Bali’s idyllic beaches may be pretty – but with 17,000-plus islands in Indonesia, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
As the world’s biggest archipelago, no other country has as many island destinations as Indonesia. Stretching far and wide across the equator, Indonesia’s islands boast limitless charms. Some are renowned surf destinations, while others are famed for fascinating endemic species. Panoramic natural beauty is almost always guaranteed — beautiful ocean views paired with lush hills, thriving wildlife, charming cultural heritage and in many cases, all of the above. Here are the 21 best islands in Indonesia.
This exotic island east of Sumatra is represented best by the glorious granite boulders hemming its white-sand coast. While a lot of tourists here spend most of their time taking pictures of and on the idyllic beaches, this island also has charming colonial architecture and a quaint old harbour. Tourists can venture off its offshore islands, including the famed Lengkuas Island with its iconic 19th century lighthouse overlooking the translucent sea.
Often dubbed Bali’s more laid-back sister, Lombok has beauty to more than match its world-famous sibling. In fact, over the years Lombok’s popularity has quickly risen as more tourists attest to its satisfying escape from Bali’s crowds. The island hosts a wide array of attractions, including mountains, beaches, forests, temples and even historic cities. Many of its beautiful beaches are a surfers’ paradise, especially for those who prefer a more intimate atmosphere. Avid hikers come to this island to conquer the beautiful Mount Rinjani, with its iconic blue lake on top.
The Gili Islands consist of three small islands. Gili Trawangan, the biggest of the three, is the most modern, known for vibrant nightlife and chill seaside cafés. Gili Meno on the other hand is far more serene and quiet, making it a popular honeymoon destination. Gili Air is an adventurer’s paradise, with an impressive underwater world hiding some of the planet’s rarest and most dangerous marine species. Even though the three islands have such contrasting features, tourists can visit all in one visit due to their close proximity.
Flores, named after the Portuguese word for ‘flowers’, is a gorgeous small island in East Nusa Tenggara. Although the island features many natural charms — mountains, beaches, and the tri-coloured Kelimutu lake — perhaps the most intriguing quality is its culture. Flores is home to many different ethnic groups, each with their own unique cultures and customs. Staying with the locals and living their lifestyles is a popular, horizon-expanding activity, especially in well-known villages like Wae Rebo, which is prized for its beautiful mountain vista and quirky traditional houses.
Jurassic Park comes to life on this Indonesian island. The island in East Nusa Tenggara is home to the komodo dragon, a famous giant lizard known to hunt prey as big as water buffalo. Aside from this fascinating creature, Komodo’s natural landscape of hills and beaches alone could justify its recent fame as a hip island destination. Lavish accommodations and liveaboard boats are also present, leading to adventure and tranquility in one place.
Padar is part of the expansive Komodo National Park in East Nusa Tenggara. But in contrast to its famed sister island, this uninhabited islet appears completely quiet and serene, with nothing but stretches of beautiful hilly landscape. A big part of this island is still uncharted territory, but a certain viewpoint embracing three magnificent bays in one scene has quickly become a coveted panorama, bringing more people to this island for the Instagram potential.
You may not need Culture Trip to tell you how Bali is one of the most beautiful islands to visit in Indonesia – but it’s a world-acclaimed island paradise for a reason. Over the years its charms have been refined by newly discovered attractions, passionate expat communities and top-class establishments. Welcoming millions of international tourists yearly, Bali is used to providing something for every taste, be it natural features, food, cultural workshops, art, shopping and more. Even those who come frequently keep finding new things to see and do, while many others decide to stay and make a life on the island, engaging in the never-ending adventure it provides.
This string of three islands off the coast of Bali is an up-and-coming destination, with natural attractions that many argue outshine the famed mainland. Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan, and Nusa Ceningan each have their own specialty, but all three offer splendid underwater scenes beneath the ocean’s calm, translucent surface. These islands are perfect for diving, snorkeling and water sports, with other favorite activities including cliff-jumping in Nusa Ceningan, crossing the yellow bridge between Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, and admiring the iconic Kelingking Beach at Nusa Penida.
This archipelago off the coast of West Sumatra is a world-famous surfing paradise. Surfers of all skill levels flock here for the big waves, ranging from two to 15 ft tall. The Mentawai Islands also keep a treasure chest of rich and vibrant marine biodiversity below the waves, including dolphins, dugongs and sea turtles. If you insist on staying dry, there are still plenty of things to do: from relaxing on quiet beaches, trekking through thick tropical rainforest, to exploring the villages and discovering the fascinating Mentawai tribe.
Constituting Indonesia’s westernmost point, the remote geography of this beautiful island has protected it from too many tourists. But with idyllic white-sand beaches and translucent water, the journey is still very much worth taking. The island has splendid diving and snorkelling spots with thriving, undisturbed wildlife. The unspoiled condition doesn’t mean this island is underdeveloped – tourists will be welcomed with charming cottages and beachside restaurants to enjoy sunsets while feasting on fresh seafood.
