Indonesia is celebrating 72 years of independence today. So why not learn a little more about the world’s fourth biggest country?
1. It covers a lot of ground
This vast place extends 5,120 kilometres from east to west. That’s longer than the distance (as the crow flies) from London to Tehran (4,403km).
2. And is made up of 18,307 islands
That’s according to a 2002 survey by the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (the CIA World Factbook seems to think it’s 17,508, however, while a more recent survey, by a different agency, put the figure at 13,466). Only Canada, Norway, Sweden and Finland have more.
3. It’s heaven for animal lovers
According to Conservation International, just 17 countries are considered “megadiverse”. Each possesses a vast number of different species – many found nowhere else. And Indonesia is one.
4. And home to the world’s largest lizard
The Komodo dragon lives on just five Indonesian islands – Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang, and Padar. They are truly fearsome, weighing up to 150lbs and possessing toxic bites, allowing them to hunt and kill far bigger animals – even humans.
Stanley Stewart visited the islands for Telegraph Travel last year. He wrote: “Our guide Harry Christensen, a proper ocker Aussie who has been sailing these waters for years, told us how the Komodo’s venom induces shock and heart failure in its victims, how it dislocates its jaws like a snake to devour large prey, how it is a miniature replica of a much larger Jurassic ancestor. ‘AMAZING!’ Harry raved, flapping his arms like a man trying to escape his own body. ‘These dragons inspired the legends of King Kong!’”
5. Indonesian airlines have a chequered history
Since 2001, there have been at least 45 air accidents on Indonesian soil that resulted in fatalities, according to the website aviation-safety.net. They include Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501, which crashed into the Java Sea in 2014, killing 162 people, and a Trigana Air Service crash in 2015 that killed 54. By comparison, there have been just six on UK soil during that time – all involving small jets with fewer than six individuals on board.
Due to safety concerns, the EU currently permits just seven Indonesian airlines (Airfast Indonesia, Premiair, Garuda Indonesia, Citilink, Batik Air, Lion Air and Indonesia AirAsia), to fly within its airspace. That leaves 55 on its banned list.
6. But they are expanding fast
Lion Air, a budget Indonesian operation that flies predominantly in and around South-East Asia, is set to quintuple the size of its fleet. It has 443 aircraft on order, to add to its current stock of 113. No airline in the world is waiting on so many planes.
7. It has 139 volcanoes
Indonesia has the third most volcanoes in the world, behind the US and Russia, according to the National Museum of Natural History’s Global Volcanism Program.
The volcanic island of Krakatoa, between Java and Sumatra, is perhaps the most famous. It was responsible for one of the world’s biggest modern eruptions; when it blew in 1883, it unleashed two huge tsunamis that killed more than 36,000 people and emitted what is considered to be the loudest sound ever heard.
8. Some of which you can climb
A base for trips to the summit of Mount Bromo, Cemoro Lawang appears to sit on the edge of the world. The landscapes are spectacular – many say the most spectacular in Indonesia – and the region is home to the fascinating Hindu Tengger community, distinct from the predominantly Muslim lowland Javanese. Hike, admire the scenery or visit during the annual Kasada ceremony, when the Tengger climb to the crater’s edge to cast offerings into the hissing, seething inner crater.
9. There are eight Indonesian World Heritage Sites
Komodo National Park we’ve touched on, but others include the rainforests of Sumatra, home to scores of orangutans…
…and the spectacular temple complex of Borobudur.
10. It is the world’s shortest country
The map below shows 98 nations colour-coded according to the average height of its male residents (no reliable data is available for those countries that appear in grey). The Netherlands, where the average adult male is 1.838m tall, tops the table. Indonesia props up the rest, with an average height of just 1.58m.
11. But has a very tall mountain
Lorentz National Park, another of the country’s Unesco World Heritage sites, on the island of Papua, is vast – covering 9,674 square miles – and home to a huge array of ecosystems, including mangroves, rainforest, alpine tundra and equatorial glaciers. Its highest point, Puncak Jaya, is the tallest mountain between the Himalayas and the Andes.
There are 123 mammalian species and 630 species of bird, including many that are endemic to the region. But much of the park remains unexplored – so scientists believe more are waiting to be discovered.
12. And a very large flower
Rafflesia arnoldi, endemic to Sumatra, is noted for producing the largest individual flower on Earth. But don’t pick one for your lover – it is said to smell like decaying flesh, earning it the nickname “corpse flower”.
13. There’s a lot of coastline
Love to be beside the seaside? Then you won’t be disappointed in the destinations that appear in darker colours on the map below – they can boast the longest coastlines in the world. Indonesia is second overall, with a staggering 54,716km.
14. And a lot of people
261.1m people call Indonesia home, making it the fourth most populous country on the planet. It is also home to the world’s biggest Muslim population (around 225m).
15. It still has the death penalty
Indonesia still enforces the death penalty – by firing squad. In 2015 it executed eight drug traffickers, including two Australians, in a case that triggered an international outcry, while Lindsay Sandiford, a British woman, is currently on death row after being found guilty of smuggling cocaine into Bali in 2012. Her case is particularly baffling: she claims she was coerced into carrying the drugs by a criminal gang, and helped police with a sting operation to catch her accomplices. She was then sentenced to death while others involved were only given jail time.
Indonesia is by no means alone. More than 50 countries still have the death penalty, including Vietnam, one of the world’s biggest executioners, according to Amnesty International (429 prisoners were killed there between August 2013 and June 2016), Thailand, Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago.
16. There’s an eerie abandoned hotel
The French photographer Romain Veillon recently explored the remains of the abandoned PI Bedugul Taman Rekreasi Resort in Bali to capture these images.
17. Its capital is the most Instagrammed on Earth
Instagram recently revealed that Jakarta is the city most frequently geotagged in its Stories format.
“10 million people call this metropolis home and another 8 million pour into the city to work every day,” writes Simon Parker in his guide to Jakarta. “The traffic and vastness of Jakarta might seem daunting, but this is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines – seeking them out is part of its allure. The old town of Batavia will transport you to Indonesia’s Dutch colonial past while the fashionable Menteng district is a hive of live music venues, exclusive restaurants and hip hotels. World-renowned restaurants, bars and nightclubs perch on top of towering skyscrapers, while shoppers can choose from dozens of gargantuan shopping malls.”
18. The flag might catch you out
Monaco, Poland and Indonesia have very similar flags. Do you know which is which?
19. Best of all – it’s cheap
The biennial World Economic Forum (WEF) Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report was released earlier this summer. Based on factors including safety, infrastructure, health and cultural resources, Spain is the greatest destination, it says, followed by France and Germany. But the top 20 for “price competitiveness” is very different. Indonesia is fifth best value, behind only Algeria, Malaysia, Egypt and Iran.