Every week a reader gets a chance to put a travel question to the Been there community. How does this work?
This week's experts are Lesley Reader, co-author of the Rough Guide
to Bali and Lombok
and Beth and Shaun Tierney, editors of travel site Seafocus.com
and authors of Footprint
's Diving Southeast Asia
The dilemma:I’m off for three weeks in Indonesia for my honeymoon in October – after seeing Java and Bali for a fortnight we’re wondering what to do with our last week. We don’t scuba dive. Any suggestions?
The experts say:Beth Tierney from Footprint Travel Guides:
Congratulations and what a fantastic place to spend your honeymoon. I can vouch for it, as it’s where we had ours!
Java and Bali are fascinating places – try to make sure you see Borobudur
on Java, the beautiful Hindu temples on Bali
and the town of Ubud, Bali’s cultural heart. If you are looking for a third island destination, think about extending your trip to neighbouring Lombok, which is often described as ‘Bali how it used to be'.
The island is much quieter and nature plays a pivotal role in tourism. Diving is one of the main attractions, but there are plenty of other things to do. There are beautiful beaches and some impressive historic buildings like the 18th century Mayura Water Palace. Mount Rinjani towers over the north of the island. This active volcano is the second highest in Indonesia and if you like trekking, the hike to the top through the National Park is amazing, but it does take three days.
If you fancy somewhere more laid back, you could visit the Gili Islands; three tiny coral atolls off Lombok’s north coast. Rimmed by white sand beaches and coral reefs, each has a distinct personality from lively to quiet. Gili Trewangan is a bit of a travellers haunt, but perfect for lazy, romantic days followed by great nightlife. Lombok is only a 20-minute flight from Bali, or there are direct fast ferries to the Gilis.
For a more adventurous option, what about Komodo
, where the world’s largest lizard resides? The Komodo dragon is over three metres long and weighs 165 kilos. It’s not a beast to be trifled with, so tours through the National Park are fully escorted. There’s no accommodation but plenty of sailing cruises from Bali pass Lombok then the island of Sumbawa before arriving in Komodo. I understand that you can’t dive due to asthma, but do think about snorkelling if you come this way – the Komodo National Marine Park is one of the most important and diverse marine realms on the planet.
Flores, just past Komodo, is interesting too as it is Christian and culturally, quite different from her neighbours. An ancient tribe of pygmies was recently discovered, although more famous is the unique three coloured lakes at Kelimutu. These sit at 1600 metres high, but no need to walk there as they are easily accessible road. Some cruises go this far, or the flight from Bali only takes about two hours.Lesley Reader from Rough Guide:
Lombok, just a 30 minutes flight or a four-hour ferry ride from Bali, offers a different atmosphere from its more famous neighbour with wide-open spaces, unspoilt beaches and mercifully fewer tourists.
Where to stay: If you're after total romance, high-end luxury and lazing
about by an infinity pool try the Oberoi Lombok
- rates start at £165 per night for a private villa. For a more active break try the aptly named Heaven on a the Planet
, an eco-resort in a beautiful bayside setting offering everything from surfing to jungle treks. Five-night deals start at £60 per night.
What to do: Those with an adventurous spirit should try climbing Gunung
Rinjani (3726m), an active volcano with a beautiful crater lake on the north
side of the island. Beach bums should head to the Gili Islands - three
perfectly formed specks of sand a short hop from the mainland.
Our readers say:
I travelled around south-east Asia five years ago and my highlight was the three months I spent in Indonesia. I started in Sumatra and finished in Flores and did a diving trip to Sulawesi, but I'm sure you don't want to know too much about that.
If I had a week there I would probably fly to Medan and head up to Bukit Lawang
, the Orangutan rehabilitation centre. If you don't mind some easy trekking you can camp overnight and be sure to see some Orangutans in their natural environment (while it is still possible). When we were hiking our group was followed by a female to a point where our guide had to scare her away. Her mate was not too happy and 'rained' on us from above a couple of times.
You would still have time to visit Lake Toba the largest freshwater lake in the world. It was possibly the largest volcanic eruption in the world and is now home to some of the friendliest people I have ever come across.
The other alternative is to travel east from Bali and climb Rinjani (tough-ish, but views you will never forget for the rest of your lives). You will have time to get to Komodo (home of the dragon) and back.
I am really envious as I know whatever you do in that wonderful country will stay with you forever. I had some reservations to start with as the foreign office warned against non-essential travel, but found the people so warm and welcoming far friendlier than any other Asian country.
My main recommendation is try and learn a few words as it is one of the easiest of languages to learn.
I lived in Java for a year and have visited Indonesia twice as a tourist, and have never scuba dived. Firstly, I would suggest limiting your time in Java. Indonesia is in my opinion the most beautiful country in the world in terms of natural attractions, but its cities are pretty horrendous. Yogyakarta is supposed to be a capital of culture, but there are far more pleasant places of its nature in the rest of south-east Asia, and I wouldn't recommend any other city in Java to visit.
