Six of the best: Indonesian islands

From vibrant marine life that looks like it’s from another planet to rainforests that have been inhabited by humans for more than 70,000 years, there’s plenty of reasons why Indonesia’s 17,000+ islands continue to attract intrepid adventurers in search of truly unique experiences. We’ve distilled this amazing archipelago into six of our favourite islands of breathtaking beauty.

Komodo Island

The Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara is where budding David Attenboroughs venture to catch a glimpse (and whiff) of the largest and most dangerous lizard in the world, the Komodo dragon. Komodo Island is home to these magnificent prehistoric beasts, but besides the fork-tongued main attraction, Komodo itself is absolutely stunning, and extremely well-preserved thanks in part to its Unesco World Heritage status. The biodiversity is some of the most amazing in the world, while the panoramic view from the summit of neighbouring Padar Island is one that will be etched on your memory forever (and, no doubt, your Instagram account). Luxury travelheads need not worry if all this sounds somewhat backpacker-ish: the Komodo Resort and Diving Club is a sublime private island resort featuring 22 tastefully designed bamboo rooms and a state-of-the-art dive centre. 


Flores Island

Flores Island in the East Nusa Tenggara province takes its name from the Portuguese word for “flowers”, which goes some way to describe what the first western explorers must have seen when they landed on these shores. Flores Island is home to the Kelimutu National Park, which encompasses an incredibly diverse landscape featuring volcanic mountains, postcard-perfect hidden beaches, and the famous tri-coloured Kelimutu Lake. Naturally, the waters around the island are a teeming subscape of busy coral reefs, but the human life on the island is equally intriguing – Flores Island is home to a number of unique ethnic groups, and so it is well worth taking a guided tour to experience some of the incredible remote villages and indigenous cultures. Flores Island is also an excellent gateway to the Komodo National Park. We would recommend staying at the eco-minded Seraya Resort, an idyllic beachfront hideaway from where you can charter the resort’s boat and fully experience the area.


The Mentawai Islands

The grey-haired surfers among you might remember the 1972 film Morning of the Earth, released not long after the first western surfers began to discover the reef breaks of the Bukit Peninsula. Epic waves at Uluwatu, Bali, and G-Land inspired the likes of surf legend Gerry Lopez to pack his quiver and head to Indonesia in the hunt for fabled barrels. But it wasn’t until the late ’80s that the remote islands of the Mentawai found themselves on the surfing map, thanks to boat captain and adventurer Martin Daly, who did his best to keep the Ments a secret until the ’90s. By then, the cat was out of the bag. Today, the Mentawai Islands are widely regarded as one of the best surf spots in the world. While surfing is the main draw, don’t miss the opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture by visiting the traditional longhouses of the Mentawai tribes and learning about traditional tattoo art. Hollow Trees Resort is a great base for surf nuts, with 10 truly world-class waves on your sandy doorstep; otherwise check out Kandui Villas for an eco-luxury experience of the Mentawai.



The Gili Islands

The Gili Islands, consisting of Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno, are a trio of tropical paradises nestled off the coast of Lombok. They’re a three-hour boat ride from Bali or an hour from Lombok, and the latter won’t cost you any more than £2). These car-free islands boast pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and a laid-back atmosphere by day. Gili Trawangan is the liveliest of the three, offering vibrant nightlife and a range of water sports activities. Gili Air is perfect for those seeking a balance of relaxation and adventure, with superb snorkelling opportunities (the sea turtles are famous in the waters around Gili Air). Gili Meno, the smallest and most serene, is ideal for a romantic getaway or a peaceful retreat. Choose between charming beach bungalows on Meno or the upscale Trawangan resort, Vila Ombak.


Nusa Islands

If Lombok has the Gili Islands, then Bali has the Nusas – another trio of enchanting islands notable for their rugged beauty, powdery sand beaches and pristine coastal water. Located off the southeast coast of Bali, Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan, and Nusa Ceningan each boast their own characteristics, from Nusa Penida’s dramatic soaring cliffs and Instagram-worthy spots like Kelingking Beach and Angel’s Billabong, to Nusa Lembongan’s seemingly unlimited opportunities to swim with manta rays. Nusa Ceningan is the smallest of the three, but packs a punch thanks to stunning blue lagoons and a unique landscape of seaweed farms on the north west coast. Luxurious beachfront resorts like Batu Karang Lembongan Resort & Day Spa will definitely make you feel less like a sweaty, young backpacker.



Escape to the tranquil paradise of Karimunjawa, a small hidden gem in the Java Sea just north of the main island, and part of the Karimunjawa National Park. With its azure waters, vibrant coral reefs and lush mangrove forests, this archipelago is a haven for nature lovers. Explore the underwater wonderland by snorkelling or diving, and keep an eye out for turtles and dolphins, while on land you’ll find the odd deer and if you’re lucky, a pangolin. The National Park encompasses several islands and offers a glimpse into Indonesia’s rich marine biodiversity, and there are plenty of local tours you can take to get better info on the flora, fauna and history of the islands. It’s a 4-5 hour boat trip from Semarang on the main island, but you’ll be grateful you made the effort to get there. Given its remote location, there’s not a huge amount of excellent places to stay, but the Ayu Hotel Karimunjawa is about the best, and is ideally located between the town and the harbour.


Ryan Thompson is a UK-based menswear and lifestyle writer, whose work has appeared in, among others, the Financial TimesMr PorterThe Rake and Ape to Gentleman

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