68 Best Sights in Indonesia

Borobudur

Fodor's choice

One of the world's most-photographed Buddhist shrines and a UNESCO World Heritage site, the massive temple of Borobudur is the ultimate symbol for the journey to enlightenment. Shrouded by shady forests and trimmed with lush gardens, the mountainous, gray stone structure sprawls through some of Java's most scenic countryside in an undulating vista of soaring towers, thick walls, and collapsed steps. It took nearly a century to build, from around 780 to 850 AD, and it was nearly a millennium before it was discovered by foreign eyes. In 1814, Thomas Stamford Raffles stumbled on the site while on expedition as Lieutenant Governor of Java—but even after two restorations and millions of annual visitors, Borobudur still retains an ethereal ambience, a sense that you're being transported back to an ancient, mysterious world. Borobudur's layout resembles a mandala, rising in cakelike layers of six concentric square terraces and three circular platforms. Tours begin at the eastern stairway, and continue through 5-km (3-miles) of walkways if done to full length. Stroll clockwise around the lowest square, taking time to observe the slight variances in 432 Buddahs and more than 1,500 images of Siddhartha's life. The three circular levels are dotted with 72 Buddha statues, each tucked into an enormous latticework stupa (dome-shaped temple). At the top, amid a scenic backdrop of emerald forests and smoky volcanoes, is a final stupa emblematic of the highest level of enlightenment. Also on the grounds is a small museum following the history of Borobudur's construction, rediscovery, and renovations. Guides are readily available for hire. Souvenir and food vendors around the monument can be persistent. Just smile and say "No, thank you" if you're not interested. The trip by road from Semarang takes less than two hours.

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Lembongan Island

Fodor's choice

"Bali has never been as great as it used to be," celebrated Bangkok-based journalist John Hail wrote three decades ago. He must not have seen Lembongan Island, 20 km (12 miles) offshore from Sanur. First visited by surfers, Lembongan features miles of sandy beaches, a village vibe, and stunning views back to Bali. Get there by boat from Sanur, then explore by foot or on a bike, perhaps crossing the bridge to neighboring Nusa Ceningan. Accommodations range from simple huts to luxury villas. Count on someone lamenting, "Lembongan isn't what it used to be."

Prambanan Temples

Fodor's choice

You can combine Borobudur sightseeing with a visit to this temple complex, a vestige of Java's Hindu past spread over a broad plain. Built just after Borobudur, this UNESCO World Heritage site contains 237 gray stone temples in the classical tall, pointed Hindu style, the largest rising 154 feet. The complex was reduced to ruins through centuries of neglect and earthquakes. Reconstruction efforts began in 1918, with the main shrine completed in 1953. The 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake led to the closure of some building interiors due to safety concerns, but what's visible, inside and out, remains extraordinarily impressive.

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Uluwatu Temple

Fodor's choice

Enjoy a cultural doubleheader above the teeming surf at Pura Luhur Uluwatu. Located about 15 miles outside of Kuta, this ancient temple site anchoring Bali's southwestern tip may not impress as much as Besakih near Kitamani or Tanah Lot north of Seminyak, but the dramatic seaside cliffs, reminiscent of California's Big Sur, lend a mystical feel, especially at sunset. Steer clear of resident monkeys: remove glasses, earrings, and anything else they may grab. (Local kids will retrieve stolen items—for a price.) Don't carry food, and resist hawkers selling monkey snacks. The kecak dance, presented every day at 6 pm, features dozens of bare-chested men in elaborately costumed dance excerpts from the pan-Asian Ramayana legend. The cost is an extra Rp100,000.

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Bukit Peninsula Jalan Uluwatu, Uluwatu, 80361, Indonesia
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Rate Includes: Rp30000

Ambarawa Railway Museum

When Java's railroads were about to retire some of the island's classic engines in the early 1970s, a group of train enthusiasts created this public education center. Housed in the original Ambarawa train station, a main train-shipping point along the tracks from Kedungjati to Yogyakarta, the museum is surrounded by 21 Dutch, German, and Swiss locomotives built between 1891 and 1928. Inside, exhibits include antique bells, signaling equipment, old telephones, and a Morse Code machine. Groups can charter a train for an 18-km (11-mile) round-trip journey to Bedono.

