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11 Top-Rated Islands in Indonesia

Written by Joni Sweet
Jul 16, 2020

Indonesia is an island-lover's paradise. The archipelago nation consists of more than 18,000 islands (and counting), each of which has their own flavor and personality. You'd need more than one lifetime to possibly see them all.

Bali is arguably the most famous of the islands in Indonesia. Nearly every traveler dreams of having their very own Eat, Pray, Love experience at the destination, with its magnificent beaches, cultural villages, and terraced rice paddies. While popular, Bali isn't the only island in Indonesia worth a spot in your itinerary.

See the remarkable ruins of Borobudur and explore the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta, on the island of Java. Catch a glimpse of the world's largest lizards on Komodo Island, splash around a lake in the caldera of a volcano in Sumatra, snorkel with sea turtles off Gili Trawangan, and see multicolored lakes in Flores. There's so much to discover wherever you go.

Plan your trip to this Southeast Asian archipelago with our list of the best islands in Indonesia.

1. Bali

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan temple, Lake Bratan, Bali

Prepare to be dazzled by Bali's world-class beaches. This honeymoon destination boasts everything from surf-ready swells and silky, white sand shaded by palm trees to sparkling black beaches with tranquil turquoise waters and epic ocean-battered cliffs.

Plus, Bali's renowned resorts are vacation destinations in their own right. Expect painstakingly landscaped grounds, private plunge pools, plush beds, and service that leaves you wanting for nothing. You'll feel like royalty in accommodations like these.

Beaches aside, Bali has a fascinating cultural side and inland scenery that will take your breath away. Head to Ubud, the creative hub of Bali, to shop for handicrafts, hear local music, and explore temples. While here, check out the Ubud Monkey Forest, a sanctuary for more than 1,000 playful primates.

Ubud is also a convenient jumping-off point for hikes through postcard-worthy terraced rice paddies, which have earned designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

With so many things to do in Bali, you'll want to devote plenty of time to this beloved destination.

2. Java

Borobudur at sunrise

Just west of Bali, Java offers a different type of experience for travelers to Indonesia. The island gives tourists the chance to dive into the frenetic city of Jakarta, where you can go on shopping sprees at 170-plus malls, eat your weight in street food, and check out clothing from Indonesia's up-and-coming fashion designers.

Jakarta isn't all hustle and bustle, though. The city also has some relaxing things to do, like spending a weekend afternoon lounging on the grassy lawns at Merdeka Square; going sightseeing around the old town of Kota; and taking in fascinating exhibits at museums, like the recently opened contemporary art institution, Museum Macan.

Once you've had your fill of sleek and shiny Jakarta, head toward the center of the island to the city of Yogyakarta. The destination celebrates the cultural heritage of Java, including its puppetry tradition, batik textile-making, gamelan music, and local dance. You can also wander around the Kraton Palace, where the Sultan of Java lives.

No trip to Java would be complete without a visit to Borobudur at sunrise. The 9th-century Buddhist archeological site and its hundreds of statues look like the set of a dramatic movie when the early morning sunlight casts its warm, pink glow. Get there early to beat the crowds.

3. Sumatra

Sumatran orangutan in Gunung Leuser National Park, Sumatra

Head to Sumatra, an island adjacent to Malaysia, to visit one of the top tourist attractions in Indonesia: Lake Toba. The world's largest volcanic lake is located in the center of the caldera of a supervolcano and offers a serene setting for spending the weekend.

The lake water here is warm and crystal clear, surrounded by traditional sloped-roof homes and quiet hotels with lovely gardens. The area exudes a deeply relaxing atmosphere that will leave you restored.

While on Sumatra, tourists can also visit a number of other meaningful places and attractions: Medan, one of Indonesia's largest cities, is home to a vibrant culinary scene. Look out for local specialities, like Soto Medan (a local version of chicken soup), Rendang (spicy beef), and Nasi Padang (a banquet-style spread of steamed rice with meat and veggie toppings).

Wildlife lovers should make a point to head to the village of Bukit Lawang while on Sumatra. The local residents feed the protected orangutans in the area from a platform daily. There's also great hiking available in the nearby Gunung Leuser National Park.

4. Gili Trawangan

Beautiful coral reef on Gili Trawangan

When it comes to the best places to visit in Indonesia, Gili Trawangan ranks high on tourists' bucket lists. It's the largest and most developed of the three Gili islands, and has some of the prettiest white-sand beaches in the country.

Gili T, as it's nicknamed, has an intriguing history. Its name comes from the Indonesian word for "tunnel," which alludes to a cave tunnel built during World War II, when the Japanese occupied the land. Tourists can dive to a sunken Japanese patrol ship from that era near neighboring Gili Air.

Nowadays, Gili T boasts a spirited backpacker scene, and fun hotels that beckon travelers to extend their stays on this special island. Your days will be spent biking around the car-free destination, wading in sea-turtle-filled waters, and letting the worries of your everyday life melt away.

5. Tidung

Jembatan Cinta bridge at sunset

When Jakartans have grown exhausted from the concrete jungle and want to get away from it all, they book a weekend in Tidung, a destination in the Thousand Islands chain. One of the best islands in Indonesia, this off-the-beaten-path utopia is a welcome escape from the heavily developed areas of Java.

Besides the picturesque scenery, the main attraction on Tidung is the Jembatan Cinta bridge. It connects the main island to a smaller piece of land known as "Little Tidung." Walking across it is a pleasant activity, but if you're feeling bold, join the local teens in jumping off the bridge into the sea.

