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 Southeast Asia, and a great tourist destination. 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, and that Bali solo travel is very much a trend.
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 Balinese people: so kind, so warm, so friendly. It makes a solo trip so much better. And I truly enjoyed some of the places I have visited, such as Komodo and Rinca islands, for they are beautifully wild, or the rice fields. 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 in Indonesia, Bali gave me some mixed feelings. On the one hand, I found it terribly chaotic. On the other hand, I must say that the range of things to do in Bali is outstanding, and I found it to be an excellent destination for solo travel, even as a female traveler.
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 what the unmissable things to do in Bali are, and share a few travel tips.
Do you want to go to Bali but have little time to plan your trip? Why not join a Bali tour with reputable tour operators such as one of these and meet like-minded travelers:
- Wellness Bali – a 9 days G Adventures Bali tour focussed on health, wellness and relaxation;
- Classic Bali – an 8 days G Adventures Bali tour that takes you to all the most famous places on the island;
- Active Bali and Java – this 12 days G Adventures Bali tour is perfect for people who enjoy hiking and a bit of adrenaline;
- Bali beached and boat rides – the name says it all! This 9 days G Adventures Bali tour is all about staying close to water.
One the best things to do in Bali: watching the monkeys – photo courtesy of Seth Carnill
26 Absolutely Unmissable Things To Do In Bali
Confront 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 have to give recommendations for what to do in Bali, the first thing that comes to my mind is to do a guided tour of the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, in Ubud. There are actually three temples inside, but the main attraction is by far the long-tailed macaque monkeys.
Far from being friendly, these monkeys are hungry and quite naughty. They will steal anything from you – 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 most fun things to do in Bali.
These are some of the best tours in Bali to see the monkeys:
Hang out in Canggu
Canggu is one of the most popular places in Bali, yet it doesn’t feel crowded and it’s still somewhat rural compared to many other places on the island – and it is a great place for solo travel so you really have to include it in your itinerary. You will find a beautiful sandy beach dotted with plenty of bars to get a sunset drink, a laid-back vibe and an incredible array of restaurants.
Since one of the things to do in Bali is trying local as well as fusion food, Canggu won’t disappoint – there is a great array of place where you can get anything from a big fat burger to a vegan bowl, to more traditional local food.
Finally, Canggu is also a perfect place to take yoga classes (very popular among solo travelers) and to learn how to surf.
GOOD TO KNOW: The Yoga Barn in Ubud is the best place to sign up for yoga classes, especially if you are a beginner.
Ulu Watu is one of the best places to visit in Bali
Visit Uluwatu Temple
The Pura Luhur Uluwatu is only one of the various temples located on the South coast of Bali and one of the most impressive in Indonesia. While visiting this temple is a must-do in Bali, what you will love 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.
The best time to visit is just before sunset. You can admire the fishing boats sailing the ocean and passing through the light beams that the sun throws on the sea. Having seen the amazing sunset from Uluwatu Temple, I have little doubt as to why visiting this temple is one of the things to do 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 them quite annoying, to me it is a fun 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 cultural tours:
GOOD TO KNOW: Mengwi Temple is another great one to visit.
It may be geared to tourists, but this is one of the best things to do in Bali
Experience a Kecak show
If you are anything like me, you will like the idea of experiencing Balinese culture – 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 often is the highlight of a trip to Bali so try to include it in your itinerary! The performance I saw took place in the beautiful setting of Ulu Watu open air theatre, at sunset time. The theatre small and intimate, and the show a lot fun, as the performers regularly involve members of the public. Sure, it is on the touristy side. But so much fun that it definitely is one of the things to do in Bali.
Tickets to the show are available online:
GOOD TO KNOW: If you want to experience something truly unique and are traveling to Bali at the right time (the exact date changes every year) you may want to experience the Hindu celebration called Nyepi, also known as “Day of Silence.”
Visit Tanah Lot Temple
Tanah Lot is one of the most famous temples in Bali. It’s a Hindu temple that sits on top of a rock formation that because of the erosion has been separated from the mainland, making the view of it from a distance an astonishing one. Needless to say, the experience of visiting Tanah Lot varies a lot depending on the time of day and on the tide – with high tide, it is completed surrounded by water.
