Indonesia is home to a truly impressive biodiversity and to breathtaking landscapes that vary from crystal waters dotted by islands with palm trees, to dense rainforests surrounded by active volcanos, and to expansive wetlands and mangroves. There are approximately 17,000 islands comprised in this amazing country, with very few of them inhabited. Each island is almost a different world, with endemic species living on Sulawesi, Flores, Rinca and Komodo, Java, West Papua, Sumatra, Kalimantan and even Bali. The human cultures and languages are equally diverse, so you can experience what feels like a wide range of different countries when traveling inside Indonesia. This is also one of the most populated nations in the world, and a tourism hotspot. With growing population pressure, irresponsible mass tourism, giant palm oil plantations, and a terrible plastic pollution problem, Indonesia is at the forefront of environmental destruction. However, within this complicated context there is hope in the preservation of some of the country's precious biodiversity through sustainable, responsible and community-based tourism.
Between April and May 2018 we traveled to several places in Indonesia to meet an organization that has done pioneer conservation work in the Raja Ampat region of West Papua, and to better understand the role that sustainable tourism can play in limiting the expansion of palm oil plantations in Sumatra and Kalimantan/Borneo.
One of the most important lessons we’ve learned in Indonesia was that in order to help rather than hurt conservation as a visitor it’s best to never seek the cheapest services. The country is famous as a cheap destination popular with backpackers. While it’s true that you can get a lot for your money here, keeping the demand and expectations for unrealistically cheap services can be damaging while visiting conservation areas. Working with the cheapest guides, going to the cheapest resorts on remote islands, opting for the cheapest scuba diving shops, etc. can lead to irresponsible practices, mounds of garbage disposed of improperly, disturbance of wildlife and habitats, and communities that remain impoverished and unable to see tourism as a sustainable alternative to other industries. If you can, spend the extra money because even what’s expensive for Indonesia is still rather cheap compared to similar activities in many other parts of the world, and it can truly have a positive impact for local businesses. In this online guide you’ll find descriptions of four destinations that we visited:
1. West Bali National Park
2. Raja Ampat Marine Park in Papua
3. Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra
4. Tanjung Puting National Park in Kalimantan/Borneo