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.

If you branch out to the other islands in Indonesia, you can see smoking volcanoes, sulfur lakes, pink sand beaches, tropical rainforests, exotic wildlife, and so much more.

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.

Best Things To Do In Indonesia What To Do In The Islands
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Lake Toba is the biggest volcanic lake in the world
Best Things To Do In Indonesia What To Do In The Islands
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The giant granite boulders of Belitung
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!

This is hands down one of the best things to do in Indonesia! In Bali, the most popular volcano to hike is Mount Batur for sunrise, or if you really want a challenge you can climb Mount Agung.

Best Things To Do In Indonesia What To Do In The Islands
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Mount Bromo in Java
Best Things To Do In Indonesia What To Do In The Islands
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The smoking Bromo 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

Best Things To Do In Indonesia What To Do In The Islands
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Curug Cimarinjung Waterfall in West Java
Best Things To Do In Indonesia What To Do In The Islands
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Sipiso Piso Waterfall is one of the most famous in Sumatra
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!

Best Things To Do In Indonesia What To Do In The Islands
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The Komodo islands are the only place in the world where you can see wild Komodo dragons
Siau Island Tarsier Pulau Siau Sulawesi Indonesia
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A little bug eyed Tarsier in Siau Island, Sulawesi
Sumatran Orangutan at Bukit Lawang Indonesia
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Orangutan viewing at Bukit Lawang is a highlight of Sumatra
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.

Two other great spots to check out are Kawah Putih in West Java, and the three lakes of Mount Kelimutu in Flores.

Best Things To Do In Indonesia What To Do In The Islands
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Kawah Putih is a surreal and exotic looking lake in West Java
Kawah Ijen Gas Mask Volcano Mount Ijen Crater Lake Blue Fire Banyuwangi Indonesia
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Masked up at the Kawah Ijen crater lake in East Java.
Best Things To Do In Indonesia What To Do In The Islands
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Kelimutu National Park in Flores has no less than three volcanic lakes!
6. Explore A Cave

Limestone mountains are common in many parts of Indonesia, so that means there are lots of spectacular caves too.

You can explore a sparkling limestone cave at Rammang Rammang in Sulawesi, or swim in a blue pool at the Rangko Cave in Flores.

One of these prehistoric caves in Sulawesi even has the world’s oldest known cave art made by humans, which I found completely fascinating!

Best Things To Do In Indonesia What To Do In The Islands
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Goa Rangko Cave in Flores
Goa Kunang Kunang Rammang
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Fireflies Cave in Sulawesi
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.

Belitung island snorkeler in Indonesia
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Snorkeling in Belitung
Belitung snorkeling
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Fish and coral
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

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Red Sand Beach at Labengki Island
Best Things To Do In Indonesia What To Do In The Islands
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Komodo has several pink beaches with bright pink sand and turquoise water
Best Things To Do In Indonesia What To Do In The Islands
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Tanjung Tinggi Beach in Belitung
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.

Two great examples are the colonial Dutch lighthouse on Lengkaus Island in Belitung, and the local built lighthouse on Pulau Karang in Sumatra.

lengkuas palms
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Lengkuas island lighthouse in Belitung
lighthouse belitung drone
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Drone pic of the Lengkuas lighthouse
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!

Best Things To Do In Indonesia Terasering Panyaweuyan Majalengka West Java Indonesia
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Endless green terraces of Majalengka in West Java
Best Things To Do In Indonesia What To Do In The Islands
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Dieng Plateau in central 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).

Sulawesi island in Indonesia
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Tangkoko Nature Reserve in Sulawesi
Giant banyan tree in Bali
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Giant banyan tree in Bali
12. Go Island Hopping

Indonesia has more than 17,000 islands, so get to hopping!

Some of our favorite places for island hopping are Komodo, Belitung, Bali, and Lombok, but really you can do this pretty much anywhere in Indonesia.

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.

Belitung island in Indonesia
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Batu Berlayar island in Belitung
Padar Island Indonesia Komodo Day Trip From Labuan Bajo
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The famous Padar Island view in Komodo National Park
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.

Pulau Pasir Sandbar Belitung
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Sandbar in Belitung
Belitung island in Indonesia
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Perfect white sand
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!

Beautiful beach at Pulau Banyak Islands Indonesia
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The Banyak Islands are full of paradise beaches like this one
Nusa Penida island in Bali
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Nusa Penida treehouse in Bali
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).

Souvenir beach seller
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Friendly beach seller in Sanur Bali. This guy paints wooden eggs with amazing detail.
Toraja people and kids
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Toraja kids
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.

Torajan women in traditional dress
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Tanah Toraja traditional dress
Bali culture
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Stone dragon bridge in Bali
17. Visit The Landmarks

Two of the best landmarks to see are Borobudur Temple, which is the biggest Buddhist temple in the world, and Prambanan Temple, which looks kind of like the Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

They’re both located in Yogyakarta city in central Java, and Borobudur is a popular spot for sunrise.

For natural landmarks, check out Bali’s famous Kelingking Cliff, or the iconic Padar Island viewpoint in Komodo.

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Prambanan is one of Indonesia’s best landmarks
Kelingking Beach Cliff Point in Nusa Penida Bali
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The famous Kelingking Cliff in Nusa Penida island
18. Tour The Temples

Most of Indonesia’s photogenic temples are located in Bali.

A few iconic Balinese temples you should check out are Uluwatu, Tanah Lot, and Ulun Danu Beratan.

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.

Floating lake temple at Pura Ulun Danu Beratan in Bedugul, Bali
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This pagoda on the lake is one of Bali’s most iconic temples
Candi Sewu Temple in Prambanan Java
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Sewu Temple in Java
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.

Bali paintings
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Ubud Art Market in Bali
Balinese Wood Carvings
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Balinese Wood Carvings
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.

Sanur Beach Sunrise
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Sanur Beach is one of the most popular sunrise spots in Bali
Sunrise on Sikunir hill
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Sikunir sunrise with the Sundoro volcano in the background
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!

Yeh Leh Beach Sunset
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Yeh Leh beach sunset
Pantai Kastela Beach Sunset Ternate Maluku
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Crazy colors at Kastela Beach in Ternate
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.

Sombori Raja Ampat view
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Sombori Island
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!