There are many things to do in Bali, for any budget and any taste. It’s just a matter of knowing where to start.
Indonesia has been the first country I have ever traveled to in Asia. I was excited about visiting, because everyone spoke marvels about it, and my travel plans were such that I would also visit Bali, a bucket list destination according to many. I didn’t know much about Indonesia at all, and even less about Bali, actually. All I knew was that one of the things to do in Bali is surfing, since a bunch of my friends who surf and travel the world in search of the best waves kept raving about it.
It took me about a minute after I arriving in Indonesia and getting out of the airport to know that if anything, I would be in for a huge cultural shock, which would be a positive and a negative one at the same time. I fell in love with the people: so kind, so warm, so friendly. And I truly enjoyed some of the places I have visited, such as Komodo and Rinca islands, for they are beautifully wild. I didn’t feel the same about some others such as Mount Bromo – I felt mass tourism has had a negative impact on them and that they were somewhat exploited.
Read more about Komodo and Rinca islands on my post “How to find heaven on earth.”
Of all the places I have visited, Bali isn’t among those I fell in love with, to the point that I wonder if Bali has lost its magic. I just don’t get what the huge hype about it is. Yet, I must admit that having a try at some of the recommended things to do in Bali was fun.
Read my post “Has Bali lost its magic?”
Without having the presumption of being a Bali expert, and despite having spent a limited time exploring the island, I still think I can point out what to do Bali to make the most of it, and suggest the unmissable ones among the things to do in Bali that I have tried.
17 Absolutely Unmissable Things To Do In Bali
Confronting the monkeys in Monkey Forest, Ubud
It’s no secret that I love monkeys. I get giggly and excited any time I see them or even just hear them as they play, jumping from tree branch to tree branch in the jungle. That is why, if I had to give recommendations for what to do in Bali, the first thing that would come to my mind would be to do a guided tour of the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, in Ubud. There are actually three temples in Monkey Forest, but the main attraction to me is by far the macaque monkeys.
One of my favorite things to do in Bali: watching the monkeys – photo courtesy of Seth Carnill
Far from being friendly, these monkeys are hungry and quite naughty. They steal anything from visitors – from bottles of water to sunglasses. In fact, they tried to steal mine right from my face and I had to trick them to get them back. Yet, I thought that seeing these little evils playing around, picking fleas off each other and blatantly posing for picture was by far among the things to do in Bali.
These are some of the best tours in Bali to see the monkeys:
Visiting the temple of Ulu Watu
The Pura Luhur Ulu Watu is only one of the various temples located on the South coast of Bali. While visiting the temple is a must do in Bali, what I loved the most about it is the fact that it offers some breathtaking views of the coast and the ocean, as well as of the cliffs that drop directly into the sea. I arrived just before sunset, and I think that is the best time to visit. I spent a good hour in awe of the show of the fishing boats sailing the ocean and passing through the light beams that the sun threw on the sea. Having seen the amazing sunset from Ulu Watu, I have little doubt as to why visiting this temple is one of the things to do in Bali.
Ulu Watu is one of the best places to visit in Bali
Ulu Watu is also home to a colony of naughty monkeys who never fail to entertain visitors with their tricks, which include stealing whatever they find amusing and entertaining, especially shiny objects. Although some find the naughty monkeys quite annoying, to me it was a welcome bonus. As I said before, seeing the monkey is what to do in Bali for some good fun.
These are some of the best tours of Ulu Watu:
Experiencing a Kecak show
I like experiencing local culture wherever I go – whether this means walking around the streets and meeting the locals, learning about the traditional activities or even seeing traditional rituals and shows. Lots of people who visit Bali agree that seeing the Kecak show is what to do in Bali. Also known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant, this is a performance where a group of 150 men, who wear a checked cloth around their waists, percussively chant “cak” and move their hands and arms. The show depicts a battle from the Ramayana Hindu poem.
It may be geared to tourists, but I think that seeing the Kecak dance is one of the best things to do in Bali – photo courtesy of Rom
Many people who visit Bali agree that one of the highlights of their journey is seeing – or better, experiencing – a Kecak show. The performance I saw took place in the beautiful setting of Ulu Watu open air theatre, at sunset time. It was amazing: the theatre small and intimate, and the show a lot fun, as the performers regularly involved members of the public. Sure, it was on the touristy side. But why would I care, since it was so much fun? So, if you ask me, I would definitely argue that experiencing a Kecak show in Ulu Watu is one of the things to do in Bali.
Tickets to the show are available online:
Eating some delicious food
People who visit Bali always point out how delicious the food is there. I am not what people would call “a foodie”. In fact, while I do enjoy good food, I am actually quite picky. However, I must say that trying the local specialties (ok, not all local specialties: I will never be caught trying grasshoppers or intestines) and enjoying a nice meal are some of my favorite activities while I travel. And eating is what to do in Bali to learn more about its culture.
Looking for things to do in Bali? Just eat!
Bali is packed with amazing restaurants. Whether I had a taste for western food (any western food), Asian, Indonesian or Balinese cuisine, I found some very good (and more than affordable) restaurants. There’s even lots of vegan restaurants in Ubud. I must thus say that, despite not having a huge interest in food, I came to the conclusion that one of the things to do in Bali is hitting the fantastic restaurant scene and having a delicious meal.
These are some of the best food tours of Bali:
Having dinner by the ocean
Among the things to do in Bali there’s hitting one of the many beautiful beaches. I have also said that one enjoying the restaurant scene is what to do in Bali. Putting together one of Bali beaches with the many good restaurants is a guarantee of entertainment. There are many restaurants on the beach – buildings ruining what once surely was a beautiful, secluded and wild place. That is the result of mass tourism and uncontrolled development. All these restaurants place their tables on the sand and customers can get their feet sandy when they walk to their table.
Having dinner by the ocean is one of the best things to do in Bali – photo courtesy of hl_1001 (flickr)
One thing people should be aware of is that having dinner on the beach in Bali is less than an exclusive experience. Since it is one of the things to do in Bali, pretty much everybody does it – and what in another country with a more protected coast line could be an incredibly romantic date, in Bali feels more like a crowded beach party.
Yet, I admit that I enjoyed the experience. Between the good food and the huge waves that broke loudly on the shore, I must say I ended up having a really good time. Hence, I do recommend having dinner by the ocean as one of the top things to do in Bali.
Learning how to cook a proper Balinese meal
Not only I am not a foodie, but I am also a clumsy cook. The kind of clumsy that regularly forgets a pot on the stove, goes about some business in the house and then realizes that food has been cooking for way longer than the required time. Yet, actually learning how to prepare some Balinese food from scratch is what to do in Bali to appreciate its culture more. I should thus receive a round of applause for actually enrolling in a Balinese food cooking class, as this was truly an act of bravery from me.
Taking a cooking class with a local: one of the things to do in Bali – photo courtesy of Juan Jerez
I took a cooking class, thanks to which I was able to get in touch with a local family who was glad to meet me, show me a bit of their daily life and traditions and teach me how to prepare a Balinese meal. I must say it was actually a great experience. The first chore was going to the market (going to the market is one of the things to do in Bali, so this was exciting for me!) and shop for fresh produce, and then we prepared a meal which we all ate. I am still here to tell the story, so I guess it didn’t go so bad. I can definitely confirm that enrolling in a cooking class is what to do in Bali.
Those interested in taking a cooking class in Bali should check out Cookly, a website that offers a large selection of cooking classes for travellers, making it easy to book them online. Find out more about cooking classes in Bali here on Cookly. There’s also a Balinese cooking class at an organic farm.
Seeing the rice terraces
Apparently, seeing the rice terraces is one of the ultimate things to do in Bali. As I have said before, I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I found out I would visit Bali. I didn’t have a clear vision of it in my mind, though from what I had heard, I figured it would be a tropical island with lush vegetation and a quiet pace of life. I also pictured green rice patties where a few farmers could be seen working the land.
For the most part, Bali happened to be completely different from what I thought it would be (lots of traffic, really crowded and overall too commercial for my taste). But one thing that didn’t disappoint me was finding that there actually are rice patties and terraces all over the island, and there is a good reason why visiting is one of the things to do in Bali and why they are among the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The gorgeous rice fields are on the list of places to visit in Bali – photo courtesy of Juan Jerez
It is not hard to find rice patties in Bali. They are all over! Some of them are currently no more than a beautiful (large) garden in a lovely restaurant. Others are still properly used and farmed, and those are the best to see as they are just surrounded by green hills. Without the shadow of a doubt, I think that a tour of the rice terraces is one of the top things to do in Bali.
