The best places to enjoy gay Indonesia: from gay Jakarta to some of the best Indonesia national parks

Introducing nature at its most extreme yet also most alluring is the vibrant archipelago of Indonesia. The country presents a unique topography that climbs hot-headed volcanic peaks before falling sharply off the coast into vibrant aquatic worlds that surround some 17,000 other paradisiacal islands. Rainforests blanket the landscape from gay Sumatra to gay Borneo and every spot of land in between, nurturing immense biodiversity and indigenous life beside crashing waterfalls and lost kingdoms. Within its cities, Indonesia morphs into a tech-savvy yet largely conservative domain, in which bustling street markets sit side-by-side with futuristic skyscrapers, grand mosques and Hindu temples. Religious influence means that gay life is better lived on the islands, with the ex-pat paradise of Bali and outlying islands offering more gay-friendly attitudes. Among them, half-lie uninhabited and the other half flow over with tranquil national parks, diving nirvanas and Komodo inhabited jungle. Read on for a closer look at the best places to enjoy gay Indonesia.

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LGBT Travellers in Indonesia

Before flying out to Indonesia, it’s good to have the facts about LGBT rights. A predominantly Muslim nation, Indonesia leans to the conservative side in regards to homosexuality. It is not illegal to be homosexual in Indonesia (except for Muslim residents in Aceh province), but tolerance is limited and gay rights is largely a taboo subject. While it’s unlikely you’ll experience discrimination in the tourist and ex-pat areas of Bali, be aware that anti-gay-sentiment has been mounting in recent years, no doubt in reaction to gay rights activism. The capital of Jakarta is one such area where you should show caution as harassment sadly does occur. While undertaking gay travel Indonesia vacations, be respectful of Islamic lifestyles by keeping PDA to a minimum, straight couples included! Moreover, adopt caution if visiting any of the 52 regions to uphold Sharia Law as this essentially means you are not protected by the law should you experience any discrimination.

On a positive note, there are a number of organisations across gay Java campaigning for change and, in more developed areas, gay-friendly attitudes prevail. Despite some pushback from the often extreme Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the Q! Film festival, Asia’s largest queer film festival, has been held annually since 2010 across a number of Indonesian cities between July and August.

Tibumana Waterfall | Photo: Oliver Sjostrom

Ubud | Photo: Marvin Meyer

1. Jakarta

Southeast Asia’s largest city and the nation’s political, cultural and social centre, Jakarta is one Indonesian experience you won’t want to miss. Hugging the equator of the Java Sea, Jakarta is a hot and humid romp, featuring a mishmash of language, food and culture brought over across Asia and Oceania. A popular starting place for travels into the rest of Indonesia, Jakarta introduces visitors by way of wayward motorcyclists, unruly markets and off-track side streets concealing trendy cafés and quieter dalliances. A diamond in the rough on many accounts, Jakarta may also surprise you with its ultra-cheap luxury and modern mega-malls all within reach of no-fuss street food.

Nightlife in Jakarta may leave some of you wanting as Muslim culture prohibits alcohol consumption and LGBT hostilities proliferate. Outward displays of sex and sexuality are considered taboo and drug testing and spot checks have become more common in the city, and so wild nights out are to be undertaken with caution. If you’re looking for a gay bar Jakarta may provide, but, as a result of a conservative crackdown on queer culture, the gay bars and clubs do not live long and online information can quickly become outdated. Jakarta gay scene, though discreet, is very much alive in the mixed bars and clubs throughout the city. Find your people using a VPN to access blocked hook up and dating apps, such as Grindr. We recommend pre-booking a travel SIM on arrival at Jakarta airport to have the best means of exploring the city with access to the web from your pocket whenever in need of public transport schedules, directions and restaurant recommendations.

Jakarta | Photo: Bayu Syaits

2. Bali

We couldn’t write about gay Indonesia without of course mentioning Bali. Much loved among the international gay community, Bali has always been seen as a liberal bubble in an otherwise conservative state. For a long time, Bali has earned its title as most LGBT friendly place in Indonesia, but recent antagonism from the government means that even Bali is not safe from bigotry. A bill criminalising homosexuality is on the cards here, and though it hasn’t yet been implemented, the possibility stands. Do your research before flying to ensure you are aware of the current situation. In spite of all this, Bali is still one of the world’s most tolerant and welcoming destinations for gay travellers, where all your worries seemingly melt away.

