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What is there to see and do in Indonesia?

Must-see sights

The majority of travellers to Indonesia fly into the international airports of Java and Bali. Though these islands only represent a small portion of the country, there's no shortage of world-class sights and unforgettable experiences to be had. Historic ruins, ornate temples and intriguing cultures are the main attractions, with ancient Buddhist and Hindu monuments, as well as delicate stupas and traditional tribal villages all making for a fantastic brush with the Indonesia's deep and complex cultures and past.

If your first stop is the country's capital, Jakarta, then it's worth taking a day in the city to visit the former Dutch colonial centre of old Batavia, which has a faded ambience and some beautiful colonial buildings both restored and crumbling. The island's cultural heartland around Yogyakarta and Surakarta is brimming with history, music, art and crafts, with regional Batik fabric workshops, gamelan orchestras and shadow puppetry aplenty. Two of Indonesia's most important sightseeing attractions are close to Yogyakarta - ancient Borobudur, the largest Buddhist monument in the world, and Prambanan, a set of ornate Hindu temples that are an important pilgrimage site for followers of the faith.

Bali is famed for its beaches, but the unique spirituality of the island really sets it apart from the rest. Known as the land of 1,000 temples, the island's spiritual dedication is part of everyday life with religious shrines of all shapes and sizes dotting its villages, rice paddies, mountains and shorelines. Ancient Hindu jungle-shrouded temples such as the ones at Ubud Monkey Forest and Uluwatu are an absolute must-see, while the delicate water temples of Tanah Lot, on the south-west coast, and Lake Bratan in the central mountains, are some of the most photogenic on the island.

For ethnic cultures and tribes, the island of Sulawesi is one of the top spots in Indonesia. Its largest city, Makassar, has been an important trading centre since the 16th century and still harbours faded colonial grandeur and traditional boat-building yards. In the north is the fabled 'land of the heavenly kings', home to the ethnic Toraji tribe who are 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.

Nature and wildlife

Indonesia has some of the most breathtaking scenery and wonderful wildlife in the world and it's also incredibly diverse. You could be exploring mellow misty jungles inhabited by orangutans and howler monkeys one day, and searching the savannah of a desert island for komodo dragons the next. One of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, Komodo National Park has been made famous by its unique residents, which are the world's largest reptiles. Part of the Gili islands, they are also a world-class snorkelling and diving destination, with unique underwater life and mesmerizing multi-coloured coral reefs.

Diving and snorkelling are particularly popular activities in the archipelago, while its volcanic landscapes and mountain lakes are great for scenic treks. In Lombok, the walk to the peak of volcanic Mount Rinjani reveals mysterious caves, awe-inspiring views and includes a visit to the stunning Segara crater lake.

To explore the country's rich rainforests, head to Sumatra. Its deep rainforests, mountains and lakes are inhabited by rare species such as orangutans, rhinoceroses and Sumatran tigers. The Kenrinci Seblat National Park in western Sumatra is one of the last remaining refuges for these majestic animals, while the steamy jungles of Gunung Leuser National Park, are another nature hotspot with the Bohorok Orangutan Centre close by.

The island of Kalimantan has a similarly rich wildlife offering. Tanjung Puting National Park is one of the island's best wildlife spots with a healthy orangutan population nurtured by local conservation efforts. As well as orangutans, you can spot proboscis monkeys and gibbons and you can also discover nocturnal delights such as fireflies, glow-in-the-dark mushrooms, owls and tarsiers on a guided night walk through the undergrowth.

Java has an awe-inspiring volcanic landscape crowned by Mount Bromo to the east, which is a popular excursion for visitors. Its jungles are also home to lots of exotic creatures, slow loris, sunbears, all manner of monkeys and bright birds of paradise.

Beaches and spas

Bali is Indonesia's premier beach destination and it's the place to go if you want to stay in the most stylish accommodation and enjoy top-notch facilities. Kota, in the south, is the most developed beach resort, but there are more scenic spots across the island. For long lazy days on the beach and luxurious resorts, cocktails at sunset and delicious fresh food under the stars, Nusa Dua is the most exclusive option, while Jimbaran has a more authentic atmosphere and a stunning long curve of powder-fine sand. The delicious fragrances of the island's exotic flora and its intricate sublime designs can be found in Bali's many spas and health sanctuaries - this is the ideal destination for travellers to indulge in complete relaxation and rejuvenation.

To the east of Bali, the island of Lombok has gained a reputation for having some of the country's best beaches - it embodies the desert island dream with pale curves of soft sand shaded by gently swaying palms and lapped by pellucid calm waters. But for complete seclusion, the little Karimunjawa Islands, off the coast of Java, are part of a protected marine park that has some of the beautiful stretches of sand in Indonesia.

Island hopping

It's easy to get a taste of more than one island on a visit to Indonesia with good internal flight connections and ferries between islands. Visiting a trio of close islands such as Java, Bali and Lombok is more than manageable within a fairly short time-frame and well worth the effort. While Java boasts ancient wonders and Bali has a rich and deep culture, Lombok, just east of Bali, has become known for its sultry, palm-strewn white sand beaches. Sumatra, Java, Bali, Sulawesi and the Nusa Tenggara islands are all connected by regular ferries.

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