Indonesia is the world's largest archipelago, comprising of fivemain islands and a multitude of smaller island chains, with about17,000 islands strung across the equator altogether.
A rich history of warring kingdoms, conquests, colonialism,trade and natural disasters has bequeathed Indonesia with anexhilarating kaleidoscope of cultures and traditions, languages andreligions, aspirations and problems, and the dramatic scenery ofvolatile landscapes.
Unfortunately it is this very diversity of ethnic groups andreligions that has put a country of such exotic natural resourcesto the test. Racial divides and fierce religious hostility,government corruption, uprisings, economic negligence and, morerecently, terrorist attacks have been frequent blights on thefabric of Indonesian society. However, for the traveller, thisdiversity and overdose of traditions and religions is fascinating.For decades the country has been a magnet drawing thousands ofpeople to its shores despite its turbulent nature. Its positionalong the Pacific 'ring of fire' contributes to its status as adestination for the adventurous: Indonesia is prone to frequentearthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Having said that, in additionto the adventurous thrill-seekers and nature-lovers, Indonesiaattracts many tourists wanting nothing more than a peaceful beachholiday, and the country offers many renowned resorts.
A holiday in Indonesia offers something for everyone. Sumatra isan almost untouched wilderness with a diversity of wildlife,highland tribes, unique architecture, wonderful resort-lined lakes,and quaint hilltop towns. Java features steaming volcanoes,astonishing historical monuments, a sprawling capital city andtraditional dance, music and art. The image of paradise isepitomised in Bali, an island of artistic people and eleganttemples, resplendent scenery, palm groves, beach resorts andfabulous diving sites. Further east, Komodo is the home to theworld's largest lizard, the Komodo dragon.
Indonesia is a land of vigorous colour, of tensions andupheaval, but also of festivals and dancing, golden sunsets andfriendly white-toothy smiles.
When it comes to attractions, Indonesia is as varied as its17,000 islands, and visitors will be swamped with an endless listof things to see and do. There are cultural, historical, religiousand natural attractions aplenty, and as such it may be wise toselect one or two islands to explore in order to avoid sufferingfrom a sightseeing overload.
A popular place to tackle first is Java, a touristic favouritenot least because of the incredible volcanic scenery in itsBromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park. The island is also home to thegrungy metropolis of Jakarta and the historic Yogyakarta. On Java,travellers can find anything from glitzy nightclubs to ancientruins to traditional puppet theatre. If the laid-back aesthetic of"Eat Pray Love" is what you are after, head straight to Bali. Thishugely popular island has been luring in visitors for years thanksto its white sandy beaches, endless surfing spots and inlandcultural attractions.
For a wider range of natural attractions, one can get lost onthe mammoth island of Sumatra, which offers visitors traditionaltowns, such as Bukit Lawang and Bukittinggi, and stunninglandscapes. Bigger yet is Borneo, which shares its jungle trekswith visitors and native orangutans alike and is a delight toexplore.
A lumbering ferry line connects all the main islands andattractions and is an adventure itself. The best time is visit isbetween May and September, during the dry season, which also makestransport easier.
Shadow Puppet performances are a proud part of Indonesia'scultural heritage. In fact, UNESCO has declared wayang kulit aMasterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, whichmeans that the art form is considered a global treasure. Thepuppets are lovingly handcrafted out of buffalo hide or goat skin,and mounted on bamboo poles, with moveable limbs that are worked bya highly skilled puppeteer from behind a backlit screen, castingthe shadows of the puppets onto the surface to tell spellbindingstories.
The puppeteer is usually the creator of the puppets, thedirector, producer and main narrator of the shadow world. Themasters of wayang kulit are called dalangs and these talentedartists are known to perform through the night at times. Thestories have their origins in classic Hindu mythologies andRamayana tales and are narrated in the local dialects. Althoughshadow puppet shows in English are not unheard of it is unlikelythat you'll find one. However, don't be discouraged by the languagebarrier, as even without understandable words the puppets expressthemselves eloquently through movement and action and the effect isamazing. Watching the story unfold narrated in a local dialect isarguably far more interesting and authentic. Catching one of theseunique shows is a wonderful addition to an Indonesian holiday.
Rivalling the Buddhist monument of Borobudur, this magnificentHindu temple is the largest in Java and arguably the most beautifulin Indonesia. Prambanan was built in the 9th century, possibly tocompete with the splendour of Borobudur, or to celebrate the returnto power of the Hindu dynasty in Java at the time. The complex isdominated by three main temples, Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu, eachdedicated to their namesake, and the walls are decorated withexceptional relief carvings depicting scenes from the famous Hinduclassic tale of Ramayana.
The Shiva Temple is the largest of the three, soaring above theothers at a height of 154 feet (47m), and contains the impressivestatues of Shiva, his elephant-headed son, Ganesh, and the goddess,Durga. From May to October the Ramayana Ballet, a traditionalIndonesian dance based on the Ramayana story, is performed on anopen-air stage in the complex during the full moon - it is aspectacular sight involving hundreds of dancers, singers andmusicians. Prambanan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and neverceases to amaze visitors; there is nowhere else in the world quitelike it. It is a good idea to walk a little away from the templesto get a view of the whole complex, and to walk around the outsideis also interesting. Avoid the heat and crowds of midday by goingearly in the morning or late in the afternoon.
One of the greatest Buddhist monuments in South East Asia,Borobudur was built in the 8th century and stands on top of a hillsurrounded by volcanoes and overlooking green fields. It is animmense, multi-tiered structure with the Great Stupa (bell-shapedmonument) at the top standing 128ft (40m) above the ground,surrounded by numerous smaller stupas, some still containing Buddhastatues inside. It is part of a 2.5 mile-long (4km) chain ofsmaller temples, with the Mendut Temple containing threeexquisitely carved giant statues of Buddha and two disciplesinside. The terraces of Borobudur are covered in sculpted reliefs,with narrative panels illustrating Buddhist beliefs and teachings,and covering an estimated length of 3.5 miles (6km). Thesemasterpieces of individual artistic value have been acknowledged asthe most complete and splendid collection of Buddhist reliefs inthe world. Built out of millions of blocks of the local volcanicrock joined without the use of mortar, Borobudur is listed as aUNESCO World Heritage Site and is the primary tourist attraction inJava, as well as one of the most iconic sites in Indonesia.