Spend your days getting to know this ‘Land of the Gods’, where rice paddies pave the countryside jagged volcanoes tower in the distance. Along the coast, Bali’s fine sand beaches offer the ultimate conditions for surfing, while ancient temples lie further inland. A tropical paradise from start to finish, Bali is unique to Indonesia for its Hindu heritage and large ex-pat community that imbues the place with liberal outlooks and modern lifestyles. While there is no official ‘gaybourhood’ and nightlife is relatively downbeat when compared to other islands across Asia, the tourist areas around Kuta and Legian do offer a great number of gay clubs and bars hidden between restaurants and hotels, with Seminyak standing as the most obvious meeting point for the gay community, particularly the gay venues centred around Q Bar on Jalan Dhyana Pura.

Those looking for a meditative retreat in nature can look no further than gay Ubud. Ubud is a cultural village outside of the main centre offering tranquillity in nature as well as some of the best spa hotels you’ll ever visit. Though lacking nightlife Ubud does have a range of gay-friendly bars and hotels, such as the retro No Más Bar and the Latino-style Sayan House. For more ways to enjoy your Bali vacation, read our article on the top things to do in Bali or see our guide to making the ultimate Bali itinerary.

Photo: Aron Visuals

Photo: Alex Azabache

3. Nusa Islands

With gay life in urban Indonesia under the scrutiny of Islamic authority, venturing further out towards rural parts can be a good way to go. The Nusa Islands – comprised of Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan – are a trio of rugged isles just 30 minutes by ferry off the coast of Bali (Sanur port), offering tropical wilderness to get lost in. While each island has its own personality, all three are optimum jumping-off points for diving, snorkelling and all kinds of water sport. The marine wildlife here is fantastic, showcased in calm and clear waters that surround rock karsts and hidden coves in the style of Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay (minus the cruise ships).

While often mistaken as being a part of Bali, the Nusa Islands are rather more understated and considerably less crowded. Balinese culture is at its most authentic here as if someone turned the clock back on Bali by around 30 years. All three islands are so small as to be covered in a day, by renting a car or motorbike from the port on arrival. This way you can putter up to the island’s highest point without breaking a sweat, finding signposts for mangroves where boating and snorkelling tours await. From here, pinpoint other attractions such as the ultraviolet Blue Lagoon on the way to Mahana Point cliffs and Mt. Agung peak. From Lembongan, cross the yellow bridge over to little sister Nusa Ceningan for more cliff jumping, caving and hiking opportunities, or take the ship to teeny-tiny Nusa Penida where rough roads and a lack of development make for memorable adventures.

Nusa Penida | Photo: Nate Johnston

4. Tanjung Puting National Park

What better way to breathe away the tensions of the modern world than to take a journey into the heart of Indonesian Borneo to live among native species on 3,040 square kilometres of all-encompassing wilderness. That’s what Tanjung Puting National Park offers, on terrain covering diverse habitats of forest, swamp, mangrove and coast, connected by blackwater rivers which flow towards the Java Sea. Amongst all of this, Tanjung Puting National Park homes an incredible collection of wildlife, including endangered orangutans, bearded pigs and pythons, alongside rare flora such as the carnivorous pitcher plant.

Kalimantan’s most popular destination, the national park shows Indonesian Borneo at its best, a region separated from the rest of the country by the Java Sea and sharing much native culture, as well as rainforest boundaries, with Malay tribes to the north. Unlike Java where traffic fumes fog the senses, in Tanjung Puting the air is pure and the sky marked only with Milky Way vistas. Though remote, Kalimantan is easily accessed by direct flight from Jakarta or Surabaya. The best way to see the park is by ‘klotok’, a creaking liveaboard boat that departs from Kumai to travel along Sungai Sekonyer towards Camp Leakey, where the famed Orangutan Research and Conservation Program is based and semi-wild orangutan’s convene for feeding. Enjoy a number of days lounging on the top deck of your klotok, peeking from binoculars to spot wild monkeys playing at the edge of the water before docking at camp.

Tanjung Puting National Park | Photo: Dimitry B

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As well as being a utopia for divers, Flores Island provides a culture in the form of Labuan Bajo fishing village and natural beauty by way of caves, mountains and waterfalls in and outside of Komodo National Park

5. Flores Island

On to our next island escape, this time venturing to Indonesia’s south end between Lombok and the Papua islands. Here you’ll find East Nusa Tenggara province sat in the abundant waters known as the Coral Triangle, an area of unique marine biodiversity. As well as being a utopia for divers, Flores Island provides a culture in the form of Labuan Bajo fishing village and natural beauty by way of caves, mountains and waterfalls in and outside of Komodo National Park. The 2,500-kilometre mountain ridge of Flores is actually a series of inactive volcanoes, the most notable of which is Kelimutu near Moni, where three huge craters host grand lakes of mutable colour.