These are some of the best rice terraces tours of Bali:
Visiting the Elephant Cave
Among the things to do in Bali there is visiting the famous site of Goa Gajah, known as the Elephant Cave and located in the surroundings of Bedulu (about 20 minutes drive from Ubud). According to legend, this sanctuary was created by the nails of a giant called Kebo Iwa. It likely dates to the 11th century. It is carved in a rock wall and it is accessed through the huge mouth of a demon. In the inside of the cave, it is possible to spot some of the phallic symbols of Hindu god Shiva and of his feminine counterpart, as well as a statue of Ganesha, the god with the elephant head.
Visiting the Elephant Cave surely is what to do in Bali – photo courtesy of Klaus Stiefel (flickr)
Visiting Goa Gajah is what to do in Bali, especially if in search of some quiet time and nature as there is a beautiful forest right behind it.
Here’s some tours that also go to the elephant cave:
Having an adrenaline rush with some water sports
I love sports. Even more so, I enjoy adventures sports. And if adventure sports get to be anywhere near water, then I am in for the fun. Bali is among the best places in the world to surf, given the consistently good quality of the waves. In general, trying water sports is what to do in Bali. Having an adrenaline rush by practicing some water sports (hint: they can be booked online!) is one of the things to do in Bali.
Here’s some of the best water sports tours in Bali:
One of the things to do in Bali? Paragliding! – photo courtesy of Ikhlasul Amal (flickr)
Seeing the sunset in Kuta Beach
I did not like Kuta Beach, to be honest. I found it too commercial, too crowded, too congested and too dirty for my taste. Yet, I admit that walking down the beach in Kuta at sunset time was a real treat. The light was truly gorgeous, so beautiful that it made me forget about all the other things that I wasn’t enjoying there. I could not resist posing for some incredible sunset pictures. There is no denying that seeing the sunset in Kuta Beach is one of the things to do in Bali.
Unmissable things to do in Bali: seeing the gorgeous sunset in Kuta Beach – photo courtesy of Seth Carnill
Visiting the nearby islands
One of the things to do in Bali is to get away from the chaos of the island by going to the nearby quieter ones. There’s many islands that can be explored from Bali. Gili may be the most famous one, but Nusa Lembongan, Penida and Ceningan are also worth visiting and they are a lovely getaway from the busy streets of Kuta and Seminyak. They just look like what Bali used to look 20 years ago.
Most locals and even tourists in Bali ride scooters. Traffic is insane and the pollution gets worst by the minute. I am all in favor of protecting the environment, not to mention that I actually love biking. Taking a bike tour, going to the most rural parts of the island and getting close to the rice patties is what to do in Bali to get away from traffic and noise.
These are some of the best biking tours of Bali:
Among the things to do in Bali, there supposedly are some fantastic hikes. The trek to the Gunung Agung volcano, the highest peak of Bali at over 3100 meters, is a challenging yet amazing one which offers spectacular views.
Hiking Gunung Batur volcano is what to do in Bali for fantastic sights. However, the attraction is terribly mismanaged. Large numbers of visitors (perhaps more than the attraction can take), harassing vendors and (unreliable) guides may make the trip less than worthy.
Here’s some of the best guides hikes in Bali:
I am not what Sophie Kinsella would call “a shopaholic”. Given the choice, I would rather use all my money to fund my travels. Having said this, I do like browsing through local markets for curious finds, local crafts and souvenirs and bargains. Not to mention, through traveling I have developed some great haggling skills and I really enjoy practicing just to make sure I don’t forget how to do it. One of the things to do in Bali is shopping.
Best things to do in Bali? Shop till you drop! – photo courtesy of Michael Sauers (flickr)
From high street shops to shopping malls, from the big famous brand stores found in Denpasar and Kuta to the lovely small boutiques of Ubud and the local markets, there is something for everyone in Bali. There is little doubt that shopping is what to do in Bali.
Partying at a fantastic club
I said many times before that of all the things to do in Bali, visiting Kuta Beach is the one I enjoyed the least. Yet, there is one thing that Kuta Beach is really good for: partying! The number of clubs to go to in Kuta is enormous. The best ones are all by the beach, like the exclusive Potato Head Beach Club, which has access to a pool and is perfect to enjoy a wonderful sunset while dancing away and sipping a delicious cocktail. Partying at a beach club is definitely one of the things to do in Bali.
Best things to do in Bali? Party!! – photo courtesy of Dean Wallis (flickr)
Getting a massage
Bali was the last stop of a very demanding press trip across Indonesia, for me. I arrived completely exhausted and in need of some pampering. The good news is that both Ubud and Kuta Beach are packed with places where it is possible to walk in and get a massage, a foot rub, or a head rub for a real steal. Getting a relaxing massage is definitely what to do in Bali.
To discover more about the best spa in Bali check my post “The 23 Best Spa In Bali.”
Unmissable things to do in Bali: getting a massage – photo courtesy of Matthew Kenrick (flickr)
Relaxing in a fabulous resort
The number of beautiful hotels and resorts available in Bali is just incredible, and staying in one of them is what to do in Bali. The best ones are well hidden gems, far away from the traffic and the noise that plague the island. My choice was Ubud Dedari Villas, a gorgeous boutique resort in Bedulu, at about 20 minutes drive from Ubud and really close to the Elephant Cave, one of the places to visit in Bali. I knew from the minute I walked in that I was in for a real treat. The personnel immediately welcomed me and showed me to my beautiful room. In order to get there I had to walk through a lush garden where other villas were also located, right next to the infinity pool.
One of the best things to do in Bali: relaxing in a fantastic resort
All of the villas have their own veranda and a stunning view over the forest and the hills. My room was plush: a huge bed, a beautiful balcony with sun beds where I enjoyed a delicious breakfast every morning, and an enormous bathroom with a lovely shower and a jacuzzi too – because relaxing in a jacuzzi is what to do in Bali.
Ubud Dedari Villas is very quiet, something that should never be taken for granted in Bali – the only noise that can be heard is that of the creek that runs below and of cicadas living in the trees. There was a free shuttle service that took me to Ubud any time I needed, so if I wanted to go out I knew I would not have to haggle to get a taxi (by the way, haggling is one of the things to do in Bali).
Taking in a gorgeous view – one of the things to do in Bali
Staying in a fabulous resort is one of the top things to do in Bali, and Ubud Dedari Villas is definitely one a great one.
Other places to stay in Ubud are Sri Ratih Cottages and Gajah Biru Bungalows.
These are some of the best hotels in Ubud:
Have you been to Bali? What were your favorite things to do in Bali?
Read more about Indonesia on my post “Fantastic things to do in Indonesia.”
Pint It For Later
With all the things to do in Indonesia, I am surprised that most people who visit Indonesia usually go straight to Bali and skip other beautiful attractions located in other parts of the country. This is a real pity. I have been lucky enough to visit Java, the Komodo Islands and Bali and I can confidently say that there are many more things to do in Indonesia; there are way better places to visit in Indonesia other than Bali. In fact, I think that Bali is actually overrated, both in general terms but especially compared to the rest of the country, which has a lot more to offer in terms of natural and man-made attractions.
Read more about what I think about Bali on my post “Has Bali Lost its Magic?”
Indonesia tourist attractions are many and varied. From interesting and lively cities such as Yogyakarta to small villages where the pace of life is slower; from the pristine beaches and waters of the Komodo Islands to the volcanoes of the ring of fire; from the thick jungle to the dry landscapes; from the traditional dances to the delicious cuisine there are many things to do in Indonesia, and incredible places to visit in Indonesia. But before pointing out the many fun activities, here are a few facts that can help prepare a trip to Indonesia.
Relax – one of the things to do in Indonesia
Fantastic things to do in Indonesia
Deciding when to visit Indonesia
The temperatures in Indonesia vary little throughout the year. Unless in the mountainous regions, the weather in Indonesia it is always hot, at times unbearably so. There are two seasons: the dry season and the rainy season. Yet, the climate changes have been such that the rainy season, which normally starts in October, is being pushed increasingly forward. Deciding when to visit Indonesia is thus rather easy: any time is good to go, but prices are significantly cheaper during the low season (which corresponds to the rainy season).
Deciding when to visit Indonesia? Easy: whenever!
People who visit Indonesia usually travel there by plane. Cheap flights to Indonesia are easy to find on Kiwi.com. Those who hold a valid passport from one of the European Union countries as well as the United States normally receive a 30 days visa which can be easily renewed. Upon entering Indonesia visitors are also generally required to show proof of onward travel – such as a plane ticket that proves they are leaving the country. I also advise to purchase travel insurance before traveling.
The Indonesian currency is the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). At the moment of writing, $1.00 USD is worth 14,000 IDR. The exchange rate is usually very convenient, which means that those who visit Indonesia generally find it more than affordable.
