Indonesia: 10 Tropical Island Getaways

28 Apr, 2023 | A-> Z Guide

An island-hopping adventure in Indonesia is your ticket to countless opportunities to snorkel, scuba dive, sunbathe, surf, hike, party and explore.

Exactly how many islands are in Indonesia depends on whom you ask. Some estimates suggest that there may be more than 18,300 of them. To make it easy for you, we have put together a vetted list of our 10 favorites to add to your itinerary the next time you are in Indonesia. We chose these islands for their breathtaking scenery, incredible diversity of wildlife, fun activities, and off-the-beaten-path tranquillity.

1. Nusa Penida 

Close to Bali is the hilly island of Nusa Penida. If you are planning a Bali honeymoon itinerary, you will want to make some room on your bucket list for a stop at this beautiful island. While you are on a one-day trip to Nusa Penida, you may catch a glimpse of a sulfur-crested cockatoo, a Java sparrow, Mitchell’s lorikeet, or even the critically endangered Bali starling. As to the dive sites, consider visiting Penida Bay, Batu Meling, Batu Lumbung, or Malibu Point to see coral, fish, turtles and more.   

Quick Tips:

  • Arrive by speedboat or public ferry.
  • Have your camera and binoculars ready to watch rare birds.
  • Plan ahead for when you depart. Boats can get overbooked.

2. Gili Trawangan

Free Island Sea photo and picture

Gili Trawangan, often just called “Gili T,” is one of the three famous Gili islands, together with Gili Air and Gili Meno off the Lombok coast. The name “Trawangan” translates to “tunnel,” and alludes to the historic WWII-era tunnel system present on the island.

Gili T has a lot to offer visitors; in fact, it is one of the most popular islands on our list. Whether you want to go snorkeling in the deep blue waters, sunbathing on the white beaches, or partying at the beach bars and nightclubs, you will never run out of things to see and do. After a day out partaking of Gili T’s many diversions, relax in sublime comfort in any of the island’s luxurious resorts. Be sure to take some photos at some of Gili T’s iconic sunset swings!

Quick Tips:

  • Consider renting a bike to save costs getting around.
  • Eat street food and don’t be afraid to bargain to further reduce costs.
  • Horse carts also offer transportation.

3. Sumba Island

a group of horses running along the beach

While you are exploring the eastern part of Indonesia, stop by Sumba in the Lesser Sunda Islands. Amid this island’s lush foliage and expansive beaches, the tall thatched roofs of traditional Sumbanese dwellings call your attention to charming rural villages. 

Get to know the Sumbanese people, watch more than 200 species of birds, or visit sites such as Watu Mondorak Cove, Tanggedu Waterfall, and Puru Kambera Beach to partake in the natural splendor of the island. Wherever you go and whatever you do while visiting, you can look forward to discovering what countless other guests have over the many years of Sumba’s popularity: this is one of Indonesia’s finest gems.

Quick Tips:

  • Plan to spend time at a village like Wanokaka or Lamboya to experience Sumbanese culture.
  • Visit in February or March for the traditional Pasola Festival featuring ritual horseback riding and spear throwing.

4. Komodo

brown mountain beside body of water during daytime

Even if you have never been to Indonesia, the name “Komodo” still sounds familiar, right? Most people know about the mighty Komodo dragon, a lizard that can grow up to 9.8 feet long and weigh more than 150 pounds. But have you ever seen one for yourself?

If you want to get up close and personal with Komodo dragons during your Indonesia vacation, then head to Komodo Island in the Lesser Sunda chain. Finding out more about Komodo National Park - one of the eight prestigious UNESCO World Heritage sites in Indonesia, you will discover why this island is a must-go destination for any wildlife lovers.

Quick Tips:

  • While one may reach the island swiftly by taking a flight from Jakarta, it is also possible to arrive by boat. Be aware that the boat ride takes more than one day.
  • Plan your trip for the dry season to give yourself the best chance of seeing Komodo dragons.

5. Raja Ampat

an aerial view of a lagoon surrounded by trees

Raja Ampat is actually the name of an archipelago of 1,500 islands, shoals and cays. The largest of these islands are known as the “Four Kings”: Salawati, Misool, Waigeo and Batanta.

If you are passionate about snorkeling and diving, the Raja Ampat Marine Recreation Park belongs at the very top of your bucket list. Here, marvel at hundreds of corals and over a thousand species of fish. It is believed to be the most biodiverse marine ecosystem on the planet!

