For most visitors of Indonesia, their first encounter with this country — a geological jigsaw of 17,500 islands extending more than 3,000 miles that stretches from Malaysia to Australia — comes via Bali. The teardrop-shaped island, known for its deep-rooted spirituality, fantastical Hindu temples, luxe hotels, louche beach clubs and lively surf scene, remains Indonesia’s centre for tourism – although the relentless march of development, particularly on the island’s south coast, is not always appealing.
Bali really is just the tip of the Indonesian iceberg though. This predominantly Muslim nation has an embarrassment of riches for travellers. You’ll find the busy, steaming capital city, Jakarta, on the island of Java, once home to some of the greatest kingdoms in antiquity — the 8th-century Medang, which laid temples in the Dieng Plateau; the Buddhist Shailendra Dynasty, responsible for Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple complex; and the medieval Majapahit Empire, whose lands stretched from Bali to New Guinea, to what is now Singapore, the southwestern Philippines and Timor-Leste.
In the present day south, Lombok, Sumba, Flores and Komodo are links in the Lesser Sunda Islands’ chain, where the effects of this region’s explosive evolution are writ large in the form of Komodo dragons, endemic birds — owls, whistlers, honeyeaters — deciduous forests, arid savannah and pink beaches. Move west to the island of Sumatra and find the verdant Riau archipelago, which brushes up against Singapore and Malaysia. In the north, Borneo is where you’ll find orangutans, part of a mind-blowing biodiversity that also includes hundreds of mammals, birds, amphibians and fish, as well as thousands of plants, with new ones still being discovered (27 new plants and animals were recorded in 2021 alone). While to the west, the surreal landscapes of Raja Ampat, West Papua and the Spice Islands are a bona fide paradise for sailors, divers and snorkellers.
Each of these destinations merits at least a month’s exploration, but as few of us have that kind of time to spare, most travellers tend to descend on two or three destinations as part of a bigger tour, criss-crossing the country on domestic flights. Here, region by region, are some of the places to stay.
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1. Potato Head Suites & Studios, Seminyak beach
Palm-studded eco hotel with cool beach club
This south-coast hotel, with its tropical-brutalist red-brick façade, is known for its progressive ideas, both in terms of design and dedication to the local community. Step inside the plant-strewn lobby and you’ll be handed a shot of healthy jamu juice along with a zero-waste pack containing a reusable water bottle, tote bag and bamboo cutlery. In the rooms, hand-woven rugs, ikat fabrics, wooden trays, volcanic glassware and all-natural toiletries have all been locally made. The restaurant is plant-based and the vibe is relaxed and unpretentious. Guests get first shout on sunloungers at the popular Potato Head Beach Club.
Details Five nights’ half-board from £2,514pp, including flights (luxuryescapes.com)
2. Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Ubud
The romantic hotel that is also good for families
On the bucolic outskirts of Ubud, this exquisite compound of volcanic stone villas, tropical gardens and flowing water, is built around a historic Balinese family temple. It’s of little surprise then that the hotel is hugely popular with honeymooners, who gather, doe-eyed, at the spectacular cantilevered bar for sundown drinks. But it’s perfect for families too, who can whitewater raft down the Ayung River straight into the kids’ club. And, thanks to sublime spa and wellness facilities, with chakra cleansing classes, moonlit dips in the hydrotherapy pool and transcendent massages, it suits solo travellers too.
Details Seven nights’ B&B from £4,635pp, including flights and private transfers (scottdunn.com)
3. Gaia Oasis, Tejakula
Yoga retreat in the untapped north
It’s a twisty one-and-a-half-hour drive from Ubud to reach this peaceful not-for-profit yoga retreat in Bali’s largely tourist-free north. Gaia Oasis is split between two properties: one is in the Abasan mountains; the other on the jet black sands of Tejakula beach, so you can do downward-facing dogs amid the dewy jungle one day, and perfect your warrior pose as you watch the molten sun sink into the coppery sea the next. Each resort has a swimming pool, vegetarian restaurant and a small spa, with one-hour Balinese massages costing just £11. Visit the local mask makers for a glimpse into traditional Balinese arts and crafts.
