The Emerald of the Equator, as Indonesia is proudly known, is home to a diverse array of cities, villages, and islands. Most people are attracted to the region because of Bali, and for good reason: the island paradise is a traveler’s haven, filled with cascading green rice paddies in spiritual Ubud, silky-blue surf in Uluwatu, world-class dining in Seminyak and a thriving nightlife in Kuta.
Bali is an iconic travel destination for nature lovers, night owls, yogis and hippies, but take a moment to think about what makes Bali so beautiful: Is it the warmth of the people? The smiles? The exoticness? Hospitality? It’s all of these and more. In fact, it’s all of these and one more thing in particular: Indonesian culture.
Beyond Bali lies many more colours, flavours, and experiences. So next time you’re considering going there, why not make some room in your plans to see the rest of Indonesia? From Yogyakarta to Gili Trawangan, this list is guaranteed to expand your horizons…
Travel to: Indonesia
The Bali of yesteryear is but a stone’s throw from Indonesia’s most famous island. 30 minutes by ferry from Sanur, Nusa Lembongan is a chilled-out version of its famous counterpart; a rural island with beach bars hanging over the sky-blue sea, delicious, inexpensive restaurants, and long, sparse beaches. Take a long walk down its dirt roads and you’ll come across kids playing street soccer, the ball bouncing past small red street stalls selling snacks and beer. They’ll speed past you, desperate to catch the ball before it rolls into dense vegetation at one of the many farms making up the island’s interior.
After a day of yoga at a secluded, peaceful, barebones retreat, when you’re feeling relaxed and truly in-tune with Island Life, head to The Deck for sunset cocktails while the DJ spins you towards the feeling that Nusa Lembongan is just what you’ve been looking for all these years….
They say that good things come in threes, and the Gili Islands certainly don’t disappoint! The paradisiacal trifecta is Indonesia’s answer to Thailand’s mega-popular cluster, albeit a chilled version where cars, motorbikes and scooters are replaced with good ol’ fashioned horse ‘n’ carts.
The lively Gili Trawangan, commonly known as Gili T, has crystal blue waters, as good as anything you’ll encounter in the Caribbean or Philippines. This is the island you come to when you want a bit of everything: diving with reef sharks, snorkelling with turtles, chilled out beach bars, a few rowdy joints for later in the night, and the option of riding off on your Fat Boy bicycle to get away from it all.
Gili Meno, on the other hand, is the chilled out romantic island. The perfect place to laze away in hammocks while watching the world pass by. With only a handful of restaurants and a few dive centres to choose from, it’s the perfect place to come to after a few hedonistic nights on Gili T.
There isn’t a whole lot to do, however, but if you’ve hit that phase in your travels where you want cocktails, a good book, and a digital detox from the constant Instagramming, then Gili Meno is the antidote, especially since it has the very best beaches of all the islands. If you’re unsure of what type of island experience you want to have, then have a little bit of A and a little bit of B on Gili Air….
If you’re looking for chilled vibes to the sound of Bob Marley, laid-back nightlife and more of a local experience, then Gili Air is the perfect place to start. You can party here, but not too hard. The island hasn’t give up its local charm and culture to make way for the tourists, so when it comes to Indonesian islands, this is a perfect choice for the hippies-at-heart who yearn for cultural immersion and a genuine vibe.
It’s more relaxing than Gili T but not so relaxing that you’ll eventually get bored. If anything, it’s a good place for the indecisive traveller to begin before checking out one of the other Gili islands. Or in my world, the diplomatic island for those in a group of beach bums and party animals!
Volcanoes. Mountains. Crater lakes. Epic hikes. Lombok is an untamed version of Bali that’s fast gaining a reputation as the next big thing. Lombok is Indonesia’s adventure paradise, a rugged island where swathes of crisp greenery blanket the muscled mountains, where species of exotic monkeys howl from the dense jungle, and the waterfalls in the north of the island crash into refreshing pools.
If you’re a nature lover, or feeling the need to lay low while your party batteries reenergize, take at least a few days to explore Lombok’s many treasures, but to get the full island experience, take an extra 3-4 days and hike up Indonesia’s second highest volcano, Mount Rinjani. Hikers are greeted with an inspiring panorama of a lake inside a large crater surrounded by rugged earth, in what could well be a movie set from Jurassic Park.
My personal highlight in Indonesia was the moment when I stood at the top of the Rinjani, a massive extinct vulcano on Lombok, which the island next to Bali. It was very tough to climb the vulcano, because of the exhausting conditions. Dry air and massive amounts of dust have been the worst enemy all the way up until the summit. But when the will is stronger than the pain, you accomplish your goal. That’s why I felt absolutely free on top of that mountain. It was not just the phenominal view, but also the fact that I set a big goal and made it happen.
My tips for everyone, who visits any island in Indonesia for the first time is that you shouldn’t book anything upfront! Book trips, accommodation and everything else on site and ALWAYS negotiate, since it will save you a lot of money. Besides that, try to do something unconventional like the Rinjani trekking. You will learn something great from it. Trust me! – Christian, Volle on Tour
Artistic. Traditional. Special. Yogyakarta is the heart and soul of Indonesia. A place for yoga retreats, cool beaches, and Buddhist temples. From dangling over the rugged, bashing ocean in a cable cart at Timang Beach, to tightrope walking at Kalibiru National park and sandboarding in Gumuk Pasir Parangkusumo, Yogyakarta has so much going on, and such an incredible diversity that it’s only a matter of time before it becomes the next “it” destination in South East Asia.
There are also underground caves you can go tubing in, on Nature’s Lazy River, and caves to explore that will have you channelling that inner Indiana Jones and Lara Croft.
Adrenaline Junkies can do the Daredevil’s Trek towards Langse Cave, a spiritual place where monks come to meditate, but be warned: this is a highly dangerous trek. If clinging to a wooden rail on the side of a mountain while crossing your feet over one another on a narrow path, with a straight 400 metre drop to your side, isn’t your cup of tea, then you can view one of the most magical sunsets imaginable at the Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world.
In Raja Ampat we visited a place called Pasir Timbul. Words and pictures can’t do justice to this spectacular wonder of nature, but I will try my best. Pasir Timbul is a secret paradise that only exists for a few hours a day and looks a little different every day. It literally means “emerging sands” and that’s exactly what happens when the tide is low. A few white sand patches emerge out of the water in the middle of nowhere. These sand patches form tiny islands that are connected to each other by sandbars. The water here is extremely clear and you don’t need a snorkel to see the bottom of the sea. The sand here is sugary white and everything is extremely clean and clear because there’s no visible vegetation.
Raja Ampat islands are extremely remote and you have to prepare yourself accordingly. Unlike other island destinations, you will most likely not even find shops where you can buy basic things. Carry enough local currency because you will not find ATMs except in Waisai. Your international card may or may not work in Waisai.
Reaching Raja Ampat is not as easy reaching Bali, but the efforts are rewarding. There are multiple flights and boat trips that a person needs to take in order to reach here and it can end up being expensive. However, Garuda Indonesia runs several flights to Sorong and it is possible to find decent deals if you plan in advance. – Sonal and Sandro, Drifter Planet
Indonesia never looked so good, and you thought it was just all about Bali, huh?