The temple lies 25 miles (41km) northwest of Yogyakarta.Unsurprisingly for such a famous attraction, Borobudur can get verycrowded, which diminishes the impact of the place for some - try toget there for sunrise to avoid the throng and for the magicalexperience of seeing the day begin at the temple.
Meaning 'land in the middle of the sea', Tanah Lot is anexquisite sea temple built atop a rock formation off the island ofBali. A very popular tourist spot and a great location forphotographs, Tanah Lot sits on a rocky island, in waters occupiedby poisonous sea snakes which are believed to guard the temple fromevil spirits and intruders. If you think its sounds like afairytale you're not wrong; the place has a mystical quality.Despite the alleged presence of the snakes it is possible - and fun- to walk or wade to the temple cave at low tide. The temple wasbuilt by one of the last priests to arrive in Bali from Java in the16th century and unfortunately the main temple can't beentered.
Sunrise and sunset are the best times to visit, although sunsetis the most popular time and the crowds can somewhat ruin theatmosphere. There are a number of vantage points from which you canget lovely views of the temple, so its best to find one of them andsettle down to admire the views and take some photographs. Thecomplex is very touristy and commercial, with lots of shops andstalls selling souvenirs, snacks and the like, but it is still aremarkable attraction to visit and the coastline is very beautifulin itself.
The Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park encloses spectacularvolcanic landscapes and one of the most impressive natural sightsin Indonesia. The ancient Tengger crater in its midst stretches forsix miles (10km) and within its sheer volcanic walls are threepeaks; Batok, Kursi and the smoking Mt Bromo. Thousands of touristsmake the journey up Mt Bromo for the unforgettable spectacle atsunrise (during the dry season) when the surrounding landscapetakes on an otherworldly quality. The views from the top and intothe smoking crater are unbelievable. To reach the foot of thevolcano one must cross the vast Sea of Sand out of which Mt Bromorises, either on horseback or by foot, and then climb a flight ofstairs that leads to the crater rim where the unmistakable smell ofsulphur permeates the air. Mount Semeru, another volcano in thepark, is one of Indonesia's most active volcanoes and every 20minutes or so it belches out smoke, to the delight of visitors. Thesmall village of Cemora Lawang, perched at the edge of the Tenggercrater, is the most popular place to stay and has the best views ofthe area. With unique landscapes that look like something out of afantasy novel, this National Park is an exciting area to exploreand a dream come true for photographers.
The nearest big city to the park is Yogyakarta, and although ittakes more than 10 hours to drive to the volcanoes, it is a popularexcursion and is included in many tour packages.
Set in the hills north of Denpasar, Ubud is the cultural centreof Bali. The major attractions of the town and its surroundingvillages are the art museums and galleries, notably the NekaMuseum, containing a huge collection of traditional and modernBalinese paintings. An enormous variety of Balinese art and craftsline the streets and crowd the marketplace of Ubud. Frequentperformances of traditional dance and music, and restaurantsoffering some of the best food on the island, compel visitors tostay much longer than intended.
In response to the demand from visitors all sorts of interestingattractions and activities have sprung up and you can now do thingslike attend silver smithing classes, learn yoga, or watch localsperform the Kekac Fire and Trance Dance. Ubud is also close toseveral sites of interest, including the 'Mother Temple' ofBesakih, majestically situated high on the slopes of the AgungVolcano, and the popular Monkey Forest, where you can feed the manymacaques in the temple complex. Hiking in the scenic Batur regionwith its volcano and lake are popular excursions. Many adventuretrips can be organised from Ubud including canyoning, hiking, birdwatching tours and the like.
Ampenan-Mataram-Cakranegara-Sweta, or more simply referred to asAmpenan, is a vibrant district located on Indonesia's lush LombokIsland. The sprawling metropolis is comprised of four towns, theboundaries of which are indistinguishable to the casual visitor,and is host to a population of around 250,000 people. While Swetais the main transport hub and site of the island's biggest market,it is bustling Ampenan, the old port town furthest west, that isthe main tourist area and the location of most shops, hotels andrestaurants.
Most visitors pass through the area fairly quickly but there areone or two sights worth seeing nearby, including the weavingfactories in the capital Mataram, whose processes have remainedlargely unchanged for hundreds of years, and a weaving village tothe south where traditionally dressed women work on woodenhandlooms. There are a number of shrines and temples open tovisitors, the best of which are centred around the Mayura WaterPalace, dating from 1744 and used by the royal court during theBalinese rule of Lombok.
Ampenan, being an old port town, has a beach still lined withhundreds of fishing canoes. As the fishermen mostly go out atnight, it is fun to watch the boats setting off in the lateafternoon, and seeing the sun set over the water. Ampenan's market,which is the areas primary attraction, is located along the mainroad to Senggigi, north of the city proper. The Pura SegaraBalinese temple is close by on the beach.
The little village of Bukit Lawang is situated on the easternbanks of the pretty Bahorok River, facing one of the grandestforest areas in South East Asia, the Mount Leuser National Park.With its restful and pleasant setting, this was once one of themost popular tourist destinations in Northern Sumatra, the townexisting primarily to cater to the tourist trade, with guides,restaurants and a variety of delightful guesthouses strung alongthe river. Since November 2003, however, Bukit Lawang has struggledto recover from the massive flash flood that wiped out most of itsinfrastructure, causing a huge dip in the tourism that once formedthe backbone of its economy. Rebuilding is underway and BukitLawang has maintained its charm despite disaster. Its majorattraction, the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre across the river,welcomes visitors more enthusiastically than ever.