TIP: Go to Tanah Lot for the sunset for an even better experience.
GOOD TO KNOW: There is a small entrance fee to visit the temple.
If you want to join a guided tour, these are some good options:
Immerse yourself in the pool of Tirta Empul Temple
Following the legacy of Eat Pray Love, one of the most popular things to do in Bali is bathing in the waters of Tirta Empul temple, in Tampaksiring. This is a less than solitary experience (apologies if you are on a solo trip because you want to be solo!) – keep in mind that people from all over the island come to cleanse themselves in its waters. And it’s a popular tourist spot considered to be Instagram-worthy, so chances are you will have to struggle for that photo!
Tirta Empul is located right outside of Ubud. You can visit it independently or on a guided tour such as this one.
Admire Ulun Danu
Another cool temple to visit is Ulun Danu (also known as Pura Bratan), which is located in the Bedugul area and right by a lake. Ulun Danu is dedicated to the goddess that protects the lake. You can get there on this guided tour.
GOOD TO KNOW: If you are planning to go to Mount Agung, you may also want to visit Besakih Temple, located in Besakih village. It’s the largest Hindu Temple in Bali. Finally, you may want to consider Lempuyang temple, located on the slope of Mount Lempuyang.
Go to Tirta Gangga Palace
One of the coolest things to do in Bali is visiting this water palace that is located at about 5 km from Karangasem (and 2 hours drive from Ubud). It is a former royal palace whose name has a clear reference to the Ganga River in India. There is a small entrance fee (a little over $3 USD) and depending on the time of day it can be quite crowded as it is very scenic, with the pretty stepping stones and an 11-tier fountain.
To take away the stress of having to arrange transportation to get there, you may want to book this very popular guided tour.
Go on a day-trip to Nusa Penida
Nusa is the perfect place for day trips from Bali. Diamond Beach definitely is one of the best in the area, and while there you should also make it a point to go to Kelingking, where you will find a viewpoint overlooking beautiful limestone formations and a fantastic beach below, which is known as T-Rex beach.
GOOD TO KNOW: Keep in mind that as this day-trip to Nusa is one of the most popular things to do in Bali, you won’t be the only visitor. If you want to get away from the crowd you can hike down to the beach but keep in mind this isn’t the easiest hike, as the path can be very steep in parts.
As the currents are very strong, swimming is not really recommended at this beach.
Full day tours are the best option to visit Nusa. These are two good ones:
And visit the other 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, so make sure to include at least one in your itinerary. There are many islands that can be explored on day trips from Bali other than Nusa Penida. Gili Islands may be the most famous ones, but Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida and Ceningan are also worth visiting and they are a lovely getaway from the busy streets of Kuta and Seminyak. Nusa Lembongan just looks like what Bali used to look 20 years ago.
Go to Gili Islands
Gili Islands, off the coast of Lombok, deserve a special mention as they are a truly unique place in Indonesia. There are no cars there, making it a really cool place to spend a few days (rather than just going on day tours) to get away from the noise and traffic of Bali. There are many sun-kissed beaches, all of them gorgeous, so you will know what to do as soon as you arrive! Thanks to its crystal-clear waters, Gili Air is also a great place to go if you want to snorkel with turtles. It’s also great for solo travel.
GOOD TO KNOW: Lombok is very similar to Bali, but slightly less exploited.
Ride the jungle swing
If you have browsed social media in search of photos of Bali you surely have come across the one of the jungle swing. There actually are several swings around the island – so you can pick where to go. The best Bali swing is the one in Ubud, at about 20 minutes from the center in Bongkasa Pertiwi, Kapubaten Bandung, as it offers jaw-dropping views over the rice fields. You can pick from swings that take you from 10 to a whopping 78 meters from the ground – so this isn’t exactly for you if you are afraid of heights!
This isn’t the cheapest activity to do in Bali if you go there directly, but this guided Ubud tour which costs around $40 USD is actually more budget friendly than you’d imagine, especially considering it can last up to 10 hours. You can book it here.
Looking for things to do in Bali? Just eat!
