As the largest archipelago in the world, Indonesia has over 17,000 islands – 6,000 of which are inhabited. Unfortunately, most visitors to this diverse country don’t ever even make it beyond the island of Bali. And while Bali is truly beautiful and unique in its own right, it has become a victim of overtourism – receiving over 6 million international visitors a year.
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous and want to get off the typical tourist trail, consider exploring a few of Indonesia’s other islands like Java, Flores, Komodo, and Sumatra. You’ll find beautiful remote beaches, impressive volcanoes, exotic cultures, stunning temples, and some of the best diving spots in the world.
So next time you book a holiday, consider adding these 5 Bali alternatives to your Indonesia itinerary and discover something new and exciting in this magical country!
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5 Alternative Destinations to Bali in Indonesia
1. Marvel at the Blue Fire of the Ijen Crater
In East Java lies one of the most unique places on earth – the Kawah Ijen volcano. The volcanic crater is filled with a stunning turquoise lake that contrasts with the surrounding moon-like landscape. But despite its alluring color, you don’t want to do any swimming here – this beautiful but deadly lake has the same pH level as battery acid.
Not only is the Ijen Crater the largest highly acidic lake in the world, but it’s also an active sulfur mine. During your hike up Kawah Ijen, you’ll come across local miners hauling impossibly heavy loads of sulfur. In fact, it’s likely they will speed right past you despite the hundreds of pounds of sulfur balanced precariously in two baskets connected by a beam of bamboo and placed on their shoulders!
Most visitors to the Ijen Crater use the nearby city of Banyuwangi as their starting point. It’s best to begin your hike in the middle of the night so you can witness the unique blue flames that are only visible in the dark. Although these blue flames appear to be molten lava lighting up the night, they are actually the result of liquid sulfur reacting with the air.
As the sun rises over the Ijen Crater, the surreal moonscape will start to appear and the lake takes on its signature turquoise hue. Descending into the crater itself, you’ll don your gas mask to protect yourself from the billowing clouds of smelly toxic sulfur. The sulphuric fumes can be so thick it limits your visibility, making you feel like you are walking on an undiscovered planet.
This surreal, out-of-this-world experience requires a somewhat difficult hike – 10 miles roundtrip at elevations of nearly 10,000 feet. Make sure you bring a guide, a headlamp, quality hiking boots, and a gas mask for your own safety. The easiest (and safest) way to experience Kawan Ijen is to book a sunrise trekking tour so everything will be taken care of for you.
2. Watch the Sunrise at Mystical Borobudur
Another Bali alternative that should be on everyone’s Indonesia bucket list, Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and one of the greatest archaeological sites found in Southeast Asia. It’s located in Central Java about an hour from the city of Yogyakarta.
Built in the 9th century, this monument has thousands of meticulously carved relief sculptures and hundreds of Buddha statues. It sits overlooking lush green rice fields and distant volcanoes. You’ll be in awe of the sheer size of Borobudur, as well as the incredible attention to detail and skill it took to build this ancient site. Seeing the sunrise over Borobudur is without a doubt one of the most breathtaking experiences you’ll have in all of Indonesia.
It’s easy to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site on your own, but guides are also available onsite if you want to learn more about the history of Borobodur and Mahayana Buddhism. Many accommodations and guest houses also have bicycles for rent if you wish to explore the local villages.
If you’re able to stay longer in the region, consider hiring a private driver to explore the beautiful waterfalls nearby and the rice terraces in the mountains surrounding Borobudur.
3. Explore the Island Paradise of Flores
To escape the crowds of Bali, head east to the Indonesian island of Flores! Boasting remote white sand beaches and spectacular hiking, Flores has an untouched beauty that you’re unlikely to find in Bali. The most well-known tourist attraction in Flores is Mount Kelimutu, usually reached from the village of Ende. The three lakes found in its volcanic craters change shades from aqua, green, red, and brown – a natural phenomenon thought to be caused by minerals in the lakes mixing with volcanic gases.
