It’s hardly surprising: a quick Google will tell you that anything between 8,500 and 18,000 islands that make up the Indonesian archipelago, while the official government figures estimate around 900 of those are inhabitable. Spoilt for choice, much?
Needless to say, choosing five islands to recommend wasn’t easy, so we settled on five which show Indonesia’s incredible diversity, landscape, scenery and atmosphere. Some iconic, some less well known, but all unmissable if you’re paying Indonesia a visit.
1.The diving paradise
If you’re into diving, snorkelling, or generally gorgeous beaches, then Pulau Weh, or Sabang as it’s known amongst the locals, is bit of a hidden gem. Less populated than many of the other dive sites, Pulau Weh’s waters are a fascinating site to explore.
Head to Gapang or Iboih beaches for the best diving, but don’t expect flashy resorts or even much of a nightlife; largely unconcerned with tourism, the island is laid back, mellow and the perfect place to do not much at all, really.
2. The new Ibiza
OK, so it’s a bit further away than a short flight, but Gili Trawangan, the largest of Lombok’s three Gili islands, is fast emerging as the party island. Think back-to-basics Ibiza, without the £50 entry to a club and £10 beers, with renowned DJs making the 1-hour trip over from Bali during peak season.
If partying ain’t not your thing, fret not; Gili Trawangan is still, at its core, a chilled out haven for backpackers. I guarantee you’ll feel a sense of calm as soon as the boat drops you off and you wade your way through the warm waters to shore.
Even the inevitable touts who greet you with offers of cheap accommodation seem laid back – and can hook you up with a beautiful bungalow, complete with spotless outdoor bathroom, for less than £10 a night. Oh, and the diving’s awesome, too. Backpacker haven, indeed.
3. The rural retreat
If you’re the kind of traveller who likes your islands remote, basic and practically free of tourism, then Sumba is the island to head to. If the Gilis are backpacker haven, then Sumba is a the place for independent travellers who want to experience a different side to Indonesia. The landscape is rural and rugged with all-important beautiful (yet deserted) beaches, while the local people are some of the most friendly and welcoming in the country.
It may sound a bit weird, but try and witness a funeral if you can; Sumba is one of the only few places in the world that practises megalithic burials, with impressive tomb like structures built at the funeral ceremonies.
If you’d rather stay on the beach, head to the south for the best of them – Tarimbang in East Sumba is often dubbed the most beautiful beach in the whole of Indonesia. Stay in a hut right on the beach and judge for yourself.
4. The adventure mecca
Venture into the jungle, marvel at the massive danaus (lakes), hike up a volcano, play a game of takraw (a cross between kung fu and volleyball) or try your hand at some of the world’s best surfing – it’s all here.
One of the main pulls, though, is Bukit Lawang, one of the most accessible places in the world to spot orang-utans. Keep your wits about you when you’re in their territory, though; when our blog editor Ant went to Bukit Lawang he got pounced on by a rather randy female orang-utan, though I’m afraid he wouldn’t let me publish the picture of that rather bizarre moment here (his girlfriend would get jealous).
5. The island that has it all
Arguably Indonesia’s most famous island, Bali may seem like an obvious choice, but we absolutely love this province. If we were ever to (inevitably) have a nervous breakdown, Bali is the place we’re going to retreat to.
Bali means different things to different people; it really does have it all. Gorgeous beaches, a stunning coastline, mesmerising temples, beautiful landscapes and some seriously friendly locals all make up this diverse island.
For us, it’s the serenity of Bali that we love, so stay away from the tourist trap of Kuta and head inland. Despite being made famous by Julia Roberts movie, Eat, Pray, Love, Ubud remains a pool of mellowness, while a trip through the jungle and rice paddies to Kintamani will make you feel seriously chilled out.