23 Best Things To Do In Indonesia: What To Do In The Islands
Indonesia is a wild and wonderful country of 17,000 islands, and many of the best things to do in Indonesia are off the beaten path.
Everyone goes to Bali, which is an amazing island (don’t get me wrong), but it’s been suffering from overtourism and overdevelopment for years.
Since Indonesia is my second home (and my wife’s actual home!), we’ve been privileged to do a bunch of exploring in this beautiful country, including some of the most far flung Indonesian islands.
Without further ado, here is our list of some of the best things to do in Indonesia!
Best Things To Do In Indonesia
1. Get In Nature
Indonesia is one of those countries where if you’re not exploring the outdoors, you’re doing it wrong.
Don’t waste any time in the cities, just get in nature as soon as possible! Of course you have the islands and beaches, but there are also all kinds of other scenery in Indonesia too.
From Sumatra to Papua, you can find a wide variety of lakes, mountains, rainforests, giant boulders, sand dunes, and more.
2. Climb The Volcanoes
Indonesia has 400 volcanoes, and 130 of them are active — more than any other country in the world.
Most of them are open to tourists for hiking, and at some of the volcanoes (like Mount Bromo in Java) you can even walk up to the edge of the smoking crater!
3. Visit The Waterfalls
Pretty much every island in Indonesia has at least a few stunning waterfalls if you do a bit of exploring.
A lot of the best waterfalls in Indonesia are located in Sumatra and Java, but even the smaller islands like Bali and Lombok have some great ones too.
More info: Indonesia Waterfall Guide
4. Watch The Wildlife
Indonesia has almost 20 percent of the world’s animal species, so there’s a lot of endemic wildlife to see here that can’t be found anywhere else.
You can watch the world’s biggest lizards on Komodo Island, bug-eyed tarsiers at the Tangkoko Reserve in Sulawesi, wild orangutans at Bukit Lawang in Sumatra, and of course the famous macaques at the Ubud Monkey Forest in Bali.
Wildlife watching is definitely one of the best things to do in Indonesia!
5. See The Volcanic Lakes
Where you have volcanoes, you also have plenty of volcanic lakes and hot springs!
Some of these are suitable for swimming, and others make for some fantastic photos. The most famous volcanic lake in Indonesia is probably the Kawah Ijen crater in East Java, which is pretty close to Bali.
6. Explore A Cave
Limestone mountains are common in many parts of Indonesia, so that means there are lots of spectacular caves too.
One of these prehistoric caves in Sulawesi even has the world’s oldest known cave art made by humans, which I found completely fascinating!
7. Go Diving & Snorkeling
Indonesia is part of the Coral Triangle, a tropical ocean wonderland with most of the world’s coral and fish species.
Needless to say, it’s a great place to go diving or snorkeling, and you can see all kinds of rare fish, colorful corals, sea turtles, manta rays, and if you’re lucky you may even get to swim with a whale shark!
We’ve had great success snorkeling in pretty much every part of Indonesia, but our top pick would probably be Belitung island in south Sumatra.
8. Relax On The Beaches
When people think of nice beaches in Asia, they think Maldives or Thailand, not Indonesia.
Indonesia beaches are fantastic, but they tend to be underrated because a lot of the really good ones are hiding in remote places without easy access. On the bright side, that means you’re more likely to have them to yourself!
With some exploring, what you’ll find are the most amazing white sand beaches, dazzling pink beaches, and black volcanic beaches, along with top quality surf spots, and occasionally some very photogenic cliffs, boulders, and shipwrecks.
More info: Best Beaches In Indonesia
9. Visit A Lighthouse
Lighthouses are probably the last thing that comes to mind when you think of Indonesia, but it does have a few nice ones.
10. Stroll The Terraces
Bali is famous for its green rice terraces, but you can also see scenic crop terraces all over Java, Lombok, and many other islands.
Check out the Dieng Plateau in central Java, or the steep Majalengka terraces in West Java!
11. Trek A Rainforest
Indonesia has some of the world’s most important rainforests, and sadly a lot of them are critically endangered because of rampant deforestation.
Aside from the animals, which are amazing, you can also see giant banyan trees and the world’s biggest flowers.
The most popular place to do rainforest trekking in Indonesia is at the Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra, and there are several other good spots scattered across Sumatra and Kalimantan (Borneo).
12. Go Island Hopping
Indonesia has more than 17,000 islands, so get to hopping!
In Komodo or Raja Ampat, you can even stay on a comfy liveaboard boat and spend several days roaming the seas to your heart’s content.
