5 Indonesian Islands You Shouldn’t Miss

Estimated reading time 6 min

Indonesia is the world’s largest island nation. The archipelago comprises 17,000 islands, covering over 1.2 million square miles. Its landscape is distinct, dramatic and diverse. From untamed jungles and ancient rice terraces to white sand beaches and lava-spewing volcanoes, Indonesia’s topography is as vast and varied as its cultures. The island nation has over 300 ethnic groups and is a peaceful melting pot of religions. With all these islands it’s the perfect destination for an island hopping getaway.

Indonesia’s islands attract a variety of travelers. Surfers, backpackers and luxury holidaymakers flock to Bali for its world-class beaches, warm tropical waters and year-round breaks. Nature and wildlife lovers descend on Komodo Island in search of ancient lizards, the fearsome and endangered Komodo Dragon. Explorers go island hoping in Indonesia because it has the best diving destinations in the world. Indonesia encompasses 20% of the world’s coral reefs, has ten times more fish species than the Caribbean and is recognized for its marine biodiversity. From tourist hotspots to remote coastlines, beach side bars to Hindu temples, Indonesia is an island hopper’s paradise. But in order to navigate this paradise, you need a map. Plot your vacation course with the following island itinerary.

Basking in Bali

Island Hopping in Indonesia - Puri Kant Temple in Ubud Indonesia

Bali is the tourist hub of Indonesia. The island has enchanted western artists since the 1930s, but in the last decade the number of hotels and volume of tourists have increased and the impact of mass tourism can be seen almost everywhere. The best way to get the most out of Bali is to bask at the beach or at an infinity pool at one of the island’s luxury resorts. Then, spend a few days exploring Ubud, Bali’s cultural and spiritual capital.

Jimbaran and Seminyak are popular beaches for swimming and sunbathing. These bustling areas attract tourists and locals while offering numerous restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Pemuteran and Amed are hotspots for snorkeling and diving; Amed is home to the USS Liberty, which is one of the best diving wrecks to explore because it lies in shallow and calm waters. Meanwhile, the beaches in Canggu and the Bukit peninsula offer surfers some of the most challenging waves in Bali.

Ubud is considered the cultural and spiritual heart of Bali. Located inland, the town is known for its ancient Hindu temples, lush paddy fields and monkeys. Ubud is famous for its top-notch food -be sure to try babi guling (roast sucking pig with spices) -markets and handicrafts. Ibu Oka is the most famous babi guling spot in Bali, but you can find the meal at several restaurants. The roasted pork dish is also served at Balinese folk dance shows.

Lombok and the Gilis

Island Hopping in Indonesia - Gunung Rinjani Mountain in Lombok Indonesia

The Gilis are a trio of idyllic isles off the northwest coast of Lombok. Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno are Indonesia’s version of Ibiza, hotspots that are as legendary for their full moon parties. What sets this trio of islands apart from other islands in Indonesia is that there are not power vehicles on the islands. The motto for the Gilis might as well be: “No Cars, No motorbikes, No problem.” Boats run directly from Bali to the Gilis.

Gunung Rinjani, a 3,762-meter mountain, dominates the island of Lombok. It’s a three-day hike to the summit and many tour groups offer trekking expeditions. Ancient mosques, rustic villages and waterfalls dot the foothills of Gunung Rinjani. Kuta, on the southern coastline of Lombok, features a series of white sand bays. Between April and November, the area is known for world-class surf breaks.

Sanctuary in Sumba

Island Hopping in Indonesia - Walakiri beach in Sumba

Sumba Island is far less populated than Bali. In fact, it’s far less populated than many islands in Indonesia. If you’re looking for an authentic Indonesia experience, Sumba boasts empty beaches, towering waves, dramatic cliffs, and bumpy tracks of road where the only traffic jam is the one caused by local cattle herds. It’s the perfect way to step out of your daily routine and learn a little about the cultures and tradition in Indonesia.

With its extensive savannah, low limestone hills and thatched-roof villages, Sumba’s topography looks nothing like Indonesia’s volcanic islands. Sumba is a rustic, unexplored and off-the-beaten path vacation destination.  Sumba is home to some of the best surfing in the world. It’s biggest claim to fame, however, is Nihiwatu. Travel + Leisure magazine named Nihiwatu the number one hotel in the world in 2016. It not only features a stunning private surf break, but it’s also part of a sustainable tourism project; a portion of the hotel’s profits are repatriated into the local community.


Island Hopping in Indonesia - Kelimutu National Park in Flores

Flores is best known for the three colored lakes at Kelimutu. These luminous crater lakes feed on volcanic gases, which make them change color. Maumere and Riung, on the northern coast of the island, are popular diving and snorkeling locations. The villages of Bena and Belaragi include traditional houses and Stone megaliths (in Belaragi, villagers might even welcome you by sacrificing a chicken for dinner).

Flores is the most-visited island in the hundreds that compose the Nusa Tenggara because it provides an easy gateway to Komodo Island and Komodo National Park. While Komodo National Park is home to mantas, dolphins, whale sharks and some of the best diving sites in Indonesia, most visitors just want to see Komodo dragons. These ancient and extraordinary lizards prowl the wild landscapes of Komodo Island like the own it.

Journey Across Java

Pramabana Temple in Java, Indonesia - Island Hopping in Indonesia

Java is the heartland of Indonesia and its most populous island. The enchanting region is known for its archaeological wonders and ancient traditions.

Make it a point to visit western Java, it’s home to some of Indonesia’s best attractions, including the volcanic islands of Krakatoa and Ujung Kulon national park. Eastern Java, on the other hand, features hot springs, spice gardens, lush coffee plantations and the Ijen plateau, a stunning landscape overlooking conical volcanoes and a crater lake.  Don’t forget about Mount Bromo, this Indonesian volcano is a geographical icon, rising out of the stark, black sand desert like a brooding giant. Central Java is home to Borobudor. The 8th-century Buddhist temple sat in the country’s lush volcanic highlands and today is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Buddhist pilgrims come from all over Asia to visit the great religious monument.

Ready to sstart planning your Indonesian island-hopping adventure? Let’s go!

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