The Rehabilitation Centre helps orphaned orangutans that havebeen displaced because of land clearing, or rescued from captivity,and teaches them the necessary skills to be able to survive in thewild. Visitors have an opportunity to view the apes twice dailywhen they come swinging through the trees to collect the bananasand milk left on feeding platforms in the forest, one of the morememorable experiences in Indonesia. Jungle trekking and tubing downthe river are other popular activities.
Bukittinggi, or 'high place', is situated on a hill and setamong majestic mountains, green plantations and rice terraces. Oneof the friendliest and most easy-going cities in Sumatra, it ishome to the Minangkabau people and the area is steeped in theMinang culture, which is Muslim and strongly matrilineal.Bukittinggi is the commercial, educational and administrativecentre of the highlands. One of the features of the town is thecharacteristic architecture: wooden houses with curved roofssoaring to a point representative of buffalo horns and decoratedwith beautiful wooden carvings.
The Jam Gadang (Great Clock) is a Minangkabau-style clock towerand the town's landmark, overlooking the bustling market place thatis crammed with fruit, vegetables and clothing stalls, and ricketyhorse carts whose drivers insist on squeezing them through thecolourful chaos. Pagaruyung Palace is another famous landmark andexample of traditional architecture. Nearby Mount Merapi is anactive volcano which can be reached on a beautiful hike; this isone of the most popular excursions from Bukittinggi for tourists.There is lots to see and do in the area and Bukittinggi itself isan intriguing city to explore.
Most South East Asian capitals have a backpacker area, andJakarta's Jalan Jaksa district is grubbier than most. Plopped in anunremarkable part of downtown, it is thick with travel agencies,laundromats, currency exchange offices and guesthouses. A few barsand live music venues cater to the travel crowd. The cheapestguesthouses are bare to say the least, and it is perhaps worthspending the extra money on renting a nicer room. Jalan Jaksa is agood place to stay if you want to spend as little as possible onaccommodation in Jakarta, but don't expect to get much real localflavour.
Jalan Jaksa is actually the name of a single street but a widerarea around the road has started catering to budget travellers. Thestreet was once frequented by students studying at the Jakarta LawAcademy, which is perhaps the origin of the area's youthful vibe.It is friendly and cheap, good for those travellers who want tosave their money for attractions and activities and don't mindsimple sleeping arrangements.
Jalan Jaksa hosts a street festival annually to encouragetourism and showcase local traditions, cuisine, dancing andmusic.
The city of Jayapura is often the first stop for travellers toPapua, but even so its remoteness is such that many of the visitingWesterners are thought to be either mine workers or missionaries.Although the wilds of Papua are a quick trail away, the city itselfprovides visitors with reasons to stay. Beautiful beaches and baysstretch below thick jungle hills and some of these contain remnantsof WWII landing crafts, just as some of the caves in the area aresaid to retain Japanese skeletons from the war. The nicest swimmingbeach is Base G, with aqua blue water and a palmed shoreline.Nightly arrays of seafood tents are erected, allowing eaters topick their favourite fish to barbecue.
The mix of Indonesian immigrants and Papuan locals seem to getalong well in Jayapurna, despite being somewhat locked in conflictelsewhere in Papua. The city is deeply religious and a normalgreeting often asks visitors to describe their faith. This alsomeans there is a general lack of nightlife, although the occasionalpool hall serves expensive beer and offers free karaoke. There area number of mid-range hotels and one or two luxury options foraccommodation. Papua New Guinea is a hop and a skip away and visasand transport can be arranged in Jayapura.
Indonesia is a vast place and it would take many holidays toexplore the whole archipelago. A trip around Indonesia MiniaturePark is useful and interesting because it offers samples of thedifferent cultures and architecture to be found on some of theislands, including replicas of famous landmarks. Contrary to itsname, the park itself is not small and covers 100 hectares of land.It includes examples of traditional buildings and culturalartefacts from all of the 27 provinces that make up Indonesia.
The park also regularly hosts food sampling, dancing and othercultural performances from each province. For those who like evenmore variety the park has a great orchid garden, fauna museum, andbird aviary - useful for those interested in seeing some of thewildlife found around the archipelago. Visitors can get a bird'seye view of the exhibits on the cable car, and there is even anIMAX movie theatre in the grounds.
Attached to Taman Mini is the Museum Indonesia which exhibitsboth historic and contemporary art collections. Visiting the museumand the park together gives tourists a great overview of thecountry and it isn't a bad place to start your Indonesian travelsif you have some time to spare in Jakarta.
Visitors will inevitably be pulled to the National Monument(MONAS) to inspect the enormous obelisk that can be seen from muchof the city. The first president, Sukarno, began to build thestructure as a symbol of nationalism complete with an impressiveweight of gold shaped into the tip's flames. For visitors it servesas a great landmark in an otherwise confusing city centre. Elevatorrides to the top are available, providing a bird's eye view of thecity. The monument and surrounding park are open to the public andthere is a museum to visit which documents the Indonesian fight forfreedom and independence; there is also a hall of mediation at themonument's base.
People often gather in the monument grounds at night and it is apopular meeting place for locals and tourists. The grounds are bigand there is plenty of room for picnics and social gatherings - onweekends the park can get quite full. Although it is the city'smain landmark, and a pleasant place for a stroll, the NationalMonument has little to offer except the views from the top and thesmall museum. However, it is still true that a visit to Jakartawould seem incomplete without seeing MONAS, and as it is situatednear many other attractions you are unlikely to get through thecity without stumbling across it.
