entire region and is home to more than 4,000 dragons, and made up of a mix of savannah, open grassland and tropical forests.
Flores lies east of Komodo Island and west of Lembata Island. Its biggest appeal is the amazing Padar Island!
26. Spot a Komodo Dragon
Measuring 3m long, Komodos are an impressive sight. These massive reptiles can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Watch them bask in the sun, or go during feeding time to see them catch or fight.
27. Climb Mt Kelimutu
One of Flores’ biggest landmarks, the volcano of Kelimutu looms over verdant valleys and is an impressive sight from ground level, but a trip to its peak reveals its biggest treasure the fascinating multicolour lakes.
28. Visit the 17 Islands Marine Park
On Flores’ northern coast lies one of its best-kept secrets. Charter a boat to 17 Islands Marine Park for a day of snorkelling in glassy turquoise waters inhabited by a variety of colourful fish, or relax on pristine white-sand beaches. Hire a local guide, who will know the best snorkel spots, cook a delicious lunch, and provide endless smiles and entertainment.
29. Explore the amazing Padar Island
Another landmark made famous by Instagram!Grab your hiking shoes and summit to the peaks of Padar island for the most beautiful sight! The trek to the top only take around 30 mins but the views are out of this world!
30. Get cultural and learn the art of Ikat
Eastern Flores is known for its ikat, an intricate process of dyeing and weaving fabrics to create textiles rich in patterns and colours. The art of Ikat takes many steps and is an ancient traditional textile that is still used around the world today.
31. Visit the famous Pink Beach
Made pink from hue caused by the erosion of red coral. You will need to look closely to see the glistening pink specks. It’s apparently one of only seven beaches in the world where the sand has this colour, a hue that’s caused by the red coral in the shallow waters.
Sumatra, a large Indonesian island west of Java, it is known for its rugged tropical terrain, wildlife and smouldering volcanoes. It is also home to some famous surf spots like the Mentawai Island Bustling Medan, the island’s largest city, is a diverse economic hub and gateway to North Sumatra.
32.Escape reality on the Mentawai Islands
Just off the coast of West Sumatra lie a cluster of volcanic islands that make up the Mentawai Islands, a hidden gem perfect for those who want some surf and sand that is firmly off the beaten track. The destination is most popular amongst the surf crowds and can be reached by getting a plane to Padang then catching a ferry to the islands.
33. Explore the city of Medan
Medan is often solely used as an entry and exit point for the nearby Lake Toba and Bukit Lawang, though the city is considered one of the country’s premium foodie destinations and is not to be missed! Spend one or two days exploring the city before heading to the islands.
34.Visit the largest lake in South East Asia
Located in North Sumatra, you will find the grand Lake Toba, which has the claim to fame of being the largest crater lake in the world, having been formed by a massive eruption of a now dormant volcano. Lake Toba is known for being the home of the Batak, one of the main indigenous groups in Sumatra.
35.Trek through the jungle of Bukit Lawang
Organise a jungle trek through the rainforest of Gunung Leuser National Park, starting from the village Bukit Lawang, located in northern Sumatra, Indonesia. It is one of the last places in the world where you have the unique chance to observe the rare Sumatran orangutan in his natural habitat. Since 2004, the tropical rainforests of the Gunung Leuser National Park is part of the UNESCO World Heritage.
36. Surf daily at Pulau Banyak
The Banyak Islands are a group of inhabited islands located between Simeulue and Nias off the western coast of Sumatra.It is made of up around 71 islands and is favoured for the epic surf breaks. Check out Banyak Surf Bungalows, a beachfront private bungalow accommodation right in the heart of the most rideable wave in the Banyaks, ‘Gunters.
The Raja Ampat Islands are an Indonesian archipelago off the north-west tip of Bird’s Head Peninsula in West Papua. Comprising hundreds of jungle-covered islands, Raja Ampat is known for its beaches and coral reefs rich with marine life.
37. Hike Piaynemo
38. Disconnect from the world.
39. Snorkel or dive around Piaynemo Islands
40. Take in that those incredible sunsets
41. Stay in an overwater bungalow
Kalimantan is the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo. It comprises 73% of the island’s area. The non-Indonesian parts of Borneo are Brunei and East Malaysia. It’s known for its beaches, biodiverse rainforest, and home to amazing wildlife including orangutans and clouded leopards.
42. Discover the beauty of Derawan Island
43. Stay in water villa on Maratua Island
44. Explore the wonders of Kakaban Island
The Maluku Islands are an east Indonesian archipelago comprising 2 provinces. There are over 1000 islands that make up Maluku and North Maluku. Like most of Indonesia, they boast many volcanoes and stunning undiscovered beach but their biggest export is the spice trade!
46. Take a Day Trip to Saparua Island
You can reach “The Spice Island” by speedboat from Ambon and arrive at Haria Village Port.
Explore the charming island, sites include Fort Duurstede, traditional markets and undiscovered seasides. With its friendly population, pretty villages, plentiful historical relics, stunning beaches and fine coral reefs, Saparua Island is a must see in Ambon.
47. Visit the Ambon City
Ambon, the capital of MalukuIsland is one of the largest cities in Eastern Indonesia. We began our city tour with Ilmi Eco Tours, I can not recommend them enough! They looked after us during our time in Ambon and made sure everything was perfect!
Some highlights are:
-Ambon War Cemetery
-View from the top
48. Visit the stunning undiscovered beaches
49. See a local performance
At Namalatu Beach, we were greeted by a bunch of school students, dressed in traditional performance clothes, an open-air stage, and a stunning backdrop. We took in the scenery and then sat back and watched a magical performance called the Sahureka-reka! We ended the morning with fresh young coconuts and selfies with the gorgeous children.
A beach with the perfect combination of coral and sand, located within just 30-minutes south of Ambon. Ilmi Eco Tours will help to organise an experience like this, one which you won’t regret.
50. Immerse yourself in this traditional ritual called Bamboo Gila
At Liang Beach or White Sand Beach, you can see a traditional performance of sorts. The “Bamboo Gila” appropriately translates to Crazy Bamboo, and it is one of the strangest things I have witnessed. 7 or 8 men hold a piece of bamboo in their arms whilst being waved with a flame. An enchanting ritual but fascinating nonetheless.
MORE THINGS COMING SOON! If you would like to add any things to do in Indonesia comment below! Or let me know if this list has inspired you to visit!
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