I would suggest two options to get the best of Indonesia's natural attractions: Flores is a fantastic place, with two key highlights being a trip to Komodo and Rinca off it's western edge, and the amazing multi-coloured lakes of Kelimutu. There is also a great lodge to stay in the north-east called Adima. The drawback is that without hiring your own vehicle and driver the travel can be arduous. The other option is the north of Sumatra, with Lake Toba, a vast crater lake, Bukit Lawang, an Orangutan rehabilitation centre and other volcanoes and islands to explore.
Internal flights are regular and relatively cheap, at least last time I visited. I would suggest a week or so in Bali to relax, then 1.5 to 2 weeks seeing the natural attractions of one of the more remote islands. Alex Read
There is so so so much more to this wonderful country than Bali and Java. I have not visited Java, but from all reports it is certainly not a highlight. In my opinion Bali does not give an accurate reflection of what Indonesia is like as a country, the struggles it faces, and the welcoming and kind nature of its population. Bali was the only place I ever felt like people were trying to rip me off - everywhere else people were so helpful, interested and kind - it is one of the only places there that I would not be interested in returning to. I do think Bali is nice with lovely hotels and restaurants, but is now the same as any main stream tourist destination in south-east Asia.
In the centre of Sulawesi there is an area, Tana Toraja, of great natural beauty with rice paddies, coffee plantations, limestone features and hills. However, the most remarkable thing about this area is the local tribal culture and traditions. I have travelled extensively and this is the most fascinating culture I have ever had the pleasure to observe - look it up and you'll start to get an idea what I am talking about.
Flores island has some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen, with volcanoes (Kelimutu is the most fascinating, has three craters with lakes. The colour of the lakes change daily and range from black/dark blue to turquoise, orange and green - sunrise is the perfect time to visit), rainforests, lovely coast line... The eastern end of Flores is the jumping off point for Komodo and Rinca Islands; the only place to see the mystical Komodo dragons in their natural habitat. You can get within touching distance of wild animals (though I wouldn't recommend this!). You can do a 2/3 day cruise (fairly basic) from Flores to Lombok via Komodo taking in other lovely remote islands and scenery or just do day trips to Komodo from Labuanbajo in Flores.
In addition you can see Orangutans and other amazing wildlife in the wild in Kalimantan and Sumatra
Hope this helps.Henrietta Marsh
Absolutely Mr. S,
I've lived here many years and also don't scuba dive.
Beaches. In Java, Pelabuhan Ratu (South From Jakarta) and Pangandaran (Central Java) are super. Have the whole beach to yourself and splash around in bath warm water.
Mountains. Indonesia is full of volcanoes you can hike up. Many in Java and Bali, too numerous to mention. Usually set in stunning natural parks.
Botanical gardens at Cibodas. Up on the cool Puncak pass. Beautiful expansive grounds
Hot springs. These are also everywhere. Sukabumi and Garut are popular.
Culture. Head down to the old capital of Yogya.
Boat trip. The thousand Islands off Jakartamake for a great weekend.
Drink Bintang beer.
Kintamani lake in Bali up in the hills. Stunning. Go for a row.
Waterfalls. Many many. I know ones at Carita in West Java (you can jump off the top!!) and Lovina in North Bali.Simon
There is a lot to do without scuba diving in Indonesia. I would also add Lombok to the trip.
Yogyakarta: Cultural centre of Indonesia. Plenty of heritage sights to see here and some great hotels and food too.
Bali: Spend time in Ubud either in hill-villas or an eco-retreat. Some jungle trekking is available too. Don't go to the beach in Bali, instead head to Lombok. If there has been some rain, then white-water raft.
Lombok: See Kuta in the south for beautiful beaches and surfing (if that is of interest). Small islands in south-west worth seeing as is potentially climbing Mt Rinjani. The Gili Islands are off the coast of Lombok and although a major diving destination, you should stay on Gili Meno to really get away from it all, great beaches, lovely water and relaxed atmosphere.
If Java and Bali have involved a hectic itinerary, then head for the Gili Islands off of the North West coast of Lombok. Personally, I would dodge the backpacker laden Gili Trawangan, and go for the more laid back Gili Air or Gili Meno - your typical tropical island paradise.
If you're feeling more adventurous (and I recommend that you are), then catch a flight from Bali to Labuanbajo in Flores, the Christian dominated island which contrasts nicely with Bali's Hinduism and the prevailing Islamic culture elsewhere. From here, you can hop on a boat to Komodo and Rinca and see the fabled Dragons. This will leave you enough time to hire a car and driver (I don't recommend driving yourself and insurance can be extremely expensive in any event) and have a poke around the traditional villages (and they are genuinely traditional) at Bena, the amazing hot water springs (very nice after mostly cold showers in hotels) and the sensational sunrise at the three volcanoes of Kelimutu.
