Indonesia’s best beaches for basking, surfing and underwater wonders

Indonesia's best beaches for basking, surfing and underwater wonders

From surfers to sunbathers, divers to divas, Indonesia has a beach for everybody © South_agency / Getty Image

With a lush tropical climate and more miles of coastline than any other country on earth (except Canada), Indonesia is the world’s ultimate beach destination. The beaches that line the shores of this enormous archipelago are famed for their black and golden sands, epic surf breaks, prismatic coral reefs and wild seaside parties. Indeed, there's a stretch of sand here for every type of traveler.

Of course, choosing the right beach for you is no easy task in a nation with more than 17,500 islands to choose from. Here is our pick of the best beaches in Indonesia, from Sumatra in the west all the way to Papua in the east.

Introducing Indonesia

Pantai Jelenga, Sumbawa

Best beach for surfers

Indonesia has no shortage of surf beaches, but this emerging beach destination on the west coast of Sumbawa has a growing following amongst surfers, who are lured here by the chance to tackle Scar Reef, a world-class left-hand break that barrels just offshore. The Little Bingin and Phantom breaks also deliver thrilling rides.

A number of attractive surf lodges make this remote locale an incredibly comfy base, but you’ll rarely have to share the waves with more than a handful of fellow visitors (something you can't say about every Indonesian surf beach). Tranquil waters closer to shore along Pantai Jelenga are excellent for kayaking and standup paddle boarding.

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Suluban Beach, Bali

Best beach for combining nature and culture

Of all the pocket-sized beaches along the southwest coast of Bali’s Bukit Peninsula, Suluban may be the most unique. You can paddle out to the surf breaks that Uluwatu is famous for, and there’s plenty to explore on land, from limestone grottos and hidden caves to spectacular clifftop cafes for a tropical sundowner. Suluban is also right by Pura Luhur Ulu Watu, a dramatic Hindu sea temple perched on the edge of a 70m (230ft) cliff, where traditional Kecak dance performances take place each evening at sunset.

Indonesia's best beaches for basking, surfing and underwater wonders

Komodo's pink sand beach was made for Instagram feeds © Kzenon / Shutterstock

Pink Beach, Komodo 

Best beach for Instagrammers

Komodo may be most famous as the home of the world’s largest lizard, the Komodo dragon, but this small island of rusty-red hills, arid stretches of savanna and dense shrublands is also home to another oddity: a perfect pink-sand beach. Pantai Merah, or Pink Beach, gets its rosy hue from the crushed shells of millions of foraminifera – microscopic single-celled marine animals that live on the underside of offshore reefs.

We concede that the beach doesn’t look quite as radiant as the internet would have you believe when viewed under the midday sun (you can thank filters and photoshop for that!). However, viewed at dusk or dawn, it’s every bit as amazing as the Instagrammers say it is.

Selong Blanak, Lombok

Best beach for beginner surfers

On an island full of busy, bone-white beaches, Selong Blanak stands out from the pack with its bright turquoise waters and serene atmosphere. Located about 22km west of Lombok’s southern resort hub of Kuta, this comparatively uncrowded beach is a favorite spot for locals, with a sprinkling of bamboo-framed warungs (small family-owned eateries) spread along a long crescent of sand, which you may occasionally share with wandering water buffalos. The sea is ideal for swimming, and novice surfers flock here to rent boards and test their skills on a beginner-friendly, sandy-bottomed beach break.

Indonesia's best beaches for basking, surfing and underwater wonders

The rock arch at Bawana Beach on Sumba is spectacularly photogenic © pancajaya / Shutterstock

Bawana Beach, Sumba

Best beach for photography

A giant stone arch towers over the white sands on this spectacular stretch of shoreline in northwestern Sumba, creating a perfect frame for epic beach shots. It’s a steep climb down to the sands, but there are usually local guides waiting at the entrance to help anyone who needs extra assistance. At certain times of year, you can catch the setting sun as it drops into the middle of the arch, bathing those in front of its entrance in a heavenly halo.

