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Last updated : Nov 2009
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The Indonesian archipelago is home to 1 of the world’s top surfing destinations. The best time for surfing is from April to September with the best waves found on islands facing southwest and south, including Bali, Sumbawa, Flores, Sumba, Java, Sumatra and Lombok.

Some of the better known surfing beaches, such as Ulu Watu on Bali, tend to get congested, however organised trips to isolated areas are hugely available. Surf camps such as those at Cempi Bay (Sumbawa) or Lagundri Bay (Nias) offer simple accommodations and basic food. Windsurfing is popular on Bintan Island and Nusa Dua and Sanur beaches on Bali.


There are approximately 80,000 kilometres or 50,000 miles of coastline, said contain 15 % of the world’s coral reefs. In spite of the opportunities, Indonesia’s diving industry is still relatively young, though many of companies offering courses and excursions is rising rapidly.

On Java island, the better diving is on the west coast, where 3 volcanic islands mark the remnants of the Krakatoa volcano (last erupted in 1883). Bali’s tourist stronghold in the Kuta, Nusa Dua and Suar present simple and moderate diving, with accessible reefs. Tours to more remote and quieter areas are available.

The Taman Nasional Laut Bunaken Manado Tua is situated on the northern tip of Sulawesi island, and is a national marine reserve with steep coral walls International air connections to the island facilitate access. Further north, the remote Sanggihe-Talaud and Togian islands are reached by live-aboard dive boats.

To the south, Take Bone Rate is the world’s 3rd largest atoll. The Tukang Besi islands have been featured expansively in the films by the French underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau. Nusa Tenggara’s well-liked sites are the 3 Gili islands near Lombok, whose calm shallow waters are great for beginners. Maluku has approximately 1,000 islands and has only freshly been discovered as a top diving destination.

Southeast of Ambon, the Bandana islands are reached by air and offer numerous sites suitable for beginners and experienced divers. The major resort in the Sumatra and Riau islands is Bintan, which is easily reached from Singapore.

The most colourful and clearest dive sites are in Pulau Sikuai off the Padang coast (western Sumatra) and Pulau Weh off Banda Aceh (northern Sumatra). Irian Jaya also provides good diving around the famous Mapia Atoll (where dolphins and killer whales can occasionally be spotted) and also the waters of Cenderawasih Bay off the western end of Bird’s Head peninsula.


The island of Sumatra is probably the best location. Gunung Padang, near the island’s capital, Padang, is a small black cliff reached via a river-paddling trip followed by a trek through a rainforest. Further inland, Bukittinggi offers challenging cliffs with rice paddies as a view below. The striking canyon rocks in nearby Harau National Park are principally unexplored and should only be attempted by experienced climbers.


Indonesia’s most accessible caves are on the island of Java. These include Luweng Jaran, stretching over 20 kilometres or 125 miles beneath the Gunung Seuw mountain range, Gua Barat, the longest underground river system in the southern hemisphere; and Gombong, with stone towers rise spectacularly to about 40 metres or 132 feet above sea level.

On Kalimantan island, Mangkalihat has a rarely visited underground world of huge limestone corridors. Even less explored are the remote caves near Wamena on Bird’s Head peninsula in Irian Jaya.


Most companies offering whitewater rafting are situated in Bali, where many rivers – including the Ayung, Telega, Balian, Ubaya and Unda are commercially rafted. Fantastic whitewater rapids can also be found on the Sadan River (Sulawesi), the Citartik River (western Java), and the Alas River (Sumatra).

Rapids are usually at their strongest between November and March. River tours up the great Mahakam River on the island of Kalimantan, which is divided by a network of rivers running from the mountainous interior to the coasts, are promoted as a trip into the ‘heart of darkness’. Starting out from the port city Samarinda, these tours last for several days (with on-board accommodation available) and go deep into the upper jungle reaches, where tribal communities have largely preserved their traditions.


There are around 120 active volcanoes and many treks are possible. On Java island, the popular volcanic destinations include Krakatoa (reached by a 5 hour boat trip followed by a 30 minute climb). Mount Bromo is the most visited of Indonesia’s volcanoes and Kawah Ijen crater is filled with a turquoise-blue lake.

Those in search of dormant volcanoes may head to Gunung Agung in Bali (known as the ‘Navel of the World’) or Gunung Rinjani on Lombok island that has hot springs at the top and is revered for its mystical qualities and Keli Mutu on Nusa Tenggara Barat whose crater contains three spectacular mineral lakes.

For trekking through the rainforest, the islands of Kalimantan, Irian Jaya and Sumatra offer the most isolated and virgin terrain. The better ones include trips to Bukit Barisan National Park, a secluded and stunning peninsula in Sumatra with treks leading through tropical rainforest onto a beach inhabited by turtles; the Muller Mountain on Kalimantan with a route following the traditional jungle trail used by the native Iban people; and Lake Habbema on Irian Jaya is a week-long trek to remote mountains and villages.


Having been criticised for the devastation of large areas of its rainforest through de-forestation, the Indonesian government is now keen to promote an environmentally friendly tourism policy. The growing trend for back-to-nature vacations means that many types of eco-tours are available. In the Tukangbeshi archipelago near Sulawesi, visitors have the opportunity to participate in coral reef preservation projects by helping with the collection of scientific data.
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