Things to do in Indonesia: act like a millionaire – photo courtesy of JasonParis (flickr)
Despite what the media may say, people who visit Indonesia find it to be a safe country. I encountered no problems whatsoever as a western female traveler, and I must say that, other than finding crossing the street very challenging due to the terrible traffic, I did not perceive any danger. People were always kind, helpful, and friendly beyond belief.
Meeting the friendly locals: one of the things to do in Indonesia
The worst that can happen is finding some very persistent vendors or taxi drivers. In this case, the best thing to do is saying a straightforward no or just ignore. I used minimum precaution in crowded places, just as I would do anywhere else in the world.
People who visit Indonesia find crossing the street the biggest challenge – photo courtesy of Josh (flickr)
The most common means of transportation in Indonesia is the bus. The quality varies depending on the price paid – more expensive buses are very comfortable, with fully reclining seats and air conditioning.
Riding a bici-taxi: one of the things to do in Indonesia
Taxis are everywhere and easily available, as well as motorbike taxis. They are fairly convenient, but it is important to negotiate the fare (as with almost everything, haggling is one of the things to do in Indonesia) before actually jumping on, as the tendency is that of charging travelers much more than they ought to be. Traffic in cities is so congested that at times I found walking would actually be faster, anyways.
Eating and drinking
One of the things to do in Indonesia is eating. The food is varied and generally quite tasty (not to mention very spicy!). White sticky rice and tofu or tempeh accompany almost every meal. My favorite thing to eat was by far gado gado, a salad made with bean sprouts, cabbage, tempeh and tofu, boiled eggs and seasoned with a delicious and mildly spicy peanut dressing. Chicken satay (skewers of chicken meat grilled and accompanied with peanut sauce) is delicious. I also enjoyed nasi goreng, a dish of rice fried with vegetables, chicken, shrimps and served with a fried egg on top.
Looking for things to do in Indonesia? Just eat!
One thing that surprised me a bit during my first meal is that only fork and spoon are used to eat – knives are only used when eating western style food. Indonesians will generally hold the fork with the left hand and use their right hand to hold the spoon, with which they chop the (very soft) meat and then scoop that with some rice.
As a country where the majority of people are Muslim (yet, very liberal), Indonesian hardly drink alcohol during their meals. The most famous local beer is Bintang, which is quite flavorful. One of the things to do in Indonesia is enjoying a sunset Bintang to cool off after a day of exploration!
With its convenient exchange rates and the incredible markets full of beautiful fabrics and crafts, Indonesia is a shopping paradise. Markets are among the best places to visit in Indonesia – they are so full of colors and scents, packed with interesting looking people, and a good way to see a bit of local action too. Not to mention, shopping is one of the things to do in Indonesia. Don’t forget to haggle!
Shopping – one of the things to do in Indonesia – photo courtesy of Michael Sauers (flickr)
Some public toilets require a small fee to be used. Toilet paper is generally available but it is good practice to carry some. Toilets are generally clean, although often flooded as it is common to have what to me seemed like small tubs with a bucket which is used to flush the toilet. In the less touristy regions the squat toilets are very common.
Places to visit in Indonesia (other than Bali)
Indonesia is a huge country and it would require a few months to explore it properly. There are many places to visit in Indonesia, but some are simply unmissable. Here are some of Indonesia tourist attractions that can’t be missed.
Bandung and its surroundings
The fourth largest city of Indonesia, and capital of West Java, Bandung was once considered the Paris of Java. However, the uncontrolled development has turned it into a chaotic web of small streets and big suburbs. Yet, I find that it well deserves to be included in the list of places to visit in Indonesia. Bandung is indeed a great starting point for visiting some of Indonesia tourist attractions, and it has a restaurant scene that shouldn’t be ignored.
Here’s the best places to stay in Bandung:
Volcanoes around Bandung
One of the unmissable things to do in Indonesia is visiting the various volcanoes and craters that are scattered around the country. At about 30 km north of Bandung, Tangkuban Perahu is the huge crater of an active volcano that last erupted in 1969. It is still possible to see smoke coming out of it (and to smell the typical sulphur gases). Known as the “upside down perahu (boat)”, its shape is due to the fact that its walls collapsed under the weight of the ashes.
Tangkuban Perahu is one of the places to visit in Indonesia
Although the first part of the crater line is literally invaded by vendors and their stalls, it is possible to walk around the entire crater (the walk lasts about two hours) and to get splendid views of it. In fact, it is so impressive that I find it to be one of the places to visit in Indonesia.
South of Bandung there is Kawah Putih, another of the places to visit in Indonesia. This is a beautiful crater, located at around 2300 meters above sea level. Although the crater is smaller than that of Tangkuban Perahu, in this case there is a gorgeous green lake in it, and the landscape is a bit surreal yet very beautiful.
The gorgeous Kawah Putih is one of the places to visit in Indonesia
Cultural activities in Bandung
One of the things to do in Indonesia is learning about its diversity. A great way to do that is by experiencing the Saung Angklung Udjo show in Bandung. Mostly geared to tourists, this show is actually a lot of fun to watch and to take part in. The director, Mr Udjo, has made it a point in teaching the children and teenagers that attend the school the importance of protecting their cultural heritage, whatever that is, and to always be proud of it and to respect each other.
Saung Angklung Udjo is one of the places to visit in Indonesia – photo courtesy of Inna Dee (flickr)
The students take part in the show, and turn it into a great experience. The first part is dedicated to showcasing the various traditional dances, costumes and cultures of Indonesia (in a show full of color and rhythm). The second part is more interactive: members of the public are given an angklung, which is a bamboo instruments that, shaken, produces varying sounds. The director of the school then directs the public into playing it, and the final result is that of an orchestra. I found it very entertaining, and for sure I would say that Saung Angklung Udjo school is one of the places to visit in Indonesia.
The great restaurant scene of Bandung
I am not what people would call a foodie, but there is no doubt that one of the things to do in Indonesia is trying its interesting food. The surroundings of Bandung are packed with great restaurants. The fantastic locations and settings and the amazing food make the experience an overall great one.
Among my favorite restaurants in the area there is Dusun Bambu, which is located on gorgeous hills and is a favorite of locals who crowd it at weekends not only for the delicious food but also for the amusement park on the ground – it is in and of itself one of Indonesia tourist attractions and a good place to spot some local life.
Another great restaurant is The Peak – the perfect location for a special night out with its fine dining, great live music, fantastic views and huge choice of wines.
Finally, Kampung Daun is simply outstanding: surrounded by a luscious jungle and bamboo forest, there are small huts that serve as eating platforms, each completely surrounded by nature. The overall impression is that of a very relaxed place, and the food is delicious.
Among the places to visit in Indonesia, Borobudur (a short distance from Magelang) deserves a special mention. This is the world’s biggest Buddhist monument, built in the 9th century and located in a gorgeous setting of hills covered in rice fields and palm trees swept by the wind. It is little wonder this gorgeous monument is considered to be one of the most amazing Indonesia tourist attractions and that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A first taste of Borobudur can actually be enjoyed from the incredible Amanjiwo, a luxury hotel in the Menoreh Hills near Magelang that offers great views of the temple and that also has a fantastic restaurant. For as expensive as it may be, if having some money to spare, eating or spending a few nights in Amanjiwo is one of the things to do in Indonesia.
Seeing the sunrise from Borobudur is one of the things to do in Indonesia
As nice as seeing Borobudur from afar is, I still think that one of the most amazing things to do in Indonesia is actually admiring the sunrise from Borobudur. This implies a very early wake up call to get to the site when it is still dark, and then waiting until the sun finally rises. For as tiring as it may be, the incredible view is worth every effort. Doing a sunrise tour of Borobudur is one of the best things to do in Indonesia.
These are the best tours of Borobudur:
And these are the best places to stay in Magelang:
At about 25 km north of Yogyakarta, Kaliurang is a popular weekend destination and one of the most pleasant places to visit in Indonesia thanks to its lovely climate. Indeed it is located at 900 meters above sea level and the temperatures are much milder than in the nearby Yogyakarta.
In Kaliurang, the Ullen Sentalu Museum is a pleasant surprise and deserves to be mentioned among Indonesia tourist attractions. The museum is a celebration of Javanese culture and its interesting exhibit is mostly focussed on the most influential and famous women of Java and in particular on the wives of sultans.
Considered to be the soul of Indonesia and its cultural and artistic centre, Yogyakarta is the most interesting city in the country and thus one of the best places to visit in Indonesia. This lively, fun city is a great mixture of modern life – imagine traffic jams, scooters zipping about, advertising boards, fast food chains and posh restaurants – and expressions of ancient cultures such as the production of batik, unique rituals and traditional music. Not to mention, Yogyakarta is also a great starting point to visit a lot of other Indonesia tourist attractions, such as the temples of Prambanan and Borobudur.
