Holidays in Indonesia
With over 17,000 islands spanning 3,000 miles, Indonesia stretches far and wide. With this breadth comes a captivating mix of cultures, traditions, religions and landscapes, all as exciting as the next. To really tap into this enchanting country, it’s best to combine two or three places.
The island of Bali is the chief draw on a luxury holiday with its volcanic vistas, temple-studded landscapes, golden beaches and rolling rice terraces. But through them all runs a unique spirit that captures the heart of anyone who visits, the locals’ devotion to Balinese Hinduism and their gods permeating every facet of life here. Bali is more than just a beautiful island – it’s a state of mind.
Neighbouring island Lombok is blessed with untouched beaches, waterfalls and tiny villages, with its trio of offshore Gili islands ringed with white sand and spectacular snorkelling.
These two islands would be enough for most people but there’s so much more to Indonesia. Java hides the bell-shaped stupas of UNESCO-listed Borobudur; Kalimantan is a refuge for Bornean orangutans; Komodo is home to excellent diving and its iconic namesake dragons; and Sumba is perfect for an exclusive getaway. Indonesia has many faces and you can’t help but be captured by each and every one.
If you want to experience Balinese traditions, there’s no better place to go on holiday than Ubud. Your pulse slows as soon as you arrive, a town where spirituality oozes from every street and vibrant prayer offerings adorn the pavements. Artisans are given free licence to flex their creative muscles and the town’s markets are their stage, a place to showcase their best art, sculptures and crafts. Beyond the town, jungle retreats act as luxury bases from which you can cycle the lush countryside, hike prime rainforest or go white water rafting.
Southern Bali is often unfairly labelled as something of a beehive for backpackers, but there are plenty of places to escape them. Sophisticated Seminyak is one option, where chic restaurants, fashionable boutiques and a hip-yet-relaxed lifestyle fuse fantastically together, all fringed by a perfect golden beach. If you want something a bit quieter, then both Sanur and Jimbaran serve up wonderful golden sands and excellent bars as a setting for the most incredible sunsets. To get ahead of the curve, up-and-coming Canggu is part surfing mecca, part café culture and part beach break, fused together with a boho-chic vibe.
Borobudur in Java is a cultural marvel, not just in Indonesia but in all of Southeast Asia. Rising from lush fields and hemmed in by volcanic peaks, this multi-tiered pyramid stands at over 100ft tall. The curious bell-topped stupas which encase Buddha statues and cover this icon add a sense of mysticism to this World Heritage site, an ancient place that has defied the odds to withstand earthquakes and volcanic eruptions over the centuries. You can visit Borobudur as a pitstop before heading on to Bali or include it as part of a wider adventure around the island of Java. Either way, it’s an icon in all senses of the word – we challenge you not to be captivated by its colossal nature.
No longer just a haven for surfers, Lombok could be described as Bali’s little sister. Like its bigger brother, vertiginous volcanoes and lush tropical greenery dominate the island’s scenery but despite this, most visitors overlook the island. Left uncharted on the tourist map, you’ll have Lombok’s brilliant beaches, refreshing waterfalls and charming Islamic culture to yourself, making for a relaxing escape from ‘busy’ Bali. If you’re itching for a day trip, head for the Gilis, a trio of islands blessed with the whitest of sands and clearest of waters for a lounge and a snorkel.
If you’re after true escapism, the far-flung isle of Sumba offers it in spades. With pretty limestone hills and sand that glistens like gemstones in the sunshine, it’s an island that very much feels untouched by man. Nihi Sumba is a place that matches its surrounds and then some, consistently ranked as one of the planet’s best resorts and a real sanctuary for those who just want to forget about the day-to-day for a while.
While its primeval namesake dragons are clearly a highlight for anyone visiting Komodo Island, the national park hides far more natural treasures. The diving is spellbinding and a must if you’re venturing here, with reefs so vibrant you’d have to invent new colours for them. Huge schools of tropical fish, reef sharks and turtles make this their home, while Manta Point lives up to its name as a great place for manta rays.
Where to stay in Indonesia
A holiday to Indonesia promises tropical islands filled with adventure, downtime and culture. But where do you start? There are so many places to stay in Indonesia, we'd recommend island-hopping between a few. You could stay in a jungle hideaway in Bali, beach bolthole in Lombok or even a eco-friendly getaway in the Riau and Anambas Islands.
The best time to visit Indonesia
As a general rule of thumb, Indonesia’s dry season runs from April to October, with the wet season lasting from November to March. Due to its sprawling nature, there can be some minor differences, depending on where you’re visiting in the archipelago. Across the year, temperatures stay between 26-30°C across most islands in Indonesia, although if you’re visiting Kalimantan, bear in mind there can be cooler nights and hotter days.
In the dry season, Bali, Lombok, the Gilis and Sumba welcome blue skies and plenty of sunshine. For the very best conditions, visit any of the islands in May, June or September, where the weather is sublime and the school holiday crowds are either yet to arrive or have left. It’s worth making a note that if you’re heading into the Bali’s central regions, like Ubud or the mountains, temperatures can be a touch cooler.
The whole of the dry season (Apr-Oct) makes for excellent diving in Komodo National Park, too. If you want to spot orangutans in Kalimantan, light rains can often last until May as a hangover from the wet season.
Speaking of the wet season, the intensity of the rains varies from island to island. Bali and Kalimantan only really experience brief tropical showers rather than all-day downpours. Lombok, the Gilis and Sumba see more rain (but still not of monsoonal proportions), especially between November to January. The island of Java (for Borobudur) can see showers lasting up to two hours during the rainy season.
Indonesia travel essentials
Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Polio and Tetanus-Diphtheria vaccinations are currently recommended and Indonesia is deemed to have a risk of Malaria and the Zika virus. If you’re entering Indonesia from a Yellow Fever zone, possession of a valid Yellow Fever inoculation certificate is required but for any current travel health advice, you should seek guidance from your GP at least four to six weeks prior to travel.
The time difference is GMT +7 hours in Java and Kalimantan and +8 hours in Bali, Lombok, the Gilis and Sumba.
There are direct flights from London to Denpasar in Bali, taking around 15-and-a-half hours, although the return flight is via Jakarta. Alternatively, you can take a direct flight to a major Asian city such as Singapore or Bangkok (around 12 hours) for an extra stopover, before a flight (around one-and-a-hour to two hours) onto Bali.
The currency is the Indonesian rupiah.
British passport holders don’t typically need a visa for Indonesia.
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