Iboih Beach, Sumatra

Best beach for snorkeling

Reefs abound in Indonesia, and this protected cove on Pulau Weh in Sumatra’s Aceh province is awash with healthy corals that attract a kaleidoscope of tropical fish. It's a favorite escape for budget-minded snorkelers, who mask up to explore the reefs right from the front of their beachside bungalows. Local dive shops such as Rubiah Tirta Divers also run Discover Scuba courses and shore dives at reasonable prices.

Beyond the beach, Pulau Weh boasts swimming holes under splashing waterfalls, puffing volcanoes cloaked by virgin forests, sulfur-fuming hot springs and an old Japanese World War II bunker, a relic from the island’s brief occupation from 1942 to 1945.

Indonesia's best beaches for basking, surfing and underwater wonders

There are party beaches all over Indonesia, but the tone is just right at Gili T © Mazur Travel / Shutterstock

Gili T, The Gili Islands

Best beach for a party

If your ideal day at the beach ends in a party, then Gili Trawangan – Gili T to its friends – is the spot for you. Nightlife on the largest of the Gili Islands is not nearly as crowded or out-of-control as in Kuta or Seminyak on neighboring Bali, but that’s rather the point! This small, party-friendly island bounces to the beat of electronic dance music nightly, and the shots keep flowing from the western sunset beaches all the way to the main drag on the east shore. Party, crash, crawl back to the beach to rinse off, hydrate, eat and repeat: that’s the schedule of life on Gili T.

Pantai Ngurtavur, Maluku

Best beach for aerial photography

Picture a thin squiggle of sand jutting out into a gem-colored bay and you can begin to imagine the almost absurdly picturesque scene at Pantai Ngurtavur, the longest sandbar in Indonesia. This ephemeral snake-shaped beach, which is only visible at low tide, is located in the remote Kei Islands in the Banda Sea, just south of Papua, and is most easily reached by chartered boat from the island of Pulau Kei Kecil. To capture the sandbar in all its improbable glory, you may want to bring your drone.

Indonesia's best beaches for basking, surfing and underwater wonders

High cliff walls keep away the developers and crowds at idyllic Diamond Beach on Nusa Penida © Cocos.Bounty / Shutterstock

Diamond Beach, Nusa Penida

Best beach for total privacy

The island of Nusa Penida is encircled by the kind of jaw-dropping beaches that travelers expect to discover on neighboring Bali but struggle to find. Topping the billing is Diamond Beach on the southeast shore – like most spots here, it’s encased by soaring cliff walls that turn the beach into a private cove for those who make the effort to get here. In fact, this remote curl of sand only became accessible to visitors after a rough staircase was, quite literally, carved out of the rock in 2018.

Tanjung Tinggi Beach, Sumatra

Best beach for monkeying around

Like your beaches with a side order of bouldering? Tanjung Tinggi is encased in a labyrinth of giant hunks of granite, making it a jungle gym for agile adults who also crave a dose of sun and sand. One of Indonesia’s most famous movies, Laskar Pelangi, was filmed here in 2017, skyrocketing the beach to national fame. Due to its isolated location on Belitung Island off the east coast of Sumatra, however, few international tourists have visited – yet! Get here by plane or slow boat from Jakarta or Sumatra.

Tangkoko Beach, Sulawesi

Best beach for wildlife watchers

If your idea of a beach vacation involves hiking and wildlife-watching, with a quick dip in the ocean to wash off the sweat at the end of the day, then Tangkoko in North Sulawesi is the spot for you. This lovely grey-sand beach lies along the coast of Tangkoko-Batuangus Dua Saudara Nature Reserve, an 88 sq km rainforest conservation area filled with crested black macaques, cuscuses, red-knobbed hornbills and, most notably, big-eyed tarsiers, among other rare rainforest fauna.

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