Most countries offer you an insight into a different culture, but Indonesia, with its dozens of historical influences, offers something dramatically more. The strands of varied customs, religions, legends, and modernity are woven into intricate patterns that reveal themselves in layers. Sometimes, when a country is transformed by tourism, it pays a heavy price in terms of cultural losses. Not so in Indonesia. For every stretch of silver beach filled with sunbathers from nearby luxury hotels, there are plenty of villages rich in traditions that date back not just centuries but for millennia.
Indonesia is the largest island nation in the world comprising more than 17,000 islands. The landscape is mostly rugged. Shallow seas patterned with coral reefs surround mangrove swamps and coastal plains reaching back to dense rainforest. The mountains and geological structures are mainly volcanic, with many of the volcanoes still active, for this is a region of geographic turmoil.
Bali attracts a variety of people, from backpackers and expats to families and newly married couples. This tropical island, once quiet, has become world famous thanks to its incredible beaches, rice fields, waterfalls, as well as its unique cultural, spiritual and artistic environment.
If you have come to Bali in search of intriguing culture and a relaxing ambiance, Ubud is your destination. Avoid its two busy streets and stay in a quiet area overlooking the rice fields. Attend a yoga class, cycle through the rice terraces or watch the macaques climb the roof of the Ubud Monkey Forest. Do not miss the mysterious Elephant Cave and immerse yourself in the Tirta Empul baths, which date back to the 9th century.
Located on the slope of Mount Agung, Mother Temple is composed of 22 different temples. The main temple is Pura Penataran Agung, an extensive sanctuary with different areas representing the seven layers of the universe. At the top of the Mother Temple is Pura Pangubengan, a darkened stone temple offering beautiful views of the complex.
The capital of Indonesia is a busy metropolis, famous for its colonial relics, beautiful mosques, numerous shops, and family entertainment. Located in the northwest corner of the island of Java, Jakarta is chaotic but also has plenty of flavor and color. Founded in the 4th century and colonized by the Dutch East Indies, Jakarta has long been served as a critical Indonesian port. The city of over 10 million population has a multifaceted culture with Javanese, Dutch, Chinese, and Arabic influences.
The best-known tourist sight in Jakarta is the 140-meter-tall Monas, often just called the National Monument. It is situated in the famous Freedom (“Merdeka”) Square, and you can go into its observation deck to see views of the entire city. The Presidential Palace is also worth a visit, as the current functioning office of the president of Indonesia, and is free to tour on weekends (but make sure to reserve ahead of time and dress somewhat nicely). You also shouldn’t visit Jakarta without seeing the National Museum, which is 200 years old and a famous icon. It will help you better understand the natural and human history of Indonesia, and you can also see an excellent elephant statue. The nightlife in Jakarta is active and fun, with plenty of bars and clubs to choose from.
While Java offers a rich history and culture, Sumatra is a paradise for nature lovers and thrill seekers. Here you can surf some the best waves in the country, hike through the thick tropical jungle in search of red-haired orangutans, or dive and explore the magnificent underwater world. Toba Lake has been a must in Sumatra for decades: it is the largest lake volcanic lake in the world, with an intense blue color. Observe orangutans in the virgin jungles of Bukit Lawang, as well as tigers, rhinos, elephants, and leopards. You can also swim with sharks and turtles in the coral garden of Pulau Weh, walk through the heart of the matriarchal village of the Minangkabau, and climb up to the steaming peaks of the volcanoes that surround the mountain village of Berastagi.
Bandung is a Javanese city with a mountainous backdrop, a pleasant climate, and a relatively bland center until you come across its famous art deco architecture. The fourth largest city in Indonesia, Bandung boasts a population of nearly 3 million and is known for its universities that make it the intellectual center of Java. Condensed traffic and buildings in need of repair only make up the first layer of this city – upon closer inspection, the city’s hidden character is exposed with some incredible street art.