Bali Bomb Memorial (Ground Zero Monument)

October 12, 2002 was just another party-hearty Saturday night in Kuta until a pair of bombs detonated in rapid succession, the first inside a popular bar, the second in a van outside an even more popular nightclub across Jalan Legian. The blasts and ensuing inferno left at least 202 dead, 88 of them Australian tourists, nearly 250 more injured, and millions of lives charged. The memorial, located at the site of the first blast, was dedicated two years later with an elaborately carved Balinese motif inspired by shadow puppets towering above the marble plaque listing known fatalities by nationality. Flags of their 23 homelands are raised daily around the monument. Always open, the memorial is tastefully illuminated at night.

Jalan Legian 38, Kuta, 80361, Indonesia
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Rate Includes: Free

Bali Safari and Marine Park

From white tigers to rhinos to northern cassowaries, Bali Safari and Marine Park's 60 species will fill in blanks on most bucket lists. The park's Bali Aga extravaganza (daily except Mondays) has Disney-level production values, well worth the US$10 surcharge. Entertaining animal and elephant shows emphasize conservation themes. Most animal headliners are viewed only on the 30 minute safari tour, but there are elephants, camels, and birds around the park for photos and feeding (for a fee). There's also an aquarium featuring piranhas.

Bali Zoo

In recent years Bali Zoo has significantly improved its game, removing old-school cages in favor of more animal-friendly open enclosures like a river otter habitat where you're treated to underwater views. It has maintained an intimate feel, so there's still a petting zoo and lots of opportunities for up-close views of fearsome bearcats and cute lion cubs. Located between Ubud and Sanur, the zoo offers elephant rides, a treetop trail, and other kid-pleasing amenities. Packages including transportation from major tourist areas.

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Jalan Raya Singapadu Kabupaten Gianyar, Sukawati, 80582, Indonesia
0361-294--357
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Rate Includes: US$24

Bedugul-Munduk Lake Country

Bali's lake country highlands present breathtaking vistas at elevations above 1,000 meters (3,280 feet), two to three hours north of southern resort areas. Bedugul overlooks Danau (Lake) Bratan. Lakeside temple Pura Ulun Danau Bratan (Rp10,000) is rightly among Bali's most photographed spots. Vast Bali Botanical Garden (Kebun Raya Eka Karya Bali; Rp7,000), mobbed on Sundays, grows palms to pines to pink roses, thanks to the elevation. Bedugul's market and countless hawkers sell famed local strawberries. The winding 16-km (10-mile) road to Munduk skirts Danau Buyan and Danau Tamblingan, with views of forested mountainsides that reach the sea. Munduk features hiking trails, waterfalls, Dutch colonial buildings, and coffee plantations. Weather ranges from sweltering sun to misty downpour to mountain chill, often changing dramatically within a couple of hours.

Bukit Lawang Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

At the entrance to Gunung Leuser National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site four hours north of Medan, Bukit Lawang is famed for its more than 2,500 orangutans. Take a guided orangutan trek through the park or time your visit to coincide with the daily orangutan feedings, which take place at 9 am and 3 pm. You need to buy a permit in the guide office in Bukit Lawang to attend a feeding; bringing a camera costs an additional 50,000 Rp. To reach Bukit Lawang, you can take a tourist bus from Medan (about 100,000 Rp) or hire a taxi.

Chinatown

Kota Lama

An estimated third of Semarang's residents are Chinese, making it Java's most Chinese city. The Kota Lama neighborhood features a maze of slender alleys and small, colorful shops. Main attractions are Pasar Cina (Chinese Market) on Gang Pinggir and Tay Kak Sie Temple (Gang Lombok), built in 1772. Followers of Confucianism come daily to burn incense and offer prayers, and it's the site for vibrant lunar year celebrations.

Semarang, Indonesia

Dragon-watching Tours

The dragons’ main lair is a section of shallow caves scraped out of a low, dusty ravine about 2 km (1 mile) from Loh Liang. Groups meet at the park office, then follow a fairly easy trail through open forest to Banu Nggulung overlooking the burrows. For years, park rangers fed live goats to Komodos here, but that practice has been abandoned. Dragon walks generally last one to two hours, depending on visitor interest and sighting success. If all else fails, Komodo dragons frequent Loh Liang, attracted by the food and trash there. Trails have minimal shade, so bring a hat, wear sunscreen, and carry water on any walk.

Komodo, Indonesia
385-41005
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Fees for admission and guides vary widely; call for details

Echo Beach

This tucked-away surf spot lets you enjoy the beach the way it was intended, without the pretense found to the south. Echo Beach is a stretch of black sand accessed by steps, located below a series of rocky outcrops. The water is safe for experienced surfers only; otherwise stick to wading. When the weather is right, the area is shrouded in mist. A series of warung (food vendors) have sprung up on wooden decks above the beach, serving beverages and simple meals. The 10 km (6-mile) ride from Seminyak passes through many of the area's remaining rice fields. Hang out all day or just come for sunset. Amenities: Food and drink; toilets. Best for: Walking; sunset; surfing.

