Editor’s Note: *Due to the current COVID-19 outbreak, international travelers should be sure to postpone any travel plans until well after the pandemic has subsided.*
It’s no secret that Indonesia is home to some of the world’s most spectacular natural sites – the sunny beaches and towering volcanoes of Bali come to mind – but few are aware of the nation’s thriving urban centers. For any future visitors considering a trip to one of Indonesia’s idyllic islands, consider amending your itinerary to include a stop at one of the following cities. While they aren’t quite as accessible for tourists as some of Indonesia’s more celebrated destinations, the intricate regional culture and history behind these urban jungles makes them truly rewarding destinations.
Located roughly two hours southeast of Jakarta, Bandung is a popular day trip destination for those living in Indonesia’s capital. The city was a prominent resort town in the early 20th century, with many calling it the “Paris of Java” thanks to its handsome New Indies Style colonial architecture, much of which can still be found today scattered amidst towering high-rises. Visitors can embark on a serious shopping spree along Jalan Cihampelas, where cheap clothing can be found in abundance, and any outdoor adventure enthusiasts should be sure to head northeast to Taman Hutan Raya Ir. H. Djuanda to encounter winding hiking trails, waterfalls, and native Javan wildlife.
Though Balikpapan began life as a tiny fishing village, the discovery of oil in the late 1800s sparked an unprecedented economic boom, with the city currently serving as the financial capital for Borneo’s Kalimantan region. The city is a prominent destination for those aiming to explore the pristine wilderness of Borneo, with Sungai Wain Forest located just northeast of the city. The area is a prime location to spot native species such as orangutans and sun bears, though illegal logging operations and forest fires still pose a major threat to this jewel of biodiversity. For those less inclined to jungle exploration, the city’s coastline is dotted with idyllic soft-sand beaches perfect for relaxation.
Located at the southern tip of Sulawesi, the world’s eleventh-largest island, Makassar is the most populous city in all of eastern Indonesia. Makassar served as a prominent trading post during the height of colonialism, with the Dutch-designed Fort Rotterdam standing out as one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Though few outsiders are aware of it, Makassar is a beloved culinary capital of Indonesia, famous for its hearty stews and abundance of fresh seafood – be sure to sample pallubasa, konro, and coto makassar for a savory introduction to this city’s vibrant food scene.
Founded in the late 14th century, this bustling city currently serves as the economic engine of Sumatra, the sixth-largest island on earth. The financial success of Medan has made the city particularly attractive for immigration, fostering a diverse population made up of Batak, Javanese, Chinese, Acehnese, and Indian citizens – a quality that has allowed Medan to develop a particularly rich culinary landscape. While the city itself is not a particularly popular tourist attraction, it serves as a jumping-off point to exploring the tangled wilderness of rural Sumatra, with natural sites such Mount Bandahara and Lake Toba located a few hours away.
The city of Yogyakarta has a particularly fascinating government system – located within the Special Region of Yogyakarta, the tiny province is the only part of the nation that’s still ruled by a monarch. While the city is largely unknown outside of Indonesia, it’s a popular tourist attraction for native citizens thanks to its high level of human development and its affinity for Javan fine arts. Visitors to this vibrant city can experience traditional dance performances and puppetry shows before perusing Yogyakarta’s finest art museums, all before heading to the market for a taste of the city’s signature sweet cuisine.