The islands of the Indonesian archipelago are strung like beads across the equator. Clear blue seas lap pristine beaches, gentle breezes carry scents of spices and flowers, and divers are entranced by the ocean's riches. Inland, dramatic volcanic ranges tower above a green mantle of terraced hillsides and lush rainforest.
Bali, Lombok and Jakarta
Bali offers an image of paradise: stunning scenery, gentle sarong-clad people and sunsets of legendary glory. On peaceful Lombok, life moves at a slower pace, while bustling Jakarta exhibits Indonesia's cosmopolitan, modern face.
Komodo Island's‘living dinosaurs' and the entrancing ‘sea gardens' of Suwalesi invite exploration, as do Borobudur's architectural treasures, which include 5km (3 miles) of Buddhist relief carvings. Adventure-seekers head for Kalimantan's remote jungle interior or explore Sumatra, with its teeming wildlife and wealth of tribal groups.
Long-term president, General Suharto was forced to resign in 1998 after decades of keeping control of the country in his own hands. It wasn't until September 2004 that the first ever direct presidential election was held when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected. The government is taking a strong stand against terrorism and tourism is slowly returning to the numbers experienced at the end of the 1990s. Once again visitors are discovering the myriad marvels scattered throughout this intriguing archipelago.
Indonesia lies between the mainland of South-East Asia and Australia in the Indian and Pacific oceans. It is the world’s largest archipelago state. Indonesia is made up of five main islands – Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, Kalimantan (part of the island of Borneo) and Irian Jaya (the western half of New Guinea) – and 30 smaller archipelagos. In total, the Indonesian archipelago consists of about 17,508 islands; 6,000 of these are inhabited and stretch over 4,828km (3,000 miles), most lying in a volcanic belt with more than 300 volcanoes, the great majority of which are extinct. The landscape varies from island to island, ranging from high mountains and plateau to coastal lowlands and alluvial belts.
The staple diet for most Indonesians is nasi (rice), which is replaced on some islands with corn, sago, cassava and sweet potatoes. Indonesia's spices make its local cuisine unique. Indonesians like their food highly spiced - look out for the tiny and fiery hot red and green peppers often included in salads and vegetable dishes. Seafood features highly on menus (with salt and freshwater fish, lobsters, oysters, prawns, shrimp, squid, shark and crab all available). Coconuts are often used for cooking. A feature of Jakarta is the many warungs (street stalls); each specializes in itsown dish or drink.
• Rijsttafel (a Dutch-invented smorgasbord of 12 various meat, fish, vegetable and curry dishes, sometimes served by 12 ‘maidens’).
• Sate (chunks of beef, fish, pork, chicken or lamb cooked on hot coals and dipped in peanut sauce).
• Rendang (west Sumatra; buffalo coconut curry).
• Gado-gado (Java; a salad of raw and cooked vegetables with peanut and coconut milk sauce).
• Babi guling (Bali; roast suckling pig).
• Es (ice drinks with syrups, fruits and jellies).
• Brem (Bali; rice wine).
• Tuak (palm-sap wine, a famously potent local brew).
• Arak (rice or palm-sap wine).
• Kelapa muda (young coconut juice).
Legal drinking age: 18 (minimum purchasing age: 16).
Tipping: 10% is normal unless service charge is already included in a restaurant bill.
Jakarta nightclubs feature international singers and bands and are open until 0400 during weekends. Jakarta has loads of cinemas and some English-language and subtitled films are shown. There are also theaters providing cultural performances.
Dancing is considered an art, encouraged and practiced from very early childhood. The extensive repertoire is based on ancient legends and stories from religious epics. Performances are given in village halls and squares, and also in many of the leading hotels by professional touring groups. The dances vary enormously, both in style and number of performers. Some of the more notable are the Legong, a slow, graceful dance of divine nymphs; the Baris, a fast moving, noisy demonstration of male, warlike behavior; and the Jauk, a riveting solo offering by a masked and richly costumed demon. Many consider the most dramatic of all to be the famous Cecak (Monkey Dance) which calls for 100 or more very agile participants. Many of the larger hotels, particularly in Bali, put on dance shows accompanied by the uniquely Indonesian Gamelan Orchestras.
Throughout the year, many local moonlight festivals occur; tourists should check locally. Indonesian puppets are world famous and shows for visitors are staged in various locations