Yet, what I loved the most about Yogyakarta are the great positive vibes it sends to its visitors: people are friendly beyond imagination, the city is welcoming, the range of things to do in Yogyakarta incredible. It is not surprising that those who visit Indonesia – myself included – end up falling in love with Yogyakarta.
These are some of the best tours in and from Yogyakarta:
And these are the best places to stay in Yogyakarta:
Things to do in Yogyakarta
Discovering Yogykarta history and culture
One of the things to do in Indonesia is uncovering its interesting history. Yogyakarta is one of the places to visit in Indonesia just for this purpose. Doing a tour of Yogyakarta is one of the nicest things to do in Indonesia. Paying a visit to the Royal Palace and the Water Palace are both things to do in Yogyakarta. These historic complexes are an oasis of peace from the chaos of the city, with their tiny alleys to wander around, artists parlours, mosques, schools and markets. Life is slower there.
Visiting the Royal Palace compounds is one of the things to do in Yogyakarta
The Kraton, or Royal Palace, is the giant sultans’ palace of Yogyakarta and the heart of the fortified city. The innermost parts were built between 1755 and 1756 and the current sultan of Yogyakarta still lives there. Aside from the beautifully furnished buildings and great exhibits on the lives of the sultans, here it is possible to observe some of the most ancient traditions of Java.
Attendants pass on their profession to their sons. They wear the traditional javanese costumes and and take care of the palace. Another one of the things to do in Yogyakarta that is best enjoyed at the Royal Palace is a gamelan (traditional instrument) concert.
Enjoying the lovely street art: one of the things to do in Yogyakarta
The Taman Sari, or Water Palace, is a beautiful park with palaces, pools and canals that was once used by the sultans, his wives and his court to entertain themselves. It is a pleasant place to walk around and therefore paying a visit is one of the things to do in Yogyakarta.
Workshops in traditional crafts
One of the things to do in Indonesia is taking part in workshops to learn its traditional crafts. Kota Gede is a district of Yogyakarta which is famous for its silver factories. I had the opportunity to visit and observe the art and technique in making silver jewelry. However, I fully appreciateD how difficult a job that is when I was given all the necessary equipment and invited to decorate a brooch myself. I was quite hopeless at that – yet, I must say that among the things to do in Yogyakarta this one was a lot of fun.
Having a try at local crafts: one of the things to do in Yogyakarta
Learning how to make batik and… shopping!
One of the things to do in Indonesia is shopping for batik. There is no better place than Yogyakarta to do that: it is shopping paradise! Yet, one of the things to do in Yogyakarta is actually learning how to make batik: there are several workshops where it is possible to observe the batik making process and where patient teachers will try to pass on some of their incredible skills to their visitors. I gave it a try myself, but holding that hot wax pen and drawing on a piece of fabric was no easy task (although a lot of fun!).
Speaking of shopping, one of the things to do in Yogyakarta is going on a walk along Jl Malioboro, a shopping street packed with souvenir shops as well as clothing stores, although the most interesting thing is actually observing the very busy local life and befriending the lovely locals who gladly pose for pictures.
Visiting the archeological sites
As I have already said, Yogyakarta is a perfect starting point to explore some of the archeological sites and temples nearby. One of the places to visit in Indonesia is Kraton Ratu Boko, a site which is divided in various levels or terraces and whose exact functions are still uncertain. Walking around there is very pleasant, despite the heat!
Kraton Ratu Boko is one of the places to visit in Indonesia
Prambanan – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991 – is a fascinating site, not to mention the largest Hindu temple in Java, and as such one of the places to visit in Indonesia. The overall site is quite spread out in a beautiful park where it is pleasant to go for a stroll. Yet the main attractions are the eight central buildings. The best time to do a tour of Prambanan is right before sunset, when the light makes the temples glow.
Visiting Prambanan – one of the things to do in Indonesia
The best sunset views can actually be caught a bit far off from the central structure. Yet, seeing Prambanan at night is one of the things to do in Yogykarta. In fact, it is one of the things to do in Indonesia! This amazing view can be enjoyed at its best from the nearby restaurant which, although mostly geared to tourists, has really tasty food.
Gazing over Prambanan temples at night: one of the things to do in Indonesia – photo courtesy of Juan Jerez
Among the interesting things to do in Yogyakarta there is seeing the Ramayana Ballet Show. This takes place in an open air theatre right next to the Prambanan temple and its lasts around two hours. The pace of the show is quite slow, but the choreography and the special effects incredible. My best advice is to actually read the Ramayana story before attending the show, so to get a better understanding of the developments and to appreciate the show fully.
Considered one of the bucket list destinations of Java, Mount Bromo definitely is one of the places to visit in Indonesia. Part of the Bromo Tengger National Park, this spectacular volcano may not be the highest one compared to others nearby, yet it is the most impressive one. Seeing the sunrise on Mount Bromo and hiking up (or riding a horse to) the crater is one of the things to do in Indonesia.
These are the best tours of Mount Bromo:
And these are the best places to stay in the vicinity of Mount Bromo:
Seeing the sunrise on Mount Bromo is one of the things to do in Indonesia
However, for as gorgeous as it is, this Indonesia tourist attraction is seriously mismanaged and receives many more tourists than it can accommodate, thus often turning the experience of visiting into an unpleasant one – this is what happened to me.
Read more about my misadventures on Mount Bromo by reading my post “Ring of Fire or Circle of Hell?”
My recommendation is to plan to visit Mount Bromo on week days to avoid the masses of tourists that go during the weekend. It is also important to pick a good tour operator and guide that work in a responsible way that is respectful to the environment, the people and the animals such as the horses that work on the site.
Those who visit Indonesia and go to the Komodo Islands all agree on one thing: these are the most incredible places to visit in Indonesia, and they are simply unmissable. I must admit that the Komodo Islands were indeed the highlight of my trip, I thought I had found heaven on earth and I would have gladly spent a bit more time there. Compared to the rest of the country, these islands felt way quieter. There are less people living there, and this means that the traffic is not nearly as bad as in the rest of the country; and the pollution levels are significantly lower.
These are some of the best tours of Komodo Islands:
There are some excellent accommodation options in Labuan Bajo. These are some of the best places to stay:
Read more about my experience on the Komodo Islands on my post “How to find Heaven on Earth”.
The Komodo Islands are among the nicest places to visit in Indonesia
Nature in the Komodo Islands is at its best, but that is not the only great thing about them. As I have said before, one of the best things to do in Indonesia is meeting the locals. The Komodo Islands are a perfect place to get to know the culture of one of the many ethnic groups that live in Indonesia. In Melo village it is possible to experience a Caci traditional dance performance. Yet, even a simple walk around the village will allow visitors to meet the friendly local community: everybody is interesting in sharing a bit of their daily life and curious about the visitors.
One of the nicest things to do in Indonesia is visiting the Komodo Islands – photo courtesy of Seth Carnill
I have often said that I am not a big fan of voluntourism. Yet, if the organization that employs volunteers is a valid one, and the project is beneficial to the local communities, I am all in favor of it. I have found that volunteering is one of the things to do in Indonesia, and joining the program of Taman Bacaan Pelangi, an organization that has set up libraries and reading workshops in the Eastern part of Indonesia, including the Komodo Islands, is a highly recommended one. I only spent a few hours at Taman Bacaan Pelangi, and I hold great memories of the experience.
Read more about my volunteering experience at Taman Bacaan Pelangi on my post “Why I gave volunteering a second chance”.
I recommend volunteering as one of the things to do in Indonesia
Wildlife and Nature
One of the best things to do in Indonesia is enjoying its fantastic wildlife and nature. The Komodo Islands are among the places to visit in Indonesia just for this reason. There live the Komodo dragons, gigantic lizard-like creatures that can be as long as three meters and weight well over 100 kilograms. They are normally spotted on the Komodo National Park, which is a heavily protected UNESCO site, and since they are actually quite dangerous and known for having attacked humans in the past, the park can only be explored with a ranger.
Admiring wildlife in the Komodo Islands
Another fantastic thing to do in the Komodo National Park is hiking one of the many trails – again, the company of a ranger is required. The difficulty and length of the hiking trails vary, but the views over the bays, the surrounding hills and the sea below are always spectacular.
Catching a gorgeous view in the Komodo Islands
I am a spoiled girl from Sardinia. I know what beautiful sea and gorgeous beaches are supposed to look like and will hardly find anything that is up to my very high standards. I have to say, Indonesia did not fail to amaze me in this sense and it is for a good reason that among Indonesia tourist attractions there are its gorgeous beaches.