Eat some delicious food
If you visit Bali you will be impressed by 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 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.
Bali is packed with amazing restaurants. Whether you have a taste for western food (any western food), Asian, Indonesian or Balinese cuisine, you are bound to find some very good (and more than affordable) restaurants and even warungs (smaller cafés that serve local food).
There are even lots of vegan restaurants in Ubud. One of the things to do in Bali is hitting the fantastic restaurant scene and having a delicious meal.
GOOD TO KNOW: Babi Guling (a pig roasted on a spit over coconut husks) is an absolute must-try served in many warungs.
For a great food tour in Bali you may want to check out this authentic food tour.
Having dinner by the ocean is one of the best things to do in Bali
Have dinner by the ocean
Among the things to do in Bali there’s hitting one of the many beautiful beaches. But there is more!
There are many restaurants on the beach – although oftentimes these buildings ruin the scenery, having dinner at the beach is quite a treat. All these restaurants place their tables on the sand and customers can get their feet sandy when they walk to their table.
One thing you 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, places like Jimbaran Beach, in South Kuta, end up being really crowded.
Yet, I admit it is quite an enjoyable experience. Between the good food and the huge waves that break loudly on the shore, you are bound to have a good time. Hence, I do recommend having dinner by the ocean as one of the top things to do in Bali.
Taking a cooking class with a local: one of the things to do in Bali – photo courtesy of Juan Jerez
Learn how to cook a proper Balinese meal
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.
Cooking classes in Bali are a great way to get in touch with a local family will show you a bit of their daily life and traditions and teach you how to prepare a Balinese meal. You can embark in a half-day one.
The first chore usually is going to the market (going to the market is one of the things to do in Bali) and shop for fresh produce, and then you will prepare a meal everyone in the group will eat.
You can book this Balinese cooking class at an organic farm.
The gorgeous Tegalalang rice terrace is on the list of places to visit in Bali – photo courtesy of Juan Jerez
See the rice paddies
Seeing the paddy fields is one of the ultimate things to do in Bali – they simply are a must-visit and quintessentially Balinese. If like me the picture that comes to mind when thinking of Bali is that of the green paddies where a few farmers can be seen working the land you won’t be disappointed. Rice 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.
It is not hard to find rice paddy fields 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. You can even ask a local to take you there – find out how here.
The most famous ones are Tegallalang, which is just north of Ubud. Tegallalang is best visited in the early morning.
Jatiluwih terraces are also splendid.
These are some of the best cultural day tours of Bali that include a visit to the terraces:
Visiting the Elephant Cave surely is what to do in Bali – photo courtesy of Klaus Stiefel (flickr)
Visit 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 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 are some tours that also go to the elephant cave:
If you feel in need to escape from the heat and hustle and bustle of Bali, go find Sekumpul waterfall. This sacred spot is located in a beautiful valley and will take a bit of an effort to reach as you have to hike. But once you actually get to Sekumpul, the view is quite stunning and you will be able to freshen up in the natural pools.
GOOD TO KNOW: You can find more beautiful waterfalls in Munduk, which is definitely more off-the-beaten-path compared to the rest of Bali. Munduk is also home to some lovely markets and a few good guest houses.
Another great waterfall is Aling Aling, in north Bali island.
Finally, a really special place is Tukad Cepung, which is actually located inside a cavern!
One of the things to do in Bali? Paragliding! – photo courtesy of Ikhlasul Amal (flickr)
Have an adrenaline rush with some water sports
I love practicing sports and outdoor activities when traveling. Even more so, I enjoy adventures sports – hiking, rafting, diving: you name it. If adventure sports get to be anywhere near water, then I am in for the fun. Bali has some world-class surfing, given the consistently good quality of the waves, and – surprise! – also for rafting. Bali rafting is quite the thing, especially in Ayung!
Having an adrenaline rush by practicing some Bali water sports is one of the things to do in Bali.
One of the best places for water sports in Bali is Tanjung Benoa. The most fun activity in Tanjung Benoa is jetpacking. You can definitely have a try but I should warn you that standing up on those things is not easy at all (trust me, I tried).
