Komodo National Park
Indonesia’s best-known national park comprises several islands and some of the country's richest waters within its 1817 sq. km. Expect hulking mountainous islands blanketed in savannah, laced with trails and patrolled by the world’s largest lizard – the Komodo dragon. That’s the big draw here, and it’s easy to spot them, but there’s also big nature beneath the water's surface where polychromatic bait draws big pelagics such as sharks and manta rays in great numbers. Nearby Labuan Bajo, on the island of Flores, is the perfect traveler base.
One of Indonesia’s greatest joys is hopping on a fast boat from busy Bali and arriving on one of the irresistible Gili Islands. Think sugar-white sand, bathtub-warm, turquoise waters and wonderful beach resorts and bungalows just begging you to extend your stay. Not to mention the coral reefs, which are teeming with sharks, rays and turtles. Savour the dining and nightlife on Gili Trawangan, the perfect balance of Gili Air and the pint-sized charms of Gili Meno. Or simply do nothing at all.
Life revolves around death in this region of rice terraces, boat-shaped roofs and doe-eyed buffalo in Sulawesi. Tana Torajan funeral ceremonies involve days of prayer, feasting and dances, as well as water-buffalo fights and animal sacrifices, before the deceased is brought to his or her resting place. This can be carved into a cliff-face, or be a cave or hanging graves suspended from cave edges. Travellers should be aware that they may see mummified bodies, that water-buffalo fights may be difficult to watch and that animal sacrifices are bloody.
The Banda Islands offer a rich and intoxicating cocktail of history, culture and raw natural beauty. This remote archipelago draped in jungle and clove and nutmeg trees, fringed with white sand and surrounded by clear blue seas and pristine reefs, kick-started European colonisation and helped shape the modern world. Fly to the capital – Bandaneira – from Ambon, stroll the shady streets, admire late-colonial relics, then charter a boat to the outer islands, where awesome beaches and jaw-dropping underwater drop-offs and coral await, and village life is warm and easy.
Tanjung Puting National Park
The African Queen meets jungle safari in this ever-popular national park in southern Kalimantan, where you can not only get up close and personal with Asia's largest ape, the orang-utan, but also cruise the jungle in high style aboard your own private klotok (local canoe with water-pump motor). The typically three-day journey takes you on a round trip up the Sungai Sekonyer to Camp Leakey, with stops at several orang-utan feeding stations and plenty of impromptu wildlife spotting. Despite its creature comforts, the experience still manages to be authentic adventure travel, and is open to anyone.
If you have the stamina, Jakarta has the action. It is one of Southeast Asia's best-kept party secrets, from superstylin' lounges frequented by the oh-so-beautiful crowd, to low-key bars where the soundtrack is vintage 1970s funk, alt-rock music venues and electro clubs where DJs attain messiah-like status. How long the party will last is uncertain. Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim nation where traditions run deep, and attitudes toward the nightlife scene are changing with conservatives lobbying for club curfews and strict alcohol laws. But for now, people party on.
Trekking in the Baliem Valley is the highlight of a trip to Papua for most visitors and takes you into the world of the Dani, a mountain people whose traditional culture still stands proud despite changes wrought by the Indonesian government and Christian missionaries. You'll sleep in their villages of grass-roofed huts, climb narrow jungle trails, traverse panoramic open hillsides, cross raging rivers by wobbly hanging footbridges, and be charmed by the locals' smiles. Tip for those bridges: don't look down at the water, but do be careful where you're putting your feet!
Indonesia’s countless volcanoes don’t get much smaller and more perfectly formed than Gunung Api, a miniature Mt Fuji, which shelters the natural harbour of the Banda Islands. Topping out at a rather diminutive 656m, it erupted as recently as 1988 and can be climbed in an arduous three hours. Among the many others worth exploring are Bali's Agung, Lombok's Rinjani, Java's Bromo and the infamous Krakatau, although frequent eruptions mean that you'll need to check the current activity status of any volcano before climbing it. Guides are almost always recommended. One reward: stunning summit sunrises.