One of the places to visit in Indonesia is the Pink Beach – a gorgeous, secluded beach in the Komodo Islands where the sand truly is pink and the setting fantastic: hardly any people around, as it can only be reached by boat. And, to top this off, snorkeling there is simply fantastic! The quantity of colored fish I was able to spot in the clear waters was incredible. There is no doubt that one of the things to do in Indonesia is snorkeling and, for the most adventurous ones, diving.
Pink Beach: by all means, one of the places to visit in Indonesia
Have you been to Indonesia? What were your favorite places to visit in Indonesia?
If you need assistance in creating a personalized itinerary in Indonesia, you can contact me in private through my contact form.
Legal Disclaimer: This article was written in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia as part of the #WonderfulIndonesia campaign. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.
Pin It For Later
Before heading to Komodo and Rinca islands, in Indonesia, I had a picture in my mind of what a tropical paradise should look like. My fantasy involved sights of uncontaminated lands, beautiful hilly landscapes swept by some soft breeze and offering incredible hiking trails, crystal clear seas with a thriving marine life, unique and at times scary wildlife and as little inhabitants as possible. After visiting Komodo and Rinca, I have decided that these two islands are, indeed, as close as it gets to my idea of a tropical paradise.
I set foot on Rinca on a hot morning of October, after a boat ride from Labuan Bajo across the calm waters of the Flores sea. The boat ride was just a small sampler of what awaited us. An infinity of small islands glowed in the distance, against the bluest sky one can conjure. The tranquil seas broke on the shores of the sandiest, whites beaches, lined by lush vegetation. I felt spoiled to be experiencing just that (and thankful that I did not get seasick as it had happened to me in Panama, thanks to the fast pace of the boat!).
Read more about my misadventures while sailing on my post “Sailing San Blas.”
Staring in the distance at the dramatic scenery – photo courtesy of Jeremy Goh @g0ldeng0h
Then, after two hours of navigation, we arrived to Rinca island.
Spotting the Komodo Dragons in Rinca – it’s no monkey business!
Koh Kima is the hidden dock of Rinca, from where a trail starts, taking visitors to the base camp of Loh Buaya. It did not take us long to spot the first of the multitudes of Komodo Dragons who literally own the island (around 2000 live on the archipelago of Komodo, Rinca, Gila Motang and Flores), as he (or was it a she?) rested “peacefully” under a tree.
Don’t worry, he’s resting – and looks almost harmless
Those komodos look so scary that it is said that the legend of the Chinese Dragon takes after them. And scary indeed they are. These giant lizards, locally known as ora, can reach a whooping length of 3 meters and weight up to 170 kg, and feed on the insects as well as the buffaloes, goats, monkeys, boars and deers that also live on the island. They are proper predators, who patiently hide to ambush their prey. So determined they are in their hunt, that they wait around till their meal of choice dies from the strong bacteria transmitted through their saliva once they bite.
Sticking his forked tongue out, hunting for food – komodos are scary!
Don’t be fooled by how lazy the dragons look when they slowly walk around, sticking their forked tongue out. That is a sign that they are smelling around for food, and knowing that they can ran as fast as 40 km per hour should be a good enough deterrent to keep at a good distance. Indeed, although the komodos prey of choice are buffaloes and deers, incidents have been reported during which humans have been attacked.
Watch out – komodo hunting
One of the victims of such attacks was one of our guides, Rino, who took us around one of the various trails to show us the local wildlife – including a number of nests where female komodos lay their eggs – and who bravely recollected how he had to literally climb a tree for life and then seek immediate help against the bites. It’s little wonder then that all visitors must hire the services of a guide carrying a wooden forked pole to keep the dragons at bay and properly instruct tourists on each move they may or may not take.
Waving us goodbye at the dock, the monkeys of Rinca island
On the way back to the dock, before we boarded our boat again heading to Komodo Island, we got a quick yet cute reminder that if komodos rule in Rinca, monkeys may provide as excellent competitors in getting the attention of visitors. A multitude of monkeys waved us goodbye as we got on our boats, jumping from one branch to the other, playing around and threatening to steal our cameras, phones, water bottles and even our sunglasses.
In search of the perfect view in Komodo
We then set sail towards Komodo Island, which we reached after about 30 minutes. Walking on the long wooden dock towards the camp site of Loh Liang, I embraced the view in front of me and immediately knew I was in love with this remote place. There, we could again see a few komodos – these ones were bumming on the beach, taking in the sun. And what a mighty sight they were!
Turquoise waters, a dock and more islands in the distance: this is Komodo
As if Komodo was not perfect enough already, accompanied by our guide we started hiking in search of more wildlife and even more stunning views. There are a number of hiking trails around the island, all starting from Loh Liang and varying in length and difficulty – from the 1 hour easy trek through mostly flat trails and in good shade, to one that takes roughly 4 hours and is a bit more difficult, if anything because of the blistering heat and completely exposed to the sun.
The blistering sun didn’t keep us from hiking to the top
We felt particularly fit that day (besides, hiking really is one of my favorite things to do) and decided to climb the steep hill of Gunung Ara, the island’s highest peak at 538 meters above sea level, and challenge the sun and heat. We were thus rewarded with amazing views of the beautiful landscape, spotting the odd komodo as well as other wildlife on the way to the top, where we finally got to enjoy an incredible panorama over a small cove with really blue waters and a docked boat.
The rewarding view from Gunung Ara
We were so in awe of the view that it was not an easy task for the guide to finally convince us to leave and go back to the base camp, where lunch as well as a multitude of komodo dragons were waiting for us (come to think of it, they may well have thought that we were their lunch).
Try to convince us to leave this paradise!
Just as a proper cherry on a delicious cake, our final stop for the day was the Pink Beach, or Pantai Merah, at about 30 minutes boat ride from Komodo island. Before getting there, the question was whether the so-called Pink Beach actually is pink. And I was also secretly asking myself if I, a girl from the beautiful island of Sardinia, would find a beach that could bare the comparison to what I am used to. The conclusion? Well, yes: the Pink Beach really is pink. Tiny coral fragments mixed with the golden powdery sand give it a slight pink color. What makes the place even more beautiful is its complete isolation (there are no buildings on this small island) and the shallow yet pristine water that have perfect visibility and that really are a paradise for snorkeling. So, the Pink Beach fully passed the tough Sardinian test!
Do we look happy?
It took me a total of 15 seconds from the moment we set foot on the beach to take my clothes off and jump in those transparent waters, jumping around in happiness at the beauty of it. It really felt like heaven. Then, I sported some snorkeling gear and went in search of Nemo, and along with him I found many other fishes and corals. So we swam, relaxed and took pictures just before getting back on the boat that would take us back to Labuan Bajo, not before enjoying yet another gorgeous sunset, as only Indonesia seems to have.
Nemo lives on the Pink Beach
I was happy: I found my tropical paradise. So, whatever happens, please do whatever it takes to protect Komodo and Rinca Islands and make sure they stay the same so that when I make my way back there, they will still shine in all their splendor.
The Komodo National Park is one of the places to visit in Indonesia. Tours to Komodo National Park normally start in Labuan Bajo (Flores), with departures in the early hours. It is a full, yet pleasant and eventful day and visitors should expect to stay out for a good 10 to 12 hours. Make sure to wear comfortable clothes, hiking shoes, a hat and a swim suit if planning to snorkel, and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, which is common in such hot weather.
Read more about Indonesia on my post “Fantastic things to do in Indonesia.”
Those who wish to spend a bit longer exploring the island can sleep in the modest facilities available in both Rinca and Komodo – wooden huts and bungalows that have plain rooms, with shared bathrooms and a dining area that offers simple yet delicious local staples like nasi and mie goreng. What makes sleeping on the islands so special is the feeling of closeness to nature that one only gets here.
Komodo National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as such there are several fees to be paid for its protection and maintenance. They are as follows:
Entrance Fee – used for the conservation of the area: 20,000 Indonesian Rupiah (roughly $1.5 USD)
Local Area Tax – goes to the local community: 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah (less than $4 USD)
Snorkeling Fee – for trips inside the national park: 60,000 Indonesian Rupiah (around $4.50 USD)
Camera Fee – 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah
Local Guide – hiring a local guide is compulsory for reasons of safety and protection of the territory: around 80,000 per group (less than $6 USD)
Legal Disclaimer: This article was written in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia as part of the #WonderfulIndonesia campaign. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience.
All hope abandon, ye who enter here! (Dante Alighieri, Inferno)
Limbo: forgive me for I am a pagan
Mount Bromo is located at about 4 hours drive from Surabaya, the capital of East Java, in Indonesia and it is part of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. It is considered one of the top bucket list destinations in Indonesia, one of the places to visit in Indonesia. I suppose it deserves to be one of them.
