Julie’s Top 5 Places to Visit in Indonesia!

Top 5 Places to Visit in Indonesia Title Pic

Okay, I think it’s about time we spoke about the big misconception about Bali.

Everyone knows Bali, right? Just to clear things up – Bali is NOT a country; it is but one small island that belongs to Indonesia {I just had to get that off my chest!}. Did you know that there are a whole lot of other islands in Indonesia? There are an estimated 18,000 islands in Indonesia and each one is just as fascinating as the well-known tourist destination of Bali.

Time to fess-up folks – hands up – Have you been to Bali? Now, leave your hand-up if you have been to any other island/s in Indonesia? Perhaps; the nearby Gili Islands or maybe Lombok or Java? Sumatra or Sulawesi? No?

I feel like there are so many people out there {and Australians are particularly guilty of this!} that have ONLY travelled to Bali and not ventured further to explore other islands in Indonesia. Don’t get me wrong – I love Bali too {Don’t we all!?} and I’ve spent many years visiting Bali {most of my travels to Indonesia start and end in Bali!} and I’ve lived in Bali in the past for an extended period of time BUT…there are so many other beautiful, fascinating and unique places and islands to explore in Indonesia.

I have many friends that ask me what my favourite place in Indonesia is {I know, they are curious why I continue to travel to Indonesia annually!} I can’t name just one favourite place, I have travelled far and wide and have many favourite places for many different reasons. But, I did manage to narrow my favourite places down to my FIVE most favourite.

So, today I want to share with you my top 5 places to visit in Indonesia {in addition to Bali} because everyone should really explore a little further a field if you want to learn more and gain greater cultural understandings about Indonesia. They say that travelling outside of your comfort zone builds your character, so you’ll also get to learn and understand a little bit more about yourself. This is an added bonus!

I’ll let you in on a little secret folks, if you have been to Bali and you think you know all there is to know about Indonesia, you are very wrongly mistaken, you have only just begun to scratch the surface of a multi-cultural nation entwined with diverse traditional and cultural beliefs, and a highly intricate language system. With the stats saying that; Indonesia has over 18,000 islands and up to 500 different ethnic groups and languages, I understand how this could be total brain overload for someone who wants to travel in Indonesia. So, I have come up with my top 5 places to visit in Indonesia to help you out when planning that travel itinerary to Indonesia.


Top 5 Candi Borobudur Yogya

1. YOGYAKARTA {Central Java}

Yogyakarta {Yogya or Jogja; as it’s fondly known} is the cultural capital of Java and I believe the heart and soul of Central Java culture. So, if you are looking to get immersed in some culture, art and tradition, then Yogya is the place to go.

One can easily spend a few days in Yogya, taking part in a batik workshop, spending time gazing at the hundreds of batik paintings on display in the many galleries that are scattered around town, going for a becak ride, tasting Yogya’s famous traditional cuisine; gudeg {young jackfruit sweet stew}, watching a wayang kulit {shadow puppet} performance or wandering the many small back-street alley-ways filled with street art, small cafes and pubs.

Yogya’s main street ‘Jalan Malioboro’ comes alive at night and is home to Yogya’s best street food with a wide variety of pop-up restaurants in the form of lesehan {sitting on straw mats on the floor} style and also a huge array of pedagang kaki lima {street food carts} sure to satisfy every taste bud. The street is packed to the brim with batik shops and stalls where you can buy all your traditional batik and other souvenirs and ensure to look out for some of Yogya’s best street musicians as they fill the street with sounds of traditional and contemporary music.

Other sights and attractions a short walk from the centre of town are; the Keraton {Sultan’s Palace}, Istana Air Taman Sari {Water Palace} and only a becak ride away from town, you can find Kota Gede – a small town selling silver jewellery {who could resist?}.

On the outskirts of Yogya, you will find two of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites that being the famous Candi Borobudur {I wrote a post about Borobudur Temple here} and Candi Prambanan {and there’s a post on Prambanan Temple here}. Both temples are a must see and a planned day trip with a hired car and driver is definitely the way to go.

MUST DO: Watch the sunrise from Borobudur Temple.

Top 5 Places Gili Air Pic

2. GILI AIR {Lombok}

Looking for quiet and slow island living?… then Gili Air is the place for you!

The Gili Islands – three small gems off the north-west coast of Lombok, have become the hottest tourist destination in Indonesia, in the last few years. My pick out of the three small islands is; Gili Air, the smallest of the three islands and closest to mainland Lombok. Gili Air is still fairly quiet and provides visitors with a nice blend of traditional and modern – with both warung {traditional style restaurants} and up-market international restaurants. Also, a range of accommodation options from local-style bungalows to fancy hotels and also small, quiet retreats. {*This year I stayed at ‘Scallywags – Mango Retreat’…such a lovely, little place!}

Island life is slow and time is passed by walks along the beach {and around the island}, swimming, snorkelling, diving, soaking up the sun, sunset drinks and delicious seafood BBQ’s on the beach in the evenings.

Also, one has the possibility of easily visiting the other Gili islands {Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno} and to mainland Lombok by local boat, to explore further a field.

MUST DO: Try the home-made gelati from one of the many Gelato stands; Scooperific and Gili Gelato! {Scooperific’s coconut gelato was to die for!}

Top 5 Tana Toraja

3. TANA TORAJA {South Sulawesi}

Are you into ‘Day of the Dead’ and all that kind of stuff? … Looking for a truly unique ‘cultural hit’? … An off-the-beaten track mountainous adventure? – then this is the place for you!

Up in the mountainous highlands of South Sulawesi you will find Tana Toraja or Toraja Land. One of my absolute favourite places in Indonesia is Tana Toraja, with it’s unique traditional culture and postcard perfect picturesque views all around.

