A new direct flight from London to Jakarta is opening up travel to tropical Indonesia. The islands of the region are among the most glorious places on earth, offering a mix of cultural sights, dramatic scenery and a spectacular array of wildlife. Now you can discover them for yourself.
JAVA: best for culture
Make the most your arrival in Jakarta, on the island of Java, by spending a few days exploring the vibrant city, before heading further afield. With its population of nine million it’s a thrilling but hectic place. For a night’s respite, make a beeline for the new Fairmont Jakarta, on Senayan Square, which opens early next year (www.fairmont.com). The city is renowned for its contemporary arts scene, so check out some of its groundbreaking galleries, such as Art: 1 New Museum (www.mondecor.com) and Artsphere Gallery (artsphere-gallery.com). You can navigate the city by making the most of the city’s new free bus tours for tourists (www.tourism-indonesia.co.uk).
For an authentic experience and an insight into the rural culture of Indonesia, try a homestay, part of the region’s new Village Tourism which stretches to 500 different villages across Indonesia. It offers the chance to live with locals and to learn artisan crafts and home-style cooking (www.tourism-indonesia.co.uk).
In terms of sightseeing, a must is a dawn viewing of Borobudur, one of the region’s most impressive temples, dating back to the 8th century. Shrouded in the morning mists from the surrounding paddy fields, it’s as majestic as it gets. Base yourself at the colonial-style Plataran Borobudur Resort & Spa (www.plataranborobudur.com), which nestles on the hills of Tanjungan Village, overlooking the temple.
A hike up the volcanic Mount Bromo is also unforgettable. While a visit to the Ujon Kulon National Park means the chance to see the remains of the volcanic island of Krakatoa and the Javanese Rhino in its natural habitat (for itinerary ideas visit: www.experiencetravelgroup.com). Offering an opulent place to stay is the stunning Amanjiwo, carved out of a natural amphitheatre and surrounded by volcanoes (for packages visit: www.scottdunn.com).
BALI: best for stunning hotels
The island of Bali takes the starring role in Indonesia’s island line-up. Once solely known for its spiritual culture and arty vibe, it is now gaining a reputation for being home to some of the world’s most stellar hotels. The Mulia (www.themulia.com) on the coastline of Nusa Dua, for instance, is a spectacular all-suite resort, and has just opened The Table 8, a cutting-edge Chinese restaurant.
Set to become the leader of the pack once it opens next year is Phillippe Starck’s The Stairs (www.thestairsbali.com) based in Seminyak. The architectural wonder boasts 12 villas with signature floor-to-roof glass facades by artist JonOne.
Known for its moody Balinese properties (there are currently four in total on the island), hotel brand Alila is gearing up to open two more addresses. Alila Seminyak will open in the New Year, while the new Java outpost will be welcoming guests by end of 2015 (www.alilahotels.com). Meanwhile, the spacious retreat that is Alila Ubud is the barefoot bolthole for those heading to South-East Asia’s largest literary event – the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival, 1-5 October 2014 (www.ubudwritersfestival.com).
Also on the horizon for 2015 is the super-luxe Chedi Club Jimbaran (www.ghmhotels.com). Found in its own private estate in the southern region of Bali, it will have 34 butler-serviced pool villas and a destination spa.
Make sure you break out of the hotel walls to explore the hidden coves, white sand beaches and craft-selling villages dotted around. For inspiration, a new Bali: Off the Beaten Track experience includes glamping in the rainforest (www.westernoriental.com).
LOMBOK: Best for chilling out
Lying east of Bali, a short 20-minute flight away, is Lombok. It is dominated by the looming, and thrillingly active volcanic Mount Rinjani. Often overlooked, Lombak is more laid-back and, in many parts, prettier than Bali, with fewer crowds, wide-open spaces and unspoilt scenery as far as the eye can see.
For a Robinson Crusoe moment, head south where the beaches are picture-postcard perfect. For a real ‘off-grid’ experience, travel through the island’s sprawling paddy fields and tobacco growing areas to the south-east tip of east Lombok’s Tanjung Ringgit peninsula. Here (perseverance is necessary) you’ll come to the remote Jeeva Beloam beach camp on a jaw-droppingly beautiful, secluded cove (www.jeevabeloam.com).
Not quite so difficult to find, on the north-east coast, is the opulent Oberoi, Lombok hidden away within tropical gardens on its own private beach (www.oberoihotels.com). From here you can explore the trio of Gili Islands that the hotel faces, which are renowned for their rainbow-hued coral reefs.
For something a little different, the nearby Sira Beach House is a six-bedroom villa-style property, ideal for large families or groups of friends. Made up of a series or thatched pavilions, it combines the latest technology with a rustic design ethos (book with: www.ampersandtravel.com).
SUMBA: Best for wildlife
Further east still, just under an hour from Bali, lies the small island of Sumba. With its unique flora, fauna and birdlife – it has nearly 200 varieties of birds – it’s a veritable wildlife wonderland. The island was once known as Sandalwood Island due to the amount of sandalwood it exported. It’s as if time has stood still, with age-old traditions still existing– such as megalithic burials dating back to the Neolithic age.
Giving a sharpened edge to the surrounding wilderness is the luxury eco-lodge that is Nihiwatu (travel with www.scottdunn.com). Co-owned by Chris Burch (co-owner of fashion label Tory Burch), this offers a savvy hotel experience in a dreamy, unspoilt setting but with a commitment to helping local communities – among the poorest in the region. Surrounded by tropical rainforests, Nihiwatu offers a jungle spa, cliff-top bar and breathtaking views across the Indonesian archipelago. Experiences on offer include visits to Stone Age sites and traditional villages, picnics by the breathtaking Lapopu waterfalls and butterfly and nature trails.
While it may be off the beaten track for most travellers, it is firmly on the radar with the world’s most expert surfers. Due to its unique location on the west coast of Sumba, the ocean in front of the resort boasts a premier wave that breaks from May to August directly in front of the resort, referred to as ‘God’s Left.’ Moving stuff.
MOYO ISLAND: Best for exploring the seas
A visit to Moyo – with its rugged coastline and swathes of grassy savannah – feels like stepping into the unknown. The tiny island – it only has around 2,000 inhabitants – is more of a nature reserve with most of its interior protected as a national park. You’ll find no bars, buzzy restaurants or vibrant villages on Moyo, for this is the ultimate tropical hideaway (in fact the late Princess Diana reportedly fled here to escape the prying eyes of the paparazzi).
There’s only has one resort on the island, but luckily it is owned by the Aman brand (www.amanresorts.com). Amanwana, overlooking the turquoise waters of the Flores Sea, has ramped up the concept of camping to a serious luxury standard. Open-air pavilions house a dining room, bar, music room, library and spa while the camp’s 20 deluxe tents – made out of a mix of wooden walls and canvas – feature Indonesian artwork, hard wood flooring and supersized bathrooms. Spend you days on jungle treks and island adventures or simply chilling out at the spa. Best of all is its access to prime scuba diving and snorkeling among the pristine reefs. The camp also has a luxury cruiser, Amanikan, on which you can sail to the surrounding Rinca and Komodo islands, where the legendary Komodo Dragons can be seen.
You can fly from London Jakarta, five times a week, with Garuda Indonesia (www.garuda-indonesia.com). Onward flights to smaller islands can be arranged at the time of booking and included in your initial ticket price.
Experience Travel Group (020 3411 6196; www.experiencetravelgroup.com); Scott Dunn (020 3468 3234; www.scottdunn.com) and Ampersand Travel (020 7819 9770; www.ampersandtravel.com) all offer a variety of packages to the Indonesian islands.