Despite being one of the most populous countries on the planet, so much of Indonesia remains blissfully untouched. Natural marvels abound, from volcanoes to waterfalls, rainforests to coral reefs. It’s just one of the paradoxes of this country: alongside luxury accommodation and bustling tourist hubs you can find jaw-dropping natural scenery and one of the richest sources of biodiversity on the planet. So rich, in fact, that the government estimates more than half the species in Indonesia remain unrecorded.
While tourists arrive in their droves, the flipside is that high population levels and rates of development take a toll on the environment. Deforestation is a major issue in Indonesia, as is the smoke and haze caused by deliberately created forest fires. The depletion of rainforests has threatened many species.
Some experts believe that tourists can play a key role in helping to protect Indonesia’s extraordinary ecosystem via thoughtful ecotourism. With that in mind, here are just a few of Indonesia’s immense natural riches well worth seeing – and preserving for future generations.
The Indonesian word for volcano is ‘gunung’ and it’s a word you’ll see a lot. That’s because Indonesia has the most active volcanoes of any country in the world. This has everything to do with geography – the Indonesian archipelago sits at the meeting point of several tectonic plates.
Obviously, major eruptions pose danger to those in proximity, but they also cause significant travel delays as ash clouds keep planes grounded. Don’t leave yourself stranded and out of pocket if a volcanic eruption interrupts your travel plans.
The country’s highest peak is Mount Kerinci on the island of Sumatra, at an impressive 3,800 metres above sea level. There are many other volcanoes in Sumatra and neighbouring Java (such as the famous Mount Bromo), but equally breathtaking vistas may be enjoyed in the Lesser Sunda Islands. Lombok’s Gunung Rinjani is the second-highest volcano in the country, and one of the most active, while Kelimutu on the island of Flores stands out for its three magical coloured lakes.
In Bali, Mount Batur rises a relatively modest 1,700 metres and its summit can be reached in two hours by experienced trekkers. In contrast, Mount Agung is the highest point on Bali at over 3,000 metres. Along with the natural marvels, making the trek halfway up Gunung Agung to see the holy temple complex of Pura Besakih will live long in the memory bank.
Park Life: lizards, monkeys and marine biology
Part of the Lesser Sunda chain, Komodo Island lies just west of Flores and forms part of the greater Komodo National Park. The island’s most famous inhabitant is the largest lizard in the world, the Komodo Dragon.
The park was established in 1980 to conserve the creatures but, since then, conservation goals have expanded to protect the island’s many coastal treasures. Komodo boasts one of the world’s richest marine reserves with over 1,000 species of tropical fish and sea life, and these remain under threat from illegal fishing practices. Once you’ve caught sight of everybody’s favourite lizard (there are some 5,000 living in the park), snorkelling in the brilliant clear waters is a must.
If you like your wildlife served with a side of spiritualism, then the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud is for you. About 600 macaques live throughout the forest, which is punctuated by 14th-century temples and holy trees. Visitors are advised to respect the sanctity of the forest and take care not to agitate the monkeys, nor interfere with the natural environment. The park is designed to be a place of peace, harmony, conservation, education and spiritual fulfilment, and is therefore best approached with respect.
Standing under a roaring waterfall has to be one of life’s pure joys. It’s no wonder that some Balinese waterfalls are considered by locals to be sacred sites, used in traditional Balinese Hindu cleansing and purification rituals.
In northern Bali, about 20 minutes’ drive from the town of Singaraja, is the popular twin waterfall Gitgit. It’s a relatively easy traverse to Gitgit, which can’t be said for the nearby Aling-Aling waterfall, located a similar distance from Singaraja. It’s a tricky 35-metre ascent by foot to the top of the waterfall, which is a split stream flowing at different speeds. If northern Bali is beyond your itinerary or budget, Tegenungan Waterfall is a great (albeit crowded) alternative, about 35 minutes south of Ubud.
Coastlines and beaches
Indonesia has the second-longest coastline in the world at 54,000 kilometres. This is nowhere near Canada’s remarkable 200,000 kilometres, but it still makes for endless beaches, coral reefs, horizon-watching and desert-island dreaming.
Travellers in the know have been heading to the Gili Islands for decades. These three diminutive islands sit just off the northwestern coast of Lombok and first-time visitors are often surprised to discover they’re laden with designer accommodation, bars and restaurants – particularly on the largest island, Gili Trawangan. But don’t let the trimmings distract you from the main attraction: unforgettable coastlines and incredible diving. There are dozens of dive sites surrounding the three islands, and plenty of chances to spot luminous tropical fish, manta rays and sea turtles.
Komodo Island (as mentioned above) is full of exotic marine life, making it one of the most exciting coastlines in Indonesia. Some of the world’s best beaches can be found on Bali’s popular Bukit Peninsula, conveniently located just south of Denpasar’s international airport. Yes, many of these beaches are often crowded with tourists, but with good reason. These stretches of sand are beautiful and readily accessible for visitors lacking time to explore more remote regions.
Three of the best beaches on the Bukit Peninsula are situated in a row, ideal for a dreamy day of beach-hopping: Balangan (the least crowded), Padang Padang (accessible via a precarious walk down steep steps), and Blue Point (nestled among cavernous rock faces).
Whether you’re looking for the exotic thrill of getting up close with the animals, the adventure of deep sea diving, or simply hoping for a quiet stretch of white sand on which to recline, you’re sure to find it among Indonesia’s unforgettable natural wonders.