Tana Toraja is famous for it’s unique wooden carvings and architecture of the Torajan’s traditional houses; Tongkonan {you can read about it here} and their elaborate funeral ceremonies that can last up to one week {you can read about a funeral I attended here}! Also, in relation to their funeral ceremonies and traditional beliefs; are the many tau-tau {effigies} that can be found sitting within the edges of high cliffs. {Find out more about tau-tau here.}

There are various cultural tourist attractions in and around Rantepao {the main city of Tana Toraja} including; the markets in Makale, which are held every Sunday, and a great place to buy local handicrafts in the form of either ikat {local woven material} or the traditional Torajan orange beads {read more about the Makale markets here}, Baby Graves in Kambira {you can read about this mystifying burial place here} and there are many walks through the rice fields to various traditional villages or even treks up a mountain {if that takes your fancy}!

MUST DO: Try the local cuisine; buffalo cooked in bamboo with black rice!

Top 5 Tanjung Puting oranghutan pic


Love wildlife and getting back to nature? Looking for an adventure holiday?

One of my best adventure trips {ever!}, was to Tanjung Puting National Park to see the orangutans in their natural habitat; the jungles of Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting. I hired a klotok; a traditional house boat {read all about the klotok here} for five days {you can also do two or three day jungle tours, if you are not up to the five day adventure} provided with a captain, a chef and a guide for treks into the jungle. Jungle tours to Tanjung Puting take in stops along the Sekonyer River including; Tanjung Harapan, Sekonyer Village {there’s a small, local shop selling local handicrafts near the jetty, buying souvenirs is a great way to give back to some local communities}, Pondok Tanggui and finally, deep in the heart of the jungle; the famous Camp Leakey.

Tanjung Puting is said to be one of the best places to view the orangutans, as it is home to the biggest population of these adorable animals, and our closest relatives with 97% DNA the same as humans. As well as, of course, all the other jungle animals such as; gibbons, proboscis monkeys {these guys are so strange looking with their big bulbous nose and their pot belly!} and the hornbills {Oh, how I LOVE the hornbill!}.

There is nothing quite like sleeping on the deck of a boat in the middle of the jungle, waking in the early dawn to see the sun come up and the animals awaken. I have fond memories of the hornbills gliding through the skies with their long, beautiful wings outstretched far and the gibbons calling to one another through the misty fog of the jungle tree tops.

This is I believe one of those ‘once in a life time’ experiences. Everyone should see the orangutans in their natural glory, in their home. {Let’s face it, it’s way more exciting than a visit to the zoo!} The orangutan is highly endangered and numbers have taken a sharp decline in recent decades, there only remain an estimated 41,000 individuals in Borneo {Kalimantan included} and a shocking 7,500 individuals in Sumatra. Could you imagine if you or your children missed out on the opportunity of seeing an orangutan in their natural environment?

You can read more about my adventure in Tanjung Puting, Day 1 starts here.

MUST DO: Just get yourself here – you have to meet the orangutans for yourself. {I guarantee you will fall in love!}

5. DANAU TOBA {North Sumatra}

Looking for a little bit of everything…mountains, lake, island, sandy shores? Ready to get way off the beaten track?

Danau Toba or Lake Toba in North Sumatra and home to the Batak people is a great place for an adventure. Danau Toba is the largest lake in South-east Asia; a huge lake {so large in fact that it looks like the ocean – it’s HUGE!} and a short ferry ride across the lake will take you to an island named Pulau Samosir {Samosir Island}.

Samosir has sandy shores, views of the high roof-tops of the Batak traditional houses and is filled with the sounds of Batak music and singing. The island is situated right in the centre of that huge ocean-like lake; also the largest volcanic lake in the world. Sounds like a fairy tale right?! This place is for real, and it’s really quite cool.

The most popular ‘cultural’ tourist attraction is the Sigale-gale – a pure Batak tradition of a life-sized puppet dance, traditionally performed at funerals and now more often for wedding ceremonies. Other activities include; hiring a motorbike and riding around the whole island to take in all of the traditional sites {King Sidabutar’s Grave and the Stone Chairs}, walks around the villages to take in traditional houses and ikat weaving, shopping for local hand-crafted arts {the Batak wood carvings are super cool!} or just hanging out with locals as they play their guitars and sing traditional songs. We loved the motorbike runs around the area, so much, in fact, we could be looking to get motorbike finance quotes on Lending Expert for a set of two wheels of our own! We considered seeing if we could buy one of the Indonesian motorbikes and take it home with us! Turns out they’re definitely not for sale, but if they were available, we had it all planned out; we’d use these motorcycle shippers services to transport it safely back home for us to collect. Too bad it wasn’t on offer!

MUST DO: Swim in the refreshingly cool waters of Lake Toba.

And that folks, is my top five picks! It was really hard to limit it to just five places, there truly are so many wonderful places to visit in Indonesia. I hope there’s something there in my top 5 that takes your fancy and gets your feet itching to get out of Bali on your next visit and go and explore one of the other 18,000 islands that Indonesia has to offer.

Do you have a favourite place in Indonesia? What would your top 5 places in Indonesia be?


  1. Casey says

    I have been to Java and South Sulawesi. I loved visiting Jalan Malioboro and the market in Yogya as well as Chandi Borobudur. Taman Mini was also a favourite even though we only spent a couple of hours there. I spent a week in Makassar and saw all the highlights, even the super mall!
    I want to go back soon and visit more of Indonesia.

    • indospired says

      Hi Casey! Isn’t Java just wonderful – I also love spending time wandering up and down Jalan Malioboro in Yogyakarta! Sulawesi, particularly Tana Toraja, is definitely high on my list of favourite places in Indonesia {as noted in my post}. Thanks for stopping by my blog. 🙂

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