Read more about Indonesia on my post “Fantastic things to do in Indonesia.”
But despite my best efforts and almost complete lack of expectations, I could not warm to it. In fact, I doubt I will ever want to give it a second chance, not until I know for a fact that things over there have changed, that this attraction is managed differently and in what to me is a more enjoyable way.
Don’t get me wrong, Mount Bromo is a site of amazing natural beauty and I think in the right conditions it would be quite enjoyable, but as things stand at the moment, and based on my experience, I did not enjoy it one bit.
This pretty picture is pretty much the only good memory I have of Mount Bromo
What I faced in Mount Bromo was the biggest cultural and personal clash I have ever experienced in my many years of living abroad and traveling to countries near and far (actually, very far) from home. I do believe that traveling is much more about self discovery than about the actual discovery of a destination. Sure enough, I understood many things about myself when I visited Mount Bromo.
It has been an enlightening experience as it made me come to terms with some aspects of myself that I did not know where so deeply rooted, and it made me realize that I am much more sensible than I perhaps like to show. It made me understand that different people will see the same thing differently. It also made me understand how important responsible tourism is to me and that it is the only way I want to travel, and that I want to become an advocate for it. And it finally made me decide that I can’t and won’t ever tolerate animal cruelty, no matter what, no matter where, no matter the excuse.
You see, I am an atheist and hardly a believer that heaven and hell exist. Yet, if I have to describe my experience in Mount Bromo, the first thing that comes to my mind are the Nine Circles of Hell of Dante’s Inferno. Much like Dante’s journey through hell, accompanied by his guide Virgil, I felt that I was also going through the nine circles, although in my case there was no real guide in sight but just other members of the tour group.
Each step that took me closer to the crater of Mount Bromo was a step into one of the nine circles, each nastier, scarier and more painful and sorrowful and than the previous one. My first circle was Limbo, the one that pagans, non-believers, deserve – for a pagan I was, as (shame on me!) I had close to zero knowledge of Mount Bromo before visiting. But that was soon to change, as I made my way through the other circles.
Lust: or, rise and (don’t) shine
My visit to Mount Bromo was included in a guided group tour of Indonesia to which I took part. I was glad it was one of the included destinations on the tour, because I really do enjoy volcanoes and generally they are the highlight of any of my trips. Little did I know that this time it would be the other way around. The night before visiting the trip organisers gave us instructions to wake up at 2:00 am and told us that, as this was a popular attraction among Indonesians, there would be even more people on a Sunday. I had no idea what to expect – but I soon learned that my definition of “a lot of people” surely isn’t the same as that of Indonesians.
Read why I like taking guided tours on this post.
I didn’t mind having to wake up so early though. In fact, I remembered the many early rises during my long term travels, to see amazing places, and I was greateful I’d get to experience this. There is a special light at sunrise. There is the feeling of exclusivity, of being one of a few that has the chance to enjoy something special; that of being close to nature as the day starts and the first rays of light come through the sky, finally making the surroundings visible and glowing.
It was pitch dark when at 2:30 am I met the rest of the group and left to reach Mount Bromo so that we could admire the sunrise. I was sleepy and a bit lost – most of us were – but eager to go. As soon as I got to the meeting point, together with other 4 persons I got wisked on a jeep, although we eventually only left at 2:50 – not bad given the relaxed standards of Indonesia that are so hard to deal with for us Europeans. The minute we left, I knew that this would be a long day. I kept my thoughts to myself and tagged along, trying to push any negativity away.
Gluttony: it’s so slushy out there
The mayhem began immediately afterwards. A rather silent driver joined a race we didn’t know we were taking part in, against any other jeep also going to Mount Bromo. It felt like being on the Paris-Dakar, with the difference that we were not in the desert, breathing just dust and clean air. We were somewhere in the middle of Indonesia and the dust was mixed to the exhaust fumes, making it hard to breathe. The jeeps sped like mad in the foggy and pitch black night, passing each other on all sides, making many of us think that at each turn we’d actually go on a straight line and that would be the end of our visit to the country.
Then, our jeep stopped. In a broken English the driver told us he would not go any further and we’d have to just walk our way to the entrance of the site. There was too much traffic for him to keep going and he’d be unable to park. He told us he’d wait for us, no indication of an exact time (not that it would matter). So we started making walking.
What I happened next was so intensely scary, so frustrating, so thoroughly annoying that at the end of that misadventure I was ready to leave the country for good, never to return again. Masks on our noses and mouth in a failed attempt to protect ourselves from the thick fumes, we started walking up, trying to keep an eye on each other so as to not get lost in that madness (there was no way we’d find each other again, in the dark, among thousands of other people); not sure which direction to go but relying on the flow which was only going one way.
Is the view of Mount Bromo really worth going through all that trouble?
It was pitch dark. It was noisy. It was frightening. Traffic was mad. In what could be best described as a scene of Apocalypse Now, oblivious to the traffic and the pedestrians, jeeps kept making their way to the top, dropping people off and then coming down again. They were everywhere. They completely disregarded the pedestrians who had to jump on the side of the road, in the very limited space (and remember, it was dark!) to avoid being hit.
To add to this already burning hell, a multitude of motorbikes kept zipping their way up and down the hill, again hardly bothered by the presence of pedestrians unless it was for stopping them to offer a ride for as cheap as 10000 Rupiahs, no helmets involved, no guarantee of survival, no strings attached. So unbothered were they by the people that in fact a few times they just about hit us, and we had to scream from the top of our lungs to be heard above the loud noise so that they would avoid us.
I felt hopeless. I could not understand why human beings could be so careless and uncivil to the environment; so disrespectful of human life. I was angry at them, for killing every little bit of positive energy I had when I woke up. Energy that I had to use in order to stay alive, to yell at them to move away, to scream to please leave me alone, to please not hit me with their motorbikes. I could only see unsensible, unreasonable people that, for the sake of (actually very little) money, were ruining the environment and what was meant to be one of the most beautiful natural sights in Indonesia. And they were doing it with the tacit consent of the authorities.
Greed and anger: because after going through the slush, I really really wanted to see that volcano and not just more slush
Then, we finally made it to the pedestrians only area. What literally were hordes of people were all going up, to the view point, to see the seeminly amazing sunrise on Mount Bromo. We eventually made it to the top to just find out that the actual smart ones had taken all the best front row “seats” – they had camped there the night before. Selfie sticks out, these multitudes all waited cheerfully (and noisily, so as to kill any magic left in the air) as we on the other hand tried to find a spot were we could stand and brace ourselves against the bitter cold (now, being cold is actually as unique an experience as one gets in Indonesia!) till the sun would come out and showed us Mount Bromo in all its mighty beauty.
Bracing ourselves against the cold during our visit of Mount Bromo
So we waited. And waited. And waited. And theoretically the sun came out, but some thick clouds covered Mount Bromo so we did not get to see it. There is nothing one can do when nature rebels against his or her wishes, so we just decided to leave, cameras safely stored again and eyes unsatisfied as any hope of getting a view of the sunrise on Mount Bromo had now gone.
The mayhem started again. The crowds that a couple of hours earlier were all trying to reach the viewpoint now all moved towards the improvised parking lot, aka the road where the jeeps had casually dropped us off. Once again, we had to put our best efforts to avoid the jeeps and motorbikes that risked hitting us; we had to stop and jump for our lives to the side of the street, in the little space that was left among the parked jeeps. The noise was deafening, the exhaust fumes once more thick. The only difference was that now we were at least able to see where we were going.
Heresy: I should have seen this coming
After miraculously finding our jeep and silent driver among what seemed to be like a million jeeps, we started making our (much too fast) way down towards the desert, from where we were meant to ride horses up to the crater of Bromo. However, a quick turn and the view opened up for us. There stood Mount Bromo, in front of our eyes, mighty and spiteful and making fun of us and of all our efforts – the early wake up call, the walk through “the slush”, the risking our lives, the screaming, the anger, the fright, the tripod placing, the hopeless waiting.
There was our opportunity to shoot a good photo, to have proper proof that yes, we had been to Mount Bromo. We could not miss it. We jumped off the jeep, and, used to the noise, the traffic, the pollution, the cars and motorbikes’ careless driving, we crossed the road to fight our way among the (actually lesser) crowd, to get to a good spot where we could finally catch on camera the spectacular view and hope that nobody else but us and Mount Bromo would be in the picture. It took quite a bit of effort, but I must admit that it worked. Mount Bromo looked pretty. I almost bought it. Almost.
