The Daily Telegraph - The ultimate guide to Indonesia's best islands
March 27, 2016

New direct flights from London to Jakarta make this expansive archipelago more accessible than ever. Michelle Jana Chan introduces some highlights.

We all know of Bali, of course. From backpackers on a budget to well-heeled honeymooners, solitary spa junkies and family holidaymakers, tourists come here in their millions. But there are 17,000 other islands in Indonesia, an archipelago that straddles the Equator and spans 3,000 miles from east to west – a distance greater than that from London to Moscow. With non-stop flights launching from London to the capital Jakarta this week, it has just become easier to reach many of this nation’s most alluring destinations.

Jakarta and Java

The beating heart of the nation, Jakarta can seem chaotic, but respite can be found in the temples, back alleys and the Dutch colonial quarter. Explore Jalan Benda, in the south of the city, with its coffee shops, art galleries and concept stores.

The second city of Yogyakarta is the cultural and spiritual hub with all-night shadow-puppet performances, concerts and art exhibitions. Outside the glorious Prambanan temples, the Ramayana ballet features dozens of dancers and pyrotechnics.

Beyond the cities, Java offers pristine rainforest, hikes up Mount Bromo and the exquisite Kebun Rya Botanical Gardens. It is also home to the mesmerising Borobudur, an eighth-century Buddhist temple with intricate lattice stupas set among paddy fields.

Where to stay
In the commercial district of Jakarta, Raffles and the adjoining arts centre are a tribute to the painter Hendra Gunawan.
Alila Kemang Icon is a 12-suite hotel with an infinity pool on the rooftop.
Amanjiwo is well located for visits to Borobudur and the Prambanan temples.


One of Indonesia’s most dramatic islands, Sumatra boasts cone-shaped peaks and fertile green fields enriched by mineral deposits and interspersed with stretches of solidified lava flows. Once limited to those with an adventurous spirit, it is slowly opening up to mainstream tourism with trips to the jungles of Bukit Lawang and Tangkahan; the volcanic lakes of Maninjau and Toba; and surf spots at Nias and the Mentawai Islands.

Where to stay
The Aloita Resort & Spa has thatched cottages along more than half a mile of beach with surfing, diving, yoga and fishing available.


The wild island of Borneo (of which Kalimantan makes up around two thirds) has enchanted adventurers since the days of the Victorian explorers. Today, little has diluted that raw experience, and among its attractions are rainforests, indigenous tribes and the orang-utans of Tanjung Puting National Park.

Where to stay
Rimba Ecolodge offers comfortable stays in wooden pavilions. However, many visitors choose to overnight on simple klotok river boats in the rainforest.


This is one of very few islands that manage to combine spirituality and hedonism; visitors can witness coming-of-age ceremonies, as well as enjoy sundowners, first-rate dining and chic shopping. Kuta is the budget travellers’ destination; when they grow up, they head to upmarket Seminyak, with watering holes such as Ku De Ta and Potato Head Beach Club.

Stylish boutiques sell kaftans, cool cotton dresses and beaded beach bags. There are good beaches for surfers, and Quicksilver and Rip Curl have schools in the area. Further south are more secluded hotels on the anvil-shaped promontory known as the “bukit”, with dramatic clifftop views across the Indian Ocean and low-key seafood restaurants at Jimbaran Bay.

At Ubud, the island’s cultural capital, there are frequent musical and dance performances, as well as galleries selling woodcarving, silverware, textiles, paintings and sculpture. There is trekking around terraced rice fields and two volcanoes in the north, Agung and Batur. Bali Barat National Park is a haven for deer, boar and macaques, and the offshore Menjangan Island has dive sites with schools of batfish, giant trevally and jacks.

Where to stay
Anantara Seminyak Bali Resort is a new beachfront hotel in Seminyak.
Menjangan Beach Resort has a string of beach villas with nature walks and diving.
In the north, Spa Village Resort Tembok has an exceptional spa reflecting Balinese traditions.

Komaneka Rasa Sayang is located near Ubud’s market and cafés with a spa and infinity pool.

Lombok and the Gili Islands

About 30 miles east of Bali is low-profile Lombok. There is excellent surfing in the south, and a 30-minute boat ride off the north coast are the Gili Islands ringed by fine sand and coral reefs with villa resorts and spa retreats. Local transport is by bicycle and horse-drawn carts called cidomos. Mount Rinjani, one of Indonesia’s highest peaks, offers a spectacular two-night climb to the summit with views of its crater lake.

Where to stay
Qinci Villas, on the west coast, has sunset views of the volcanoes of Bali.
On the island’s north shore, Oberoi Lombok is set among 24 acres of gardens.

Sulawesi to Timor

Here are islands of dramatic smoking cones and caldera lakes where volcanoes seem all the more monumental because they rise up almost from sea level.

In Sulawesi, adventure trips to Bunaken National Park can be combined with a homestay with the Toraja people; there are pretty colonial towns from Flores to Timor; and trips to Komodo National Park and Rinca, the island home of Komodo dragons, the largest lizards in the world.

Where to stay
Bintang Flores Hotel is located near the sleepy port of Labuan Bajo in Flores.
In Sulawesi, Luta Resort Toraja can organise trips to witness Toraja customs, as well as trekking and rafting.
Nihiwatu on Sumba Island offers trekking, horse-riding and the renowned Ochy’s Left wave (only 10 surfers can ride the wave each day).


New Guinea, the world’s second-biggest island, is split into Papua New Guinea, its own country, and the Indonesian western portion, Papua. Here are towering rainforests, sugarloaves of karstic limestone and the archipelago of Raja Ampat, part of the “Coral Triangle”, recognised as the most biodiverse marine habitat on the planet with some of the world’s most coveted dive sites.

Where to stay
Papua Paradise has 16 overwater villas and house reefs, home to wobbegong sharks and the Flamboyant cuttlefish, a species unique to the region.
Misool Eco Resort has 20 overwater villas built using driftwood and naturally fallen trees, with a strong record of manta-ray sightings (for snorkellers as well as divers).

Phinisi does it: the islands by sail

Perhaps the best way to travel around Indonesia – time willing – is by phinisi, the traditional Indonesian two-masted sailing ship. It’s the ultimate way to access the most remote islands, with not another tourist in sight.

This new 100ft expedition phinisi has two double cabins and a twin located above deck.
Route: Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands.

Alila Purnama
With five cabins and an on-board spa therapist, the 150ft vessel is plying new routes.
Route: The volcanic island of Ambon, the Banda Islands and Raja Ampat.

The operators of this pioneering expedition phinisi are launching a new route to the Togean islands in northern Sulawesi. There are five cabins, two bunks and a sun deck with 360-degree views.
Route: Ambon and the Banda Sea.

Tiger Blue
This 111ft-long timber phinisi yacht has five en suite cabins, dive facilities and watersports equipment, including kayaks.
Route: From May to September, Tiger Blue sails around Komodo National Park; from November to April, around Raja Ampat.