A diverse country with more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia is full of surprises


Indonesia is a huge country with more than 17,500 islands. The country is the fourth most populous nation and is made up of more than 300 different ethnic groups.

I didn’t know much about the area until we hosted an exchange student from the city of Makassar on the island of Sulawesi.

But it wasn’t until I visited an Alaskan expat living in Bali that I learned about Indonesia’s incredible diversity. If you love wildlife, cultural history, biodiversity on land and under water, then Indonesia should be on your list.

Susan Ruddy has called Alaska home for nearly 60 years. In Anchorage, she held many responsibilities, including director of the Nature Conservancy of Alaska.

But when she pulled away, she was torn. While her son lived in Alaska, her daughter had moved to Indonesia. Instead of choosing one or the other location for her home, she chose both. She has been dividing her time between Alaska and Indonesia for more than 15 years.

Although Bali is her home in Indonesia, one of her favorite places is on the island of Borneo. Tanjung Puting National Park on Borneo’s south coast is ground zero for seeing orangutans.

“I’m a rock ‘n’ roll groupie for orangutans,” Ruddy said. “They have absolutely fascinating qualities.”

Access to the orangutan habitat is regulated. Visitors are not allowed to go into the jungle. Rather, there are three feeding stations where the orangutans come and go. This is where visitors have the best chance of seeing these primates up close.

To reach the park, take a flight from Jakarta to Pangkalan Bun. From there, find a tour operator to take you to the park. There are options to stay ashore during your visit, but Ruddy recommends living on board.

“You will sleep on a saggy mattress on the upper deck of the boat,” she said. “You will be under a mosquito net. The jungle is all around you – including the fireflies.”

Choose from several operators including Varada Borneo Tours or Wahyu Tanjung Puting Tour Company. Ruddy’s favorite guide, Andreas, used to work at Camp Leakey and knows many of the orangutans by name. Reach him via email: [email protected]

Over in western Indonesia, on the other side of Papua New Guinea, lies the area known as West Papua. On the northwestern tip of the island is an area known as “Raja Ampat”.

“I think this is one of the most beautiful places on the planet,” Ruddy said. “It is said to be the most diverse marine ecosystem in the world. The diving and snorkeling is just beautiful.”

Ruddy recommends sailing with Sea Trek Bali. “There are wonderful experts who go with us on the journey,” she said.

Ruddy’s next trip later this month is an adventure to swim with whale sharks and see birds of paradise. The typical itinerary is 10 days and starts at $6,850 per person.

Three Alaskans observe a Komodo dragon in Indonesia

Another boating adventure is a visit to the island of giant Komodo dragons. Take a plane to La Buan Badjo on East Nusa Tenggara Island. From there, hop aboard your live-aboard boat for your “Komodo” adventure.

In addition to kites, you’ll swim on a pink sand beach. “It’s great for diving and snorkeling,” Ruddy said. Keep an eye out for the manta rays in the water, and every sunset there is a massive flyover of fox bats.

Tour operators include Cruise Komodo and Bali Komodo Tours.

Two of Ruddy’s friends from Anchorage, Pete Mjos and Karen Ruud, came for an extended visit.

“She invited us – how could we NOT go,” said Mjos. “We went to see the orangutans – but then made an unscheduled visit to a headhunters’ village!”

“Susan also took us to see the Komodo dragons,” said Mjos. “We also saw the fox bats as they flew over during a thunderstorm. It was amazing!”

When she’s not exploring a new corner of Indonesia, Ruddy stays at her daughter’s villa in Bali.

Although Bali is better known than other parts of Indonesia, it is becoming more and more crowded. “Trying to warn visitors,” Ruddy said. “When they get off the plane, they might be shocked. The traffic comes to a standstill. The traffic jam is bad. Get out of Denpasar (where the airport is) as soon as possible.”

The island of Java, the country’s most populous, is just a short ferry ride from Bali’s west coast.

“Java is the heart of Indonesia,” Ruddy said. It is also home to the capital Jakarta. However, as the city sinks into the sea, the nation plans to build another capital on Borneo.

The region of Yogyakarta in Java is particularly important for the citizens.

“The city of Yogyakarta is just another big Asian city,” Ruddy said. But the temples around the city are impressive.

Boro Budur, built in the 9th century, is the largest Buddhist temple in the world.

The nearby Hindu temple Candi Prambanan is the largest in the world.

Whether you have your eye on a great wildlife adventure, great diving or a heritage tour, Indonesia is waiting for you. The country has already captured Ruddy and part of her family. will you be next


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