Sanur is a world-famous place to surf and snorkel, together with Padang-Padang beach.
If you want to go scuba diving, one of the best places to do so is Menjangan National Marine Park, in Menjangan Island.
For rafting, the area of Ayung River is the best option.
Here are some of the best water sports tours in Bali:
GOOD TO KNOW: If you want something a bit more low key, Waterbom, in South Kuta, is a great place to spend a few hours. Waterbom is more of a family place, but still a lot of fun – you will find all sorts of pools and slides.
TIP: If you intend to practice adventure sports, make sure to have a good travel insurance!
Unmissable things to do in Bali: seeing the gorgeous sunset in Kuta Beach – photo courtesy of Seth Carnill
See the sunset in Kuta Beach
Traveling around the island, you will get to Kuta at some point or another.
I did not like Kuta Beach, to be honest – even though it is considered to be one of the top solo travel destinations in Bali. It is a bit 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 is a real treat. The light is truly gorgeous, so beautiful that you will forget about the rest of the world. You won’t be able to 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.
GOOD TO KNOW: Seminyak is another place to go for sunsets. Not to mention, Seminyak has a myriad of good restaurants and bars.
Most locals and even tourists traveling to Bali ride scooters or motorbikes. There even are motorbike taxis, called “ojek.” Traffic is insane, taxi drivers crazy, and the pollution gets worst by the minute. If like me you are in favor of protecting the environment, and enjoy biking, definitely opt for 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:
GOOD TO KNOW: The coastal roads around Sanur are perfect for biking!
The island is a great destination for outdoor activities – one of the best in Indonesia. Among the things to do in Bali, there are some fantastic hikes. The trek to the Gunung Agung volcano (Mount Agung), the highest peak of Bali at over 3100 meters, is a challenging yet amazing one which offers spectacular views. Batukaru is the second highest volcano on the island and on its slopes you will find Pura Luhur Batukaru temple.
Hiking Gunung Batur volcano (which you will probably know as Mount Batur) is what to do in Bali for fantastic sights. The sunrise view of Mount Batur is a must-see (the hike departs from Kintamani), as well as the views from Kintamani. However, go knowing what to expect as the attraction is terribly mismanaged. Large numbers of visitors (perhaps more than it can take), harassing vendors and (unreliable) guides may make the trip less than worthy.
Make sure to research it properly if you care to go, and don’t go alone. Solo travelers should by all means join a group tour.
Here are some of the best guided hikes and multi-day tours in Bali:
Best things to do in Bali? Shop till you drop! – photo courtesy of Michael Sauers (flickr)
Are you a female traveler? Beware! One of the things to do in Bali is shopping. Even if you are not what Sophie Kinsella would call “a shopaholic” you will enjoy local markets where you will discover some curious finds, local crafts and low-price souvenirs and bargains. Make sure to practice your haggling skills before going.
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.
GOOD TO KNOW: Mask-making has a long tradition in Bali, so you may want to look for a good one to bring home!
GOOD TO KNOW: The best art market in Bali is Sukawati. It is not as crowded as the one in Ubud. The added bonus is also that Sukawati is cheaper!
Party at a fantastic beach club
Partying at a beach club is definitely one of the things to do in Bali and the best place to do that is Kuta. 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 an infinity pool and is perfect to enjoy a wonderful sunset while dancing away and sipping a delicious cocktail.
Unmissable things to do in Bali: getting a massage – photo courtesy of Matthew Kenrick (flickr)
Get a massage
Getting a relaxing massage is definitely what to do in Bali, especially if this is the last leg of your trip across Indonesia and you feel exhausted. The good news is that both Ubud and Kuta Beach are packed with places where it is possible to walk in and get a Balinese massage, a foot rub, or a head rub for a real steal.
To discover more about the best spa in Bali check my post “The 23 Best Spa In Bali.”
One of the best things to do in Bali: relaxing in a fantastic resort
Relax in a fabulous resort
Most people opt to stay in Ubud or Seminyak (one of the best places for solo travel in Bali), and they are both excellent choices.
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. There is something for all budgets. The best places are well hidden gems, far away from the traffic and the noise that plague the island. My choice is 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. It’s perfect for romantic couples but also for solo travelers.
