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Where to go in Indonesia

Highlights of Indonesia

As the largest archipelago on earth, Indonesia is one country with many different faces. Ancient tribal traditions hold on in remote pockets, while modernity has found a firm grip in the country's powerhouse capital of Jakarta. Volcanoes have played a part in forming much of the islands' dramatic landscapes, with sleeping volcanoes crowned by crater lakes and clothed in thick jungle, and rich volcanic soil responsible for the plentiful rice farming that has turned the foothills into pretty green terraces. The lush rainforests and island reefs of Indonesia boast some of the richest biodiversity in the world, with orangutans and komodo dragons among the stars of the show. As you would expect, this nation of islands has boundless beaches, many untouched by tourism. For a small slice of paradise, the islands of Bali and Lombok are a good place to start.

Though Indonesia is a secular democratic state with a majority Muslim population, centuries of shifting religions and ruling dynasties have left behind myriad palaces, temples and ancient marvels. The fascinating Hindu temples at Prambanan and the world-famous 9th-century Buddhist stupa complex Borobudur are chief among the country's sights. Signs of the country's Dutch colonial past can be seen in the architecture of cities such as Makassar and Yogyakarta and unique Indonesian structures such as the traditional high-roofed wooden houses of Tana Toraja can still be found across the islands.

Idyllic islands

Bali

Indonesia's most famous island is rightly popular for its rich natural beauty and unique culture. Known as the land of 1,000 temples, Bali is Indonesia's only Hindu island and it is peppered with intricately-decorated shrines built from stone. The delicate thatched tiers of water temples lend magic to the already beguiling landscapes of misty mountain lakes and chiselled tropical shores. The island's cultural and geographical heart is Ubud, a pretty town set amid stepped rice paddies with a serene atmosphere and a clutch of beautiful boutique hotels. The region around Ubud is dotted with art villages dedicated to individual crafts such as wood-carving or pottery, which are great places to shop for local crafts and get a sense of rural Balinese life.

Towards the south of the island is where you'll find most of Bali's beach resorts. Kota is the most developed, while Jimbaran has one of the island's most spectacular curves of floury-soft sand. The island's most exclusive luxury hotels cluster around Nusa Dua, which has a serene beach that's perfect for swimming. A more low-key alternative is the sleepy resort of Sanur with a long promenade stretching the length of a golden shoreline lapped by gentle tropical waters.

Lombok

Just east of Bali, Lombok is the quintessential tropical island paradise. Much less developed than Bali, it has unspoilt white sand beaches and turquoise waters backed by a sloping volcanic hinterland that's clothed in thick rainforest. To explore the island's interior; the trek to the peak of volcanic Mount Rinjani reveals mysterious caves, awe-inspiring views and includes a visit to the stunning Segara crater lake. The nearby Gili Islands are a world-class snorkelling and diving destination, with unique underwater life and mesmerising multi-coloured coral reefs.

Culture, history and colour

Java

Java is Indonesia's most populous island, and encompasses the country's bustling capital Jakarta, which is the main gateway to the archipelago. The island is strewn with stunning ancient wonders, an awe-inspiring volcanic landscape crowned by Mount Bromo to the east and a cultural heartland around Yogyakarta and Surakarta that is brimming with history, music, art and crafts. Its jungles are also home to lots of exotic creatures, slow loris, sunbears, all manner of monkeys and bright birds of paradise.

Jakarta is a sprawling modern city pierced by skyscrapers, jammed with traffic and petering out to low-rise suburbs. It is usually just a stopover for travellers visiting Indonesia, but it does deserve some exploration. Fans of fine dining can find some excellent Indonesian restaurants while the stylish Skye Bar offers jaw-dropping views of the city from its terrace at the top of one of Jakarta's highest buildings. The city's old quarter, known as Batavia, is a crumbling and atmospheric remnant of the Dutch colonial era that can be explored on foot.