At the end of the day, head to Sunset Beach for a lovely view of the glowing sun descending into the horizon.

6. Komodo Island

Komodo dragon

Dinosaurs no longer walk the Earth, but you can find the next best thing on Komodo Island. The destination is one of the main areas of Komodo National Park, a protected environment for the world's largest lizards: Komodo dragons. This is the best island in Indonesia to see the imposing creatures (which have a venomous bite) darting around their natural habitat.

Komodo dragons aren't the only wildlife on the island, though. You can also snorkel with graceful manta rays off the coast. Visit during the rainy season, which typically happens between November and March, to increase your chances of splashing around with manta rays.

Komodo Island also has a more relaxed side worth discovering. See for yourself on a trip to Pink Beach, a serene coastal area with salmon-colored sand. It gets its unique hue from ground-up shells of coral insects, made even brighter from the contrast of the surrounding azure sea. You can see thousands of tropical fish in the thriving coral gardens just offshore.

7. Nusa Lembongan

Nusa Lembongan

Nusa Lembongan is one of those special little places to visit that should be on the radar of every traveler in Indonesia — but isn't (yet). Home to a small community of seaweed farmers, the stunning island is everything you'd expect from Bali, sans the crowds and tourist traps.

Think: Untouched sunset viewing spots atop rugged cliffs, secret swimming areas without another human in sight, striking tropical fish swimming around healthy coral, and unbelievably budget-friendly bungalows just a stone's throw from white-sand beaches. You'll feel like you've stepped into your own personal piece of paradise.

8. Flores

Crater lakes on the Kelimutu Volcano

Why is Flores one of the best islands in Indonesia? Hike to the top of Kelimutu Volcano to find out. The summit of this volcano serves as the prime viewing spot for one of Flores' main attractions: three brightly colored crater lakes. Each has their own distinctive hue, usually blue, green, or red, which occasionally changes.

Researchers suspect the variations in the colors are due to the release of gases from deep inside the Earth. The one thing everyone can agree on, though, is that the lake triplets are a sight to behold.

Flores is also a place where tourists can immerse themselves in the local culture. Many families in the village of Wae Rebo invite travelers to spend the night in authentic homestays in quirky conical residences. The experience gives travelers a sense of what Indonesian hospitality is all about.

Finally, don't miss the chance to visit Liang Bua when you're on Flores. Also called the "Hobbit Cave," the limestone cave is where archeologists discovered the remains of an ancient human in 2003. A nearby museum explains more about the cave and the dig.

9. Lombok

Air Terjun Tiu Kelep waterfall near Mount Rinjani, Lombok

Considered to be Bali's chilled-out cousin, Lombok is a welcome escape from more crowded areas of Indonesia. It deserves serious bragging rights for its unrivaled natural beauty, with lush volcanic hill-scapes, palm-fringed coastlines fit for Robinson Crusoe, surging waterfalls, and hidden beaches galore. The destination is a feast for the eyes.

Trekkers are in for a treat when they visit Lombok. Mount Rinjani offers one of the most legendary hikes in Indonesia. The 3,726-meter-tall volcano (the second highest one in the country) is considered a sacred pilgrimage site for Hindus and the Sasak people. Reaching the top is a serious challenge that requires skill and stamina, but those who make it to the summit are rewarded with mesmerizing views of the surrounding landscape.

If a strenuous trek up a steep volcano doesn't sound like your idea of a tropical island vacation, Lombok has plenty of other things for you to enjoy. You can chill out with a fresh coconut from a hut at Selong Belanak Beach and watch the tide roll in. Try a traditional Sasak massage at a local spa.

Learn the tradition of farming pearls before they're brought to a showroom at Autore Pearl Farm. And even see local villagers weaving ikat fabrics in Sukarare.

10. Bintan Island

Sunset on Bintan Island

Bintan Island, one of Indonesia's best islands, is also a favorite escape for tourists in Singapore. The plush resorts and calming beaches of Bintan are just a short ferry ride away from the city-state.

Trikora is one of the biggest attractions on Bintan. The area features a collection of four beaches with silky-soft sand and big boulders next to the expansive blue sea.

Trikora Beach has earned a reputation as one of the best spots in Southeast Asia to go kitesurfing. The sport has two seasons, which typically occur in the months of July, August, and September, as well as March through June. Visit one of the local kitesurfing schools in the area to rent a board or take a lesson.

Another popular thing to do on Bintan Island is hit the links at one of the golf courses. Bintan Lagoon Golf Club, Laguna Golf Bintan, and Ria Bintan Golf Club welcome tourists to pick up a club.

11. Belitung

Batu Berlayar Island, Belitung

A tiny piece of land just off the coast of Sumatra, Belitung scores points with tourists for its surreal landscapes. Rather than just golden stretches of sand, beaches here have giant granite boulders that give the environment a more rustic character. The best sightseeing happens from the sea, as you paddle a kayak along the coastline.

Kaoline Lake is another hot spot in Belitung. The former clay mine has been converted into an artificial lake that's bluer than the sky, especially against the stark white land that surrounds it. The area is reminiscent of the famous Blue Lagoon in Iceland. Clear your camera's memory cards — you'll want plenty of photos of this Dr. Seuss-esque site.

Thrill-seekers in Belitung should make a point to visit Nek Santen Cave. The dark, dreary cave is filled with thousands of bats. The sheer amount of the creatures will make you feel like you're in one of David Attenborough's wildlife documentaries.

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