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Things to see and do in Indonesia

Attractions in Indonesia

Bali: see Indonesia's Hindu side

Despite decades of tourist development, Bali remains a vision of tropical beauty. Take your pick from stunning beaches, jungle-covered volcanoes, surf spots in Kuta or Hindu temples harking back to the earliest civilisations on the Indonesia archipelago. The Balinese people are famously warm and friendly, perhaps the best part of a visit here. Fascinating Hindu temples include Pura Besakih and Pula Tanah Lot.

Bali: watch the waves break over Tanah Lot

Travel to the Tanah Lot, meaning 'Land in the Sea', on the west coast of Bali (a short drive from Kediri), for one of the most photogenic sights in Indonesia. Perched high on the rock formation is a Balinese temple (pura), which was built to worship the Sea God (Bhatara Segara). Sea snakes are believed to be living at the base of the rock, guarding the temple from evil intruders.

Banda Islands: from spices to marine life

Banda Islands were once the beating heart of the lucrative spice trade. Today the plantations are gone, but Banda and the neighbouring pristine Lucipara Atoll remain fantastic diving hotspots. Seeing large schools of dolphins and whales frolicking in the water while sailing along is almost guaranteed.

Borobudur: be bowled over

Indonesia is studded with the ruins of ancient civilisations, but perhaps the grandest of all is mighty Borobudur, a 9th-century Buddhist temple rising above the plains of central Java. Topped by hundreds of perforated stupas, the temple is a representation of the Buddhist universe, and its walls are covered in intricately carved 1,460 narrative relief panels.

Bunaken and Lembeh: experience a beautiful underwater world

Indonesia's coastline contains a vast array of teeming coral reefs, providing spectacular opportunities for scuba diving and snorkelling. In North Sulawesi, the best diving spots include Bunaken National Marine Park and Lembeh Island, where a mindboggling 300 types of coral and 3,000 species of fish can be discovered beneath crystal-clear waters.

Climb volcanos in Indonesia

Dozens of volcanoes soar above the landscape of Indonesia, and many can be climbed on jungle treks. Popular volcanoes include:
• Bali: Guning Agung, Gunung Batur
• Java: Gunung Bromo, Guning Ijen, Gunung Merbabu, Gunung Merapi, Gunung Semeru
• West Nusa Tenggara: Guning Rinjani (Lombok), Gunung Kelimutu, Gunung Tambora

Derawan Islands: meet stingless jellyfish

An exotic array of 31 stunning islands on the eastern coast of Kalimantan, Derawan is part of the Coral Triangle, an area known for containing some of the most extensive marine biodiversity in the world. Kakaban Island is probably the most famous as its large lake (makes up almost two-thirds of the island) is filled with stingless jellyfish. Due to being confined to the lake with no predators to worry about, these jellyfish have lost their natural defences.

Flores: see the three coloured lakes

The most famous tourist attraction in Flores is the Kelimutu volcano and its lakes. The colour of each lake changes daily, varying from blue, green, red to dark brown. This phenomenon is caused by volcanic vents interacting with minerals in the water and pushing the denser water to the surfaces.

Gili Islands: unwind in paradise

Just off the northwestern tip of Lombok Island, these three alluring islands (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air) boast deep-water coral reefs, beachfront bungalows and miles of white sand. It is easy to find a quiet spot to unwind, but if you need more action, all-night dance parties are available on Gili Trawangan.

Istiqlal Mosque: the largest mosque in Southeast Asia

The modern Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta is the largest mosque in Southeast Asia with room to accommodate up to 120,000 worshippers. It is the national mosque for the entire archipelago and a monumental piece of modern architecture. Non-Muslim visitors are welcome and guides will show you around the complex.

Java: see a traditional puppet show

Puppetry is a rich tradition in Indonesia, and marionette shows are still a vibrant part of the culture. You can see shows throughout Java, where intricately carved wayang golak and wayang kulit puppets act out stories based on well-known legends from Indonesia history; performances can sometimes last all night.

Kalimantan: meet the old men of the forest

Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo, is one of the last few refuges of the endangered orang-utan, whose name literally means 'man of the forest'. Visit any of the four national parks in Kalimantan for a near guarantee to see free-roaming orang-utans. The national parks are Betung Kerihun, Gunung Palung, Kutai and Tanjung Puting.

