Immerse yourself in the wild charm of these must-see nature spots in Java, Bali, and beyond.
Curug Puncak Manik, West Java
The mountainous province of West Java is known for its wealth of rivers and waterfalls, or curug (pronounced “choo-roug”) in the local Sundanese language. Located in the Ciletuh-Palabuhanratu UNESCO Global Geopark, and the lowest of three cataracts on the Ciletuh River, Curug Puncak Manik consists of a 100-meter-high cascade that is transformed into thundering twin falls come rainy season. A meandering stairwell — aptly nicknamed Tangga Seribu (“Thousand Steps”) — leads from the top of the Ciletuh canyon down to a series of pools at the foot of the waterfall. Curug Puncak Manik is about a two-hour drive from the beachside fishing port of Pelabuhan Ratu, itself a four-hour journey from Jakarta (best attempted outside of weekends).
Madakaripura, East Java
Located within the boundaries of Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park — a highlight of any overland trip across Java — Madakaripura ranks as the tallest waterfall on the entire island. The 200-meter torrent is situated at the end of a narrow, tube-like valley; two caves in the rock face (one below and one above the falls) are said to have been favorite meditation spots for the 14th-century military leader Gajah Mada, who is credited with bringing the Majapahit Empire to the height of its power. Madakaripura is best visited in the morning, and during the drier months between May and October.
The landscape on the eastern Indonesian island of Sumba might be characterized by parched, hilly grasslands, but water can be found in abundance in its surviving pockets of lowland forest. Matanyangu Waterfall in Manupeu Tanadaru National Park inspires awe among Sumbanese and non-local visitors alike; it’s venerated by followers of the indigenous Marapu faith as a transit point for ancestral spirits on their journey to higher realms.
Boots, long pants, and trekking poles are recommended for the 90-minute hike down a steep track through the jungle, as conditions can be slippery and you may come across the occasional leech. But the reward is some jaw-dropping scenery and a well-deserved dip in the teal-colored pool at the base of the falls. While a smaller 50-meter torrent spills out of a cave throughout the year, the main 130-meter cascade tumbling from the top of the cliff face is only visible during wet season. Guests at the famous barefoot-luxe resort Nihi Sumba can visit Matayangu by booking the guided Blue Waterfall Trek, which includes a post-swim picnic lunch.
This is considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Bali, thanks to its height and dramatic location. Adventure-seekers who make the two-hour journey from Ubud (or the 40-minute drive from Singaraja in the island’s north) will find two adjacent cascades that drop 100 meters into a thickly jungled chasm. Hiring a local guide is a must for exploring Sekumpul and its verdant surrounds; make sure to check out the misty Avatar-like scenery at Hidden Falls on the valley floor. March to April is the time to come if you want to see Sekumpul at peak flow.
Sipiso-piso, North Sumatra
With a single vertical plunge measuring 120 meters from top to bottom, Sipiso-piso marks the place where the Pajanabolon River pours from a cave below the Karo Plateau over the rim of the Toba caldera, before flowing into the nearby waters of the caldera’s namesake lake. It’s possible to hike from a hillside vantage point down to the very bottom of the falls, and Sipiso-piso can be comfortably visited on a multi-day road trip from Medan to Lake Toba, with at least an overnight stop in the market town of Berastagi.
Tiu Kelep, Lombok
Bali’s easterly neighbor has plenty to offer intrepid waterfall hunters, particularly on the lush slopes of Mount Rinjani in the northern part of the island. Easily accessible from the hillside town of Senaru, a popular starting point for the grueling trek up and over Indonesia’s second-highest volcano, Tiu Kelep is something of an Instagram darling due to its distinctive appearance: the highest and largest chute falls diagonally over an already impressive curtain of water that hugs the bedrock. And there’s a bonus en route: the two-tiered cascade known as Sendang Gile. While the experience of wading through cold, pure mountain water in an undisturbed jungle will make you feel miles from anywhere, the good news is that Tiu Kelep is just a 30-minute walk from the trailhead.
Tumpak Sewu, East Java
It’s not difficult to see how Tumpak Sewu (a.k.a. Coban Sewu) got its poetic name, which loosely translates to “Thousand Falls” in the Javanese language. This much-photographed wonder in Lumajang Regency could easily star in a fantasy flick; numerous ribbons of water stream out of the thick forest to plunge 110 to 120 meters into a half-moon-shaped box canyon. Tumpak Sewu draws much of its power from the Glidik River, whose journey to the Indian Ocean begins atop the nearby volcano Mount Semeru, Java’s highest peak. It pays to bring a drone if you have one: on a clear day, the 3,676-meter-high cone of Semeru provides a magical backdrop to the tiered falls.