Kota, also called Old Batavia or Old Town Jakarta, is the onlysurviving piece of the Dutch colonial district. The Dutch had theirIndonesian heyday in the 16th century when Jakarta was at thecentre of Asia's trade with the West. Today, many of the area'scolonial buildings are falling into disrepair but the centralcobblestone square, Taman Fatahillah, still invites visitors toimagine life in the 16th century, when there was little outside thecolonial fortifications of Kota save for orchards and rice fields.The area is open to roam about in and there is no admission chargeor distinct boundary to delineate the old district. Althoughinformation on what you are seeing is non-existent and landmarkattractions are lacking, exploring Kota still allows for a rareglimpse into the city's history which has been mostly swallowed upby new developments.
A few somewhat dilapidated but still interesting landmarks inthe area include the Luar Batang Mosque, the Maritime Museum, theJakarta History Museum (housed in the former City Hall building),the Jin De Yuan Temple, and Sunda Kelapa Harbour. The area is setpleasantly on the waterfront and gives a quiet and cool reprievefrom the bustle of Jakarta's inner city. There are plans torejuvenate this historic area and some of the roads around thesquare have been pedestrianised as a first step in thisprocess.
The still-active Gunung Batur volcano is known as Bali's secondholiest mountain and symbolises the female element of the island.The male element is symbolized in Gunung Agung, a neighbouringsmaller volcano. The walk up Mount Batur is not easy, but the viewsare spectacular and if you're lucky you might even spot a fewmonkeys along the way. Gunung Batur rises from a volcanic craterwhich also contains a lake and the view of this otherworldlylandscape from the crater rim is spectacular. Look out for theremanants of black lava flows on the western side of the mountainfrom this vantage. There is also a great lookout point for thosewho'd rather hire a car and drive to the old crater rim overlookingLake Batur.
The sunrise walks are recommended, and remain the best way toavoid hiking during Bali's infamous year-round heat. Unfortunately,those visiting during the rainy season may be unlucky with theviews as visibility is often poor. There is a guide hut situated atthe bottom of the path and passing by usually attracts a mob ofeager locals who insist on your taking one of them along forsafety. If you want a guide, then this arrangement is convenient,however the hut can be avoided by taking alternative paths. It issafe to ascend on your own, but caution is always advised for lessexperienced hikers.
Locally known as the Mother Temple of Bali, Pura Besakih islocated on the slopes of Mount Agung and is the biggest and holiestof all Balinese temples. Dating back to the 14th century, the threemain temples are dedicated to Shiva, Brahma and Wisnu, and another18 separate sanctuaries belonging to different regencies and castegroups surround these. The complex has been built over centuriesand is very impressive.
However, the magnificence of the experience can be somewhatblighted by the insistent local touts at the site. Apart frompaying the official entrance fee, visitors are coerced into paying'donations' to the temple and are forced into hiring tour guides.For this reason you may be advised to skip Pura Besakih in favourof some of the less famous and less crowded temples. Being aware ofsome of the common tourist scams, however, does makes the visiteasier: it is possible to explore without a guide but you will beendlessly bothered, so it may be preferable to be with a local. Ifyou do visit Pura Besakih, or any other temple for that matter, itis customary to wear a sarong out of respect for local traditions.Despite the hassle of dealing with touts, this is a beautiful andinteresting attraction and many will find it rewardingregardless.
One of the most valued temples in Bali, Pura Kehen is a gardentemple located in the town of Bangli in East Bali and can be tracedback to the 11th century. Founded by Sri Brahma Kemuti Ketu, PuraKehen is the second largest temple on Bali and the most sacred inthe region. Many visitors are mesmerized by the temple's grandeurand the steep steps leading dramatically up to the gateway. Likethe Mother Temple of Pura Besakih, Pura Kehen was built on theslope of a hill and has eight terraces. The temple complex issurrounded by palm tree plantations which adds to the visitor'simpression of being a jungle explorer discovering something ancientand profound. The fire god, Brahmen, protects the temple and it isnamed for him - kehen means hearth or fireplace. The 38 steps leadto an ornately carved entrance and through this doorway there arethree courtyards. There is a lot to see but be sure not to miss theremarkable stone lotus throne dedicated to Brahma, Shiva and Vishnuin the third, main courtyard.
You will need to dress appropriately to visit the temple whichmeans that your legs must be covered and you must have atemple-scarf (sarong) around your waist. You can rent sarongs atthe temple.
The small village of Batubulan is marked by stone figures ofgods and demons on the side of the road. Known mostly for its stonecarvings, Batubulan is a popular centre for cultural tourism andattracts travellers looking for a unique souvenir to take home withthem. Visitors to the village can even enjoy visiting the workshopsand watching the artists at work. Batubulan actually means'moonstone' and stone carving has been the main industry of thevillage for a long time. Everybody seems to be an expert in the artand children learn how to coax statues out of rock at a young age.The village does also showcase other crafts, like woodwork andtextiles, and is known for its antiques but the stone workdominates.
The temples in the area reflect the traditional talent of thelocal inhabitants and some remarkable stone carvings are on displayat temples such as Pura Puseh. Another of the village'sspecialities is the performance of the blessing dance of Barong,which is performed on a daily basis at five different locations orstages: the Puseh Temple, Tegal Tamu, Denjalan, Sahadewa and SilaBudaya. As the village has become such an artistic hub, othervillages nearby have perfected their own crafts, and the wholeregion is slowly transforming in to a vast open-air market.
Built in the 9th century, Goa Gajah, or Elephant Cave, islocated near Ubud and originally served as a sanctuary; it is now aUNESCO World Heritage Site. With a wonderfully carved entrancefeaturing menacing creatures and demons, children will find a visitto this historic cave an unforgettable experience (as willadults!). The main figure was once thought to be an elephant, hencethe name, and in the 1950s a bathing pool was excavated, thought tohave been built to ward off evil spirits. Visitors can wash theirhands and feet in the fountains and there are usually locals onhand selling prayer offerings and the like - sometimes monks willoffer blessings for travellers. Those who would like a tour guidewill find that there are always locals offering this service andthe tours can be very informative. The entrance is the mostimpressive feature of the cave and the interior will not take longto explore. There are some lovely gardens and trees surrounding thecave though, and a few stone carvings, so it is worth having astroll around.
