Best Things to do in Indonesia

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 11.06.2024

An island nation like no other, Indonesia’s diversity is unsurpassed. With modernity and ancient tradition entwined, and historical wonders and cutting-edge metropolises sharing a magnificent tropical backdrop. Here is our pick of the best things to do in Indonesia.

This article is inspired by our Rough Guides guidebooks — your essential guides for travelling the world.

1. Orangutan-watching

See these enchanting creatures at Bukit Lawang, close to the Sumatran capital, Medan. Orangutan-watching in Tanjung Puting National Park is one of the best things to do in Indonesia and province’s major attraction. The highlight of the Tanjung Puting National Park experience is the orangutan feeding sessions at one of the three park outposts.

The first, Tanjung Harapan – directly opposite the Sekonyer River Ecolodge – cares for orphaned infants and new arrivals and has a visitor information centre. By far the most famous of the three, Camp Leakey can be somewhat of a circus during high season, with visitors who are less conservation-oriented clamouring to walk down jungle paths to see the red apes in action.

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Orangutan, Sumatra, Indonesia © Shutterstock

2. Tana Toraja, Sulawesi

One of the best things to do in Indonesia is to visit the gorgeous, mountainous region of Sulawesi — home to the Torajans. Tucked amid the rugged peaks and fertile plateaus of inland South Sulawesi live many isolated groups known collectively as the Torajan. The winding mountain road from Makassar to Tana Toraja, which even at local drivers’ breakneck speeds takes a minimum of seven hours, passes Pare-Pare and inland Enrekang.

From here, the road enters a land of steep terraced slopes, tall bamboo forests and high mountain peaks. Across the Sungai Sa’dan from Salubarani, there is a large boat-shaped arch, marking the entrance to Tana Toraja. The road continues through Bambapuang Valley and past the shapely Buntu Kabobong (Erotic Hills).

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Tongkonans Kete Kesu, Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia © Michal Knitl/Shutterstock

3. Borobudur Temple — the largest Buddhist temple in the world

The largest Buddhist temple in the world and one of the best things to do in Indonesia for witnessing the greatest piece of classical architecture. The approach to the Unesco World Heritage Site at Borobudur passes through busy roadside communities and rich agricultural countryside. Allow yourself a minimum of two hours to tour the candi (temple), though you could easily spend half a day here.

This huge mandala, the world’s largest Buddhist monument, was built sometime during the relatively short Sailendra dynasty between AD 778 and AD 856 – 300 years before Angkor Wat and 200 years before Notre-Dame. Yet, within little more than a century of its completion, Borobudur and the other structures in Central Java were mysteriously abandoned as the focus of Javanese royal power shifted to the east.

Things Not To Miss: Buddist temple Borobudur, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Buddist Temple Borobudur, Yogyakarta, Indonesia © Pambudi Yoga Perdana/Shutterstock

4. See the mischievous macaques of Sacred Monkey Forest

Take a stroll down the shop and hotel-lined Monkey Forest Road to Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest for a walk through a beautiful and dense tropical jungle. Like all ‘monkey forests’ in Bali, the experience is punctuated by roving gangs of mischievous, annoying and fearless macaques, which ostensibly protect the temple.

They are amusing up to a point, usually breached when one of them pinches keys, sunglasses, or any other shiny object, and runs off with it. This walk is best done in the cooler early morning or late afternoon. A temple in the forest, Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal, is dedicated to Durga, the goddess of death, who often takes the form of Rangda, the queen of the underworld.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Ubud

Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis) in Sacred Monkey Forest, Ubud, Indonesia © Shutterstock

Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis) in Sacred Monkey Forest, Ubud, Indonesia © Shutterstock

5. Climbing an active volcano - one of the most exciting things to do in Indonesia

When one reaches the summit of Mount Rinjani on Lombok, they are presented with the opportunity to appreciate the forest, rocky peaks, and a striking crater lake. To plan the ascent to Mount Rinjani, a visit to either Rinjani Trekking Center or Rinjani Trekking Club in Senaru is recommended. Both establishments provide various programs for climbing the volcano and trekking in Mount Rinjani National Park, all of which involve the local communities.