This resort island is a popular getaway from Singapore, accessible via a one-hour ferry ride. Despite the foreign establishments and English-speaking crowd, Bintan Island is a beloved part of Indonesia’s Riau Province. Thanks to its popularity abroad, this paradise is a distinguished tourism gem untypical of a Sumatran island. Lavish resorts, fun modern attractions and avant-garde activities can be found all over. We’re talking Southeast Asia’s first seawater lagoon, a flying club that lets you ride an open cockpit seaplane, and more.
Karimunjawa is a string of isles off the coast of Central Java, home to flourishing coral reefs, mangrove rainforests and rich biodiversity, including rare and protected species. As is typical with Java’s northern coast, the beaches on these islands have calm waves, making it an ideal spot for beginner-friendly diving and snorkelling. Island-hopping through its five inhabited islands (and more uninhabited ones) will not only bring you to gorgeous white-sand beaches, but the opportunity to engage with the mix of cultures that make up the archipelago’s local population — crafty Javanese folk, the skillful seamen of Bugis, and fishermen from Madura.
Located in the less-travelled eastern part of Indonesia, this spices-rich island was once an important part of the international trade route during the colonial era. That episode of history has left us a number of charming historical buildings and fortresses. While the landmarks add cultural charm to the island, what’s most enticing is its natural magnetism. Many parts of the island are still very much unspoiled and clean, preserving vibrant marine biodiversity in its plentiful diving spots.
Among Raja Ampat’s stretch of exotic islands, Misool still stands out for its breathtaking vistas. Consisting mainly of thick sprawling greeneries and turquoise sea water, the island is lined by white sand and gorgeous limestone rocks unfolding along the coast. The island’s wealth of marine life is impressive even by Raja Ampat’s standards. History and culture enthusiasts will find this island has a deep lore, as they venture off into hidden ancient caves and observe the fascinating indigenous tribes.
Waigeo is the biggest island in the tropical paradise of Raja Ampat. The extending coastline amounts to countless idyllic beaches with white smooth sands and panoramic features, from lagoons to hills and rock formations. This natural abundance presents tourists with a wealth of outdoor activities. The southern part of the island is renowned for diving spots rich in marine life, while the jungles promise fruitful wildlife spotting and bird-watching.
This island in Raja Ampat allows visitors to catch a glimpse of its beautiful karst formations scattered about the turquoise and blue hues of the sea. The rocks are enveloped by lush greenery, creating an otherworldly vista admired from its various viewpoints. You can only imagine the wealth of wildlife hidden beneath the seemingly calm surface — or you actually go down the hills, put on diving gear, and be amazed at what creatures lie in the deep.
This relatively new-found paradise has quickly gained affection and a reputation among travelers for its beauty and exotic wildlife. Comprising six beautiful islands with different charms and characteristics, the Derawan Islands offer an all-in island adventure — snorkeling, diving, riding a boat in a lake as clear as glass, exploring sea caves, chilling in lavish resorts, to swimming in a stingless jellyfish lake.
Tidung is one of the inhabited islands inside Jakarta’s Thousand Islands archipelago. Thanks to the passionate community that lives here, travelling to and around this remote paradise is now very rewarding and convenient. Jembatan Cinta is an 800-meter long bridge connecting the main island with a smaller offshore island called the Little Tidung (Tidung Kecil), which is home to a breathtaking viewpoint and bridge-jumping attraction for daring adventurers.
In recent years, the low-profile island of Sumba has begun to appear on Indonesia’s tourism map, boasting an ethereal magnetism previously unimagined of an offbeat destination. Sumba’s lack of fame has protected its beautiful natural features in their purest state. Nowadays, adventurers are suddenly fantasising about seeing the unique dwarf trees lining up Walakiri beach, floating on the translucent Weekuri lagoon, and trekking through Laiwangi Wanggameti National Park.
Located in the far-flung reaches of eastern Indonesia, not many eyes have seen the raw natural prowess of Morotai Island. But those who have had the privilege will swear they’ve been in paradise. Hidden virgin beaches, remote small islands and countless diving spots make this place a truly tropical heaven. But perhaps a more defining aspect of this island is its history as a strategic base during World War II. That episode of Morotai’s story leaves behind numerous historical sites that now double as charming tourist attractions. From a sunken aircraft wreck and old jeeps and warships, to fortresses and bunkers, various war relics educate tourists about the island’s past as a decisive battleground in Indonesia’s history.
The Wakatobi Islands off the shore of Sulawesi have been a world-famous diving spot for decades. Cherished for the vibrant underwater life, Wakatobi holds hundreds of diving spots, each inhabited by different sets of corals, fish, seaweed, and other marine biodiversity. Located in the Coral Triangle, it is said that the marine beauty of the Wakatobi Islands led Jacques Cousteau himself to call it an ‘Underwater Nirvana’. Thankfully, it’s still relatively quiet and pristine compared to other mainstream diving destinations in Indonesia, due to its rather remote location.