Jalan Pantai Batu Mejan, Canggu, Indonesia

Fashion and Eat Street (Jalan Laksmana and Kayu Aya)

Local designers, international boutiques and restaurants from around the world line a half-mile stretch of Jalan Laksmana, Jalan Kayu Aya and Jalan Oberoi. (Note: many use the street names interchangeably.) On the fashion side, compare Bali's own Dinda Rella's evening wear to Australian creations featured at Bamboo Blonde and the mix at Simple Konsep. About 500 feet (150 meters) beyond the Seminyak Square shopping center, a fashion bazaar features clothes and accessories with bargaining as part of the experience. On the eats side, find a fast-changing cast representing a wide range of prices and cuisines, though rather light on Indonesian.

Gereja Blenduk

The copper-crowned church (Gereja Blenduk means Domed Church), which was built in 1753, is the second-oldest Christian church in Java and still conducts services.

Jalan Letjen Suprapto 32, Semarang, Indonesia

Gitgit Waterfall (Air Terjun Gitgit)

With five waterfalls at four locations between Bedugul and Singaraja, Gitgit can be a confusing destination. Gitgit Waterfall is farthest from southern resort areas and down the mountainside toward the north coast. The waterfall is nearly 160 feet (48 meters) high and takes about an hour to climb down then up the 150 steps to it, and no guide is necessary. With a guide, it's possible to continue to smaller Colek Pamor, Twin, and/or Multi Falls. Visiting all four requires about three hours walking a hilly 2 miles (3 kilometers) through plantations and rice fields. Use official village guides from the Gitgit parking area for the best trekking prices, which includes a contribution to the community projects.

Jalan Raya Bedugul Singaraja, Gitgit, 81161, Indonesia
0821-457--64267
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Rp20000

Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave)

There are more theories about the origins of Goa Gajah and its name than there ever were native elephants on Bali. What's indisputable is this Hindu holy place dates back at least 1,000 years. The T-shaped cave interior has elaborate stone carvings and a statue of the Hindu elephant god Ganesha, which is a tribute to Goa Gajah name but not the reason for it. The courtyard outside the cave has sculptured female figures filling a pair of bathing pools. Consider visiting Goa Gajah, about 4 miles (6 kilometers) southeast of central Ubud, by bicycle and walking or pedaling through scenic rice fields to nearby Yeh Pulu (Rp20,000) for its panoramic 14th century rock carvings depicting village life.

Jalan Raya Goa Gajah, Ubud, 80581, Indonesia
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Rate Includes: Rp15000

Grand Mosque of Medan

Constructed in 1906, the Grand Mosque, or Mesjid Raya, was designed by a Dutch architect, and tombs of former sultans can be found on its grounds. Make sure you're properly attired before entering the mosque; women are required to cover their heads. Expect to spend about 10,000 Rp for a visit, plus a tip for the person who looks after your shoes. Impromptu guides may approach you as you enter and offer their services (whether you'd like them or not) for a fee.

Jalan Mesjid Raya and SM Raja, Medan, Indonesia
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Rate Includes: Daily 9–5, except prayer times

Gunung Merapi

Hire a guide from Sabang to take you to this occasionally active volcano. When the road ends, you'll need to walk up a footpath to reach it and once there you can hike among the craters. On the drive to and from the mountain, you can stop at spots with hot water springs.

House of Sampoerna

Even nonsmokers will appreciate the architecture of this historic colonial building, constructed in 1862 by the Dutch and originally used as an orphanage before being purchased in 1932 for use as a clove cigarette production facility. Today it houses a museum with displays about the founding family, and if you visit during weekday mornings you can see women speedily hand-rolling cigarettes. The café is a fine choice for a lunch in historic surroundings (and does include a nonsmoking section).

Taman Sampoerna 6, Surabaya, 60163, Indonesia
31-353–9000
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Rate Includes: Free, Daily 9 am–10 pm (except certain holidays)

Island Treks

Several trails thread around the island to secluded beaches, mountaintop lookouts, and Kampung Komodo. English-speaking guides who know the routes and are well-versed on island flora and fauna can be hired at the park office. Day treks to the summits of Gunung Ara and Gunung Satalibo can be challenging given the rugged uphill paths through muddy, open woodlands and steep savannas. The rewards, however, are magnificent views all the way across the island and Indian Ocean to Lombok, Flores, and Sumba, as well as sightings of deer, wild pigs, buffalo, and the occasional Komodo dragon along the way. Be sure to have comfortable clothes, adequate sunscreen, and plenty of bottled water.

