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Last updated 21 May 2018
There’s no denying Indonesia is a country full of surprises. With over 17,000 islands, there is plenty of inspiration and adventure to be found. Not surprisingly, Bali is the island that attracts all the international attention as a place for backpackers, schoolies, weddings and retreats.
Peeling back the layers of this South East Asian country however reveals relatively untouched natural beauties. Here, the locals live a simple life without the consequences of commercialisation.
But, in time, like most things, change will come, and some of these beautiful parts of Indonesia will never be the same again.
So, if you are planning to visit this country, be sure to consider these four interesting cities in Indonesia, instead of just heading to the place that everyone knows – Bali.
If you are wanting to stretch your wings even more, check out this ultimate Indonesian bucket list.
Located in North Sulawesi, Manado is a gateway to some great locations worthy of a visit. Visiting the islands in Indonesia requires a bit of flying. It may seem like it is all close together, but flights from one island to another can take 2-3 hours, depending on who you fly with and whether the flight is direct.
There’s not a huge choice of airlines and I have to be honest when I say it’s like choosing the “best of a bad lot”. Lion (Wings) Air is one of the regular airlines here and they have a very poor safety record. If you can, I’d consider catching Garuda Airlines. They still aren’t up there with the best in the world, but they are substantially better than Lion Air.
A visit to Manado is all about the ocean and the jungle. It’s the best of both worlds.
If you love diving and snorkelling, then the stunning Bunaken Island is the place to be. With its vertical reef, crystal blue ocean and plenty of animal and plant life, it’s any wonder it is rated as one of the best diving locations in the world.
However, if the lure of the Black Macaques or the tiny Tarsiers is more compelling, then head to the Tangkoko Nature Reserve.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll love doing both. I highly recommend doing these two separate day trips, such is the distance between them and Manado.
Whilst you can hire a car or a scooter it’s probably a great idea to hire a driver. The hills around the nature reserve can be treacherous if you aren’t familiar with them.
Like many of the larger cities on the islands, they provide an access point to some of the more interesting areas to visit. If you’ve ever googled Palu, the strident reference by Lonely Planet will surely ensure you never set foot here. In rather unglowing terms, it makes no bones about the fact that it thinks it’s one of those cities “you must miss”.
However to miss Palu would mean missing out on some other great locations. Remember, the main reason for coming to some of these cities and towns is to explore the unexplored. It’s about getting to see parts of the world where you can’t find tourists choking every part of town. Or, where the price of simple things has become outrageously expensive.
Talise Beach offers spectacular photo opportunities at sunset, as the sun fades slowly behind the mountains. A secondary spectacle will also occur here. As visitors pull up on the side of the road, the locals come from everywhere to check you out.
We were here to see the sunset and they were here to see us. Riding scooters and motorbikes and hanging out of cars, they ogled, called out and waved at us. Some even stopped to say hi and as usual, have a photo taken with us.
Nearby Tanjung Karang Beach offers up sandy white shores and the clear blue ocean waters once more. A one hour drive from Palu, it takes you through some of the local villages, built simply out of concrete and timber, sourced locally from nearby quarries. At the beach, the Prince John Dive Resort is one of the few establishments that has a working bar.
The northern islands are heavily religious (Muslim) and bars are few and far between. As is the case with most resorts, there are items to hire for snorkelling and diving.
The Maluku Islands are home to Ambon, a great place in its own right, and once again, the access point to so many great beaches and day trips. Off the coast of Ambon, Saparua Island offers an opportunity to learn about local history with the Duurstede Fort. It’s also where you can learn about the influence of the local spices.
Namalutu Beach, about 30 minutes from Ambon has a rocky coastline and the clear blue waters that I became accustomed to here in Indonesia. We were fortunate enough to be able to watch a group of locals perform for us in Sahureka dance. Sounds of wind through huge shells, drums and other wind instruments was the perfect way to be serenaded by the beach.
I was particularly taken with the Commonwealth War Cemetery here. As someone who has visited many of these special memorials in Europe, I was surprised to find this one here. It’s definitely worth a visit.
As if it could be possible, I also managed to find a favourite beach. Liang Beach is another short drive from Ambon and it’s here that you will find a true paradise. It was also the only beach where I really saw some local activity. Perhaps it was because it was the weekend, but locals were out having picnics, swimming and having a great time in general.
I couldn’t wait to get a rubber tube and loll about in the clear waters once more. The lolling didn’t really happen as the tidal current here is quite strong, but it was relaxing all the same.
In a seemingly continuing theme, Medan is another one of those inescapable cities that you must pass through, or stay in, to be able to make the most of great things to do nearby. It’s one of the key learnings I had from my time in Indonesia.
As travellers, we like to pick inspiring places to visit. We love to hand-pick exceptional adventures and experiences. But to do this, we must also endure places of less excitement, or less importance to our overall itinerary, in order to be able to see all the great stuff. Medan, Jakarta, Manado, Palu…..they are all such places.
Medan is busy, choked with traffic, and showing all the signs of large commercial cities. How nice then, to just be able to use it as a base, and then head off in search of the real beauty on offer a little further afield.
What I did love about Medan was the history and beauty of the Dutch colonisation, still evident today in their buildings.
Make your bookings via Traveloka.com, a great online website for making holiday bookings and travel plans. You can get some great deals for hotels like the Swiss Bellnn Medan during your stay here. It can also be used for the other cities above.
Four interesting cities in Indonesia
This list could quite easily contain many more, such is the reach of the Indonesian Islands. Having seen such beauty in these, I will be sure to add others that I haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting to my list on my next Indonesian adventure.