Indonesia Travel Guide

Indonesia Travel Guide and Backpacker Route

Indonesia is a nation of thousands of volcanic islands, each one home to unique cultures, cuisines, landscapes and languages. You could spend a lifetime in Indonesia and only scratch the surface of this extraordinary country, so don’t put it off any longer! Read our Indonesia travel guide to find out how your life will be changed by a trip to Indonesia.


indonesia-travel-guide

Travel Plan of Indonesia (3-4 Weeks in Bali and Lombok)

Our Indonesia travel guide includes something for everyone: beaches for surfing, snorkelling and yoga, rainforests, rice terraces and volcanoes, and cities for soaking up local culture. Our Indonesia travel route starts on the Island of Bali…

Kuta | Bali Island, Indonesia

Smiling locals in vibrant dresses, lean beach bums tearing up the surf by day and playing guitar by night, intricate banana leaf offerings accompanied by a waft of incense: Bali is everything you could hope for from paradise and more.

Many trips to Indonesia start in Kuta, a beachy city that’s become the country’s main tourist hub. Here you’ll find sun, world-class surf, yoga, mindfulness, a few too many cocktails and endless renditions of Hotel California.

Bali’s beauty isn’t a well-kept secret. There has been plenty of development. But don’t believe those who tell you that there’s no culture in Bali: the population of Bali is overwhelmingly Hindu with a small Muslim minority (the opposite is true in Java Island to the west and Lombok to the east). Balinese Hinduism is a spectacular cultural blend that inspired the stunning Uluwatu Temple and a plethora of colourful ceremonies.

Things To Do In and Around Kuta:

  • Learn to surf, or simply enjoy doing nothing at all on Kuta Beach.
  • Surf aficionados can test their skills at Dreamland Beach.
  • Enjoy the sweet and sour flavours of Nasi Goreng.
  • Party through the night in one of the city’s many watering holes.
  • Support the Bali Sea Turtle Society.
  • “Same, same, but different” is the answer you’ll often hear if you ask whether that brand-name item you’re thinking of buying is genuine…
  • Help keep Bali free of plastic bags by leaving yours at home!
kuti-bali-gaye-launder
Photo by Gaye Launder

Ubud | Bali Island, Indonesia

Next up on our Indonesia travel guide is Ubud. My parents visited Ubud decades ago when it was a simple village in the rainforest with an excellent reputation for arts, crafts and dancing. Nowadays the village has been transformed beyond all recognition into an unrivalled hotspot for digital nomads, world travellers and artists. 

Things To Do in Ubud:

  • Pay homage to the monkeys at the Sacred Monkey Forest (seriously, these little guys can be mean and should be treated with respect!)
  • Shop for exquisite arts and crafts.
  • Watch a thousand herons flying at Petulu.
  • Raft the Ayung River.
  • Brave Tegenungan Waterfall.
  • Visit Ubud Water Temple.
  • Network at Hubud, Ubud’s first co-working space for digital nomads.
  • Trek the iconic rice field terraces on the outskirts of town.
  • Eat incredible vegan food in Ubud.
Photo by Carlos Donderis
Photo by Carlos Donderis

The Gili Islands | Lombok, Indonesia

A trio of tiny tropical islands that are blissfully free of cars and sometimes free of electricity too. Stepping foot on the Gili Islands is like stepping back in time. It’s not unusual to have a horse and cart take your luggage to your beach-side lodgings for you once you get off the boat. The Gili Islands are also renowned for a vibrant coral reef which makes for fantastic snorkelling and diving.

Things To Do on the Gili Islands:

  • Learn to dive, explore the coral reefs, spend time with a turtle.
  • Or stay closer to the surface with world-class snorkelling.
  • Relax on the beach with a pineapple on a stick.
  • Walk (or cycle) around an entire island in just a few hours.
  • Ask a bartender what kind of mushrooms you might find in their ‘shroom shake…  
gili-islands-indonesia-travel-guide-jeroen-harpe
Photo by Jeroen Harpe

Mount Rinjani | Lombok, Indonesia

No trip to Indonesia would be complete without reaching the summit of at least one volcano, and Mount Rinjani on Lombok is my personal favourite. It’s a tough overnight hike, but the moment when you break through the clouds to find a troop of monkeys waiting for you on the other side makes it all worthwhile. You’ll be able to see the lava flow when the sun goes down and a breathtaking sunrise when it comes back up.

Things To Do on Lombok:

  • Swim Senggigi Reef.
  • Hire a scooter and explore the island.
  • Surf Gerupuk Bay.
  • Explore Kuta (confusingly there is a Kuta on both Bali and Lombok!)
  • Visit one of the island’s thousand mosques.
Photo by rickeyw
Photo by rickeyw

Travel Plan of Indonesia (3 Weeks in Java, from Surabaya to Jakarta)

Fewer tourists make it to Java, but the awe-inspiring temples at Borobudur and Prambanan alone are reason enough to make the trip.


Surabaya | Java, Indonesia

To the west of Bali, you can find the island of Java, home to both Indonesia’s capital (Jakarta) and the port city of Surabaya. Surabaya is a melting pot of different cultures; you can find Dutch canals, sleek skyscrapers, Arab mosques and a bustling Chinatown.