Istana Maimun Palace

This Medan landmark, designed by an Italian architect with Islamic, Dutch, and Malay influences, was built for Sultan Ma'mun Al-Rashid Alam Perkasat between 1887 and 1891. Though the 30-room palace is still home to the family of the Sultan of Deli (who doesn't hold any official power nowadays), visitors are welcome inside a limited portion to view the royal throne and antique furnishings, though there's not a lot of information on the history. There are also Malay musical performances held here several times a day during the tourist season.

Jalan Katamso, Medan, Indonesia
Sight Details
Rate Includes: 5000 Rp, Daily 8–5

Jalan Surabaya Antique and Flea Market

Menteng

A longstanding city landmark, Jalan Surabaya's gaggle of shops and kiosks is Jakarta's place to look for an Elvis Presley LP and a gramophone to play it. Locals and visitors stream here for the mind-boggling variety of knickknacks and tchotchkes, plus art pieces and antiques ranging fabulous to fake; before spending serious money, make certain you know the difference. Jalan Surabaya has something for everyone, so give yourself a few hours to sift through its full half-kilometer (one-third mile) length. Haggling with the good-natured but savvy sellers, starting at a fraction of their asking price, is part of experience. Get your piece at your price? Then bargain for a vintage bag to bring it home.

Kampung Komodo

Settled into the lee along the island’s south side, this quiet, friendly kampung (village) is a cluster of stilt-raised, thatch-roofed shacks by the bay that is home to about 600 ethnic Bugis, famed seafarers with roots in Sulawesi (Celebes). This Muslim community descends from convicts exiled from neighboring Sumbawa by a local sultan during the 19th century. Villagers mainly earn their living by fishing; colorfully painted bagan boats line the brown beach. The main catch is squid, and men head out at night to attract them by dangling lamps underwater. Some villagers are also skilled wood- and stone-carvers who hone models of the famous dragons out of local materials. The community is a rocky, 2-km (1-mile) walk around the coast from the Loh Liang dock—but the journey should be made at low tide only, as sections of the track are covered by water at other times.

Kilometer Nol

About 29 miles north of Sabang you'll reach the westernmost point of Indonesia. Though it's not the prettiest site—it's marked by a rather ugly pink and beige monument—stopping for a brief visit will give you bragging rights, and you'll pass some lovely hills and forests on your journey.

Komodo National Park

Indonesia's government established this park to protect the Komodo dragon in 1980. Pulau Komodo is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site—declared in 1992—and is now also a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve. The 1,125 square km (434 square mile) sanctuary includes the islands of Padar, Motang, and Nusa Kode, the Wae Wuul reserve on Flores (the large island to the east), and a few small islets nearby, in addition to Pulau Komodo itself. An equal area of Indian Ocean surrounding the islands are also part of the park.

Kraton

The extensive Sultan's Palace, itself a town of 25,000 residents, includes museums, ancient artifacts, and exquisitely crafted royal buildings. Yogya is also a celebrated shopping destination for batik items, artworks, and antiques.

Lagoi Beach

A public beach situated near the Plaza Lagoi shopping area, this pristine coastal stretch has crystal clear water and a wide variety of water sports such as kayaking, jet-skiing, and snorkeling, plus the odd game of beach volleyball. Amenities: food and drink; toilets; water sports. Best for: sunset; swimming; windsurfing.

Lake Toba

Though it's a four- to five-hour drive to reach Lake Toba from Medan, travelers say the journey is totally worth the hassle to experience its beauty—though it's advisable to stay overnight or longer if you can. It's the largest volcanic lake in the world, resulting from a volcano that exploded more than 75,000 years ago. To reach Lake Toba, hire a driver to take you to the charming town of Parapat, on the shores of the lake, then board a 40-minute ferry to volcanic Samosir Island, which sits in the middle of the lake. Once you're there, you can take a dip in a hot spring, hike or bike the island, or simply enjoy the mesmerizing views.

Loh Liang

This is the main entry point to the island. The single wooden dock has the park office at the end of it, where you get your permit, pick up a map, and hire a guide. A short trail leads to the visitor area, where deer, pigs, and even Komodo dragons often wander across the grassy field between the café and accommodations.