Don't get us wrong, we love bali...
But Bali is just one of 18,000 (yep, 18,000!) Indonesian islands. So cancel that Yoga Barn class and step away from Potato Head — there's a whole lotta paradise to be found across Indo's lesser-known islands.
And because we love you, we've curated the bestest, most sickest, totally raddest experiences across the archipelago. In fact, we narrowed it down to one adventure per main island. From sailing with sea nomads and trekking to an acid crater lake to renting your own private island (Branson-style), this is our ultimate guide to Indo's secret spots.
the hit list
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THE HIT LIST
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Live on a boat and meet Bajau freedivers
The Banggai Island Regency (sounds fancy, right) is an archipelago in Sulawesi.
More accurate definition: HEAVEN ON EARTH. Crystal clear waters, insane diving, remote villages. The Banggai have got it all, and one of the best ways to adventure the area is on a liveaboard. More accurate definition: HEAVEN ON A BOAT.
You’ll get to cruise around the archipelago, even stopping by smaller islands to meet the local, semi-nomadic Bajau people who are known for being able to hold their breath for an incredibly long period of time (thanks to their larger spleens, thanks evolution!) These communities are still very much adhering to a traditional way of life, with houses built on stilts over the water, and living from and with the sea. Truly once in a lifetime.
Kayak the world’s biggest volcanic lake
Sumatra is a veritable wonderland.
Sitting west of Java and south of the Malay Peninsula, it has got orangutans and volcanoes and the world’s biggest volcanic lake! Oh my! That’s right, Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake on earth. Which is quite a feat considering places like Hawai’i and Aotearoa (New Zealand) exist. The site of a supervolcano caldera (the largest known eruption in the last 25 million years) Lake Toba runs 100 kms long, 30 kms wide and is up to 500 metres deep. Wowee. We recommend jumping in a kayak and pulling up to some of the smaller villages, most of which are traditional ethnic Batak peoples. The main town of Tuk Tuk is definitely on the beaten Sumatra path, but it’s possible to get off it and explore what is a beautiful, enchanting part of Indonesia. If you venture towards the northern end of the lake, don’t miss Sipiso-Piso waterfall—a gargantuan 120-metre flow that free falls from a cave into the water below.
Safari to see the last Javan Rhinos
The Javan rhinoceros has the (unwanted) honour of being considered the rarest large mammal on the planet.
The planet, guys. Thanks to things like habitat degradation and colonial-era trophy hunting, this beautiful species has been reduced to an estimated 70 animals. And they’re all living in Java’s World Heritage Ujung Kulon National Park.
If Attenborough is your idol, this wild, remote and ridiculously biodiverse corner of western Java has your name all over it. While sightings of the rhinoceros are rare (though not to be ruled out) you might also spot other endangered species, like the Javan leopard, silvery gibbon and Javan lutung (a cuddly monkey). Think of it as your Indonesian safari experience.
See a supernatural Tatung parade
Okay, so here’s some history for you: the term ‘tatung’ refers to a person who is believed to be possessed by supernatural spirits called ‘lauya’.
The consequences? Supernatural gifts and powers. Cool, right? You can’t just become a Tatung though, it’s an ability that is passed down through a bloodline.
Tatungs are still celebrated in Kalimantan to this day, and every year on Cap Go Meh day (end of Chinese New Year festivities) you can see all Tatungs in Singkawang take to the streets in a lavish, loud, slightly terrifying way. Why terrifying? One of the rituals involves subjecting your body to pain and torture. So if you’re not good with gore, maybe give this one a miss.
Day trekking with a Pink Beach dip
You’ve probably heard of the Komodo Islands before — home to Komodo National Park, territory of the dinosaur-esque Komodo dragon — this Flores region is world-renowned for at least 10 different (very good) reasons.
Not only can you see a 70kg monitor lizard in the wild (pretty extraordinary) but you can follow that up with a boat trip over to Padar Island for IG-worthy trekking.
Padar Island is not the easiest place to explore, considering it requires transport from Labuan Bajo and the payment of an entry fee. But don’t let that deter you, fellow adventurer! The moderate day hiking with panoramic archipelago views are worth every drop of sweat. And you can wash it all off at the (very) Pink Beach anyway. If you’re a photographer, get here stat—golden hours on Padar are otherworldly. And, in good news for your camera gear, the climate here is typically drier and sunnier than the rest of Indo.