You will know from the minute you walk in that you are in for a real treat. The personnel immediately welcomes guests and shows them to their beautiful room. In order to get there you have to walk through a lush garden where other villas are also located, right next to the infinity pool.
All of the villas have their own veranda and a stunning view over the forest and the hills. Rooms are plush: a huge bed, a beautiful balcony with sun beds where you can enjoy 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 is a free shuttle service that takes you to Ubud any time you need and arranges round-trip transfers to the airport.
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.
GOOD TO KNOW: If you are have the budget to splurge, head straight to Nusa Dua, where you will find some incredible luxury resorts tucked away in the nature. The St. Regis Bali Resort is by far the best one in Nusa Dua. For a more budget friendly option in Nusa Dua opt for Amnaya Resort Benoa.
These are some of the best hotels in Ubud:
GOOD TO KNOW: Backpackers usually opt to stay in Kuta or Canggu, where there is more of a choice of budget accommodation with pool, swim-up bars, and social spaces.
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?”
The range of things to do in Indonesia is incredible. 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 beautiful 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.
Do you want to go to Indonesia but have little time planning your trip? Check out one of these amazing guided tours:
- Best of Java – a 9 days G Adventures trip that goes to the best places to visit in the country;
- Indonesia: Java, Bali, Lombok – a 22 days tour by G Adventures that focusses on the 3 most important islands;
- Indonesia Bali and Java – a 2 weeks tour organized by G Adventures that goes to the most famous places to visit on the two islands;
- Indonesia Adventure – a 34 days G Adventures tour perfect for a younger, more active audience.
Relax – one of the things to do in Indonesia
Essential Information To Organize A Trip To 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. 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. You can get yours here.
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, one of the recommended things to do in Indonesia 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.
Things to do in Indonesia: learn how to cross the street! – 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.
Fun And Interesting Things To Do In Indonesia (Other Than Visiting 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.
Visit 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 visiting is one of the things to do 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 are the best places to stay in Bandung:
Go to the 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
Get involved in the 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.
One of the things to do in Indonesia is visiting Saung Angklung Udjo – 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.
Discover 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.
Go to Borobudur
Among the ultimate things to do in Indonesia, visiting 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:
Go on a day trip to Kaliurang and visit Ullent Sentalu Museum
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 visiting is one of the ultimate things to do 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 places in Indonesia, 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:
Discover 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 Indonesia that can be enjoyed in Yogyakarta is attending a gamelan (traditional instrument) concert at the Royal Palace.
Enjoying the lovely street art of Yogyakarta: one of the things to do in Indonesia
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 Indonesia.
Do a workshop 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 Indonesia
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, another of the things to do in Indonesia 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 of Kraton Ratu Boko and Prambanan
As I have already said, Yogyakarta is a perfect starting point to explore some of the archeological sites and temples nearby. One of the things to do in Indonesia is visiting the many unique archeological sites. Kraton Ratu Boko is not far from Yogyakarta. It is divided in various levels or terraces and whose exact functions are still uncertain. Walking around there is very pleasant, despite the heat!
Visiting Kraton Ratu Boko is one of the things to do in Indonesia
Prambanan – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991 – is a fascinating site, not to mention the largest Hindu temple in Java, and visiting is one of the things to do 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.
Admire Prambanan at night
Yet, seeing Prambanan at night is one of the nicest 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
Attend a show in Yogyakarta
Among the interesting things to do in Indonesia there is seeing the Ramayana Ballet Show and there is no better place to do it than Yogyakarta. 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.
Watch the sun rise over Mount Bromo
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 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, Mount Bromo 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.
Hike to the crater of Mount Bromo
After seeing the sun rise over Mount Bromo, one of the nicest things to do in Indonesia is hiking all the way to the crater. In order to do that, it’s necessary to drive through the sea of sand and then walk up for another hour or so. Longer hikes can also be organized. Once again, let me stress the importance of not riding the horses to the crater, and to only employ responsible tour operators for guided tours.
For more information on how to organize a trip to Mount Bromo, read my post “Everything You Need To Know To Visit Mount Bromo, Indonesia.”