Quick Tips:

  • For calm waters, visit during the dry season between October and April.
  • Pack extra layers of clothes to dress modestly in villages, and try not to visit them on Sundays.

6. Wakatobi

two person standing in sea

Another destination underwater enthusiasts will want to head to is Wakatobi National Park. Wakatobi is the combination of the first two letters in each name of four main islands: Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia and Binongko. With more than 150 islands in total forming the Wakatobi Regency group, there is a lot to explore here both above and under the water. 

There are numerous sites throughout the park that are perfect for beginning, intermediate and advanced divers. In this UNESCO Marine Biosphere Reserve, explore colorful and diverse coral gardens surrounded by fish, turtles, dolphins, whales and other spectacular creatures. 

Quick Tips:

  • If you want to participate in kite surfing, be sure to visit in June, July or August.
  • For a chance to spot dolphins, try and be by the shore around 6-7 in the morning.

7. Morotai

aerial photography of boat approaching bridge

If you head to the northern part of Indonesia, you will find the rugged island of Morotai, which is famous for its military history in World War II. In fact, the Battle of Morotai raged here from September 1944 until August 1945.

Today, it may seem hard to believe that Morotai was once the site of so much conflict. Now, you can listen to the soothing sound of the breeze in the palm trees and the gentle lapping of the waves on pristine shores. It just could not be more peaceful. 

Nevertheless, one can find evidence of the island’s WWII history by heading to sites like Lapangan Pante, sometimes referred to as an “underwater museum.” There, curious divers can explore wartime tanks, planes and trucks preserved by the sea.

Quick tips:

  • There are some reasonably-priced van charter services that are ideal for exploring the island, especially as a group.
  • Don’t miss out on museums and historical landmarks such as the World War II Museum and Trikora Monument.

8. Weh Island

Known locally as Pulau Weh, or sometimes “Sabang,” Weh Island is an excellent option for budget travelers who still want to experience the best of what Indonesia has to offer. With its unique geology and its dense jungles, it offers many beautiful hikes. 

Speaking of volcano hiking, you do not need to go on a lengthy backpacking expedition to see the volcanic features—they are well distributed throughout the island, many of them relatively close to accommodations. That means that even if you just want to go for a brief walk, you should be able to spot some sulfur vents and other active features. 

Like the other islands on our list, Pulau Weh also features world-class opportunities for diving and snorkeling. The range of corals is not as extensive here, but you will encounter triggerfish, pipefish, frogfish, lionfish, dolphins, turtles, sharks, stingrays and other species under the sparkling waves. 

Quick Tips:

  • For some of the best marine life sightings, be sure to take a five-minute trip to nearby Rubiah Island.
  • Food on the island is tasty and affordable, but be aware it is mostly rice and noodles.

9. Sombori

silhouette of people on beach during sunset

Seen from overhead, the Sombori conservation area appears like a cluster of emerald and sapphire jewels surrounded by deep blue waters. For a breathtaking view of the coral islands and their lagoons, you can hike to the summit of Khayangan Peak on Sombori Island. 

Although tourists are beginning to learn about Sombori, it is still quiet and secluded. Whether you are hiking to viewpoints on the cliffs or you are relaxing on the unspoiled beaches, it is typical to have the place entirely to yourself. 

While you are here, be sure to also explore Diamond Cave, which is home to stunning limestone formations as well as some intriguing handprints that date back to prehistoric times. Some other cool caves to check out while you are here include Allo Cave and Prehistoric Cave.

Quick Tips:

  • It is smart to charge up your devices fully when you have the chance and carry a power bank. There is not always access to power.
  • Do not expect wi-fi access.

10. Bunaken

silhouette of palm tree near body of water during sunset

Finally, no visit to the islands of Indonesia would be complete without a trip to Bunaken in the Bunaken National Marine Park. In this magical waterland, discover an exceptional level of biodiversity. Thirteen species of corals, more than 90 species of fish, and an abundance of sponges, giant clams and other inhabitants of the deep await you. 

One word of caution about visiting Bunaken and the other islands on our list—once you discover these tropical island getaways, you may never want to leave.

Quick Tips:

  • April through October is the best time to snorkel and dive at Bunaken.
  • You can find dive packages incorporating Lembeh, Bangka and Manado along with Bunaken that take longer than just seeing Bunaken but are exceptionally rewarding.

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