Flores is a place you will not forget in a hurry. Vincent Galea
Trekking in the highlands of West Papua!!Toby
You don't need to scuba dive in Bali to see amazing sea life; swimming with just a mask off the north coast of Bali (Permuteran) will allow you to see incredible sea life as little as three metres out from the shore.
Maybe try some yoga in Ubud or dolphin spotting in Lovina? Many people go hiking in Bali. If I had three weeks in Indonesia though, I would definitely visit the island of Komodoto to see the dragons.Sally
As you're so close, and seeing as there are no real beach options on Bali, perhaps you should consider making the small hop to Bali's neighbouring island paradise Lombok. I could think of many worse ways to spend a week.
Alternatively, you could jump from Java to Sumatra and walk in the volcanic national park around Krakatoa, and maybe take a rhino-spotting safari while you're at it. Infrastructure becomes questionable the further north into Sumatra you venture, but in the south you'll be fine.
P.s. while on Java, consider Jogjakarta. It's familiar, yet exotic, and a honeymooning couple will definitely draw a few stares. Be sure to climb the volcano at midnight - unforgettable!Justin
My suggestion would be to fly up to Kalimantan and visit one or more of the following places:
Camp Leakey - stunning Orangutan research centre a few hours up-river from Pangkalanbun/Kumai, as seen on David Attenborough's Life of Mammals. I think there are flights there from Jakarta and maybe Surabaya (although inland flights to and from other destinations in Kalimantan were no longer operating when I arrived last year). Hire a boat with a captain and cook and spend three days on the river. Maybe $150 a day, but worth every penny. An utterly captivating experience.
The Sungai Kapuas - dayaks, longhouses and mother nature. Fly to Balikpapan or Samarinda.
Derawan - amazing island just offshore from Tanjung Batu, near Berau/Tanjung Redeb in the far north-east. Actually a little group of islands with near-unique attractions, including a huge population of resident manta-rays off Sangalaki, a bizarre but amazing inland brackish lake on Kakaban filled to the brim with millions of stingless jellyfish and huge green leatherback turtles lolling in the shallows around the piers as you arrive and then coming onto land at night to lay. None of this requires scuba - snorkelling is good enough to see most, if not all of it. Although, if you're bored by divers as well as diving, might be one to avoid.
Second option would be to fly to Flores for the following:
The tricolour lakes in the volcanic caldera at Keli Mutu - although best to check what the colours are looking like these days - some of the banknotes depict them as bright green, red and blue. I saw two of those colours about 12 years ago, but my understanding is that in some years the colour scheme can be more brown, coffee and chocolate.
Komodo, home to the legendary dragons - for the intrepid, see if you can charter a local boat to take you from Labuanbajo.
I'm also told that Sumatra is magical. Orangutans, tigers, volcanoes, jungle etc.Patrick
I was in Indonesia in 1997. If my info is still up-to-date, I would suggest the following:
Fly to Flores where you can visit the nearby Komodo islands and see the famous dragons. When I was there, the best plan was to take a boat to Rinca, a small and, at the time, uncommercial island (unlike Komodo). The dragons are an unforgettable experience!
If you don't want to scuba dive, I strongly recommend snorkelling as the fish are truly amazing. For me it was almost a religious experience seeing colours and creatures that I didn't even know existed. We took a boat to an uninhabited, palm-treed island where the sea was emerald green and spent the day mind-blown by the diversity of life in the Indian ocean, plus some quality beach time.KW
Stay in Java and Bali for three weeks instead of two; two weeks means you'll be really rushed and worn out. There is enough in Java to keep you going for three months, whether it be the temples, performances and contemporary arts in and around Yogyakarta, the alternative arts scene in Bandung, visiting the various volcanoes (Bromo is the most obvious), the Dieng plateau or Ijen crater, the metropolis of Jakarta, with its huge range of restaurants and surprisingly good clubs, shopping, not to mention some really quite good museums. And then there are the lesser visited cities, for example Surakarta, Malang (stay at the Tugu Hotel) and the island of Madura. The list is endless.
I've been going to Indonesia for 20 years, have never been scuba diving, and only been to the beach about five times and still have loads of places I've yet to visit. Relax, and slow down! If you really have to go somewhere else, a week walking in Tanah Toraja in South Sulawesi is a fantastic trip.
Learn to surf. Bali is blessed with perfect waves and luscious warm waters, ideal conditions for battling against the white water. Padang Padang Surf Camp
, 40 minutes and a world away from Kuta, on the Bukit peninsula is about as far away from what you would imagine a surf camp to be. Beautiful villas, with a honeymoon suite looking out over the forest canopy. The infinity pool and hammocks are essential for resting those tired muscles. (you will ache).Matthew
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