Flores is home to numerous marine parks, the most beautiful of which is 17 Islands Marine Park. Full of marine life and coral reefs, its crystal clear waters are perfect for snorkeling and diving. Most of the islands found in the marine park are uninhibited, so the only way to go island-hopping is by hiring a guide and boat from the town of Riung.
If you have time to explore more of Flores, visit the impressive Egon volcano for panoramic views of its smoking craters. And after your hike, you can spend your afternoon soaking in the nearby Blidit natural hot springs. Or if eco-tourism is your thing you can stay in traditional villages like Liang Ndara and Wae Sano where you’ll be welcomed just like family and can experience the local way of life.
Flores is everything that Bali once was decades ago and is the perfect Bali alternative for your Indonesian holiday.
4. See Giant Lizards and Pink Beaches in Komodo
No trip to Indonesia would be complete without a visit to Komodo National Park to see the world’s largest lizards. These giant beasts can grow to 10 feet and can weigh over 300 pounds! The Komodo dragons are as dangerous as they look, so you’ll be required to be on a tour or take a guide with you when visiting the national park.
Another natural wonder of Komodo National Park is Pantai Merah, the pink beach of Padar Island. This beach gets its distinct pink color from Foraminifera which produces the red color in coral reef. The white sand mixes with tiny pieces of red coral creating this striking pink beach. Before relaxing on the beach make sure you hike up to the summit of Padar Island for stunning 360-degree views of the entire island.
Komodo National Park also has some of the most diverse marine life on the planet making the diving sites unparalleled. Chances are you’ll see a wide range of colorful fish, diverse coral, huge manta rays, sea turtles, and perhaps even an occasional shark!
Komodo National Park can be visited as either a day trip from Labuan Bajo on Flores or as part of a multi-day liveaboard cruise. Whichever you choose, this is one Indonesian destination that should definitely be added to your itinerary.
Note: Conservation efforts are being discussed for Komodo National Park, so make sure to check with tour companies beforehand to confirm that the park is open for visitors.
5. Discover Wild and Remote Sumatra
One of Indonesia’s most overlooked islands, Sumatra, is relatively unknown to outsiders other than a handful of surfers searching for the perfect wave. But here you’ll find an island rich in history and culture with an endless range of adventures – the perfect alternative to Bali for your trip to Indonesia.
Sumatra has mighty volcanic peaks, dense rainforests, and amazing National Parks like Gunung Leuser – the largest wilderness area in Southeast Asia. It’s also home to the Bukit Lawang Orangutan Sanctuary, one of the only places in the world to see orangutans in the wild.
Further south, you’ll find Lake Toba, an enormous lake that occupies the caldera of a supervolcano with a surrounding region that is full of hot springs and waterfalls. And just off the coast of Sumatra, the Mentawai Islands and Nias Island offer world-class surfing with waves suitable for every level of experience.
Due to its isolated geography, Sumatra is also home to many indigenous tribes, making it an even more alluring destination. To this day, you can still see traditional houses, festivals, ceremonies, and rituals practiced by the local communities. In Bukittinggi, you’ll encounter the Minangkabau ethnic group. And the city of Medan is full of diversity including the Batak tribe, Chinese, Indian, and other ethnic groups, creating a vibrant culture and diverse food scene.
Lying off the southeastern coast of Sumatra are two additional islands that you can’t miss – Bangka and Belitung. With spectacular white sand beaches and unbelievably clear waters, these two beautiful islands offer a perfect tropical holiday far from the crowds of Bali.
Whatever destination you choose in Indonesia, you will find a welcoming country that blends adrenaline-filled adventures, beautiful untouched beaches, fascinating culture, and dramatic scenery. So for your next trip to Indonesia, go beyond Bali and see just how diverse and vibrant this island nation truly is!
Do you have a favorite Indonesian island to visit besides Bali? Let us know in the comments below!
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Carrie Back – About the Author:
Carrie is a part-time travel writer and full-time globetrotter based in Southeast Asia. Her most recent adventures include working in the Bolivian Amazon jungle, surfing in Sri Lanka, and exploring Laos via a slow boat up the Mekong River. She’s a slow travel enthusiast and loves to write about her experiences abroad.