Alternatively, Mount Bromo is another volcano destination in Indonesia that offers two different ways to enjoy the view. The first option is to hike from Cemara Lawang at 2-3 am to catch a spectacular sunrise at the peak's edge. The second option involves renting a jeep to Gunung Penanjakan, which is 400 meters above Gunung Bromo and approximately 3km to the west, to experience a panoramic view of the entire caldera. From there, it is a brief hike along the road to reach the summit.

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Crater Rinjani, Lombok, Indonesia © Shutterstock

6. Face the dragons

Meeting the world’s largest lizard on barren Komodo or atmospheric Rinca is one of the best things to do in Indonesia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Komodo National Park lies in the strait between Sumbawa and Flores and is the habitat of the world’s largest lizard, Varanus komodoensis, the Komodo dragon.

Although there are dragons on two other nearby islands, in order to protect wild populations visitors are only allowed on Komodo and Rinca (pronounced rin-cha). Most visitors couple Komodo dragon-spotting with snorkelling and diving while in the park. At Pantai Merah (Red Beach), near Komodo, reefs teeming with colourful fish are very near the shoreline.

Combine several islands on this tailor-made trip to Bali, Flores & Komodo - start in Bali's cultural capital Ubud before heading to the rice fields in Sidemen. A short flight to Flores allows you to explore volcanoes and local villages before hopping on a cruise around Komodo and other islands close to Labuan Bajo. Dragons included!

Komodo dragons fight © Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock

Komodo dragons, Rinca, Indonesia © Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock

7. Bask at the beautiful Pink Beach, Komodo Island

Another attraction on Komodo Island is Pink Beach or Pantai Merah. Scuba diving and snorkelling in the island's waters are among the best things to do in Indonesia. There are 260 species of reef-building corals, sheer-drop walls and around 1,000 species of fish and marine mammals, including manta rays, sharks, sea turtles, dolphins and whales.

For snorkellers, Pink Beach offers butterfly, parrot and triggerfish, giant clams and colourful corals at close range. The gorgeous beach is pink due to an abundance of red coral in the region.

You will find many surfing, diving and snorkelling destinations in Indonesia by reading our guide to the best beaches in Bali.

Pink Beach or Pantai Merah - Indonesia © Shutterstock

Pink Beach or Pantai Merah - Indonesia © Shutterstock

8. Surfing at G-Land, Java

East of Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park is four other national parks that can be visited on the way to or from Bali (by the Ketapang–Gilimanuk ferry). At Java’s southeastern tip is Alas Purwo National Park. There is a watchtower for views of grazing banteng, wild boars, peacocks and some of the best surfing in Java at G-Land.

Renowned for its awesome barrel waves, Grajagan Bay, or 'G-Land' in East Java attracts some of the world's best surfers.

On this tailor-made trip to Java and Lombok, you will start your trip in Yogyakarta (also called Jogja) with its rich cultural past such as the Borobudur temple. From there continue to hike Mount Bromo and explore more of East Java in Malang and Surabaya. End your trip on the dreamy beaches of Kuta/Lombok, dubbed 'the next Bali'.

A silhouetted surfing airing on a wave breaking on a beach in Puerto Rico © James Parascandola/Shutterstock

Surfing in G-Land is one of the best things to do in Indonesia © Shutterstock

9. Don't miss the Gili Islands

You will find the best things to do in Indonesia on these three perfect tropical islands off Lombok, each with its own character. For decades Gili Islands have attracted visitors from around the world for their pristine waters, great diving and snorkelling and their laidback charm.

Gili Trawangan, the largest and most distant of the three islands, has two types of visitors: partygoers, who flock to the southwest side of the island and north-coast visitors who spend their days in quiet relaxation, sunbathing and diving. Gili Meno is the least developed of the three islands. Its attractions are uncrowded beaches.

Gili Air, closest to the mainland, has the largest local population and a range of dive shops that service all the needs of divers.

