Even if you went to a different place in Indonesia every day, you’d need 47 years to visit each of the archipelago’s 17,508 islands. The equatorial nation is staggeringly diverse, whether in terms of culture, linguistics or geography. Visitors can stop off at Hindu temples, buy halal lifestyle products or simply kick back and enjoy the pristine beaches. The maturing of its tourism product in recent years has brought this astonishing heterogeneity to the fore, and there’s a wealth of Instagram moment around every corner, from Bali’s backyard temples to Borneo’s orangutans.
One thing that works in everybody’s favour: the favourable exchange rate means five-star sojourns and massages alike are incredibly well priced. Here’s a round-up of immersive experiences for itinerant travellers to coincide with Indonesia’s Independence Day. Each is worth a visit on its own, although current seismic activity means travellers should proceed with caution.
Spiritual renewal in Bali
With its craggy coastline and pastoral plains, archaeological attractions and adrenaline-pulsing adventure sports, Bali offers the chance to reset and reboot — in more ways than one. Since the publication of Liz Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, the magical island has become synonymous with yoga teaching camps and detoxifying spiritual retreats, but it’s also where you can find yourself amid a true communion with nature, particularly along its northern edge. With food for all types of diets and activities that range from diving and water sports to trekking and mountain biking, you’re guaranteed a deep-seated renewal that doesn’t break the bank.
The add-ons: For a sightseeing break, head to Ubud’s sacred monkey forest en famille before stopping at the central market nearby for batik and ikat fabrics, and make Insta-worthy trips to the stunning seaside Tanah Lot temple and the Gates of Heaven at Pura Lempuyang.
Untamed nature in Kalimantan
Winding rivers, abundant wildlife, indigenous cultures in a deep, remote jungle that is one of the last virgin rainforests on earth — what’s not to like about Borneo? Although it has slow roads and basic accommodation, it’s possible to tour the Indonesian part of the world’s third-biggest island without bumping into other tourists. The age of headhunters is behind us, and while you can spend a night in an indigenous Dayak longhouse, it is Kalimantan’s massive national parks, ranging in size from 9,000 to 16,000 sq km, that are its true prize (Gunung Palung and Kutai are good alternatives to the rather commercialised Tanjung Puting National Park). Orangutans, gibbons and probocis monkeys remain plentiful, and more than 100 new species have been discovered in the last decade alone. Tours to orangutan sanctuaries are often combined with river tours on traditional klotok wooden boats, but be warned that English is rarely spoken in the interior.
The add-on: Divers will want to tack on Sangalaki Marine Reserve off East Kalimantan, where even snorkellers may espy Manta Rays. With jellyfish, turtles and brilliant coral reefs all easily viewable, you’ll want to invest in one of those fancy underwater cameras.
Retail therapy in Jakarta
Though the city will be overrun with visitors heading to the Asian Games this month, which may make it a little inconvenient for an Eid Al Adha break, but its 170 malls offer something for even the most jaded shopper. Everyone’s list should feature top malls such as the Grand Indonesia Shopping Town and the 500-store Mal Taman Anggrek and Plaza Senayan, for luxury brands and indie designers, but it is the abundant array of ethnic (including Chinese and Dutch) artefacts on sale at the open-air Jalan Surabaya market that will have you wondering about your airline’s luggage policy. You’ll want to offer prayers at Istiqlal Mosque, which can host 120,000, and afterwards take a culinary break with local delicacies such as burung punai goreng (fried pigeon), ikan bakar bambu (grilled fish on a bamboo stick), and, to beat the heat, es timun (a drink made from frozen cucumber).
The add-on: Book a cultural tour of Kota Tua’s Dutch colonial buildings and the old port of Sunda Kelapa, with its old wooden schooners, and if you have a couple of extra days, head out to the Unesco World Heritage Sites of Prambanan, the ninth-century Hindu temple complex, and Borobodur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple, dating back to the eighth century. It’ll be a shame to go so far and skip seeing our global inheritance.