All visitors will require a sarong or cover-up to enter thetemple and there are many shops selling them on the way but theywill lend you one for free (or a very small price) at the entrance.In the early morning the temple grounds are almost deserted andthis is a magical time to explore if you prefer to avoidcrowds.
The Bali Bird Park is home to a spectacular collection of morethan 1,000 birds of about 250 different species. Kids will lovespotting their favourite birds and learning about the exoticspecies they have never encountered before. Birds such as Macaws,peacocks, parrots, white herons and many more can be seen. The parkis divided into regions that recreate natural habitats for thebirds, complete with indigenous plant life and other artefacts fromthe region in question. Regions represented in the park includeBali, Papua, Java, Sumatra, South America and South Africa.
Visitors stroll through giant aviaries on winding pathways andbridges under a jungle canopy, and there are several specialvantage points for spotting birds. In the Guyu-Guyu Corner you canexperience the creatures in close contact, with birds perchingcomfortably on your shoulders or in your hands. Visitors can alsoparticipate in park feeding times (these times are subject tochange - check the website or contact the park for details). A FreeFlight Bird Show showcases various birds in flight. The bird parkalso features a restaurant, café and gift shop for visitors to getrefreshments and take home a souvenir. The experience shoulddelight the whole family.
Featuring more than 180 species of trees, many of which areconsidered holy and used in various Balinese spiritual practices,the Monkey Forest in Ubud is a fantastic place for kids and adultsto spend the day exploring. The forest is seen as a marriage ofnature with human endeavour and is considered a sacred place - inBalinese culture it is not just the temples which are consideredholy but the surrounding gardens and forests as well. Traditionallymonkeys are often seen as guardians of temples and are thought toward off evil spirits. Children can see the Balinese long-tailedMacaques up close as they scramble through the forest of banyantrees and lush tropical vegetation. There are about 700 macaques inthe forest which move in four distinct troops. Evidence suggeststhat although these monkeys can live in developed areas likevillages, their survival ultimately depends on the conservation oftheir natural forest habitat because people tend to eradicate themwhen they interfere with farmlands, crops and food.
There are also a few temples to explore while visiting theforest: the Bathing Temple seems like part of its naturalenvironment and feels magical. The Cremation Temple is interestingand a good place to learn about Balinese Hindu burialtraditions.
Famed for its right-hand reef breaks, Nias is a key surfingdestination for many travelling through the area, with the bestknown surf spots being Sorake Bay and Lagundri Bay. But thisfascinating island also boasts a rich cultural history withprehistoric remains which are thought to have been built in themegalithic Stone Age. Tourists visiting Nias Island can enjoy thewar dances performed by locals, among other traditionalfestivities, and the local music, which is mostly sung by women, isknown to be hauntingly beautiful and unique. The beauty of theisland is the main draw for those who visit its shores but for theanthropologically-inclined this area is of great interest as itsrelative geographical isolation has allowed its traditional cultureto thrive. Popular activities other than surfing include scubadiving and snorkelling in the clear waters, which brim with richmarine life.
More than 1,000 people died in Nias in the 2004 and 2005earthquakes which shook the region and some evidence of thistragedy may still be visible on the islands, but the tourismindustry has recovered. The locals tend to be extremely friendlyand they have a respect for the tourism industry as it providesmany of their livelihoods.
Lake Maninjau is set like a burning sapphire stone in the craterof the mountain and is a spectacularly beautiful place to relax andunwind. It is a caldera lake, located in west Sumatra, and isthought to have been formed by a volcanic eruption around 52,000years ago. The lake is set at about 1,545 feet (471m) above sealevel, and the average temperature of the water in the lake isaround 86°F (30°C). Visitors can enjoy cycling the 37 mile (60km)circumference of the lake, or plodding through the neighbouringrice paddies while others can swim, canoe and hike the surroundingmountains or explore the local villages.
Villages on the shores of the lake include Maninjau and Bayur.Maninjau is a notable tourist destination in the region due to itsscenic beauty and situation on the lake; if you're interested indoing some paragliding Maninjau is a great base. There are some hotsprings to enjoy close to the village of Mukomuko, on the oppositeside of the lake to Maninjau. On the dramatic road that winds downto the lake from Bukkittinggi there are spectacular views and 44hairpin turns. Beware of the monkeys that gather on the side of theroad; they wait there because people throw food out of the cars forthem but they are wild animals and shouldn't be approached.
The capital of Sumatra, Padang offers a compact and enjoyablecross-section of Sumatran life and its various cultures. Manysurfers stop here on their way to the Batu or Mentawi Islands, butthe town itself boasts a few noteworthy attractions such as theAdityawarman Museum, which features a collection of antiques, andthe cultural centre where locals perform traditional dances onSundays or even (martial arts). Many people come herefor the markets, for which Padang is famed, but Padang Beach isalso popular for its spectacular sunsets and hundreds of colourfulfood stalls. Another popular beach is Air Manis, which gets mixedreviews from tourists - depending on how clean it is when theyvisit - but boasts the attraction of a small island which can bewaded to at low tide.
Lake Maninjau is close enough to make a really pleasantexcursion from the city, and Sikuai is less than an hour away byboat. Sikuai Island is renowned for its natural beauty and earnsrave reviews from almost all that make the trip. Although not cheapit is still relatively unspoiled and feels like an undiscoveredparadise. Padang makes a good base for excursions of this sort andis in close proximity to a number of lovely areas.
A great place to stop off for travellers en route to the holidayresort of Lake Toba, the town of Berestagi is famed not only forits passion fruit, but also for the two active volcanoes on itsdoorstep: Gunung Sibayak and Gunung Sinabung. Gunung Sibayak boastsfantastic hot springs whose warm waters are not only open to thepublic, but are also believed to have therapeutic properties.
