The 5 Best Indonesian Islands To Visit (That Aren’t Bali)
There are more than 17,000 Indonesian islands, but most tourists still only visit one: Bali. And while it’s clearly the most popular for a reason (see: nearly every #wanderlust photo on Instagram), it’s time Bali stepped aside to let some of its neighbours shine.
Other Indonesian islands in the archipelago offer scenery that’s more stunning, wildlife that’s more rare and, best of all, attractions that are far less crowded. Among those, these are our favourites.
Nearly 80 times the size of Bali, the sprawling island of Sumatra sits north of Jakarta in the Sunda Islands. It’s so underdeveloped it’s often referred to as “Indonesia’s Wild West”. While surfers know it for its epic swell in the south, Sumatra’s got plenty to do in its north and west too.
In the north, you can trek to see endangered orangutans – one of only two places you can do so on the planet. In addition to the apes, the north is also home to Lake Toba, the world’s largest crater lake, and Mount Sibayak, a volcano you can hike. In Sumatra’s west, you can swim under waterfalls, clamber up mountains and explore the nearby Mentawai Islands.
#2 Belitung Island
Among those Indonesian islands even Indonesians haven’t heard of, Belitung lies to the east of Sumatra with the slightly larger island of Bangka in between. It has beautiful beaches with scattered granite rocks, a mesmerising blue lake and colourful, Dutch colonial-influenced houses. But its best attribute by far is the fact you can visit it with barely any other international tourists around.
The lack of overseas visitors does come at a cost though. There are limited tour operators, few English-speaking hospitality staff and not nearly as many choices of hotels and hostels as you’d expect from somewhere so scenic. Provided you’re okay with all of that though, Belitung is one of the most perfect of all Indonesian islands.
#3 The Nusa islands
Despite being closer to Bali and just as, if not more, gorgeous than the Gili Islands, the collection of three Nusa Islands, Lembongan, Ceningan and Penida, are surprisingly a lot less known than their counterparts. But after witnessing their jaw-dropping nature sights first-hand, namely Nusa Ceningan’s Blue Lagoon and Nusa Penida’s Angel’s Billabong, Kelingking Beach and Broken Beach, you’ll be glad that’s the case.
Using resort-heavy Nusa Lembongan as your overnight base, your days here can be spent scootering to see them or out on the water – snorkelling or diving. And if none of those tickle your fancy, there’s always the option of kicking back with a Bintang at a beach-overlooking bar instead.
#4 The Komodo islands
The opening of AYANA Komodo Resort in Komodo National Park this September – the first five-star resort in the area – means it’s about to get a whole lot busier. But after visiting it yourself, you’ll wonder why that didn’t happen sooner. Aside from being home to the Komodo dragon, the largest lizard in the world, the UNESCO World Heritage Centre site also has a pink sand beach, an island with a view overlooking more beaches and bays than you can count and some of the world’s best scuba diving.
And the best way to see it all is by staying on a live-aboard. Flying into the mainland of Labuan Bajo, arrange the boat, which as its name suggests is one you’ll live on, beforehand or head into town and book a tour there. Most tours stop at the same islands, and, depending on their length, will let you stay at each spot as long or as little as you’d like. You’ll find the dragons on islands Komodo and Rinca and the lookout on Padar.
The same size as England, Java houses more than half of Indonesia’s population with many of them living in its capital city, Jakarta. The island sits sandwiched between Sumatra and Bali, and is decorated with some truly spectacularly scenery. Volcanos dot its terrain, rice fields spill from its hills and striking temples rise from its quiet mountaintops.
After you’ve spent enough time wandering Jakarta’s bustling streets and popping into its trendy restaurants and bars, head to Yogykarta, an eight-hour train journey away. There, the magnificent Buddhist temple of Borobudur and the fascinating temple complex of Prambanan await. After visiting them, make your way to active volcano Mount Bromo for a sunrise trek.
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(All images: Sangeeta Kocharekar / supplied unless otherwise noted)