The island also has some charming former Dutch colonial towns such as Surabaya and Malang, but for atmosphere and location, Yogyakarta is the best place to stay. An attractive city of wide avenues and universities, of the town's grand old Dutch buildings, one has been converted into the beautiful Phoenix Hotel. Fine woven Batik fabric is a local speciality, and you can witness it being made at Rarad Jonggrang factory. Catch one of the popular shadow puppet shows that are emblematic of this region and take a stroll around the Sultan's Palace. Two of Indonesia's spectacular must-see sights - the ancient Hindu temple complex of Prambanan and the Buddhist monument of Borobudur - are within a short drive of the city centre.

Sulawesi

The island of Sulawesi, in the north-east of the archipelago, is a great place to experience some of Indonesia's unique ethnic cultures and fascinating history. The country's fourth largest island, Sulawesi spreads out into four peninsulas, with its most important city, Makassar, on the south-western tip. As an important trading centre since the 16th century, Makassar is an atmospheric city of faded colonial grandeur and traditional boat-building yards. Nearby, Bantimurung Bulusaraung National Park showcases the region's stunning natural beauty in its limestone cliffs, caves, rushing waterfalls and deep forested ravines. Further north is the fabled 'land of the heavenly kings', home to the ethnic Toraji tribe. From the town of Rantepao, you can visit their villages, famous for their peak-roofed wooden houses, hanging graves and elaborate animist funerary rites. In the villages around Lake Tempe, you can also meet the ethnic Buginese, known for their silk-weaving traditions.

Natural beauty and wildlife

Sumatra

For jungle adventure, Sumatra is the perfect destination. It's the largest Indonesian landmass, with deep rainforests, mountains and lakes inhabited by rare species such as orang-utans, rhinoceroses and Sumatran tigers. The Kenrinci Seblat National Park in western Sumatra is one of the last remaining refuges for these majestic animals and the forests are filled with the sweet sound of tropical birds such as Sumatran treepies and Sunda laughing thrushes. Many travellers visiting the park stay in the nearby town of Bukittinggi, home to the ethnic Minang people, who have an interesting matrilineal culture. The breathtaking Bukit Barisan mountains rise above Sumatra's west coast, and you can take treks to the serene Lake Toba and meet the indigenous local people.

The rainforests around Medan, including the steamy jungles of Gunung Leuser National Park, are another hotspot for travellers who want to experience the island's natural bounty. The Bohorok Orangutan Centre is nearby in Bukit Lawang, which offers a fantastic opportunity to meet these much-loved primates. The centre has successfully reintroduced a stable population of orangutans to the surrounding jungles, which you can explore on guided walks.

Kalimantan, Borneo

Indonesia's slice of the exotic island of Borneo is much less commercialised than the Malaysian side and the perfect place to encounter Indonesia's most famous animals - orangutans. Tanjung Puting National Park is one of the island's best wildlife spots and nearby accommodation such as Rimba Lodge makes it more accessible for travellers. The healthy orang-utan population is partly due to the conservation efforts of the park's Camp Leaky research station that can be visited during a trip here. As well as orangutans, you can spot proboscis monkeys and gibbons in the trees and a night trek reveals a wondrous spectacle of fireflies and glow-in-the-dark mushrooms, along with the chance to catch a glimpse of nocturnal creatures such as owls and tarsiers. Harder to spot but well worth looking out for are rare clouded leopards, civets and Malaysian sun bears.

Komodo National Park

One of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, Komodo National Park has been made famous by its unique residents - the eponymous Komodo dragons. The world's largest reptiles, the dragons are known locally as 'ora' and are the main draw for visitors to the region. The park encompasses several volcanic islands of jagged ridges and deep valleys and their shores are home to some of Indonesia's most spectacular underwater life.

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Places of interest in Indonesia and Bali

Depending on the type of location you want, the kind of facilities you'd like to find and the proximity to certain attractions, we have a good number of areas for you to choose from and stay at during your holiday.

Whether you want a pumping and energetic beachside retreat, a tranquil setting in a secluded cove, a hillside resort perched in the midst of nature, or a strategic central location close to civilisation and buzzing city life, nightclubs, theme parks and other kinds of leisure attractions, we can advise you on the best places for you.

Choose from our selection of handpicked places and be based right at the place that's most ideal for you and your travelling party

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