Details Full-board doubles from £110 (gaia-oasis.com). Fly to Bali
4. Buahan, a Banyan Tree Escape, Ubud
Celebrate Bali’s March new year in luxury
Bali’s new year celebration, known as Nyepi, falls in March (dates vary according to the lunar cycle) and is marked by a day of silence. The airport is closed for 24 hours, internet connectivity is switched off and the use of electricity is restricted to all but the emergency services. The result? An island alive with the sounds of nature and glitter-bomb night skies. There’s nowhere more harmonious to experience it than at back-to-nature Buahan, where eco-luxury villas have no walls and no doors; the outdoor bathtubs are illuminated by fireflies and unbroken views of the full moon.
Details Seven nights’ half-board from £8,195pp, including flights and private transfers (elegantresorts.co.uk)
5. Alila Seminyak, Seminyak beach
A laid-back stay on the beach
The younger, livelier and more affordable beachside sibling of ultra-high-end Alila Uluwatu, which lies 40 minutes’ south, Alila Seminyak is set smack-bang on Seminyak beach within strolling distance of some of Bali’s best surf schools and seafood restaurants. All of the rooms have balconies or terraces (a few also have plunge pools) with ivory and dark wood interiors that reflect a contemporary version of Bali. The sustainably sourced restaurant, Seasalt, holds a bountiful seafood brunch at the weekends (mains from £40) and the breezy beach bar offers a cooler, low-key alternative to Seminyak’s raucous beach clubs.
Details Seven nights’ B&B from £1,699pp, including flights (travelbag.co.uk)
6. The Langham
Vast city-centre hotel with a British feel
Few hotels lord it over Indonesia’s capital city quite like the Langham, Jakarta. Inside a 65-storey skyscraper in the central business district — with world-class shopping and museums nearby — this 223-room hotel is a cathedral of white marble, soaring ceilings, wood panelling and flickering fireplaces, echoing the hotel’s British origins. There’s more anglophilia at the rooftop Artesian Bar, with its horseshoe bar and botanist’s laboratory, and the restaurant, Tom’s by Tom Aikens, which serves fish pies and chicken drumstick curries. However, there’s no mistaking where you are when you stare out of the floor-to-ceiling windows across one of the world’s largest metropolises.
Details Room-only doubles from £183 (langhamhotels.com). Fly to Jakarta
7. Park Hyatt
City slicker with a rooftop pool
A contemporary Asian aesthetic greets guests at this sky pad set on the uppermost floors of a 37-floor tower in the leafy Menteng area of the Central Business District. It’s been designed by Conran & Partners, and lava stone walls, dark tropical woods and swathes of glass are complemented throughout with indigenous art, ikat textiles and mini-forests of trees and plants. The rooftop pool comes with sparkly city views, the spa uses local ingredients such as betel leaf and monochromatic rooms convey a pulse-slowing sense of calm. The epitome of an urban oasis.
Details Room-only doubles from £240 (hyatt.com). Fly to Jakarta
8. Garrya Bianti Yogyakarta, Yogyakarta
New Banyan Tree with a wellbeing focus
The latest hotel from Banyan Tree offers an updated take on Javanese sophistication, twinning sharp modern architecture with traditional materials, such as huge chunks of volcanic stone, glossy teak woods, carved pendant lamps and rattan spun into mid-century-style furniture. Oversized rooms overlook the swimming pool, volcano studded jungle or Denggung River. Garrya puts a focus on wellbeing so you’ll find meditation spaces dotted around the banyan-filled grounds, alongside free daily yoga classes, a tanked-up gym and a spa with detox and sleep programmes. The perfect excuse to extend your stay in this gorgeous corner of Java, hiking up volcanoes, biking through rice fields and splashing in waterfalls, alongside must-do visits to the temple complexes of Borobudur and Prambanan, two of antiquity’s greatest treasures.
Details B&B doubles from £287 (garrya.com). Fly to Yogyakarta
9. Jiwa Jawa, BromoTengger Semeru National Park
National park stay by a volcano
Jiwa Jawa is uniquely positioned on the frilly skirts of the active somma volcano Mount Bromo inside East Java’s spectacular Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. There’s no swimming pool and the somewhat corporate design isn’t going to win any awards but what Jiwa Jawa does provide is a comfortable base — with fragrant gardens, eye-popping views, comfortable rooms, a solid restaurant and obliging staff — from which you can explore the local area. Options include guided hikes to the summit of Bromo at sunrise and sunset, village treks, mountain biking, horse riding, whitewater rafting and 4×4 tours.
