Indonesia’s unique and cultural heritage, shaped over the centuries by Arabic, Chinese, Indian, Malay, and European influences, has long been attracting visitors from around the world. This cultural fusion is evident everywhere and has shaped both the country’s architecture and its diverse visual and performing arts.
Despite the recent string of natural disasters which caused a drop in the arrival of visitors to the archipelago, tourists are now flocking back. According to the Data Center of the Indonesian Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the total number of foreign tourists arriving in Indonesia from January to October 2007, reached 3.71 million, an increase of 14.24% compared to the same period the previous year. The trend continued in 2008, with the number of visitors for the first half increasing by 11.66%.
With a country as big and diverse as Indonesia, it would be impossible to summarize in one or two pages all its attractions. However, if a list could be set up of the twelve “must-see places” in Indonesia, here are suggested attractions that should be part of a trip.
1. Lake Toba, is Southeast Asia’s largest lake surrounded by amazing landscapes composed of cliffs, hills and waterfalls. Batak people live in wooden houses richly painted and shaped like boats.
2. Bukittinggi and the Minangkabau Highlands, Sumatra, are home to one of the most intriguing Indonesian ethnics in West Sumatra. In lush landscapes, visitors can admire finely sculpted wooden houses crowned by buffalo-shaped roofs, some of them over 300 years old. Minangkabau people is a devoted Muslim society, where women play however a pivotal role in daily life.
3. Jakarta’s old town is one of the best preserved in Indonesia around Fatahillah Square, where the first house of the Dutch governor has been converted into the Jakarta History Museum. On the west side of the square, the Wayang Museum displays a fine collection of puppets from Indonesia and the rest of the world. Do not miss in Jakarta the National Museum for its outstanding art collections, Jalan Surabaya for its antique dealers shops, the great view from the top of the National Monument (Monas) and Taman Mini Indonesia, a theme park presenting all the various Indonesian islands.
4. Bandung, the capital city of West Java is either dubbed the “Parijs van Java” or an Asian “Miami Beach” because of its impressive collection of Art Deco buildings. Promised to be the new capital city of Dutch-ruled Indonesia, Bandung has striking examples of western inspired architecture. Not to be missed, the Asia-Africa Street with its fine 1930s-style hotels and the building which hosted the famous summit in 1955 as well as the “Gedung Sate”, an imposing structure in pure Art Deco style. Do not miss the view on Bandung from the top of the tower.
5. Yogyakarta is considered as the cultural cradle of Java. The city still has within its premises the Royal Palace( Keraton), an old town with small traditional Javanese houses which host numerous batik workshops as well as the magnificent Taman Sari (Water Castle) complex, a century old royal spa. It also has easy access to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Borobudur, Prambanan and Ratu Boko. There is magnificent natural beauty nearby as well in the mountains and sea.
6. Borobudur and Prambanan, the two magnificent temples are both listed on Unesco’s World Heritage List. Borobudur, built between 778 and 856 is the world’s largest Buddhist monument and is surrounded by volcanoes. It is worth a visit at any time but particularly at sunrise. Prambanan dates from 856 and is Southeast Asia’s largest Hinduism temple with outstanding bas-reliefs. Ramayana performances are hosted for visitors at dawn.
7. Mount Bromo. Two hours away from Malang in East Java stands the majestic Bromo mountain surrounded by paddy fields and fruit plantations in East Java. Visitors will enjoy a magical sunrise at the volcano with its various shades of colours. Accessing the crater is possible with small mountain horses. Nearby, Malang is a delightful Art Deco city with old bakeries and an interesting birds market.
8. Ubud, Bali. This village is known as a retreat for artists since the 30’s and is now a famed resort destination. Old houses and palaces, temples stand next to discreet boutique hotels, all bearing a distinctive Balinese style and surrounding by paddy fields.
9. Tanah Lot. Bali most famous Hindu temple is a delicate structure built on a top of a large rock facing the sea. At high tide, the temple is surrounded by the sea but at other times, visitors have an access to this sacred site. It is best to view in the sunset.
10. Mount Kelimutu is located a few hours from Ende, Flores island main city. It is the most visited natural wonder in the island as the mountain is topped by three crater lakes, separated by thin ridges and showing each a different colour. The largest lake is turquoise, the next one olive green and the third black. The colours vary over the time.
11. Toraja Highland in South Sulawesi has some of Indonesia’s most spectacular landscapes. Elaborated houses with long roofs form typical villages nestled in valleys and surrounded by paddy fields. Strange tombs with sculpted wooden effigies representing deceased people can be observed.
12. Bunaken National Park in North Sulawesi is one of the most spectacular snorkelling and diving area in the world with large coral reef populated by a rich maritime life
13. Ujung Kulon National Park on the south western tip of the island of Java, where the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean and the equatorials waters of the Sunda Straits merge, is one of Indonesia's paramount national parks, Ujung Kulon. www.ujungkulon.org
There are still numerous interesting and fun places to visit in Indonesia. For more information about travelling to Indonesia, please visit the following links: