Indonesia is one of the largest archipelagos in the world and is made up of at least 17,000 islands, so if you are looking for an island adventure then you have certainly come to the right place.
Some of the islands make up the main provinces of Indonesia such as Sumatra, Java, Lombok, and Bali, and many of the smaller islands are uninhabited, but if you are looking for something in the middle then you will find a huge variety of islands that are perfect for a relaxed beach holiday and are ideal if you want to go diving and explore some of Indonesia’s underwater delights.
Depending on your budget and how far you want to travel, you can still get away from the crowds while staying fairly close to the main hubs, or make the journey to some of Indonesia’s less visited enclaves if you truly want to fall off the grid for a while.
Here are the 15 best islands to visit in Indonesia…
1. Gili Trawangan
Gili Trawangan is part of three islands known collectively as the Gili Islands that lie off the coast of Lombok.
Easily reached from neighboring Bali by fast or slow boat, Gili Trawangan is the largest of the Gili Islands and often known as Gili T. Even though this is the largest island you can still rent a bicycle and tour around it in a few hours and some of the sights you will find along the way include a turtle sanctuary and vast coconut groves.
In the day time you will find the requisite sandy beaches here and crystal clear seas, but at night Gili Trawangan comes alive and you can enjoy the throbbing nightlife that consists of live music, late night bars, and even party nights and themed events.
2. The Wakatobi Islands
The Wakatobi Islands is the collective name for four islands that form a mini-archipelago in the south of Sulawesi and are made up of Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko.
The Wakatobi Islands are known for being a fantastic dive spot so if you want explore beneath the waves in Indonesia then this is the ideal place to do it.
The islands also sit within the wider Wakatobi National Park which was formed to preserve the diversity of marine life here, and you can also enjoy walking around the islands as well as snorkeling or swimming.
To get to the Wakatobi Islands you will need to go through Bali but the long journey is more than worth it to visit an unspoilt beach paradise that many visitors don’t get to see.
3. The Mentawai Islands
The Mentawai Islands are a collection of over seventy islands that sit off the west coast of Sumatra Island.
The best way to think of the Mentawais (as they are often known) is like a kind of Sumatran version of Bali, as there is a well developed surf culture here that attracts surf aficionados from all over the world.
There are a range of surf tournaments held here annually and some of the best surf in Southeast Asia is said to be found at the Mentawais.
If you don’t want to take advantage of the waves then you can go on boat tours that will let you island hop around the little coves and inlets or you can trek across the interior of many of the islands and explore lush rain forests.
4. Nusa Lembongan
The island of Nusa Lembongan makes a great choice if you don’t want to travel too far off the beaten track but still want to stay away from touristy areas.
Located off the coast of Bali, many people wrongly think that Nusa Lembongan is part of the same area although it is actually a different regency in its own right.
Despite being close to Bali and Lombok, Nusa Lembongan is often overlooked by visitors which means that it still retains a serene atmosphere and relaxed pace, and if you like diving then this is a much better choice than most parts of Bali as the visibility is clearer and you have a good chance of seeing sharks, rays, and turtles.
5. Wai Island
Wai Island is located in the wider Raja Ampat Islands in West Papua and is one of the most difficult to reach but also one of the most stunning islands in Indonesia.
The islands actually sits atop a coral atoll and is covered in a white sandy beach and encircled by azure seas and blooming coral reefs that teem with colorful fish and other marine life.
The sunsets from the island are known for being spectacular and if you want to spend your days in the ocean and your evenings relaxing by the beach then this is not to be missed.
Due to its small size, there is a single resort located here so it makes an excellent choice for those looking for a secluded location for the beach holiday.
6. Gili Air
Gili Air is the second largest of the Gili Islands in Lombok and is quieter than Gili Trawangan although busier than the smallest island which is Gili Meno.
Many people choose to come here to get away from the party atmosphere on Gili Trawangan and you will find some great snorkeling and diving here and there is some pretty coral just offshore which attracts turtles and maybe even the odd whale shark if you are lucky.
You can also trek across the island via a series of pretty scenic paths and at night you will find some restaurants along the waterfront serving fresh seafood cooked over hot coals.
7. The Bangka – Belitung Islands
The Bangka – Belitung Islands are located to the east of the main island of Sumatra and many Indonesians will tell you that these are the most beautiful islands in the archipelago which is high praise indeed.
The islands see a lot of domestic tourists although foreigners rarely make the trip here and you will find azure waters and clean sands mixed with scenic rock formations.
There are seven islands here that you can visit as part of a boat tour which allows you to island hop at your leisure, and many of these are covered in tropical flora and fauna.
Just one of these is ‘lengkuas’ island which means galangal in English, a kind of root ginger that you will find growing all over the region.
8. Nusa Penida
Nusa Penida is situated close to Bali and is joined to neighboring Nusa Lembongan via a bridge.
Many people choose to come here instead of Nusa Lembongan if they want to get completely off the grid, and you won’t find much here other than some seaweed farms, long sandy beaches, and beautiful diving and snorkeling opportunities.
The island is so low-key that there is hardly any Wi-Fi reception and no nightlife to speak of, so come here if you are looking for serenity and calm.
Many people also argue that the diving is slightly better around Nusa Penida than Nusa Lembongan and you can dive with rays and turtles which come closer to shore thanks to the relative lack of visitors here.
9. Samosir Island
If you are looking for a different kind of island experience then consider heading to Samosir which sits in the middle of Lake Toba on the island of Sumatra.
Lake Toba has the claim to fame of being the largest crater lake in the world and is located in an extinct volcano filled with water via an underground spring.
You can swim in the lake or take a boat tour around the waters and on the island of Samosir itself you can explore traditional Batak villages and learn how these indigenous people would have lived in the days of old.
There is also a cemetery where you can see the ornate tombs of ancient Batak kings and if you hire a motorbike and travel into the hills around Samosir you will find delightful hot springs that are perfect for an afternoon soak.
10. Lembeh Island
Many of the islands in Indonesia offer you the chance to go diving, but Lembeh Island is a little different as it is famous for its muck diving opportunities.
Located in Sulawesi and accessible from the town of Bitung, the waters around Lembeh are full of natural sediment which is home to an amazing array of underwater creatures and if you like macro photography then this is not to be missed.
Just some of the species you are likely to find here include nudibranchs, crabs, and cuttlefish and you may even spot whale sharks or dugong on a dive here.
11. Seram Island
Seram actually means ‘scary’ in Indonesian but don’t let the name put you off a visit here.
Located in Maluku, this is one of the most beautiful tropical islands in the archipelago and is known for its trekking.
Much of the island is made up of lush forests and there are a number of trails you can follow across the island that will let you enjoy the local flora and fauna.
You need to make a little more effort to visit Seram than other places in Indonesia, but it is more than worth it for the relaxed atmosphere and unspoilt vistas over the water.
12. Weh Island
Weh Island is a small sliver of land off the coast of Aceh Province in the far north of Indonesia and makes a fascinating trip for those who venture up here.
Easily reached from larger cities like Medan in North Sumatra, Weh Island is something of a hidden gem in Indonesia and you will find wide expanses of sandy beach as well as azure waters that are ideal if you want some relaxed snorkeling.
Although it is rarely visited by foreigners, there is a healthy domestic market here so you will find a good range of amenities like guesthouses, restaurants and cafes.
13. Karimunjawa Islands
The Karimunjawa Islands are nestled in the Java Sea and many locals will tell you that they are said to become the new Bali over the next few years.
Locals flock here although the Karimunjawa Islands are rarely visited by foreigners and if you make the trip here you will find tropical beaches as well as a plethora of diving spots which offer excellent visibility.
Snorkeling and swimming are also popular pastimes here or you can go for a jungle trek which will take you up into lush valleys and down past stunning gorges and streams.
14. Gili Meno
Gili Meno is the smallest of the Gili Islands and as such is a popular spot with honeymoon couples or those wanting to get away from it all.
As with all the Gili Islands there are no cars here and you can get around by taking a horse and cart or renting a bicycle.
You can also walk around the island in a few hours and enjoy the gentle waters offshore if you want to try some snorkeling.
Due to the lack of pollution the seas are crystal clear and turtles and rays are practically guaranteed.
In the evening you sit at a beachside cafe and enjoy the peace and quiet and this is a good choice if you don’t want to venture too far off the beaten track as you can easily hop across to Gili Meno from Lombok or Bali.
15. Komodo Island
Komodo Island is nestled off the coast of Flores and is one of the most famous islands in Indonesia.
The clue is in the name, as this island is the home of the fearsome Komodo Dragons.
The dragons are not in fact as scary as they sound and are actually a kind of large lizard, although they have toxic saliva so you don’t want to get bitten by one.
Fortunately Komodo Island has a range of guides who will take you to various spots where you can observe the dragons safely and they carry a large forked stick which is said to keep the dragons from coming too close.