Remote Islands in Indonesia Where You Can Live Like a Local for Weeks


Indonesia is an archipelagic country made up of over 17,000 islands, providing no shortage of beautiful and secluded tropical getaways. Many islands remain relatively untouched by mass tourism, allowing visitors to experience genuine local culture. 

Pulau Weh – Live Among Fishing Villages in Aceh

Located at the northern tip of Sumatra, Pulau Weh is one of Indonesia’s most remote inhabited islands. Unlike other more developed islands, Pulau Weh remains distinctly local in culture. The island’s 12,000 residents primarily live in small fishing villages dotted along the coast. Visitors coming here looking to immerse in local life have a true opportunity to blend in with island communities.

Where to Stay

The most authentic local experience in Pulau Weh is to stay in a homestay. Most villages offer basic homestays run by families, charging around $10-15 per night. Rooms are simple with fans and shared bathrooms, but you’ll get three home-cooked meals a day and blend in with village routines. Popular villages for homestays include Iboih and Sabang.

If homestays aren’t your style, the Santan Hotel in Iboih offers hotel rooms from $30 that include breakfast. It’s clean with ocean views, but you won’t get the true village experience.

Things to Do

The main activities involve experiencing daily village life. Go fishing on traditional wooden boats at sunrise, help process the daily catch on shore, or learn crafts like weaving. Many families cultivate crops like coconuts – which help them tend gardens. Be sure to try local Acehnese cuisine too, like curries featuring spices like lemongrass and tamarind.

Outdoor highlights include trekking up Gunung Krakatau for ocean views or exploring scenic beaches like Geu Teungoh. Dive or snorkel vibrant reefs home to sea turtles and bumphead parrotfish. Make sure to spend time just conversing with villagers too – they’re eager to share their culture and traditions with respectful visitors.

Tips for Locals

Dress conservatively out of respect for local Islamic values. Chat with villagers in Indonesian if possible – they’ll appreciate you learning their language. Always ask permission before taking photos of people or homes. Follow the rhythms of village schedules – help with chores, eat when families do. Exchange information to form friendships, not just extract cultural experiences. Your interactions can help combat negative perceptions of foreigners.

Pulau Bunaken – Dive and Snorkel a Marine Paradise

North Sulawesi’s Bunaken Island is frequently named among the world’s top diving destinations. Its rich waters are home to schools of manta rays, barracudas and over 700 species of coral reef fish. With most visitors enjoying Bunaken as a day trip from nearby Manado, opportunities for an extended stay among locals are plenty on this remote island paradise.

Where to Stay

Opting to live like a local means staying in the small fishing village of SoaSoa, located on the east coast. Basic Losmen homestays charge around $10-15 and come with fan rooms, shared facilities, and home-cooked meals featuring fresh seafood. KM Bunaken is a good option in the heart of the village.

For a more comfortable option, Pomboa Eco Lodge offers bungalows from $50 facing picture-perfect Bunaken Bay. All profits support local conservation efforts too.

Things to Do

Diving and snorkelling is obviously a highlight, with nearby Molas reef particularly breathtaking. But don’t miss simple village pleasures like leisurely breakfasts watching the fishing boats set out. Help locals prepare noon meals of curries, grilled fish and veg. Watch traditional crafts like net weaving too.

Take a sea walk – strap on diving gear and stroll along the reef just meters below the surface. Trek up nearby hills for panoramas, too. Blend in by socializing over tea or playing pickup soccer games on the beach.

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Tips for Locals

Be respectful of local conservation rules – only visit permitted areas and don’t touch coral. Chat with villagers in their Manado Malay dialect if possible. Join morning prayers at the village mosque on Fridays, too. Exchange social media contacts rather than just interacting for a few days – foster connections beyond your trip. Follow cues from children on appropriate local behavior, too – they’re less influenced by outside trends.

Pulau Kisser – Remote Island Paradise in Halmahera

Among Indonesia’s many pulse-quickening remote destinations, the Moluccan island of Pulau Kisser deserves special mention. Accessed via a 3-4 hour boat ride from Tobelo in Halmahera, this uninhabited paradise plunges you deep into pure island escapism with none of the crowds.

Where to Stay

The only accommodation is a small eco-camp run by Kisser Divers, consisting of basic tents and facilities for just $20 per night. Meals featuring fresh seafood are included. Interact with friendly staff to learn about local Halmaheran culture, too. Inviting local kids to play soccer or help with camp chores is a highlight.

Things to Do

Besides world-class diving with encounters guaranteed, there’s simply relaxing on empty beaches or hiking jungle-clad hills. Keep an eye out for endemic birds like citron-crested cockatoos, too. For a truly memorable experience, go island hopping or diving from traditional motorized canoes called pulau-pulaus.

At night, stargazing is magical without light pollution. Enjoy fresh seafood barbecues as the fire crackles and conversation with new friends flows. Sing local folk songs around the campfire and share stories well into the night.

