As Indonesia gradually opens its borders to foreign travelers, here are some of the hidden gems of the archipelago to explore on your next visit. For diehard international travelers, Indonesia is perhaps the world’s worst kept secret. Before the pandemic struck, tens of millions of foreign visitors arrived each year to travel the country, though many ended up touring the usual destinations: the historic quarters of Yogyakarta, the wild adventures of Lombok, the eternal paradise of Bali. It’s always a good idea to take the road less traveled while also avoiding the tourist crush. The sprawling archipelago is home to a complex history, fascinating cultures and some of the most unspoiled natural wonders anywhere on earth. While some of the places below might not be the easiest to reach, once you get there, you’ll realize the trip was absolutely worth it.

Sumba, East Nusa Tenggara

The sea has fundamentally changed the country’s eastern regions through its ties to Indonesia’s colonial past, inexorably linked to the “Spice Islands” of Maluku. But Sumba has remained relatively isolated. As it has precious few resources and marketable commodities, it has existed on the margins of consciousness for many visitors. So when you arrive on the island via the readily available flights to Waingapu, the island’s administrative seat, you’ll discover dramatic, unspoiled landscapes and some of the best beaches the country has to offer. The eastern part of Sumba is probably the most economically advanced region, with an abundance of affordable cottages and homestays. It is also a great place to hunt for the distinctive Sumbanese ikat textile.

Banda Neira, Maluku

A central hub on the colonial spice route, the island’s nutmegs turned Banda Neira into a bloody battleground between several European colonial powers centuries ago. Neira’s native spice was worth its weight in gold and the Spice Wars turned the beautiful island into an economic prize and a cage for its many inhabitants, who were forced to work on nutmeg plantations.

There’s no way of tiptoeing around Banda Neira’s dark and tragic history, the scars of which are still visible across its rugged landscape. Old Dutch forts dot the island, as do stark reminders of colonial plantations. But beyond these are a cornucopia of lush mountains, pristine beaches and spectacular dive sites. An island paradise that has been restored from its past as hell on earth, anyone interested in history and the human condition would do well to pay a visit to Banda Neira, which also offers regular ferry trips to other islands in eastern Indonesia.

Mentawai Islands, West Sumatra

The Mentawai island chain broke off from mainland Sumatra 500,000 years ago, and then it seems that time stood still. Perhaps protected by its rough seas, the Mentawai people developed a culture that is distinct from anywhere else in Indonesia.

Even though outside influences and migrants started creeping in during the 20th century, the islands remain fiercely independent, keeping to the local traditions that maintain the community’s deep connection with their land.

One of its most notable traditions is their tattoo culture, which uses a unique poking technique that you can only get by traveling deep into the heartland of Mentawai Island. Remain on shore, though, and you’ll understand why Mentawai is enjoying a burgeoning reputation among surfers. It has some of the best, most consistent and challenging waves in the country, and its sandy shores attract the world’s top surfers and yacht sailors alike.

Banyuwangi, East Java

There’s a case to be made that anywhere in Java, by far the country’s most economically advanced island, is not on the road less traveled. But even among Indonesians, the perspective on Java is often obscured by the bright lights of its metropolises and its quaint palaces in Central Java. Head east, though, and you’ll find wonders that are easily accessible by rail and plane.

Located on the easternmost point of Java, nicknamed “Tapal Kuda”, or the Horse’s Hoof), Banyuwangi has everything. The Ijen Crater would be a monumental feat for any enthusiastic trekkers who will delight in its electric blue fire, a natural phenomenon that occurs at only one other location, in Ethiopia. Meanwhile, Baluran National Park is a picturesque savanna where the wildlife roams free.

The more enterprising travelers will seek immersion in Banyuwangi’s unique cultural legacy. Once isolated from the rest of Java and unfairly maligned as a haven of bandits, political prisoners and shamans, the city has developed a unique cultural identity as clearly expressed in its signature shaman dance, jaranan buto.

Singkawang, West Kalimantan

Located along the coast of West Kalimantan, Singkawang is a haven of culture, food and heartwarming stories. One of the few cities in the country with a majority Chinese-Indonesian population, visiting Singkawang will feel like stepping into a parallel universe where things are not quite Indonesian and not quite Chinese, but distinctly Singkawang.

Of course, it has sandy beaches and spectacular landscapes to soothe nature lovers, but it also has beautifully designed temples throughout the city, each with a complex history. Each Chinese New Year and Capgomeh (the 15th day after Chinese New Year), Singkawang comes alive with parades and ceremonies, a festival of light and color that will bewilder and bedazzle any visitor.