Natural attractions in Indonesia
Indonesia is home to 167 active volcanoes, far more than any other country. Don’t let this fact put you off, however, as most are dormant and what you see is usually their topography rather than the spewing of smoke. Among the more easily accessible peaks for tourists are Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park and Ijen Crater in East Java, Mount Rinjani in Lombok, and probably the most easily accessible, Mount Batur, and Mount Agung, its neighbour in Bali.
Unsurprisingly, on the world’s largest archipelago, beaches are a major attraction. Besides the obvious places like Bali and Lombok, there are also wonderful beaches in some out-of-the-way places, especially Maluku, Nusa Tenggara and Sulawesi. In a nation of more than 18,000 islands, the possibilities are almost endless.
Indonesia has some of the largest remaining areas of tropical forest in the world, home to incredibly diverse wildlife – from orangutans and other primates to the endangered Javanese rhinos and Sumatran tigers, as well as an extraordinary number of bird species. Forest areas recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites include Ujung Kulon National Park in West Java and three huge parks in Sumatra that together form Sumatra’s Tropical Rainforest Heritage: Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, Gunung Leuser National Park and Kerinci Seblat National Park. Sadly, Kalimantan’s forests are disappearing at an alarming rate due to illegal logging.
Unfortunately, in more populated areas, even near forests, as in much of Java, bird species are disappearing at an alarming rate due to the bird trade. Birds are an important source of income for poor trappers, and the birds are sold to people in cities, most of whom spend the rest of their lives in individual cages. The most common birds seen are finches, sparrows, swallows and some other birds of lesser interest to pet bird owners. The various species of Burung Cendrawasih (Bird of Paradise) of Papua are mostly threatened with extinction. Snakes are also seriously threatened with extinction in many places, due to a knee-jerk reaction to any snake: “Kill them!” Nevertheless, it is possible to see scorpions, whip scorpions, spiders, mole crickets (which make terrifyingly loud, booming noises at night), many butterflies and moths, the elusive and rare squirrel, certain species of monkeys, geckos, including the tokoke (TOE-kay: Tokay gecko and various geckos, as well as unwanted rats, mice, shrews, cockroaches, termites, and in numbers that may surprise you ants of all sizes, shapes and personalities. Indonesia is a paradise for those who want to study arachnids and insects. Bali has a beautiful butterfly park and Turtle Island. 6 out of 7 species of turtles can be found in Indonesian seawater and even 4 species of turtles can only be found in Kampung Penyu (Turtle Village) on Selayar Island, South Sulawesi.
Further east, Komodo Island is home to the remarkable Komodo dragon and a very diverse underwater world. Close to Indonesia’s eastern border, the remote Lorentz National Park in Papua has a permanent glacier and is the largest national park in all of Southeast Asia.
In Indonesia there are many beautiful diving and snorkelling spots in many different places, such as Bali, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara, the Thousand Islands north of Jakarta, Bunaken, Selayar Islands, Raja Ampat and Indonesia is also very famous for surfing.
Historical, religious and cultural attractions in Indonesia
Indonesia is particularly rich in places worth seeing, some of which are quite old and many of which still hold great significance for the locals. You could spend your life exploring Indonesia and still not see them all!
Borobudur in Central Java is the largest Buddhist monument in the world and dates back to the 8th century, and nearby Prambanan in Yogyakarta is a remarkable Hindu monument built just a few years later. You will notice that the architecture is very different compared to the shrines where the religions came from, mainly because of assimilation with Javanese culture. Both of them, along with the charms of the former kingdoms of Yogyakarta and Solo, are a popular cultural combination in Central Java.It is said that if you can touch the hand of a Buddha in one of the “stupas” near the top of the temple, it will bring you good luck, although such an action is frowned upon by the park authorities. Unfortunately, Prambanan was damaged by an earthquake a few years ago and repairs have been postponed due to lack of funds. Many sites in Indonesia suffer from this problem and are damaged by graffiti and littering, mostly by locals.
Demak, on the north coast of Central Java, is home to one of Indonesia’s oldest mosques, Masjid Agung (literally ‘Great Mosque’), and the Sunan Kalijaga cemetery. Nearby Semarang is home to several Buddhist, Hindu and Confucian temples, as well as mosques and churches, and nearby Bandungan is home to the Gedung Songo (literally “9 Buildings”) Historical Park, which contains 9 Hindu shrines, as well as various activities for families and hikers. Lawang Sewu (literally “1,000 doors”) is located at the Tugu Muda roundabout intersection (which also houses a museum and government office) and is a large complex of Dutch buildings with stained glass windows and numerous doors that was used by the military, the Japanese during their occupation of Indonesia in World War II, and before that the Dutch as a railway system office, prison, hospital and barracks. It is said that Lawang Sewu is infested with over 30 different supernatural creatures, but you must be very talented to see even one after surveying the entire site, starting from the foundations to the attic and water tower.
The Dieng Plateau in Central Java is home to Indonesia’s oldest surviving temples, some 100 years older than Borobudur. North of Solo is the archaeological site Pithecanthropus Erectus alias “Java Man” in Sangiran, Trinil – Ngawi Regency, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In such a vast archipelago, it is hardly surprising that there are some very distinct and unique cultures, often confined to relatively small areas. In Sumatra, there are strikingly distinct differences between the patrilineal Batak and the matrilineal Minangkabau, or the Sundanese and Javanesewayangs in Java, even though both are less than 200 kilometres apart! With its unique Hindu culture, Bali is home to well-preserved temples (puras) with seemingly endless colorful rituals. Among the more famous are the Mother Temple of Besakih, Pura Ulun Danau Bratan, and Pura Uluwatu. A unique temple, Tanah Lot, is located on an island just off the coast and can be reached via an elevated land bridge. In the north of Bali you will find small villages of the original Balinese, the Bali Aga (A-geh), as well as the island of Trunyan, where the dead are buried above ground but there is no smell of corpses.
Further east, Sumba is home to one of the few remaining megalithic cultures on earth. Many of the tribes there still live in small kingdoms, although this practice is gradually disappearing. In Sulawesi, the Tana Toraja region is famous for spectacular animist burial rites. Visiting the vast hinterland of Papua in the far east of the country requires considerable planning, a lot of money and a tolerance for extremely difficult conditions. However, for those who want a true wilderness experience and the chance to witness first-hand cultures that have had little contact with the outside world, it is hard to imagine a better option anywhere in the world.