Visit the Komodo Islands
One of the top things to do in Indonesia and visiting the Komodo Islands. 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”.
Visiting the Komodo Islands may well be one of the top things to do in Indonesia
Discover the local culture of Flores Archipelago
One of the best things to do in Indonesia is meeting the locals. Flores is the 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
Appreciate Indonesia’s unique wildlife and nature
One of the ultimate 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 is one of the top things to do in Indosia
Hike around Komodo National Park
One of the nicest things to do in Indonesia is hiking around Komodo National Park. There are many trails, but whichever trail one picks, 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 is one of the nicest things to do in Indonesia
Go to Pink Beach
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 one of the more recommended things to do in Indonesia is visiting Pink Beach. This is 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.
There is no doubt that one of the things to do in Indonesia is snorkeling and, for the most adventurous ones, diving. Such clear waters and the incredible variety of marine life make it an excellent country for both sports, and sure enough I enjoyed it!
Snorkeling around Pink Beach: by all means, one of the things to to in Indonesia
Have you been to Indonesia? What were your favorite things to do 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.
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.
For as much as I intended to, I never seemed to be able to make it to South East Asia. Something kept me from going – either I had no money for the flight, or I had some commitments that took me to the other side of the Atlantic. My trip to Indonesia happened in a real whirlwind. I got my plane tickets on a Monday, and left on a Thursday. I won’t lie here – Indonesia was a huge cultural shock to me. I am used to the big, empty spaces of countries like Nicaragua, or to the emptiness of the rural areas of Sardinia. My trip was very fast paced and I did not get to spend nearly as much time as I wanted in each location. Nevertheless, I had a blast and truly enjoyed the country, its culture, the sights and the people, and I am eager to visit again and spend more time exploring.
The following pictures show just a fraction of what Indonesia has to offer. Although I only spent 3 weeks there, I know it is a new favorite of mine and I will want to go back. Seeing these pictures will most likely make anybody want to go too!
My trip started on a hot day in Jakarta. Thankfully, I had no commitments then. I was so tired from the long flights and jet lag that I just relaxed at the lovely infinity pool of the hotel.
The trip then took me to Tangkuban Perahu, the crater of a volcano not far from Bandung.
That’s where I also had my first encounter with the locals. I was literally stopped and asked to be in their pictures. It was funny, and I felt very welcome.
The light in Indonesia immediately captured my attention. It was always stunning!
Kawah Putih is another volcano crater, but it has a fantastic bright green lake that shined against the grey sky.
Seeing the sunrise at Borobudur, the world’s biggest Buddhist monument, was an out-of-this-world kind of experience. It was simply magic!
I also enjoyed visiting Yogyakarta and getting to see a bit of local action.
Rato Boko Keraton is a interesting place to visit, although under the blistering sun it can be a bit overwhelming. Nevertheless, it was lovely to take pictures there – mind you, those steps were blistering hot!
And Prambanan temple is an absolute must see, both at sunset
And at night.
Yogyakarta has some interesting street art too.
And the light is great for taking pictures, especially insite the Royal Palace.
Mount Bromo was a demanding stop on my tour, as I had to wake up at 2 am to see the sunrise over it. It was challenging especially as the sun did not seem to want to come out! But when it finally did, I got to see this…
Next stop was Labuan Bajo, on Eastern Indonesia, which welcomed me with an incredible sunset.
I got the chance to volunteer with the children of Taman Bacaan Pelangi in Melo Village, and it was an enlightening (not to mention a lot of fun) experience.
Komodo National Park, spread over the islands of Komodo and Rinca, was by far the highlight of my trip. There, I saw the Komodo dragons.
And got some of the best views one can imagine.
I also made it to the Pink Beach – I found paradise there!
The final stop was Bali. And there are few words that can describe how marvelous the sunsets there are. The ones in Kuta Beach…
The ones from Ulu Watu…
Bali is inhabited by some funny and mean monkeys. They tried stealing my sunglasses, but did not manage.
And the rice patties, so green, so beautiful…
There is no doubt that I will want to visit Indonesia again.
Have you been to Indonesia? What was your favorite attraction there?
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.