Indonesia is ripe with highlights across the archipelago, beginning in Medan on Sumatra’s northeast coast. From here, the classic itinerary runs to the thick jungles and orang-utan sanctuary at Bukit Lawang and down towards the lakeside resorts on Pulau Samosir in Southeast Asia’s largest lake, Danau Toba. Further south, the area around the laidback town of Bukittinggi appeals because of its flamboyant Minangkabau architecture, the beautiful scenery around Danau Maninjau and the rafflesia reserves in the hills. Many travellers then hurtle through to Java, probably spending no more than a night in the traffic-clogged capital Jakarta in their rush to the ancient cultural capital of Yogyakarta – the best base for exploring the huge Borobudur (Buddhist) and Prambanan (Hindu) temples. Java’s biggest natural attractions are its volcanoes, most famously Gunung Merapi on the outskirts of Yogya and East Java’s Gunung Bromo, where travellers brave a sunrise climb to the summit.
Just across the water from Java sits Bali, the long-time jewel in the crown of Indonesian tourism, a tiny island of elegant temples, verdant landscape and fine surf. The biggest resorts are the party towns of Kuta and adjacent Legian, with the more subdued beaches at Lovina and Candi Dasa appealing to travellers not hellbent on nightlife. Most visitors also spend time in Bali’s cultural centre Ubud, whose lifeblood continues to be painting, carving, dancing and music-making. The islands east of Bali – collectively known as Nusa Tenggara – are now attracting bigger crowds, particularly neighbouring Lombok, with its beautiful beaches and temples. East again, the Komodo dragons draw travellers to Komodo and Rinca, and then it’s an easy hop across to Flores, which has the unforgettable coloured crater lakes of Kelimutu. South of Flores, Sumba is famous for its intricate fabrics, grand funeral ceremonies and extraordinary annual ritual war, the pasola.
North of Flores, Sulawesi is renowned for the idiosyncratic architecture and impressively ghoulish burial rituals of the highland Torajans. West of Sulawesi, the island of Borneo plays host to the Indonesian state of Kalimantan, with opportunities for river travel in remote jungle.