Karimunjawa (Karimun Jawa) Islands

A scattering of 27 coral-fringed islands in the calm Java Sea, Karimunjawa (Karimun Jawa) is a designated marine national park protecting five different ecosystems: coral reef, seagrass, seaweed, mangrove forest and low-land tropical forest. It is one of the best places to swim and snorkel in Indonesia.

Komodo island: see the world's largest lizards

Komodo and the Rinca islands are home to a living legend – the Komodo dragon, the world's largest lizard and a close relative of the dinosaurs. Komodo Dragons can grow up to 3m (10ft) in length and weigh up to 70kg, and you can see them close up at Komodo National Park. But don't get too close – humans have been injured and worse by dragons in the past.

Mahakam River: paddle through tropical scenery

The great Mahakam River in Kalimantan, Borneo, is feed by a network of jungle rivers running from the mountainous interior to the coast. Starting from the port city of Samarinda, tours follow the river deep into the jungle, where tribal communities live in villages of traditional longhouses and have largely preserved their traditions.

Prambanan: admire the spires

In the Special Region of Yogyakarta in Central Java, the Prambanan Temples form the largest Hindu temple site in Indonesia, constructed around the 9th century AD. The compound was deserted soon after it was completed, possibly due to the eruption of nearby Mount Merapi, but the temples have been impressively restored. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is dominated by the imposing spires of the Brahma Temple, the Vishnu Temple and the Shiva Temple.

Samosir: seek the Toba Batak culture

Samosir is an inhabited island in the middle of Lake Toba, located on the island of Sumatra. The island is the heart of the Toba Batak culture - learn to dance the Tor Tor, check out handwoven Ulos textile and enjoy a bowl of Mie Gomak (curry noodles) are some of the must-dos in Samosir.

Sulawesi: roam the rainforest

Gorgeous Sulawesi is a land of high mountains, misty valleys, hidden lakes, tribal villages and fascinating national parks. On land, top sights include Bantimurung Nature Park, home to thousands of exotic butterflies, and the hot springs at Lahendong and Leilem. Offshore, diving on Sulawesi's coral reefs is the main attraction.

Surfing in Indonesia

Spectacular waves break all around the islands of Indonesia, providing a watery playground for surfers. The best surf spots are:
• Aceh: Simeulue
• Bali: Uluwatu, Nusa Lembongan
• Java: Banyuwangi and Pacitan (East Java), as well as Panaitan and Sukabumi (West Java)
• Papua: Tanjung Saruri
• Sumatera: Nias (North Sumatera), Mentawai (West Sumatera)
• West Nusa Tenggara: Bang-Bangko (Desert Point) in Lombok and Sumbawa Island
• Yogyakarta: Wediombo

The Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra

Made of up three national parks (Gunung Leuser, Kerinci Seblat and Barisan Selatan), the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra is one of the biggest conservation areas in Southeast Asia. Covering 2.5 million hectares (6.5 million acres), the area is home to an estimated 10,000 plant species, 200 mammal species and some 580 bird species. Spend a few weeks trekking through the lush rainforest is an essential Indonesia experience.

Torajaland: meet the tribal people

Torajaland, known as the 'Land of the Heavenly Kings', on Sulawesi, is one of the best places to encounter Indonesia's fascinating tribal culture. Toraja villagers live in dramatic buffalo horn-shaped wooden stilt houses and still practice the custom of burying their dead in vertical cliffside tombs, with rituals that include feasts for the mummified remains.

Ujong Kulon National Park: spot a rare rhino

The elusive and highly endangered Javan rhino still survives in the remote swamps of isolated Ujung Kulon National Park at the extreme westernmost tip of Java. The best way to explore is by a dugout canoe, and hopefully you can spot a rare rhino.

Yogyakarta: see how the sultan lives

Yogyakarta in Central Java was home to the Mataram Kingdom that produced the stunning temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. Today, it is the only Indonesian royal city still ruled by a Sultan, who and his family still live in the Kraton (Sultan's Palace) or the Palace of Yogyakarta, a masterpiece of understated Javanese architecture.

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