Tips for Locals

Respect local marine life – avoid damaging fragile coral. Bring reusable water bottles to reduce plastic waste on the pristine island. Accept all invitations from friendly staff and locals – they’ve opened their homes to share authentic Halmaheran culture, so fully immerse yourself. Making genuine connections is what really transforms ordinary travel into lifelong memories.

Sumba – Island of Majestic Sand Beaches and Colorful ikat Weaving

Known as the “Island of the Gods”, Sumba possesses a raw natural beauty and is home to one of Indonesia’s most distinct local cultures. Steeped in animist traditions, the Sumbanese people are famed for their ikat weaving patterns unique to each village. With most tourism centered around surf beaches like Waingapu, rural inland villages remain little changed.

Where to Stay

To truly experience village life, homestays are the ideal choice. Popular villages like Ratenggaro boast basic family homestays from just $10 per night with meals also included. Rooms are simple but you’ll join daily activities and sample home-cooked Sumbanese cuisine.

For more comfort, Tambaran Lodge near Tambaran Village offers beach bungalows from $60. Profits support local health clinics, too.

Things to Do

Immerse yourself in village rituals like funeral ceremonies and seasonal dances. Learn the intricate art of ikat weaving and local basket weaving, too. Trek rice fields and experience communal farming. Watch traditional healing ceremonies called marapu. Be sure to explore hilltop fortresses called pulao, too.

On rest days, snorkel dreamy white-sand beaches and waterfalls. Or venture further to spot endemic wildlife like Mentawai deer and Timor deer. Soak up the magic of this culturally rich island.

Tips for Locals

Respect tightly-held traditions – ask detailed questions politely. Trade meaningful cultural exchanges not surface-level interactions. Learn local language Sumbanese to converse respectfully. Dress conservatively when visiting villages. Offer small gifts when welcomed into homes to show appreciation for opening their private lives. Make village welfare your priority over personal experiences.

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Komodo and Rinca Islands – Trek Forests Home to Komodo Dragons

Famous as the only place on Earth to see the giant prehistoric Komodo dragon, nearby islands Komodo and Rinca offer access to some of Indonesia’s most epic natural beauty. With tourism still relatively low-key, opportunities exist for multiday local living experiences in these remote eastern Nusa Tenggara gems.

Where to Stay

On Komodo Island, basic losmen homestays in Kampung Komodo village from $15 offer private rooms with fans and breakfast included. For an even more local feel, some families also rent bedrooms within their homes.

On Rinca Island, the Rinca Homestay operates from a traditional Manggarai-style home, with spacious bungalows and delicious home-cooked meals from $30. Interacting with the welcoming family is a highlight.

For a more comfortable option, Komodo Resort on Komodo offers safari-style tents and bungalows amidst tropical gardens from $120, with excellent diving/snorkeling access.

Things to Do

Explore pristine forests and beaches on guided trekking routes. With patience, you’ll spot iconic Komodo dragons in the wild, along with endemic timid deer and vibrant birdlife. Join activities the youth appreciate, like playing soccer on rustic pitches. Learn traditional arts from locals, too – weaving, woodcarving and more.

On rest days, snorkel world-class reefs where manta rays and whale sharks are frequently spotted. Indulge in local specialties like jackfruit curry at night markets too. Stargaze under crystal clear dark skies without light pollution.

Tips for Locals

Always keep a guide within trekking areas for safety. Never provoke or feed dragons, and admire them only from a safe distance as prescribed. Respect local beliefs – bow your head politely at mosques. Learn basic Manggarai or Flores languages beyond standard Indonesian when conversing with villagers. Offer meaningful souvenirs beyond trinkets when departing new friends.

Mentawai Islands – Surf Epic Jungle Pointbreaks Among Friendly Tribes

About 160km off western Sumatra lie the idyllic Mentawai Islands. Home to nomadic tribes who still roam jungles and beaches by dugout canoe, this legendary surfing paradise also offers stays in remote forest hamlets surrounded by verdant nature. Interactions with the warm Mentawai people provide rich cultural immersion.

Where to Stay

The most authentic experience is to stay in a villages like Tuangku on Siberut Island. Basic thatched huts from $15 are set in dense jungle amidst rice paddies, with wood fires to cook tasty tribal meals. Friendly residents are eager to teach traditions.

For more comfort, Lembupu Resort on Siberut under Mentawai Surf Guides provides spacious bungalows facing superb breaks from $150 full board. Profits support locals, too.

On Pulau Pagai Utara, Bintang Karang Beach Bungalows from $60 feature spacious units amidst coconut groves facing dreamy surf beaches perfect for learning tribal life.

Things to Do

Besides epic pointbreaks like Macaronis, learn local crafts and help with chores. Trek unspoiled jungles, spot proboscis monkeys, and try blowpipes. Accompanying men on tribal hunting trips or women foraging, too is welcomed. Socialize over meals and laughter around beach fires at night. Learn dialects to converse respectfully.

Tips for Locals

Always seek permission before activities, photos, or entering areas. Dress modestly and avoid PDA. Trade meaningful gifts between villagers, not mass souvenirs. Learn local spiritual beliefs and show respect for sacred sites. Focus on fostering genuine connections rather than surface encounters. Empower communities through responsible tourism.

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