Indonesia is the largest country most people have never heard of. It’s as wide as Canada, has the 4th largest population in the world and the country is composed of 17,000+ islands. Yet many visitors to the country overlook this. I’m constantly surprised by how many things to do in Indonesia travellers want to pack into a holiday (I often have to make the plans more realistic).
To help you make you plan your trip and give you some inspiration on where to visit we shortlisted some of the best things to do in Indonesia. Think of this as your things to do in Indonesia bucket list (hopefully it will inspire you to really explore the country). We’ll start this guide with some of the obvious highlights and give you some extra ideas just to be safe. Let’s get started!
6 Best Things to Do When You Travel to Indonesia
1. Watch Sunrise Over Borobudur
Yogyakarta, in the heart of Java, is on most backpackers travel list. The ancient temples of Borobudur and Brambanan are two of the historical highlights of Indonesia. You can visit both temples in a day. If you were going to visit we’d recommend starting by watching sunrise over Borobudur. Watching the sunrise over the Buddhist stupas is a must. It’s one of the best things to do in Indonesia.
2. Watch Sunrise over Bromo
There are few better reasons to wake up early than a visit to Bromo in East Java. In the early morning as the sun rises over the horizon you are rewarded by a dramatic landscape. The mist hugs the plains between the steep hills that drop away from the town of Probolinggo and surround Bromo Volcano. You can take a day trip to Bromo from either Malang or Surabaya, but the most popular is the overland route that ends in Banyuwangi.
3. Explore Komodo National Park
The Komodo National Park off the coast of Flores is one of Indonesia’s emerging tourism destinations. Some of the islands like Padar offering incredible viewpoints while the Flores Sea offers some of the best diving in Indonesia. Of course most tourists visit for a chance to see the famed Komodo Dragons. You can find out more about how to get them in our Flores Tours. Without a doubt this is one of the best things to do in Indonesia.
4. Trek to See Orang Utans
Sumatra and Kalimantan are the places to go if you want to do some jungle trekking. They are also the place to go to see Orang Utan in the wild. Probably the best places to see Orang Utan in Sumatra is the isolated jungle town of Bukit Lawang. In Kalimantan you should head to Tanjung Puting, where you can take a tour on a traditional Klotok boat.
5. Go Diving in Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat is one of my favourite places in Indonesia. The region with its 1,000+ islands has some of the most biologically diverse coral reefs in the world. I’ve been lucky to visit the area. It’s an incredible landscape with emerald-green islands rising out of the clear turquoise waters of the ocean. Unfortunately accommodation is expensive and it’s hard to get around, so this destination is only for real adventurers (I did create a backpackers guide if you need it).
6. Take a Liveaboard Adventure
There are few better ways to explore Indonesia than on a boat. Indonesian liveaboard tours offer travellers the chance to take up to two-week long cruises around some of the most beautiful islands in the world. Popular destinations for liveaboard diving tours include Raja Ampat and the Komodo Islands.
Ideas for Things to do in Indonesia
7. Party on the Gili Islands
If you’re a young backpacker and up for some fun the Gili Island of Trawangan should be on your things to do in Indonesia list. The islands are a great meeting point for young travellers. You can spend your days lazily lying on the beach and hit the bars at night. If you want to learn more about the islands check out our guides for Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno.
8. Relax in a Villa on Bali
The Island of the Gods is a place that should be on every travellers bucket list. It’s a beautiful place to visit and there’s really something here for everyone. Yoga lovers have Ubud, hipsters have Canggu, backpackers have Kuta, luxury travellers have Nusa Dua and young and old professionals gather in the hedonistic bars and clubs of Seminyak. Find your space and enjoy the holiday island.
9. Hike Mount Rinjani
Volcano hiking is a big thing in Indonesia. There’s Mount Merapi just outside of Yogyakarta and Gunung Agung on Bali, but probably the best volcano to hike is Mount Rinjani on Lombok. Rinjani is a 3-Day 2-Night hike to the top of the volcano. In addition to the great view from the summit you’ll also get a chance to swim the Crater Lake and enjoy some hot springs.
10. Swim with Stingless Jellyfish
I’ve always hated jellyfish. One minute you’re swimming through the water perfectly happy and the next moment you’re surrounded by stinging jellyfish. Well that’s what happens most of the time… The Derawan Islands off the coast of Kalimantan are an exception to the rule. There’s a lake on the island full of friendly jellyfish that don’t sting. I just wish all jellyfish would evolve in the same way.
11. Trek into Ijen Crater
Ijen Crater is one of the natural miracles of Java. It’s an enormous volcano, an active sulphur mine and one of the biggest tourist attractions in East Java. The best time to visit the crater is at night to watch the blue flames (the flames are caused by the hot sulphur gas catching fire as it exits the vents). As the sun comes over the horizon the flames disappear and you find yourself surrounded by yellow sulphur with the turquoise Crater Lake in front of you. It’s an amazing view.