More active travellers can climb this mountain instead, earningbreathtaking views over the island of Sumatra from the top. This isthe most commonly climbed volcano in Sumatra as the hike to the topis comparatively easy, with beautiful and unusual scenery to enjoyalong the way. It only takes about two hours to summit and can bedone safely without a guide. However the addition of a local expertwho can explain the geological significance of the area, as well asidentify the local flora and fauna, is worth considering. Thevolcano is still active and as such the boiling sulphur imbues theregion with an unmistakable stench, but the breathtaking views willquickly distract you from this unpleasant factor. Why not rewardyourself and head to the hot springs after the hike? The poolsrange in temperature from pleasantly warm to boiling hot, so besure you test the water and don't burn yourself!
A typical Balinese village tucked away in a lush green valley,Sidemen is a popular excursion on Bali for tourists looking forpeace and quiet. Terraced rice paddies lie under the shadow of avolcano, which offers good opportunities for hiking. Other activepursuits in the valley include cycling and whitewater rafting.
The village of Sidemen is known for its skilful weavers, whomake the intricate silver-and-gold songket fabric used intraditional weddings. The Pelangi Workshop allows visitors to watchthe weaving process, and there are several shops in town to buysongket fabric along with other souvenirs.
One of the most pleasant activities for those who want a relaxedbreak is strolling through the rice paddies and exploring theenchanting scenery of the valley. Most of the hotels have basicmaps to give visitors and there are some beautiful little templeshidden in the countryside. Getting lost round here is a joy. Thereare some hotels and restaurants to cater to tourists but there areno real banking facilities and only limited internet access.Sidemen is a truly wonderful place to visit if you want toexperience a quiet, traditional village, and it is worth spendingat least one night to experience the surroundings. Many choose tospend more than that.
Situated a few miles off the northwest coast of Lombok, thethree Gili Islands - Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air - were'discovered' by backpackers in the 80s and until recently remaineda laid-back haven for budget travellers in search of a peaceful andsecluded holiday paradise. The islands are surrounded by glorioussoft sandy beaches, colourful coral reefs and crystal clearturquoise waters, ideal for diving.
There are almost no roads or motor vehicles on the islands, withscooters and donkey-drawn carts acting as their replacements. Smallferries transport guests between the Gili Islands, none of whichare more than twenty minutes apart. Most of the holidayaccommodation is on Gili Trawangan, and this generally consists ofsmall bamboo bungalows a few metres from the beach, like thosefound on Thailand's islands twenty years ago.
Mainstream tourism is beginning to establish itself on the GiliIslands and a few exclusive hotels have opened up, most recently onthe smallest, least developed island of Gili Meno. While there areno major sights or landmarks to see, the scuba diving andsnorkelling opportunities are enough to make it a populardestination and the atmosphere and scenery are splendid enough toenchant visitors.
Not to be confused with its better-known namesake on Bali,Lombok's Kuta is almost totally undeveloped by comparison, havingonly been 'discovered' by surfers a few years ago and still devoidof any large holiday resort hotels. The whole south coast ischaracterised by miles of stunning curved sandy bays set beneathempty, rolling hills. There are plans for development but that isstill many years away, to the delight of many tourists who preferto explore Indonesia's undeveloped coastlines.
Kuta's southeast peninsula and Awang Bay are dotted with tinyfishing villages untouched by tourism, while inland villagesspecialising in local crafts such as pottery, weaving, basket wareand carving can be visited. There are bars and restaurants in thetown, but no ATMs, and internet is patchy. Locals sell crafts likehand-woven sarongs and even pearl jewellery and they can be a bitpersistent and annoying if you don't buy from them - but generallythe lack of crowds and touristy stalls is a refreshing change fromthe most popular areas of Indonesia which have been thronged bytourists. Kuta Lombok is still relatively rustic and unspoiled soit is ideal for those travellers who don't mind foregoing luxuryand the occasional convenience to experience a place that stillfeels like a secluded island paradise.
The holiday paradise of Lake Toba, sparkling like a preciousstone, is embedded in the northern highlands of Sumatra and issurrounded by steep and fertile mountains. Filling in a giantvolcanic crater, it is the largest lake in South East Asia, withdepths of up to 1,680 feet (525m) in places. In the middle of LakeToba sits the jade-green island of Samosir, which is thought to bethe origin of the friendly Batak people. Evidence of their cultureand traditions is visible in the little Batak villages with theircharacteristic curved roofs, the traditional dance performances atSimanindo's Batak Cultural Centre, and the distinctive woodcarvingsand weavings sold around the island. Apart from this culturalwealth, there are also several hot springs near Pangururan, whichattract visitors.
Numerous holiday resorts and villages are scattered around LakeToba's Samosir; the Tuk Tuk peninsula and village of Ambarita beingthe most popular places for tourists to linger. The area was oncevery fashionable for holidaymakers, but is now fairly quiet.Despite the amount of guesthouses and restaurants on Samosir, thereis little other tourist infrastructure, but the variety ofactivities and the cultural experience makes this one of Sumatra'smost fascinating and relaxing holiday destinations.
Just a few miles south of Ampenan, Senggigi is the mostdeveloped holiday resort on Lombok, characterised by broad bays,towering headlands and first-rate hotels and restaurants, andboasting the only real nightlife in Lombok. Being close to theairport it makes a good first or last night stop for those intenton exploring the island. The drive north along the coast fromSenggigi to Pemenang is a great day out for those with a car,offering spectacular views of the Gili Islands and across to Baliwhen the weather is clear. The twisting road takes holiday visitorsto an expanse of coast that is totally undeveloped with only a fewcoastal villages dotted behind sweeping bays of turquoise water andpalm trees.