Dive an isolated, global marine hub
If your travel vibe is far-flung isolation with a dose of paradise thrown in, then get yourself to Raja Ampat. Stat.
Home to over 1,500 islands, this archipelago is considered the global centre of marine diversity. THE GLOBAL CENTRE. That means the diving and/or snorkelling, heck, just looking over the side of a boat here, is fantabulous. From dugongs and orcas to some of the world’s most colourful, thriving coral reefs—Raja Ampat is a marine lovers dream. It’s like Finding Nemo on an acid trip.
There are over 200 dive sites to choose from, but a lot of the diving is best suited to more confident/advanced divers. Many are drift dives, with strong-ish currents whipping you around the reef. Hella exciting for strong divers, not ideal for newbies. That said, the snorkelling here is luminous and stacked with wildlife and the waters are crystal bloody clear.
See blue fire at the world’s largest acid crater
Okay, there are a few volcano hikes to choose from in Indonesia. All of them are epic. But we reckon the lesser-known Ijen volcano complex is up for there for unreal times.
Located on the border between the Banyuwangi Regency and Bondowoso Regency in East Java, this volcano hike is not for the faint of heart.
You’ll start early and then reach the peak just before sunrise, where you’ll welcome the new day with a panoramic vista and view to a blue acid lake. Incredible. Not so incredible? The fumes. You’ll have to wear a gas mask when you’re at the top because of the sulphur fumes. But that just makes it all the more gnarly, right?
Rent your own private island
Feeling bougie? Want to throw a ripper birthday party? Want to make your ex think you’re living your best life?
You can hire out an ENTIRE PRIVATE ISLAND for such festivities. Channel Sir Richard Branson, you good thing.
The exclusive private island utopia at Palau Pangkil actually describes itself as 'Survivor with maids and butlers', so if you’re into deserted island-chic, driftwood palaces and hammocks galore—this is the island for you. And 25 of your best mates.
Surf some seriously secluded swell
Did you know Simeulue Island, part of the Aceh province, is considered one of Indonesia’s last surfing frontiers? Now you do.
Isolated and perched off the west coast of far north Sumatra, Simeulue boasts incredible waves, seriously unspoiled natural beauty and year-round good times.
Back in 2005 an earthquake lifted the island’s west coast by almost two metres, creating brand new waves (virtually overnight). Pair that with a spot in the Doldrums (almost windless waters) and you’ve got some gooooood surfing. When you’re not surfing, kick back at one of the surf camps (like this one or this one!) or get yourself a pushie and explore the island on two-wheels. Yeewwww!
Get boozy at a deserted island bar
Welcome to Neptune Bar, a desolate beach shack that sits empty for 362 days a year.
Sound boring? Not if you time your trip with the Neptune Reggata, a week-long sailing race that makes a pit stop at Palau Sikeling so hundreds of sailors can get rowdy at the deserted island bar. Boring, begone. There’s drinking to do.
What can you expect from a visit to Neptune Bar at peak period? The very strong, much renowned Neptune Punch, for starters. Enough to knock out a few sailors, that’s for sure. But hey, we’re sure there will be a free yacht bed somewhere for you to bunk down on.
Take the Spice Route
Fascinated by early voyaging history? A trip to the Banda Islands will really float your boat.
This little archipelago of 10 islands was a must-stop on the old Spice Route thanks to Banda Besar and it’s huge, fragrant nutmeg plantation. Take a trip back in time at Benteng Hollandia, an incredible 1642 Dutch fortress (once the biggest in the East Indies) before it was ruined by an earthquake in 1743. Lucky for us, the views are still epic from atop the ruin.
More into outdoor pursuits? You can hike a still-active volcano, for starters. Or snorkel over coral-encrusted lava flow, if you get bored. How’s that for variety. STILL WANT MORE? Go check out the 300-year-old Chinese temple on Banda Neira. But you’ll have to go next door to the Chinese grocery store and ask for the keys. The temple is only, technically, open at Chinese New Year.
Learn to throw a spear at Baliem Festival
It doesn’t get more culturally immersive than a trek to remote Baliem Valley in West Papua’s central highlands where you can stay with local Dani villagers and witness the incredible annual tribal festival.
What happens at the festival? Oh you know, just a casual mock war. It’s a congregation of diverse tribes, a celebration of living history and continuing culture, and a heck of a travel experience. You can expect the battles to be accompanied by traditional Papuan music—played on an instrument made out of wood bark. And a lot of spear throwing, pig racing and dancing. Are you game?
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