To Obamas have been on holiday in Bali. Their itinerary has included rafting down the Ayung River and visiting the Jatiluwih rice terraces, after which they are expected to visit Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. Here are 15 reasons to follow them to the vast archipelago.
1. There’s chaotic Jakarta
Indonesia’s sprawling capital, home to 10 million people, is a “melting pot of cuisines and cultures”, wrote Simon Parker for Telegraph Travel in 2015.
“The old town of Batavia will transport you to Indonesia’s Dutch colonial past while the fashionable Menteng district is a hive of live music venues, exclusive restaurants and hip hotels,” he added. “World-renowned restaurants, bars and nightclubs perch on top of towering skyscrapers, while shoppers can choose from dozens of gargantuan shopping malls.”
2. The dragons of Komodo
The world’s largest lizards exist on just five Indonesian islands – Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang, and Padar. They are truly fearsome, weighing up to 150lbs and possessing toxic bites, allowing them to hunt and kill far bigger animals – even humans.
Stanley Stewart from Telegraph Travel wrote: “Our guide Harry Christensen, a proper ocker Aussie who has been sailing these waters for years, told us how the Komodo’s venom induces shock and heart failure in its victims, how it dislocates its jaws like a snake to devour large prey, how it is a miniature replica of a much larger Jurassic ancestor. ‘AMAZING!’ Harry raved, flapping his arms like a man trying to escape his own body. ‘These dragons inspired the legends of King Kong!’”
3. The adventure playground of Sumatra
Named one of travel’s top 20 places to visit back in 2014, lesser-visited Sumatra is a wild and beautiful hotspot for adventure.
Most visitors head to see the orang-utan of Bukit Lawang and the army of vigilante elephants which are commissioned to protect the northern rainforest of Tangkahan (seriously). You can join them for their dawn lake-shore bath, and scrub their nails before the morning patrol. Topped off with a cup of strong Sumatran coffee, there are few better ways to start a day.
The seriously intrepid should consider a trip to Kerinci Seblat, the biggest national park on the island, where you may get to see tigers and the Sumatran rhino, if you’re lucky. Creature comforts are few, but the rewards are high. There’s also hiking across the lunar craters of the volcanoes of Berastagi, lakeside lounging in Danau Toba, diving with whale sharks in Pulau Weh, and surfing off the Mentawaii Islands and Pulau Nias.
In numbers | Indonesia
- Population: 255,461,700 (4th largest in the world)
- Land area: 735,358 square miles (15th)
- GDP: $2.840 trillion (8th)
- Number of islands: 13,466
- Length: 3,181 miles from east to west, making it the longest archipelago in the world
- Highest point: 4,884 metres (Puncak Jaya)
- Largest lake: 442 square miles (Lake Toba)
- Annual visitors: 9,435,000
4. World class diving
Nowhere in the world offers better diving than the Coral Triangle, an area of the Pacific Ocean that includes the waters around Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands. One of the best ways to explore it is on a liveaboard boat around the Raja Ampat Islands in Indonesia’s West Papua province. Divers will find 75 per cent of all the world’s know coral species, and up to 2,000 species of reef fish.
5. The temples and mountains of Java
It might be the most populous island in the world, with around 140 million residents, but Java has plenty of places to escape the crush. There are 12 national parks to explore – including Unesco-listed Ujung Kulon – and volcanoes – including Bromo and Merapi – to hike up.
Java is also home to the world’s biggest Buddhish temple, Borobudur, with its intricate lattice stupas set among paddy fields. It’s often crowded, so consider lesser-known sites such as Pawon, Mendut, Plaosan Lor and Kalasan, which retain an air of contemplation and peace.
6. The backpacker haven of Bali
This is one of very few islands that manage to combine spirituality and hedonism; visitors can witness coming-of-age ceremonies, as well as enjoy sundowners, first-rate dining and chic shopping. At Ubud, the island’s cultural capital, there are frequent musical and dance performances, as well as galleries selling woodcarving, silverware, textiles, paintings and sculpture. There is trekking around terraced rice fields and two volcanoes in the north, Agung and Batur. Bali Barat National Park is a haven for deer, boar and macaques, and the offshore Menjangan Island has dive sites with schools of batfish, giant trevally and jacks.
7. With its incredible hotels
Bali is the place to go for luxury accommodation. Our top picks include the Four Seasons Resort at Sayan, the Alila Villas Uluwatu, the COMO Shambala Estate, and the Oberoi at Seminyak.
8. And Lombok – Bali without the crowds
Millions of people visit Bali each year seeking a beach paradise, but they may do better looking about 30 miles east, to the lesser-known island of Lombok, known for its good surf, spectacular beaches and mountainous interior, or the neighbouring Gili Islands, ringed by coral reefs.
Until recently the Gili Islands were mainly visited by backpackers paying £10 a night for simple beach accommodation. Now the biggest island, Gili Trawangan, is going upmarket with the opening of villa resorts, eco-lodges and spa retreats. But there is still a bohemian feel: instead of cars and motorcycles, local transport is by bicycle or horse-drawn carts called cidomos.
9. There’s the indigenous tribes of Kalimantan
The wild island of Borneo (of which Kalimantan makes up around two thirds) has enchanted adventurers since the days of the Victorian explorers. Today, little has diluted that raw experience, and among its attractions are rainforests, indigenous tribes and the orang-utans of Tanjung Puting National Park.
10. South-east Asia’s biggest national park
Lorentz, a Unesco World Heritage site on the island of Papua, is vast – covering 9,674 square miles – and home to a huge array of ecosystems, including mangroves, rainforest, alpine tundra and equatorial glaciers. Its highest point, Puncak Jaya, is the tallest mountain between the Himalayas and the Andes.
There are 123 mammalian species and 630 species of bird, including many that are endemic to the region. But much of the park remains unexplored – so scientists believe more are waiting to be discovered.
11. The ‘Paris of the East’
This sobriquet has been applied to numerous cities, including Bandung, on the island of Java. Its cooler climate makes it a popular weekend destination for residents of Jakarta; expect an array of fashionable boutiques and a surprisingly large number of Art Deco buildings.
12. And the cultural hub of Yogyakarta
Java’s second city, Yogyakarta, is the cultural and spiritual hub with all-night shadow-puppet performances, concerts and art exhibitions. It is also the best base for exploring the aforementioned Borobudur and the vast Hindu temple complex of Prambanan, with its principal temples dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma and hundreds of surrounding shrines. The best luxury honeymoon destinations in south-east Asia.
13. There are more temples than you could visit in a lifetime
Borobudur and Prambanan are best known, but there are literally hundreds of others, big and small. Bali is home to some of the most picturesque, including Tanah Lot, perched on a sea stack, and Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, which appears to float on a lake.
14. One of the world’s most spectacular lighthouses
This 12-storey gem was built by the Dutch in 1882 on the little island of Lengkuas. It can be reached by boat from Tanjung Kelayang on the island of Pulau Belitung.
15. It’s green
51 per cent of Indonesia is forest, making it one of the world’s greenest countries.
16. And it’s cheap
Price surveys frequently attest to Indonesia’s suitability for budget travel. According to the website Numbeo, its Cost of Living Index (which takes into account the price of accommodation, restaurant meals, taxi fares and leisure activities) is 36.33, putting it ahead of south-east Asian rivals Thailand (40.2), Myanmar (51.57), Cambodia (47.29) and Vietnam (39.5). And when it comes to the cost of food and drink its beaches are among the world’s cheapest.