Just south of Senggigi is the Batu Bolong Temple. Weighed downunder an excess of lurid pink paint, its shrines are spread arounda rocky promontory with fabulous views in both directions along thecoast. The main part of the temple is built over an archway in therock, a hole through which virgins were once supposedly sacrificedto appease the gods. Today this is a quiet and peaceful spot and afavourite with local fishermen. Spear fishing is a popularactivity, along with scuba diving, snorkelling, hiking, andcycling.
The Indonesian climate is almost entirely tropical. The warmwaters of the ocean surrounding the archipelago ensure fairlyuniform temperatures on land and there is little seasonalvariation. There is also little difference in daylight hours fromseason to season. Indonesia experiences hot, humid weatherthroughout the year, especially in coastal areas. The inlandhighlands are somewhat cooler. The climate of Indonesia isdominated by heavy monsoon rains, which occur between November andMarch, or to be extra safe between October and April, often causingdamage and making local travel difficult (the rainy season is alsothe worst time for some mosquito-borne diseases). The best time totravel to Indonesia is therefore during the dry season, between Mayand September. The rainy season varies in impact from island toisland and although some areas experience extreme conditions andflooding others are less dire and can safely be visited during therainy season.
The busiest and therefore most expensive times to visitIndonesia are in the holiday periods: at the end of Ramadan, whendomestic tourists fill resorts and prices escalate; at Christmas;and mid-June to mid-July, when graduating high-school studentsarrive in hordes, mainly in Java and Bali.
The Indonesian currency is the Rupiah (IDR). Foreign currencycan easily be exchanged at banks, hotels and money changers inmajor tourist destinations; the US dollar is the most acceptedcurrency. Ensure that foreign bills are in good condition, ascreased and torn notes may be refused. The best exchange rates inIndonesia are generally found in major centres like Jakarta andBali. Visa and Mastercard are accepted at more expensive hotels andrestaurants, however smaller businesses may not have cardfacilities (especially in more remote areas). ATMs are available inmain centres. Small change is often unavailable so keep smalldenomination notes and coins for items like bus fares, templedonations and soft drinks.
Bahasa Indonesia is the official language, but manydialects are spoken. English is widely understood in Jakarta andtourist resorts.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. A variety ofplugs are in use, including the European two-pin.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least sixmonths beyond the date of their arrival in Indonesia. Thosearriving in Indonesia do not need a visa for a tourist stay of 30days.
UK citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least sixmonths beyond the date of their arrival in Indonesia. They areexempt from visas if staying for 30 days and cannot extend thisvisa-free stay. Visitors can obtain a visa on arrival for a maximumstay of 30 days, provided they land at a major Indonesian airport,have half an unused visa page available as well as a valid creditcard or monetary sum equivalent to USD 1,000. With this, visitorscan apply to extend their stay by 30 days.
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast six months beyond the date of their arrival in Indonesia. Novisa is required for a maximum stay of 30 days.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast six months beyond the date of their arrival in Indonesia. Avisa is not required for a non-extendable period of one month. Anextendable 30-day visa can be obtained on arrival, provided theyland at a major Indonesian airport, have half an unused visa pageavailable as well as a valid credit card or monetary sum equivalentto USD 1,000. Holders of an APEC Business Travel Card endorsed'valid for travel to IDN' may stay for up to 60 days without avisa.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast six months beyond the date of their arrival in Indonesia. Avisa is not required for a non-extendable period of 30 days. Anextendable 30-day visa can be obtained on arrival, provided theyland at a major Indonesian airport, have half an unused visa pageavailable as well as a valid credit card or monetary sum equivalentto USD 1,000. With this visa, visitors can also apply to extendtheir stay by 30 days.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for at leastsix months beyond the date of their arrival in Indonesia. A visa isnot required for a non-extendable period of 30 days. An extendable30-day visa can be obtained on arrival, provided they land at amajor Indonesian airport, possess half an unused visa pageavailable as well as a valid credit card or monetary sum equivalentto USD 1,000. With this visa, visitors can also apply to extendtheir stay by 30 days.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least sixmonths beyond the date of their arrival in Indonesia. Thosearriving in Indonesia do not need a visa for a tourist stay of 30days.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast six months beyond the date of their arrival in Indonesia. Avisa is not required for a non-extendable period of 30 days.Visitors are required to have half an unused visa page available aswell as USD 1,000 or valid credit card. An extendable 30-day visacan be obtained on arrival. Holders of an APEC Business Travel Cardendorsed 'valid for travel to IDN' may stay for up to 60 dayswithout a visa.
Passengers to Indonesia of most nationalities can obtain a30-day visa on arrival, provided that: (i) they arrive at a majorIndonesian airport; (ii) their passport contains at least oneunused visa page for the visa-on-arrival sticker; (iii) they areholding return/onward tickets, and the necessary traveldocumentation for their next destination; and (iv) they can showproof of sufficient funds to cover their stay in Indonesia (atleast USD 1,000 or a valid credit card). The cost of a 30 day visaas of December 2016 is USD 35. Those nationalities not permitted topurchase a visa on arrival must obtain a visa prior to theirarrival in the country.
One visa extension, of a further 30 days, is possible, via anapplication made to the Immigration Office. Note that the day ofarrival in Indonesia is counted as the first day of stay, and thatfines will be levied against tourists who exceed their permittedperiod of stay.
Visitors wishing to travel to the Indonesian province of IrianJaya must obtain a special permit ("Surat Jalan") after arrival inIndonesia from the Dinas Intel Pam Pol MABAK in Jakarta, or otherregional police headquarters in Biak or Jayapura. It normally takesabout two days to obtain this permit. Upon arrival in Irian Jaya,visitors must report to the local police office.
Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required, ifarriving in Indonesia within six days of leaving or transitingthrough an infected area.
NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at leastsix months validity remaining after your intended date of departurefrom your travel destination. Immigration officials often applydifferent rules to those stated by travel agents and officialsources.