Dive deep into Balinese culture from Ubud and Sidemen on this tailor-made trip to Bali's Culture & Gili's beaches. Visits include rice field walks, the Gates of Heaven, water temples like Tirta Empul and Tirta Gangga as well as a traditional cooking class. Your trip ends with the beaches of Gili Air and Jimbaran.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Gili Islands

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Gili Meno Island, Lombok, Indonesia © Kasia Soszka/Shutterstock

10. See the world's smallest and cutest primate

Spot the world’s smallest and cutest primate in the Tangkoko Reserve, northern Sulawesi. From Bitung, a fairly bumpy northern road winds through to the Tangkoko-Batuangas Nature Reserve, one of the most important places for terrestrial nature conservation in Minahasa. There are few places in the world where such a wide variety of habitats, plants and animals are crammed into one small forest.

To date, scientists have documented 26 mammals, 18 birds, 15 reptiles and over 200 plant species here, including spectral tarsiers – one of the world’s smallest primates – troops of endangered crested black macaques. Local guides are available at Batu Putih village at the entrance of the reserve.

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Spectral tarsier, Indonesia © Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock

11. Try Indonesian food

From succulent fruits to volcanic curries, Indonesia’s cuisine is never bland. Rice, coconut, banana, peanut and soya bean are the five pillars of Indonesian cuisine, and it is almost impossible to find a meal that does not include at least one of these items. One of the best ways to sample a wide variety of Indonesian food is to order nasi rames or nasi campur.

These samplers are platefuls of steamed rice, chicken, fresh and preserved vegetables, fried egg, roasted peanuts, shredded coconut, fiery sambal sauce, and oversized crispy krupuk (fried prawn crackers). The best-known rice dish is nasi goreng, fried rice with an assortment of vegetables and chicken, prawns or meat, or a combination of all three.

Celebrate your union on this magical tailor-made Love trip to Bali. Included are couples massages at relaxing spas, a blessing ceremony by a Balinese priest, an authentic cooking class, and of course - a beautiful white sandy beach on Nusa Lembongan to relax towards the end of your trip.

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Tempeh food, Indonesia © Endy Muhardin/Shutterstock

12. See the remnants of Krakatau

The glassy black cone of Anak Krakatau, the child of the world’s most famous volcano, still smoulders angrily off Java. The original Krakatau volcano achieved lasting infamy in 1883, when it erupted with cataclysmic force, ripping out a huge chunk of the earth’s crust to form a monstrous submarine caldera.

In the decades that followed, undersea eruptions continued and a new peak emerged from the sea - Anak Krakatau which is itself a highly active volcano. When volcanic conditions allow, it may still be possible to land on Anak Krakatau, but since the 2018 eruption, most tours stick to nearby Rakata Island, a surviving fragment of the original, much larger Krakatau caldera. Rakata offers excellent views of the younger, active peak.

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Krakatau eruption, Indonesia © feygraphy/Shutterstock

13. Snorkelling and diving in Raja Ampat

Indonesia has some of the best dive sites in the world, including many that are almost completely unexplored. Although there are more than 1,500 small atolls in the Raja Ampat group, there are four main islands: Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati and Misool. Raja Ampat (‘Four Kings’) gained notoriety when scientific data seeped out that the area may very well be the epicentre of oceanic biodiversity.

The area is particularly popular with live-aboard dive boats and cruises. Diving, of course, is the main event. Frequently encountered are manta rays, giant groupers and large schools of barracudas and jacks, as well as sharks, whales and dolphins. In the shallows are pygmy shrimp, octopus and nudibranchs.

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Exploring marine wildlife is one of the best things to do in Indonesia © zaferkizilkaya/Shutterstock

14. See the annual Pasola Festival in Sumba

This annual pageant of horseback spear-throwing is one of the most spectacular festivals in Indonesia. In West Sumba’s exciting Pasola ritual, scores of colourfully arrayed horsemen on bareback charge one another in a dramatic mock war. Held in several villages, the event begins after the full moon during an annual migration of nyale sea worms.

‘Warriors’ on horseback try to unseat their opponents, and any blood spilt is believed to fertilise the soil and benefit the next harvest.

From your base on Bali's renowned beaches, you'll island-hop your way around glorious Hindu temples and heritage sites. See komodo dragons, partake in a traditional Balinese ceremony, meet with a Hindu High Priest and visit local villages: this tailor-made trip to Indonesia ticks all the tropical getaway boxes.