While traditional culture and small villages can be found both towards the coast – Labuan Bajo, Ende and Maumere in particular – most of the island is reserved for nature. Not the easiest of landscapes to traverse, Flores is best by spending a few days in each town; Labuan Bajo is the most popular base with its nice hotels and many restaurants with a short journey to Komodo National Park, while Ende is the closest town to Kelimutu volcano. From Maumere flights are more frequent, but consider staying a little longer to explore the lesser-visited towns of Bajawa, Moni, Riung and Ruteng, all connected by the Trans Flores Highway and served by private car or minibus such as Gunung Mas.

Komodo National Park | Photo: Andri Onet

6. Komodo National Park

Very much deserving of its own mention is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Komodo National Park, a boat ride away from Labuan Bajo town on Flores Island. Ride the calm waters of the Flores Sea in anticipation of one of Planet Earth’s most fantastical natural worlds where dragons really do exist. The park itself spans a number of islands – including Rinca and Padar among others – but Komodo Island is the biggest, covered in verdant hillsides and pink sand beaches tinted by offshores corals.

Come to Komodo via the south entrance of Loh Liang, the place marking the start of most guided walks and treks, as well as the gateway to fishing village Kampung Komodo. Komodo’s two great mountains are Mount Satalibo and Regata Hill both featuring epic trails and 360° panoramas from the peak. After trekking, venture back to the coast’s Pink Beach where your guide will bring you to within a safe distance of the island’s namesake resident, the Komodo Dragon. Besides the ‘last dinosaur on Earth’, Komodo is shared by much other wildlife both on land and in water including Timor deer, dugong, dolphin, turtles and orca, alongside some 1,000+ species of exotic fish, coral and sponge.

7. Lombok

To the east of Flores and not far from Bali is the sandy island of Lombok, a more serene alternative to Bali’s expat-heavy experience. The active volcano of Mount Rinjani steals the skyline but gives back some epic sunrise vistas from its 3,726-meter peak. The Mount Rinjani National Park covers the land surrounding and is the home of many natural attractions, such as Sendang Gile and Tiu Kelep, two great waterfalls hidden within dense jungle, the latter of which is said to restore youth. When you’re done trekking the park, hire a bicycle to tour some of Lombok’s flatter parts, wheeling past rice paddies and pink beaches before meeting the Sasak ethnic communities within Mataram City and its smaller outlying towns. Though close to Bali, Lombok lifestyles are much more old school, leaving modern nightlife to the nearby Gili Islands, our next mention.

Lombok | Photo: Roman Odintsov

Photo: Roman Odintsov

8. Gili Islands

A must-visit while in Lombok, or Bali, or in Indonesia full stop, the Gili Islands win a special place in our hearts for their undeveloped, bohemian atmosphere centred on nature and community. The Gili archipelago lies just 30 kilometres off the east coast of Bali and has so far managed to avoid over-tourism, making it the ideal spot for R&R after partying on Bali or exploring the chaotic capital. The archipelago is comprised of three islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air – all of which come with their own reserves of white sand and crystal-clear water, as well as world-class snorkelling and diving opportunities. Unlike Bali Gili Islands have no cars, buses or motor vehicles of any type, making horse-riding, walking and cycling the main means to explore each island.

Inexpensive and serene, there is also a surprising playfulness on Gili, boosted by a wild nightlife scene centred on the largest island of Gili Trawangan. While the island has a population of just 1,500 people, those searching for gay Gili Islands parties can head to the main strip for small yet friendly affairs, where everyone ends up in just one bar come midnight. For more tranquil vacations, the tiny Gili Meno is the least developed of the trio, while Gili Air is a Goldilocks favourite; not too big, not too small and with the perfect amount of dynamism most suited to gay honeymooners and couples.

Gili Islands | Photo: Stijn Dijkstra

Gili Meno Statues | Photo: Stijn Dijkstra

9. Bunaken National Park

Another exquisite nature reserve, another day in Indonesia. This time it’s Bunaken National Park, a site covering an immense area of marine biodiversity across five islands labelled as part of North Sulawesi province. Established in 1991, Bunaken National Park was one of Indonesia’s first marine parks aimed at protecting key migratory routes from overfishing, tourism and pollution. The effort was a great success and today the park’s ecosystem thrives, with an abundance of rare and endangered animals such as coelacanths, dolphins, dugongs, sea turtles, and even whales. The region’s unique geology means the northern tip of North Sulawesi allows dives direct to the seafloor from the coastline, making it a prime spot for scuba tours. As well as dense coral on the sea bed, the most astounding feature of Bunaken is the vertical coral wall which extends from surface level to 1,360 metres down, housing various coral, sponge and mollusc and acting as shelter for upwards of 2,000 fish species.