There are a number of health risks associated with travel toIndonesia and medical advice should be taken at least three weeksbefore departing. Yellow fever vaccinations are required for thosecoming from yellow fever areas. Vaccinations for hepatitis A andhepatitis B are recommended, and a typhoid vaccination may berecommended for those spending time in rural areas. Malaria is ayear-round risk in much of Indonesia, but not in Jakarta or thetourist resorts of Java and Bali. The dengue fever mosquito isfound throughout Indonesia and visitors should be aware of asignificant increase in reported cases of dengue fever throughoutthe country during the rainy season. Outbreaks of chikungunyafever, also from mosquitoes, have occurred regularly in Indonesiain recent years. It is recommended that pregnant women, or womenplanning on becoming pregnant, should postpone their trip whereverpossible, as Indonesia has recently been classed as a moderate riskzone for the Zika virus.
Travellers' diarrhoea is a major risk; visitors should onlydrink sealed bottled water and avoid dairy products, uncooked meat,salads and unpeeled fruit. Poor sanitation and eating contaminatedfood can increase the risk of cholera, typhoid and other diseases.The standard of local medical care is poor and very expensive. Itis essential to take out comprehensive medical and travelinsurance.
Major hotels add a 10 percent service charge to bills inIndonesia and, where it is not included, a tip of between five to10 percent of the bill is appreciated. Airport porters usuallyreceive around IDR 2,000 per small bag. Tipping taxi and rental cardrivers is not mandatory but if you do choose to tip IDR 1,000 issufficient for taxi drivers and a little more for rental cardrivers.
Following the infamous bombings in Bali back in October 2005,there remains a risk of terrorism directed against foreignersthroughout the country. It is recommended that visitors contacttheir foreign office for the latest travel advice before travellingto Indonesia. The security situation remains unsettled in centralSulawesi and foreigners are advised to avoid parts of Maluku,particularly Ambon. Visitors are also advised to be cautious iftravelling to Aceh. Religious violence and unstable politics are anongoing problem in Indonesia and travellers should keep an eye oncurrent affairs.
Indonesia has a high crime rate and theft and petty crime iscommon in tourist areas and on public transport. Credit card fraudis on the increase. Flooding and landslides occur frequently duringthe rainy season between December and March. The country is alsolocated on the volatile seismic strip named the "Ring of Fire", andas a result is often subject to earthquakes, volcano erruptions andoccasionally tsunamis. Not all Indonesian airlines are consideredsafe and travellers should do some research into reputable airlinesbefore booking.
Indonesian people are generally friendly and polite and whilethey understand that Western culture is different to their own, itwill be appreciated if their customs are respected. Religiouscustoms should also be respected, particularly during the holymonth of Ramadan when eating, drinking and smoking during daylighthours should be discreet, in accordance with the Muslim culture.Visitors should always be polite and avoid public displays ofaffection. It is considered impolite to use the left hand forpassing or accepting things. Appropriate dress is important inplaces of worship and women should dress conservatively, coveringthe shoulders and legs. The concept of 'saving face' is veryimportant and public displays of anger, ridicule and blame areconsidered extremely vulgar and bad mannered. In Jakarta a law banspeople from giving money to beggars, buskers and unofficial trafficguides in an attempt to 'bring order' to the city. Offenders couldface imprisonment and fines. Gambling is illegal. Furthermore, theIndonesian government adopts a zero tolerance approach to thoseengaged in illegal activities, such as dealing or consuming drugswhilst in the country, or the killing or illegal trading ofendangered animals. Offenders have been faced with lengthy prisonsentences, and have even been sentenced to death.
Due to the hot and tropical climate, formal business attire in alight, cool material is the best option. Indonesia is largelyMuslim so dress should be conservative, especially for women.Business cards are often exchanged and it is customary to shakehands with a slight bow when greeting and departing. SomeIndonesian names can be long and hard to pronounce and making aneffort to get it right when greeting someone will be appreciated.It is best to use formal titles such as Doctor, or 'Bapak' for Mrand 'Ibu' for Madam. Business hours vary; government offices areusually open from 7am to 3pm and small businesses from 8am or 9amto 4pm or 5pm.
The international access code for Indonesia is +62. The outgoingcode is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for theUK). The area code for Jakarta is 21. Buying a local SIM card is agood option as international roaming fees can be expensive. Freewifi is available in most cafes, restaurants and hotels in maincities, towns and tourist areas.
Travellers to Indonesia over 18 years do not have to pay duty on25 cigars or 200 cigarettes or 100g tobacco; alcohol up to 1 litre;perfume for personal use; and personal goods to the value of US$250per passenger or US$1,000 per family. Travellers not entering on atourist visa will have to pay duties for photo and film camerasunless these have been registered in their passport by IndonesianCustoms. Electronic equipment may not be imported to the country.Prohibited items include Chinese medicines and prints, narcotics,firearms and ammunition, pornography, cordless telephones, freshfruit or goods to be used for commercial gain.
Indonesian Tourism Authority: www.indonesia-tourism.com
Indonesian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 7755200.
Indonesian Embassy, London, United Kingdom (also responsible forRepublic of Ireland): +44 (0)20 7499 7661.
Indonesian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 724 1100.
Indonesian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 3423350.
Indonesian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6250 8600.
Indonesian Honorary Consulate, Dublin, Ireland: +353 852 491465.
Indonesian Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 4758697/8/9.
United States Embassy, Jakarta: +62 (0)21 3435 9000.
British Embassy, Jakarta: +62 (0)21 2356 5200.
Canadian Embassy, Jakarta: +62 (0)21 2550 7800.
South African Embassy, Jakarta: +62 (0)21 2991 2500.
Australian Embassy, Jakarta: +62 (0)21 2550 5555.
Irish Embassy, Singapore (also responsible for Indonesia): +656238 7616.
New Zealand Embassy, Jakarta: +62 (0)21 2995 5800.