6 Incredible Indonesian destinations that aren’t Bali

Indonesia is so much more than Bali. Photo: iStock
Indonesia is so much more than Bali. Photo: iStock

Bali has really hit the big time in tourist numbers in recent years, and only looks to continue hitting its ever-larger targets. Yet, as more flock to the Island of the Gods, a wariness is rising; a worry that it’s becoming a victim of its success.

Despite all the craziness, we still very much love Bali—but sometimes a trip to a quieter, less-commercialized and sprawling destination is in order.

Here, on behalf of all savvy travelers, we look at where in Indonesia (with its 6,000 inhabited islands) could be the next big thing, an alternative Bali. Better get there before they get too big, as a number of them fall on the government’s list of priority destinations to be developed.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi

Toraja
Lemo (Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia), famous burial site with coffins placed in caves carved into the rock, guarded by balconies of dressed wooden statues, images of the dead persons (called tau tau). Photo: iStock

Boat-shaped roofs, emerald rice paddies and jungle-clad hills make Tana Toraja an obvious competitor to Bali. Inhabited for centuries by Toraja folk who, until recently were animists, their famous cliff-graves are guarded by wooden effigies that are scary and endearing in equal measure. If you can, try to catch a funeral. Even bigger than their Balinese equivalents, they often last weeks and, thanks to Dutch missionary efforts, tend to be accompanied by Christian prayers.

Raja Ampat, Papua

Raja Ampat
The glorious Raja Ampat. Photo: Flickr

One of the best diving locations in a country that’s famous for possessing for some of the world’s finest, Raja Ampat hosts roughly 75 percent of the world’s coral species and over 1,000 species of fish. Lying in the Coral Triangle, which includes waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Timor Leste, and the Solomon Islands, it’s quickly filling with fashionable hotels and eco-resorts – the sort that would throw shade on even the swankiest parts of the Maldives.

Kalimantan

orangutan
A young orangutan chills out in Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. Photo: iStock

The Indonesian name for the parts of Borneo it owns (roughly 75 percent), in Kalimantan it’s usually the rivers that teem with traffic rather than the roads. Carpeted in jungle and boasting parts that could still classify as undiscovered territory, its regions are most famous for the orangutan parks that countless volunteers help at, as well as the distinctive long houses of the local Dayak tribes.

Danau Toba, Sumatra

Lake Toba
Samosir Island, Lake Toba. Photo: iStock

A mosaic of cerulean blues and lush greens in the volcanic highlands of Sumatra, Danau (Lake) Toba classifies as the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. Even today travelers return from Tuk Tuk, the village on the lake’s inner island, and talk as if they had witnessed some sort of Indonesian ‘Avalon.’ Though all Pulau Samosir is worth exploring, most lean towards hammocks, party-boats and lake-swims, rather than hot springs, tombs and motorbikes.

Banda Islands, Maluku

Banda Islands
A gorgeous view over the Banda Islands. Photo: iStock

A cluster of 10 islands that sit on the edge of the Banda Sea, the Banda Islands are the renowned “Spice Islands” of European historymainly because they formed the world’s only source of nutmeg. And they’re still “off the map” todayor almost. Receiving only a few boat visits each month (though you can hire tiny private planes if you’re packing that kind of cash), it can often feel like there are more sea creatures off the Bandas, than people on them. At least this means when you do get there, however, a mini paradise awaits.

Flores

Komodo Islands
An aerial view of the island ‘Pulau Padar’ at the famous Komodo National Park in Indonesia. Flore’s port town Labuan Bajo is a quick boat ride from Komodo and is the most popular departure point on the island to the national park. Photo: iStock

Situated in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara, the volcanic spine of Flores soars to Alpine heights. And it’s become famous in the last couple of years thanks mostly to the Komodo National Park, which hovers near its west coast, as well as Kelimutu’s chameleonic lakes (that legend holds change colors to suit the volcano’s moods). While, similar to Bali in many ways (it’s one of the Lesser Sunda Islands, too, for instance), Flores seems a world away from Bali, dotted with ruins of Portuguese fortresses, coffee crops and Catholic churches, rather than Bali’s towering Hindu temples, rice paddies and bright parasols.

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