Things To Do in Surabaya:

    • Visit the House of Sampoerna, the city’s famous cigarette manufacturer.
    • Enjoy cruelty-free food at Ahimsa Vegan Lounge.
    • Listen to Dangdut (an Arab/Hindu musical fusion) in Dolly, in the city’s red-light district.
    • Spend the night at the Hotel Bumi Surabaya or find an Airbnb place.
    • See the Ampel Mosque in the old Arab quarter.

Yogyakarta | Java, Indonesia

The vibrant city of Yogyakarta has often been considered the cultural capital of Java. If the arty-student vibe doesn’t charm you, the breathtaking nearby temples of Borobudur and Prambanan certainly will!

Things To Do in Yogyakarta:

      • Rise early to catch the sunrise at Borobudur.
      • Drive a scooter out to Prambanan Hindu temples for sunset.
      • Make your own ring at a Silver Making Workshop.
      • Wander around the serene Water Castle.
      • Listen to traditional gamelan music at the Kraton (Sultan’s Palace).

Want to know where to stay in Yogyakarta? Or where to eat the country’s best gado-gado? Or how to get to the temples? Read our complete travel guide to Yogyakarta to find out!

 


Jakarta | Java, Indonesia

Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is a challenging place to visit. The city is clogged with traffic from the early hours of the morning to well past bedtime. Pollution is thick and green spaces seldom seen. Yet over ten million inhabitants call Jakarta home.

Things To Do in Kota, Jakarta’s Historical Quarter:

Kota — the town’s historical quarter — is the best place to get a glimpse of what Indonesia was like under Dutch rule.

        • Dine at Cafe Batavia, complete with teak-wood Grand Salon.
        • Cycle round Taman Fatahillah, the old quarter’s main square.
        • Visit the Museum Wayang to see traditional puppets.
        • Visit the Old Bank Museum
        • Set sail from Sunda Kelapa, a traditional port complete with sailboats.
        • See Kota Intan Bridge — The last of the Dutch drawbridges.
        • Drink a Bintang (beer) at Batavia Marina Vast, an ancient and now mostly empty bar.

From Jakarta, it’s possible to fly to Pangkalan Bun if you want to see orangutans in the wild on the magical island of Borneo.


See Orangutans in Borneo | Indonesia

Every nature lover dreams of catching a glimpse of orangutans in the wild, but few are able to make that dream a reality. But in the national park of Tanjung Puting, in the Indonesian half of the island of Borneo, there are still an estimated six thousand orangutans. By taking a “klotok” boat deep into the jungle, you can see these fascinating animals in their natural habitat. Here’s a sample itinerary:

09:30-11:30 – Fly from Jakarta airport to Pangkalan Bun (Iskandar Airport).
11:30-12:30 – Airport transfer from Pangkalan Bun to Kumai, where you board the klotok .
12:30 – Eat lunch on the boat, meet the crew.
12:30-14:30 – Take the klotok downriver to the Tanjung Harapan station.
15:00-17:00 – Watch the orangutans feeding!
17:30-18:30 – Look for proboscis monkeys and crocodiles on the river bank.
18:30 – Enjoy a candlelit dinner aboard the klotok.
19:30-20:30 – Take a guided night walk into the jungle.
21:00+ – Sleep aboard the klotok.

Want to know more about seeing orangutans in Borneo? Including costs and how to book? Read our guide to seeing orangutans at Tanjung Puting.

 


Do I Need a VISA for Indonesia?

Visitors from Taiwan, Singapore and nine other neighbouring nations may be eligible for a free VISA on arrival, but most tourists are going to have to pay up. If you’re from one of the lucky 52 countries that are on Indonesia’s VISA list, you may be able to get a Tourist VISA on arrival. Everyone else must apply for a VISA in advance.

The above information may change at any time so check an official source of information before your trip.


When’s the Best Time of Year to Go Backpacking in Bali?

In Bali, the rainy season lasts from October to March. The dry season lasts from April to September. Most visitors find the dry season more comfortable, but the weather is better than what you’ll get in England all year round! During July and August, the island’s high season, tourists arrive in huge numbers and prices escalate.

You might also want to time your trip to coincide with one of Bali’s many festivals:

      • Bali Arts Festival (traditionally held in June-July)
      • Bali Kites Festival (usually held in July-August)
      • Galungan and Kuningan, a celebration of good’s triumph over evil.
      • Kuta Karnival (October)
      • Nyepi, a traditional day of silence.
      • Saraswati, a day devoted to the Goddess of Knowledge.
Photo by Joshua Newton
Photo by Joshua Newton

Many Balinese festivals are calculated by the Saka calendar. Check a reputable source of information if you’d like to attend one of the festivals mentioned.


Read More About Backpacking in Southeast Asia

One of the great things about visiting Indonesia is that you can make it part of a larger trip includes other excellent destinations in Southeast Asia such as Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines. Here are some more great Indonesia travel guides and other articles about backpacking in Southeast Asia:


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Luke Nicholson

Luke is Charlie's partner and long-term travel companion. Though currently working as an online marketer, Luke is also a CELTA qualified ESL teacher, experienced house sitter and avid video gamer. He loves howler monkeys too.

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