12. Watch Sunrise Over Kelimutu Lake
The three colored lakes of Kelimutu are one of the natural wonders of Flores. The volcano is about 50km east of Ende close to the small town of Moni. The three volcanic lakes are each a slightly different color. This is caused by the different chemical compositions of the lake. The best time to visit is sunrise when the first rays of the sun catch the waters of the three lakes.
13. Find Yourself In Ubud
Ubud is a Mecca for alternative travellers who want to relax and find themselves. The setting is picturesque. The city is in the highlands of Bali surrounded by paddy fields. There are lots of cafes serving delicious Indonesian coffee, vegan restaurants, normal restaurants, boutique shops and of course the yoga schools.
14. Explore SE Asia’s Largest Lake
Lake Toba is a huge lake (like 100 km long and 30 km wide) in the caldera of a dormant super volcano. It also happens to be one of the most popular tourist destinations on Sumatra. It’s popular with people who like the outdoors. You can go trekking, canoeing, cycling and a lot more. Check out our guide for more info about the lake.
15. Abseil Into Goa Jomblang Caves
Goa Jomblang Cave is one of the natural highlights of Yogyakarta (and a real adventure to visit). To reach the caves you have to abseil down into a hidden forest and trek through an underground tunnel. The highlight of the trip is the view of a shaft of sunlight that cuts through the hole in the roof of the cave. It’s an incredible view and an impressive place to visit.
16. Swim with Whale Sharks
Whale Sharks are the gentle giants of the ocean. Every year they migrate through Indonesian waters towards Cenderawasih Bay. Visit at the right season and you can catch them off the coast of Bantar Beach in East Java. You can also catch them off the Derawan Islands in Kalimantan. I still haven’t done this, but swimming with whale sharks is on my list of things to do in Indonesia.
17. Spend a Night on a Private Island
If you’ve ever dreamed of spending the night on your own private tropical island then you’ve come to the right country. There’s Joyo Island in Riau, Aloita Resort in Mentawai and Misool Eco Resort in Raja Ampat to name a few. If you’re looking for somewhere easy to visit look no further than the luxurious Tiger Island just off the coast of Jakarta.
18. Search for the Javan Rhino
The Javan Rhino is the most threatened of the five rhino species and have been poached to the verge of extinction. There are just 60 Javan rhinos in the wild. They live in the Ujung Kulon National Park on the western tip of Java. You can take a tour of the park from Jakarta. While it’s unlikely that you’ll actually see a Javan Rhino when you visit, you’re bound to enjoy the adventure.
19. Visit the Islands of Wakatobi
Wakatobi is a chain of 4 small islands off the coast of Sulawesi. The name comes from the four islands (Wangi Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia and Binongko). The islands are your typical tropical paradise with beautiful beaches, clear waters, lots of palm trees and great diving. You can read our Wakatobi guide here.
20. Explore the Highlands of Papua
The Baliem Valley in Papua is one of the last frontiers of Indonesia. Wamena, the main highland town, is difficult to reach and the facilities are basic. Yet for all the problems getting to the area there are many rewards. The highlands are a beautiful region for trekking and the culture of the people who live in the region diverse.
22. Dive Along the Coral Walls of Bunaken
Bunaken is probably the most popular diving destination in Sulawesi. The island, which is part of the Bunaken National Marine Park, is just off the coast of Manado. It’s the kind of place to go and relax over a weekend. It’s easy to get to, relaxed and there are plenty of great dive spots, including a coral wall, around Bunaken where you can see hundreds of sea creatures.
21. Trek to the Top of Bali
One of the highlights of my many visits to Bali was climbing to the peak of Mount Agung. It’s an exhausting trek, but the view from the top was simply breathtaking. As the sun rises over the horizon you can look down over Mount Batur and see as far as the sea in the other direction. You can find out more in this guide to trekking Mount Agung.
23. Take in the Highlands of Tana Toraja
Secured in the heart of Sulawesi are the beautiful highlands of Tana Toraja. The region is famous for the delicious coffee that grows of the slopes of the valleys and the unusual burial rites of the Torajans. Read our guide on the highlights of Tana Toraja for inspiration on what to do when you visit.
Creating a shortlist of things to do in Indonesia is almost impossible. Sure there are a few obvious tourism highlights, like Borobudur and Bali, but outside of this the list of options could be almost limitless. I hope I’ve inspired you and given you some ideas of where to visit on your next holiday. Just remember that Indonesia is very big so make sure to create a realistic itinerary!
What’s the favorite place you visited in Indonesia? Is it on the list? Share your thoughts and feedback with other travellers.