The Four Greater Sunda Islands

View of Bandung, Indonesia on the island of Java.
View of Bandung, Indonesia on the island of Java.

The Greater Sunda Islands are found within the Malay Archipelago. The island group features the islands of Java, Sumatra, Borneo, and Sulawesi. Most of these islands are part of Indonesia with the exception of Borneo which hosts the nation of Brunei, two Malaysian states, and the Kalimantan provinces of Indonesia. By some definitions, Sulawesi is excluded from the list of the islands that make up the Greater Sunda Islands. These islands and the Lesser Sunda Islands are grouped together as the Sunda Islands.

4. Borneo

Mount Kinabalu is the highest point on the island of Borneo.

Located in Maritime Southeast Asia, Borneo is Asia’s biggest island and is one of the major islands in the Greater Sunda Islands archipelago. Borneo is also the world’s third biggest island. Three countries have territories on this island. Indonesia owns about 73% of the area of Borneo. About 26% of the island is occupied by the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah. Only 1% of the island’s area makes up an entire nation, Brunei. The nation is located on the northern coast of Borneo. The island is famous for its ancient tropical rainforest with its unique collection of flora and fauna. The 4,095 m tall Mount Kinabalu in the Malaysian state of Sabah is the highest point on the island of Borneo. The 1,000 km long Kapuas river system is the longest river system on the island. Agriculture, mining, forestry, tourism are some of the main pillars of the economy of Borneo. Brunei is well-known for its oil and gas production.

3. Java

Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city, is locate on the island of Java.

The world’s most populous island, Java, is part of Indonesia and houses about 56.7% of the country’s population which is about 141 million. Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta is also located on this island. Java has several places of historical interest including four UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Islam is the religion of the majority of the population of Java, and Javanese is the dominant language spoken in the island. However, Java is also home to people of many ethnicities, cultures, and beliefs. The island was formed primarily as a result of volcanic eruptions and thus hosts a chain of volcanic mountains.

2. Sumatra

Winding road through Sumatra's luscious tropical forest.

With an area of 473,481 square km, Sumatra is the world’s sixth largest island. It is also the largest one that is entirely located in Indonesia. It is separated from the Malay Peninsula in mainland Asia by the Strait of Malacca. It is also separated from the Indonesian island of Java by another strait, the Sunda Strait. The island features volcanic mountains, mangroves, swamps, and river systems. Sumatra has a tropical equatorial climate and lush green tropical rain forests. However, much of the forested land of the island has now been cleared for cultivation and human habitation. Several unique species of the island like the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran orangutan, and others are now critically endangered.

1. Sulawesi

Makassar, the largest city on the island of Sulawesi.

Located to the east of Borneo is the island of Sulawesi or Celebes. The island features four peninsulas separated by three gulfs. The Strait of Makassar separates Sulawesi from Borneo. The island occupies an area of 174,600 square km. As of 2014, the estimated population of Sulawesi is 18,455,058 people. Makassar is the largest city on the island. Islam is the religion of the majority of the population of Sulawesi. Sulawesi houses a mix of both Australasian and Asian species since it is a part of Wallacea. The island has eight national parks.


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