Details Ten nights’ B&B from £2,485pp, including three nights at Jiwa Jawa, flights and transfers (turquoiseholidays.co.uk)
10. Plataran Borobudur Resort & Spa, Borobudur
Romantic villas with private pools
Plataran Borobudur is part of a small group of Indonesian-owned boutique hotels with a romantic touch. At this property, a five-minute drive from the wondrous Borobudur Temple complex, 21 private pool villas take inspiration from the Dutch colonial era; all teak floors, silk rugs, swirling ceiling fans and four-poster beds. The facilities are tip-top too; swimming pool, children’s play area, tennis courts, cookery school, hillside spa and three restaurants. Splash out on a private dining experience delivered at a candlelit outdoor table overlooking six of Java’s most spectacular mountains: Merapi, Merbabu, Telomoyo, Andong, Sumbing and Prau.
Details Fourteen nights’ B&B from £5,210pp, including two nights at Plantaran, flights and transfers (audleytravel.com)
11. MesaStila Resort and Spa, Banyubiru
The rainforest resort with mountain views
Wake up and smell the java at MesaStila, which has its own coffee plantation among its 54 acres of rainforested grounds on the fringes of Yogyakarta. It’s all so pretty — from the 23 authentic joglo villas with their magical entranceways and elaborately carved walls, to the octagonal swimming pool staring across untouched mountains and jungle, to the crepuscular spa and hammam. The Unesco world heritage site of Borobudur is just over an hour’s drive away. Nearby things to do include waterfall treks, splashing in 10th-century royal baths, and hopping on board the old cog steam Ambarawa Railway train for a glide through a paint chart of plantations, rice fields, lakes and villages.
Details Eight nights’ B&B from £2,349pp, including four nights at MesaStila, flights and transfers (trailfinders.co.uk)
12. Rimba Lodge, Tanjung Puting National Park
A jungle lodge with wildlife on tap
This eco-lodge is so deep in the dense jungle of Indonesian Borneo that it can only be reached by boat. Overlooking the Sekonyer River, rustic bamboo and clapboard rooms are raised above the ground and connected by a series of wooden walkways — ideal for viewing the macaques and proboscis monkeys that often swing by during the day (to avoid a simian raid, don’t leave any food on your balcony). You can get up close to orangutans at a nearby sanctuary and book a night safari to reveal even more exceptional wildlife — tarsiers, gibbons, glow-in-the-dark mushrooms — but cover up to avoid the leeches.
Details Seventeen-day Treasures of Indonesia tour from £4,995pp, including two nights at Rimba Lodge, one night aboard a Komodo cruise, most meals, flights and transfers (bambootravel.co.uk)
13. Komodo Resort, Sebayur Island
Romantic beach stay that’s great for divers
With simple wooden bungalows set on an island with a pale pink beach, this is barefoot living at its most magical. Snorkellers can walk straight from their rooms into a house reef resplendent with crayon-coloured corals, whirls of tropical fish and huge pulsating clams. Divers can experience gentle drifts, high-speed currents, pinnacles, sea mounts and manta rays, under the guidance of Komodo’s cheerful, highly experienced staff.
Details Seven nights’ full board from £3,595pp, including five nights at Komodo Resort and Diving Club, two nights in Bali at the Belmond Jimbaran Puri, flights and transfers (theultimatetravelcompany.co.uk)
14. Ayana Komodo, Labuan Bajo
Luxury hideaway with Komodo National Park views
The first five-star hotel to land in Labuan Bajo descends a hillside on to the icing sugar sands of Waecicu beach delivering views of Komodo National Park that seem almost mystical — boomerang-shaped islands, limestone karst orbs, golden tropical savannah and waters so blue they seem lit from beneath. The resort has everything an A-lister could want; infinity pools, a fleet of yachts, an indulgent spa, but it’s best as a base from which to explore this extraordinary land of Komodo dragons, 7m-wide manta rays, colour-pop coral reefs and puffing volcanoes.