On land meanwhile, across the islands of Bunaken, Manado Tua, Siladen, Montehage and Nain, find the national park’s drier yet no less beautiful features. Breath pure air and a tranquil ambience amid palm-laden beaches and forests inhabited by wild deer, mischievous macaques and the Sulawesi bear cuscus (google him!).

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Hidden away in East Java under a shroud of volcanic fog,  Bromo Tengger celebrates both the Hindu Tengger people and the park’s two great mountains; Bromo and Semeru

10. Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park

If there was anywhere in Indonesia that could outdo number 9, then it is the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. Hidden away in East Java under a shroud of volcanic fog, Bromo Tengger celebrates both the Hindu Tengger people and the park’s two great mountains; Bromo and Semeru. The latter is in fact the highest peak in the whole of Java and, notably, one of the region’s most active volcanos. Where Bunaken is about wildlife, Bromo Tengger is about panoramic views, specifically at sunrise when the cloudscape high up on Bromo or Semeru peak is at its most ethereal.

Sitting centrally in the Segara Wedi plain (Romanised as the ‘Sea of Sand’), white clouds of sulfuric smoke emitting from its open crater, Mount Bromo is a proud icon of Indonesia despite being more squat than Semeru. Each mountain is beloved by the Tengger people who inhabit the land surrounding and who are said to be descendants of the princes of Majapahit Kingdom. Inactive volcanic mountains within the Sea of Sand include Mount Batok, Kursi, Watangan and Widodaren, while south of the peaks lies more verdant terrain spanning upland plateau, valleys and lakes.

Mount Bromo | Photo: Pukpik

11. Yogyakarta, Java Island

Venturing back into the modern world, it’s time to explore the much talked about attractions of Yogyakarta, gay Java’s top tourist destination for bustling Javanese culture amongst ancient architecture, museums and coastal scenery. Yogyakarta is markedly smaller than Jakarta, home to just 500,000 people in one of the most seismically active areas in the region. Mount Merapi erupted as recently as 2010 and caused devastation in nearby villages, while earthquakes are also common. As well making visitors alert to local news, Yogyakarta’s volcanic activity is also an attraction in itself; see villages frozen in time by hardened lava on the Merapi Lava Tour or take life into your own hands and climb the devils themselves.

Wake up early for a sunrise visit to the famed temples of Borobudur and Prambanan, but otherwise, take it easy exploring the town centre’s best attractions on foot. Attend the theatre or a ballet performance, try local Javanese cuisine (gudeg to start followed by bakpia and washed down with jamu) or go shopping for traditional batik fabrics and Alun Alun silver. Visits to the Sultan’s Palace are also much recommended, as well as beach-hopping along Indrayanti, Jogan Krakal, Parangtritis and Pok Tunggal, with stop-offs at Puncak Becici and Pinus Pengger viewpoints.

12. Raja Ampat Islands

Lastly, we move ever closer to Papua New Guinea arriving at a cluster of islands known as Raja Ampat or the ‘Four Kings’. Veiled in rainforest and quenched by turquoise lagoons, Raja Ampat is true royalty in nature, with crown jewel beaches and kingdoms of marine life surrounding each island. Needless to say, diving off the coastline of Raja Ampat is a true spectacle, with the waters here home to three-quarters of all known coral species. Invest in an underwater camera and join snorkelling tours and wreck dives organised on any of the Four Kings, sighting a sheer diversity of life among the corals. As well as being home 1,000 species of coral fish, Raja Ampat also shelters pigmy sea horses, manta rays and bottom-dwelling wobbegong sharks, with schools of tuna, giant trevallies, snappers and barracuda also communing in the area!

Top diving spots on Raja Ampat include Arborek Island Dock, Friwen Wall, Sawandarek and Yenbuba, but really it’s hard to find a bad place among any of the islets. On land, Raja Ampat also indulges the senses with thick rainforest, rock formations and blue skies for days, all within sight on Piaynemo hill. Wayag Island is one for geology fans, while wildlife seekers can trek through any of Raja Ampat’s forests to glimpse the endemic cuscus alongside countless birds of paradise.

Photo: Jernej Graj

Raja Ampat Islands | Photo: Stijn Dijkstra

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