Wanokaka Hill in Sumba, Indonesia. A man with his horse before doing a Pasola event © Akmal Luthfi M/Shutterstock

Wanokaka Hill in Sumba, Indonesia. A man with his horse before doing a Pasola event © Akmal Luthfi M/Shutterstock

15. Kecak Dance

Most ethnic groups in Indonesia have ritual dances performed to mark rites of passage – births, funerals, weddings, puberty – and agricultural events, as well as to exorcise sickness or evil spirits. The primary purpose of these dances is to appease the spirits. In the Balinese sanghyang trance dances, the performers are possessed by gods and animal spirits.

In the sanghyang dedari, or heavenly maidens dance, two young girls dressed in white enter a circle of 40 to 50 chanting men, the Kecak chorus. The girls dance in unison with eyes shut, then when they are finally possessed by goddesses they are clothed in glittering costumes and borne aloft on the shoulders of the men, touring the village to drive out evil.

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Bali dancer © Shutterstock

16. Trek through the Mentawai Islands

Visiting the Mentawai Islands is one of the best things to do in Indonesia for extreme trekkers who relish visiting the friendly Siberut people, who live in the forests and happily tell the stories that their tattoos represent. South of Nias, Siberut is the largest and most visited of the Mentawai archipelago and is covered in dense tropical rainforest with isolated farming settlements.

The indigenous inhabitants are forest-dwellers, though almost all now live a settled lifestyle. As throughout the Mentawai, the only upscale accommodation at Siberut is in isolated surf resorts. Those who come to explore the interior generally stay in basic homestays arranged by their guides. The main attraction is the trek inland to visit remote villages where people live in traditional longhouses.

The Mentawai Islands are among the most attractive destinations in Indonesia. To find equally wonderful options for your holiday read our guide to unforgettable Indonesian islands.

Find accommodation options to stay in the Mentawai Islands

Mentawai people © Shutterstock

Mentawai people © Shutterstock

17. Explore the caves of Tanah Lot

South Bali remains as busy – and enjoyable – as ever, but resorts are being developed further west to appeal to a more exclusive clientele, eventually flowing into expensive villa mansions as far afield as Tanah Lot. Set apart from the land on a stone pedestal carved by incoming tides, Tanah Lot’s solitary black towers and tufts of foliage spilling over the cliffs recall the delicacy of a Chinese painting.

In caves surrounding the temple dwell striped sacred snakes, discreetly left undisturbed by Balinese. Only worshippers are allowed inside the temple, but visitors get a dramatic view from the adjacent hill, especially at sunset.

Experience Bali with this stunning tailor-made trip to Bali's Beaches and Temples. Marvel at ancient temples like Tanah Lot and Pura Besakih, soak in stunning sunsets, stroll bare-footed along the best beaches in Bali and haggle at local markets – experience all of this, and much more, with this unique trip!

Rough Guides tip: To have a chance to explore everything that you are interested in Bali also read our guide on how many days are best to spend here.

Tanah Lot Temple, Bali © Shutterstock

Tanah Lot Temple, Bali © Shutterstock

18. Lake Toba

A water-filled ancient caldera, the largest and deepest in the world, Sumatra’s beautiful Lake Toba is believed to have been formed by a series of super-eruptions nearly 900,000 years ago. The Bataks, one of the great highland peoples of Sumatra, inhabit a fertile volcanic plateau south of Medan that covers much of northern Central Sumatra.

In the middle lies the lovely Lake Toba, a vast crater lake containing the lush Samosir island (nearly the size of Singapore). Visiting It is the best place to experience Danau Toba’s spell. Samosir is regarded as the original home of the Bataks in Sumatra.

With its golden coastline and azure waves, Indonesia is perfect for a family trip. Looking for more inspiring family holiday ideas? Find some inspiration in our guide to the best places to go with kids.

Traditional Batak houses on Samosir island, Sumatra, Indonesia © Shutterstock

Traditional Batak houses on Samosir island, Sumatra, Indonesia © Shutterstock

Visiting Indonesia is a truly unforgettable experience. For more inspirational travel tips check our Rough Guide books. If you travel further in Indonesia, read more about the best time to go and the best places to visit in Indonesia. For inspiration use the itineraries from our local travel experts. Also learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Indonesia without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Top image © Shutterstock

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 11.06.2024

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