Details Nine nights’ B&B in Bali and Komodo from £2,699pp, including three nights at Ayana Komodo, three nights at Como Uma Ubud and three nights at Samaya Seminyak, flights and transfers (scottdunn.com)
15. Somewhere, Lombok
Luxe surf spot
Built by two Hong Kong-born sisters, this design-led resort in peaceful Are Guling Bay — an under-the-radar surf spot known for its chunky left and right reef breaks — is the place to press the reset button. Natural materials and Indonesian crafts feature in the 20 modern rooms, which all have views of the Indian Ocean. Outside, there’s an L-shaped infinity pool and a band of buttery beach. When you’re done snorkelling, surfing and bronzing, head to the restaurant for lemongrass mojitos and plates of Thai ceviche, Greek salad and just-caught fish served on an open-air terrace on the fragrant hillside.
Details Three nights’ half-board from £439pp, including some activities (luxuryescapes.com). Fly to Bali
16. Hotel Tugu, Lombok
Flamboyant bungalow hotel in lavish grounds
A dream scene of serpent-topped pavilions, stepped pyramids, fantastic oversized statues and stone elephants spraying water into an opal-coloured swimming pool, Hotel Tugu is a maximalist fantasy. Equally flamboyant bungalows are scattered around the gardens and on Sire beach, each with alfresco bathrooms with copper tubs, leafy outdoor space, plus a few with private swimming pools. A bountiful breakfast buffet fuels you up for the day, afternoon tea is complimentary and zingy Indonesian dinners are served by candlelight. Things to do include sunset boat charters through the Lombok Strait, private picnics and Zen-ing out at the spa.
Details Seven nights’ B&B from £2,049pp, including flights (kuoni.co.uk)
17. Villa Tokay, Gili Air, Gili Islands
Low-key island stay
Spliced between beach and rainforest, Villa Tokay is a collection of private villas that look like spaceships made out of bamboo on the low-key, reef-ringed Gili Air, an island with a hip bar and café culture just a short boat journey from Bali and Lombok. The six villas range from two-person suites with large private pools, to rambling Avatar-ish two and three-bedroom villas with half-moon swimming pools, swim-up bars, spiral staircases and floating canopies. Transfers to and from the airport, a full breakfast and bicycles are included in the rate, while floating breakfasts, wine deliveries, massages and nanny services are available for a reasonable fee.
Details One night’s B&B in a suite from £152 (villatokay.com)
18. Mahamaya Gili Meno, Gili Meno, Gili Islands
Bargain beach hotel
You’ll get your first glimpse of this bargain beach hotel on the white coral sands of the wild, button-sized island of Gili Meno as you arrive by speedboat transfer. Choose from caramel and cream rooms that open on to the communal swimming pool or beachfront villas that roll right out towards the Indian Ocean. Despite the beckoning beach and chill atmosphere there’s plenty to do: free bicycles to tour the island’s pretty beaches, palm groves and seaside villages; cooking classes, fishing trips, snorkelling in an underwater sculpture gallery and organic Asian dinners on the beach.
Details Seven nights’ B&B from £1,899pp, including flights and transfers (kuoni.co.uk)
19. Cove Eco Resort, West Papua
Beach resort with access to the Coral Triangle
It can be difficult to find appealing places to stay in remote Raja Ampat, where liveaboards are the accommodation norm, but this charming ten-room beach resort has lovely large teakwood rooms with hand-carved furniture and canopy beds, as well as an outdoor restaurant serving super fresh nasi goreng and prawns as big as your fist. Ultimately, though, you’ve come all this way (a 30-hour journey from London via two flights and then a speedboat journey) to explore the Coral Triangle, one of nature’s greatest wonders. Must-see species include oceanic and reef manta rays, pygmy seahorses and wobbegong sharks — flat shaggy things that look as if they’ve been designed by Muppet-master Jim Henson.
Details Seven nights’ all-inclusive from £4,925pp, including flights, transfers and 12 pre-paid dives (theultimatetravelcompany.co.uk)
20. Bawah Reserve, Anambas Archipelago
Marine-focused villa resort stay
One of Indonesia’s most cinematic locations, Bawah Reserve is a festoon of six private islands haloed by glassy lagoons, candy-coloured coral reefs and castaway beaches set in a 1,000-hectare marine conservation area. There are 36 villas on the main island, Bawah, some perched on stilts over the water Maldives-style; and six stone and bamboo lodges cut into the bluff on a separate private island, Elang. There’s also a choice of sustainably led bars and restaurants, three back-to-nature spas, tennis courts, a water sports centre and numerous hiking trails and activities. Although it feels as if you’re in the proverbial middle of nowhere it can be easily reached from Singapore in a scintillating 75 minutes on the hotel’s private seaplane.
