5 unique Indonesian destinations: a mini cultural guide


By Jessica Ginting



Indonesia is one of the most culturally diverse places in the world.  With more than 17,000 islands spread across the archipelago, there is an abundance of destinations to visit. Each island boasts a wealth of different cultural sites, regional cuisine and traditional ceremonies that any visitor would be able to witness and even take part in. Here are 5 unique Indonesian destinations to visit and some cultural traditions and events to look out for:


On the rise for its stunning pink beaches, colour-changing lakes and prehistoric reptiles, Flores is an island that boasts a rather effortless, natural beauty. However, there are plenty of thrills to be found deeper inland as well—the Caci is a traditional warrior dance where men prove their sexual virility and engage in combat with whips made of buffalo tail leather. The performance is usually accompanied by lively drum and gong music. Certainly not for the faint hearted, the drops of blood shed in this ritual are believed to fertilize the land for the coming harvest.


Yogyakarta (or ‘Jogja’ for short) is the fine arts centre of Java, well known for its classical Javanese performances, the most renowned one being the Ramayana ballet show. The show takes place against the backdrop of the Prambanan temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site with an open-air stage where audiences can enjoy the magnificent view of the dancers under the moonlight.  It tells the Hindu story of the epic Ramayana saga, with the original story dated back to more than a thousand years ago.


Far up in the remote mountains of Sulawesi, the people of Toraja still practice ancient burial rituals. These rituals are often said to be the most complex in the world. Funerals are a celebration of the bond between the living and the dead. Bodies are embalmed and buried in cliffs after the ceremony to rest. Children who die before they grow teeth are buried in trees.  Families also create effigies (tau tau) of their loved ones to display outside their graves, believed to represent the deceased protecting the living.

Lake Toba

Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake in the world and one of the deepest. It is a five hour drive from Medan, the capital of North Sumatra. Every year in December the Lake Toba Festival is held to celebrate the local Batak culture. The festival is complete with sacrificial slaughters of water buffalos, long canoe boat races across the lake, performances by local schools and the presentation of the traditional ulos cloth, hand woven by the local women. During the rest of the year, though, the lake is usually peaceful and serene—the perfect getaway for anyone looking to relax.


Held every year in February and March, the pasola is a ritualistic combat event where participants ride bareback on horses and throw wooden spears at each other. Skilled participants are able to catch incoming spears, while others (although the spears are nowadays blunted) can often be knocked to the ground. Traditionally, the blood shed during the event is meant to fertilize the land for the upcoming harvest season. Another pre-harvest ritual is the pajura, a boxing match that takes place on a moonlit beach in the early hours of the night. Participants wear boxing gloves made of reeds and fight until blood is spilled, in a similar symbolic manner to the pasola.

Images source: pixabay.com 


To read more on the culture and customs of Indonesia, our Culture Smart! Indonesia guide is available to view and purchase on our site:

Indonesia Culture Smart

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