Signs of distress are already showing on my face after I had to go through a lot of trouble to get to Mount Bromo
Violence, Fraud and Treachery: if it seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t
My love affair with Mount Bromo was not meant to be. I should have known it, since our relationship got off on a really bad start and it did all it could to put me off. And I felt a bit cheated. I soon learned that what I thought was Mount Bromo was in fact Mount Batok. Mount Bromo was right behind, having a good smoke.
Getting back on the jeep once again, we finally set off to cross the sand desert. I was baffled. I could not fully grasp what I was seeing. Among the jeeps that sped their way through the sand, lifting a great deal of dust to mix in with the exhaust fumes, the last thing I expected to see were motorbikes. Not cross country motorbikes, though. Not the kind that can go on any sort of terrain. Proper, small city motorbikes. And each of them carried two and even three persons, in proper Indonesian style. None of the passengers wore helmets but “bravely” fought the forces of nature, sliding in the sand, lifting more dust as they tried to push the motorbike (which unsurprisingly silted) forward.
At this point, I did not let the dust, the noise and the once again almost apocalyptic scene bother me. I was just amused by it, and at most puzzled. I suppose I got it figured out then: people in Indonesia have an idea of fun which consists in challenging life as often as possible, that involves motorbikes and which implies having as many people around as are available. Talk about cultural differences.
Our jeep crew. There were many more around, all set to visit Mount Bromo – photo courtesy of Kuan Ju
Despite the mask, the thick sand got in my throat, causing me to cough strongly. By then, my throat was hurting. But the pain in my throat, the difficulty to breathe were soon going to be the least of my problems. According to the program, we were meant to ride horses to the top of Mount Bromo, so that we’d be able to see the crater and the thick sulfuric smoke coming out of it. Horses had already been arranged for the group. On paper, this sounded like an amazing experience.
Pity is that the minute we got off the jeep, in the middle of the sand desert, I saw the horses that we had been provided. I immediately felt that what had so far been a challenging day was taking a turn for the worst. To anybody that has an even minimum interest in animal welfare, it was easily visible that those horses were not exactly cared for. There was no mistake that those animals were malnourished; there was little question that they were distressed. They showed all signs: ribs painfully sticking out of the thin bodies; foam at the mouth; chewing the bridels; stamping nervously.
I was supposed to ride this horse to the crater of Mount Bromo – I refused
I had tears in my eyes; my throat tightened; my stomach tensed. It took me about a split second to decide that I would not contribute to their suffering and that I would not ride any of those horses. Only 3 others refused to ride the horses. The rest of the group, on the other hand, went on the ride on those very same horses that were unfit to carry heavy weights, and although they did notice that the horses didn’t look too well, they didn’t make much of it and joyfully rode them (to then realize that the poor animals could not carry them all the way to the top and that, when they summoned the owner to get down and just walk, this whipped the poor animal harder so that it kept moving).
Don’t get me wrong though. I don’t blame the others for not behaving like I did. In fact, in a way I envy them for being able to toughen up, block any negative emotions, put up a brave face (something that I was completely unable to do – in fact, I cried for about one hour) and manage to appreciate the beauty of Mount Bromo and understand the cultural differences between their country and this one.
I couldn’t and my experience was pretty much ruined, as now whenever I think of Mount Bromo all I can see are the images of those poor horses, whipped and starved; of the immense crowds, selfie sticks out, oblivious to the pollution and the damage to the environment they were contributing to. And all I can remember was hiking up to the crater, seeing the poor horses around me, pushing my way through the crowd, tears rolling down my cheeks.
The smokey crater of Mount Bromo – I got to see it even without riding a horse: the walk is perfectly doable.
I know I am perhaps overly sensible to animal welfare issues. I have been since I was a child, since that time my elementary teacher took my class to the circus and I thought it wasn’t really that much fun watching lions in cages being forced to act unnaturally. As I got to my room that night after visiting Mount Bromo, and for the following days (actually, for the following weeks and even now, as I write), I have tried to make sense of what I saw and of why I have felt that way. The words “culture” and “poverty” have come up often in conversations, with people telling me that some countries don’t have such a great culture in caring for animals, or it is their culture to behave in a certain way.
But I don’t think that culture should be used as an alibi for the mistreatment of animals or for the fearceless exploitation of the environment. You see, I have spent most of my previous working life researching and writing on topics such as culture and cultural identity. While I have been an advocate for the protection of the right to cultural identity and the right of people to live their lives according to their (more or less) traditions, I can’t in any way use the cultural argument to justify cruelty and suffering, whether it is referred to human beings or to animals. I refuse to label an activity as cultural and then just accept it as it is, if the results are hurtful. I find it unethical. And I know through years and years of studies that culture is not a fixed, never changing concept.
Indeed, culture changes with time, it evolves, and that doesn’t in any way make it “less cultural”. Traditional activities and occupations remain traditional even when they are practiced through modern means. One good example is that of people whose traditional occupation is in sheep-farming. Nobody expects them to still milk the sheep by hand for the activity to remain traditional. Not even the United Nations Human Rights Council, which has taken a clear stand in saying that culture is not static and it may actually develop without losing its protected character. So really, there is no way that I will ever justify the mistreatment of animals by saying that “it is the culture of the country”. I won’t just close my eyes, shut my mouth and pretend that all is good and move on with my life, because my conscience won’t allow me to and I feel I have a duty to inform, for as small as my voice is, and to contribute to change.
The road to redemption: a few tips for visitors and management
I would like to stress that the way each one of us experiences a place is always a matter of his or her own personality, and many other factors are involved. I have indeed said on another post of mine that what may be hell to some of us, may well be heaven to others – and the fact that some of the others on my group truly enjoyed their experience on Mount Bromo, taken on the exact same day and exact same means, is proof of this. All in all, I think that each experience we have as we travel is enriching, even the ones we consider bad – because in a way they lead us to understand more about ourselves, to question ourselves, to test our limits.
I don’t want to entirely rule out Mount Bromo from the list of places to visit in Indonesia. And But I would like to see changes before I recommend it to other travelers, and before I ever give it a second chance. Many things can be done to make sure that tourism in the area becomes more responsible and sustainable and some of them are fairly easily enforceable. Mount Bromo, indeed, although at the moment is so mismanaged that it makes various travelers end up holding horrible memories of it, has the potential of becoming an iconic attraction of Indonesia, and of South East Asia as well.
This pretty picture is pretty much the only good memory I have of Mount Bromo
If things stay as they are, my recommendation for anybody who is keen on visiting Mount Bromo is to make sure not to go during the weekend and to take alternative tours that don’t go to the viewpoint at sunrise, as this is what most people do. This is an extremely popular attraction among the locals, and they crowd the place in such a way that it completely loses its wild character and charme. Going during the week may be a better option, as it is bound to be at least less crowded.
Picking a good tour operator to organize the guided tour is also a key factor. It is important to have a good guide that speaks English (or whatever other language one may understand); that fully explains how the activities will evolve throughout the day; that will follow the group at all times and guide it through the crowds so that it doesn’t get lost and that can provide meaningful insights on the attraction, on its significance in natural and cultural or religious terms.
When picking the operator that will provide the services, it is important to make sure that the cars used are properly kept and equipped, and that if riding horses is an option, they outsource to locals who do feed their horses well and properly provide for them and don’t abuse them.
Ask questions, such as: Are we going to have a guide with us at all times? How does the day develop, and what does the tour include? Is there a meeting point in case we get lost? Who should I contact in case of emergency? Are the horses we are going to ride well fed? Where are they kept? How many hours per day do they work? Try to make sure that the answers are not evasive, because that may well be a sign that the operator isn’t reliable and that it is outsourcing its services to the cheapest provider, which will keep the costs down at the expenses of the environment and the animals.
If horses on Mount Bromo look like this, refuse to ride them.
A more sustainable and responsible approach to tourism in Mount Bromo may imply limiting the number of daily visitors, something that has been done to several key attractions around the world, in order to protect their cultural, natural and historic relevance and uniqueness. It may be necessary to implement a system of online reservations to access the attraction, but nowadays setting up a website and a reservations system is easy and the benefits for the preservation of the natural beauty of Mount Bromo would be countless: cleaner environment including cleaner air; less people and thus less cars meaning less pollution and traffic; and the fewer visitors could count on a more thorough, enjoyable and all encompassing experience.
Another advice would be that of closely monitoring the horse dealers at the feet of Mount Bromo, and require that before providing their services of renting horses they meet at least some minimum standards in terms of animal welfare. Horses need to be properly fed and must have plenty of water when working; the number of working hours should be limited and even the amount of weight they can carry should be based on their own size.