Details Seven nights’ full board from £6,575pp, including flights, transfers, some activities and spa treatments (turquoiseholidays.co.uk)
21. Cempedak Private Island, Cempedak
Adult-only private island stay with sea otters
The golden beach that rings this adult-only private island is home to an adorable family of slippery sea otters, whose neighbours include bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles. Built almost entirely from natural materials and local labour, sustained by nearby farmers and fishermen and fuelled by solar power, the hotel takes sustainability seriously — and it’s done with such style. Twenty bamboo villas have a modern organic design, with swooping crescent roofs, open-air living spaces, mezzanine bedrooms linked by spiral staircases and private saltwater pools. Cempedak feels like an enchanting little world of its own but is just 50 nautical miles from Singapore. From there, take the ferry to Bintan (visa on arrival £25), drive across the island and hop on a speedboat (transfers from £56pp return).
Details Full-board doubles from £559 (minimum two-night stay), including most activities (cempedak.com). Fly to Singapore
22. The Residence Bintan, Bintan Island
Singapore’s best beach stay
Often dirty and scented by the fuel of passing container ships, Singapore’s beaches aren’t anything to shout about. Instead, enhance your city break by hopping on the ferry over to the Residence Bintan, a relaxed all-rounder set on the wide empty white sands of Trikora beach (from £54 return; visa on arrival £25). Whether you’re travelling in a pair or with the family in tow, there’s plenty to keep everyone entertained, from spacious suites and villas (all with private outdoor space), to a choice of pools, Kakatu Kids’ Club, spa and yoga programmes, plus cooking school and batik-making classes.
Details B&B doubles from £166. Fly to Singapore
23. Cap Karoso, Sumba
Design-led resort with foodie flair
Cap Karoso is a sleek beachside beauty set in a turn-back-time land where horses remain the main mode of transport and marriages are made over elaborate dowries of cattle, fabrics and jewellery. Surf, swim, hike, horse ride and visit neolithic villages barely changed over thousands of years before unwinding with Cap Karoso’s hypnotic sea views and Indian Ocean soundtrack. Painstakingly created over five years by the French couple Evguenia and Fabrice Ivara, the resort has 47 rooms and 20 private villas featuring chunky walls of local limestone, plant-based roofs, Sumbanese sculptures, Pierre Frey textiles, low-slung modernist furnishings, custom-created ceramics and Klipsch sound systems. There’s a spa and two swimming pools and the food is a true highlight, blending French and Indonesian flavours — just-caught fish with curried aioli, cheese and charcuterie with mango relish, tangy nasi goreng — plus a roster of visiting acclaimed Michelin-star chefs.
Details Five nights’ B&B from £2,944pp, including flights and private transfers (scottdunn.com)
24. Nihi Sumba, Sumba
Off-grid luxury with spa safari on horseback
Nihi Sumba is one of those ultra-luxurious off-grid resorts where billionaires go to escape the annoying social-climbing millionaires. The property of Chris Burch (who has a personal estimated fortune of $1 billion), Nihi Sumba is set on what might be the world’s most beautiful beach, a stole of white silk sands adorned with black boulders and wild sandalwood horses. The 27 pool villas, ranging from one-bedrooms to four villa estates are all vast — of course — and overlook the shimmering Indian Ocean. Don’t miss Nihi’s spa safari, which takes guests on horseback through jungle villages and rice fields to a beautiful bamboo pavilion overlooking an empty bay for jasmine scented massages.
Details Seven nights’ full board, from £5,545pp, including flights and transfers (inspiringtravel.co.uk)
25. The Sanubari, Sumba
Remote villas in a rainforest nature reserve
Set inside a 100-hectare nature reserve made up of virginal white beaches, tangled rainforest, rugged cliffs and the turquoise Savu Sea, this edge-of-the-earth escape has just six simply styled villas built from local stone, teak and alang grass thatch. They’re catered for by a single restaurant serving delicious local dishes, salads and wraps, by smiley young staff from the Sumbanese community. It’s a one-hour flight and a two-hour drive to reach the resort but the sense of isolation is absolutely worth every bumpy minute.
Details Ten nights’ B&B from £3,750pp, including seven nights at Sanubari, three nights at Tandjung Sari in Bali, flights and transfers (experiencetravelgroup.com)
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