13. Walk On A Sandbar
Another neat experience you can enjoy in island countries like Indonesia is to walk on a sandbar at low tide.
These are like little islands of white sand suspended in the middle of the ocean, and you can usually only walk on them for a few hours before they slowly disappear into the ocean as the tide goes up again.
You can find sandbars all over Indonesia, but two well known ones are Gili Pasir in Lombok, and Taka Makassar in Komodo.
14. Get Lost In Paradise
If you’ve ever dreamed of having a remote tropical island all to yourself, with a primitive bungalow and crystal clear water as far as the eye can see, Indonesia’s got what you seek!
The best places to unwind, disconnect from WiFi, and live the Robinson Crusoe lifestyle are found in some of the small paradise islands near Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Raja Ampat. Check out the Banyak Islands, for example.
On Nusa Penida island (near Bali), you can even stay the night in a treehouse!
15. Meet The Locals
Indonesian people are the nicest! I even married one!
The country has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the world, and we’ve stayed in homestays all over Indonesia without any worry. The people are really friendly and welcoming.
If you travel outside of Bali, especially in remote parts of Java or Sulawesi, you’ll probably get lots of funny photo requests from the locals excited to see a rare ‘bule’ (foreigner).
16. Experience The Cultures
For every island and province in Indonesia, there’s a unique culture to go with it.
Some of the top cultural destinations in the country are Sumba, Tana Toraja (one of the world’s most unusual cultures), Wae Rebo (a remote mountain village in Flores), and of course Bali.
Bali may be touristy, but it still has a lot of great culture to soak up. The Balinese language, dress, traditions, and architecture are still very intact and haven’t changed too much since Bali became popular with foreigners.
17. Visit The Landmarks
They’re both located in Yogyakarta city in central Java, and Borobudur is a popular spot for sunrise.
18. Tour The Temples
Most of Indonesia’s photogenic temples are located in Bali.
In Java, the temples have been reconstructed from their old ruins (like Angkor Wat), but they’re still pretty fascinating. The best Hindu temples in Java are located in the Yogyakarta area.
19. Enjoy Indonesian Food
Indonesia has a lot of great food, and the dishes are similar to what you’ll find in Malaysia and Singapore.
Some good things to try are Satay Ayam (chicken skewers), Nasi Goreng (fried rice), Martabak (omelette pancake), and for dessert Pisang Goreng (fried bananas).
Don’t expect to find any Western food outside of Bali (except for the occasional Pizza Hut or KFC in big cities), but that’s okay.
20. Shop For Souvenirs
Bali is the best place to do your souvenir shopping in Indonesia.
There’s a wide variety of nice handmade crafts like wood carvings, paintings, and rattan bags, and you can find the usual souvenirs like keychains and fridge magnets. Bali is also known for coffee beans, spices, oils, lace, ceramics, and silverworks.
Souvenir shopping is not really a thing in other parts of Indonesia, although we picked up some neat shirts in the Komodo National Park.
21. Watch The Sunrise
A tropical sunrise is hard to beat, and there are a lot of great sunrise watching spots scattered across the Indonesian islands.
My first sunrise in Indonesia was at Sanur Beach in Bali, where the combination of a cool morning breeze, fishermen wading out on the reef, and the Mount Agung volcano in the distance was just plain magic.
In Indonesia, hiking a volcano for sunrise is popular too. Usually this means hiking during the night so you can reach the summit just in time to see a spectacular sunrise display at the top of the mountain.
22. Watch The Sunset
For every sunrise there’s a sunset, and Indonesia has lots of great places to see it.
Our favorite sunset spot in Bali is Amed Beach, but we’ve also seen some amazing sunsets in Java, Sulawesi, and other places.
Pick an island, head west for the evening, and enjoy the photo ops!
23. Find The Hidden Gems
We’ve spent years exploring the Indonesian islands, and still barely scratched the surface.
There are so many hidden gems waiting to be discovered in this wild and wonderful country of 17,000 islands. Many of the best things to do in Indonesia are off the beaten path.
If you want a hint, start looking in Sulawesi, Maluku, and Sumatra. All of these islands have many, many spectacular scenic places that have never been seen by foreigners yet.
More Things To Do In Indonesia
I hope you enjoyed this list of some of the best things to do in Indonesia!
I’ve barely scratched the surface here, and the list is always growing as we experience more of these wonderful islands.
In the meantime, don’t forget to check out my complete Indonesia Travel Guide for more tips, info, and photos of the best things to do in Indonesia!