The main point here is trying to ensure that Mount Bromo is not completely exploited and consequentially ruined by mass tourism for the sake of easy and short term money, but that it becomes the avant-guarde in terms of careful management of a natural attraction, one that should be proudly protected and that will eventually lead to a more steady, durable revenue. The authorities of Indonesia have proved on other occasions, in other places (such as on Komodo National Park) that if they want they can take responsible tourism and protection of the environment and the wildlife of the country quite seriously. It would be good to see that the same is being done on Mount Bromo. It would be great to see its real beauty blossom.
Read more about Komodo National Park on my post “How to find Heaven on Earth.”
Legal Disclaimer: This article was written in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia as part of the #WonderfulIndonesia campaign. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.
Not long ago I wrote a rather extensive rant in which I explained the many reasons I do not recommend or endorse voluntourism as a way of traveling, or any of the work away from home programs into which many of the younger backpackers eagerly enroll into. Having to work for a business that actually makes profit and doing it in exchange of just a bed and at most a meal is wrong, because really, we all deserve compensation for our work, especially when that work we are doing is producing a revenue.
Read more of what I think of voluntourism on my post “Is voluntourism really worth the time and money?“
As with every rule, however, there has to be an exception. And I found my exception to the “no voluntourism” rule in Indonesia, and more precisely in Melo, a lovely village in Eastern Indonesia.
The real face of Indonesia: Melo
Melo is set at about 17 km from Labuan Bajo (access point to the fabulous Komodo and Rinca islands), in the island of Flores and thousands of miles away from the lively chaos of Jakarta and of other cities in Indonesia. More than anything else, it is a fantastic place to visit in what evidently is my favourite part of the country. Here is where I got to know the life of the local Manggraian community. This is where I was able to experience the Ndundu Dake dance and other Caci performances. This is where I felt I wanted to stay longer, way longer.
Read more about Komodo and Rinca Islands on my post “How to find heaven on earth.”
One of the women of Melo carries her identity proudly
I arrived in Melo on a hot October day. Together with other visitors, I was met by the head of the local community in the Panorama hut, a bamboo hut that is located in the highest spot in the village and whose name really gives an idea of the stunning view that it embraces: the sea and the islands of Komodo National Park, as well as the surrounding hills and mountains. There, the head of the community introduced us to the local culture through some traditional rituals, he offered us a drink of sopi, a local liquor made of palm, and then invited us to take part in the dance we had been seeing, too.
Melo people will always spare a smile
Melo village doesn’t offer much in terms of comforts, but it is charming to say the least. People live in modest homes and the only electricity is that generated by solar panels. The main livelihood is farming. They live their lives according to their traditions, proudly speaking their language, and keeping their culture and identity alive. People in Melo are welcoming, they smile a lot, they are completely charming and always willing to share their lives, their experiences and their culture with the visitors that occasionally venture in their village. I could see them peeping through their doors and windows, at times shying away as I walked by, and other times inviting me in, proudly posing for pictures. It all felt very peaceful, very real, and very relaxing.
This older lady did not mind posing for me, but the rest of the people in the house were shy!
Taman Bacaan Pelangi: volunteering done right
My visit to Melo, however, was not restricted to observing and experiencing the beautiful local culture. Melo village, indeed, is one of the locations of the project of Taman Bacaan Pelangi (Rainbow Reading Gardens), a no-profit organization that focuses on establishing children’s libraries in remote areas of eastern Indonesia, which has the lowest literacy rate in the country. Taman Bacaan Pelangi got word that a bunch of tourists was in the area and asked us to visit for an afternoon and volunteer for them. As a former human rights lawyer who has worked closely with disadvantaged communities, I could not help being curious about this project. I have always believed in education as a key factor in empowering people, and in my previous career I strived to promote equality in access to education too.
A relaxing walk around Melo – photo courtesy of Seth Carnill
The right to education is indeed considered a fundamental human rights, that has been codified in a variety of international legal instruments, but that some countries still struggle to guarantee. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, in article 26 states that ‘everyone has the right to education’ and, further, on paragraph 2, ‘education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship […].’ Education has been linked to the development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and, according to the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966, it enables people to participate effectively in a free society. The right to education has also been stressed by article 28 of the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child of 1989.
Having a good laugh with the kids at Taman Bacaan Pelangi – photo courtesy of Seth Carnill
Taman Bacaan Pelangi fully understood the importance of education as a way to improve the lives of children who live in the most remote areas of Indonesia. Its project is quite simple: providing children with books, so that through reading they will broaden their horizons and opportunities. It does not simply ask for financial contributions (which are by all means accepted) but it encourages its supporters to donate books, which can be sent to its various locations via mail and even be dropped off directly. It really is a simple, yet ambitious project that in my view is bound to success.
That is why, even though I am not a supporter of voluntourism as a way to travel, if I had to pick a project to become a volunteer in Indonesia and have the chance to experience more of this gorgeous country, I would surely apply for Taman Bacaan Pelangi. Not only it is located in what to me is the most beautiful and remote part of the country, which is amazing to explore, but I also truly believe in the great potential of the project. Because really, when deciding to volunteer, the decision has to be made based on the project rather than the location and the tourism that may be involved with it. I feel that the volunteering project of Taman Bacaan Belangi rightly answers all the questions that a volunteer-to-be should consider before committing his time and effort. The first, and most important one is on the type of organization it is.
Lesson time with the volunteers – photo courtesy of Umei Teh
This no-profit organization works in a way that does not demand volunteers (who are screened through a proper application process) to pay any fee in order to take part in the volunteering program. Taman Bacaan Pelangi partners with other international no-profit organizations too. It has a clear mandate, a clear project and it benefits the local community, with the aim of empowering children so that they have better opportunities in life. It is a well established organization, founded in November 2009 when the first library, with only 200 books, was opened in Roe, a small village at the foothills of Flores. The project has since developed and to date, 37 libraries have been opened all over Eastern Indonesia. All this information, which can be found on the Taman Bacaan Pelangi’s website, goes to show that Taman Bacaan Pelangi is seriously committed to improve the living conditions of the local communities and aims at empowering the local people.
A relaxing stroll in Melo, on the island of Flores – photo courtesy of Seth Carnill
I only spent an afternoon volunteering with the children of Taman Bacaan Pelangi, but during that time I have had the chance to meet and chat to some longer term volunteers who arrived all the way from Germany and who committed themselves to 18 months of work. Their duties vary, but they all generally contribute to the maintenance and running of the library; they help the children with their homework; they teach English as well as sports and crafts; they take part in environmental protection education workshops and they hold the much needed and very welcomed reading classes.
People in Melo live a modest life, and so do the volunteer of Taman Bacaan Pelangi
Volunteers usually live and eat together with the local community, so there really is a proper cultural exchange and they really do get to embrace the local way of life. They receive a small allowance by their government and, in their free time, they have the opportunity to explore the wonderful area in which the village is located. Their feedbacks convinced me even more that this is a viable, recommendable project and that if anybody who is interested in combining their travels to this part of the world with a bit of field work asked me, I would eagerly recommend to apply.
I gave volunteering a second chance
The time I spent with the children that participate in the Taman Bacaan Pelangi project was by far the highlight of my visit to Melo. The skeptical part of me, the one that is always checking for how a good organization should work, had yet to be convinced about the effectiveness and viability of the project. But then I tagged along, and I am happy I did. I was indeed thoroughly overwhelmed by emotions as the multitude of children surrounded me and the other volunteers, observing us, smiling at us, holding our hands, asking us questions, making us feel as whatever little effort we made was helping them in achieving a better life, and making a proper show of their reading and other skills for us.
Trying to explain where Sardinia is on the map – I could not reach as high!
All we really had to do during the few hours we spent at Taman Bacaan Belangi was tell the children about ourselves, share our stories and show them that travel can open minds, build bridges, and create opportunities. We taught them songs, we played with them. The children were eager to listen, curious about us and our country, they wanted to chat in whatever little English they spoke (it was quite good, actually!), they wanted their picture taken and asked to pose with us. But, more than anything, they wanted to learn, and they were hopeful and happy. Hopeful that one day they can do big things in life, that they will have a choice in deciding what to do.
It really felt like a mutual exchange, however, where we, the volunteers, learned about life just as much as they did. I left with a huge smile on my face. And to me, anything that puts a smile on my face, anything that puts a smile on anybody’s face is bound to be good.
Indonesia has a huge heart, and one of the things to do in Indonesia is volunteering. I am pretty sure that its heart is well set in Melo. And that is where I left my heart too.
Read more about Indonesia on my post “Fantastic things to do in Indonesia.”
Have you ever taken part to a volunteering project? What was your experience?
Legal Disclaimer: This article was written in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia as part of the #WonderfulIndonesia campaign. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience.