Indonesia, a Southeast Asian nation made up of thousands of volcanic islands, is home to hundreds of ethnic groups speaking many different languages. It’s known for beaches, volcanoes, Komodo dragons and jungles sheltering elephants, orangutans and tigers. On the island of Java lies Indonesia’s vibrant, sprawling capital, Jakarta, and the city of Yogyakarta, known for gamelan music and traditional puppetry.
Population: 264 million
Regional languages: Over 700 languages
Currency: Indonesian rupiah
Before you decide upon an Indonesia backpacking route, lets get one thing straight. Indonesia is humongous. Its size is more reminiscent of a continent than a country and although it is still classed as part of South East Asia, this vast array of islands is a world away from the standard South East Asian backpacker trail. If you were to visit a new Indonesian island every day, it would take you a little over 49 years until you had seen them all! Presuming you’ve not got half a century of your life to spare on the trip, you will need to pick and choose where you would most like to visit.
Our route begins in Java, the beating heart of the nation before heading east to the islands of Bali, Lombok and Flores. It includes ancient temples and fiery volcanoes on Java before experiencing the stunning beaches, great nightlife and thriving Hindu culture of Bali. After that things get more chilled out on the lazy Gili Islands and Lombok before getting up close and personal with the famous Komodo Dragons and volcanic craters on Flores.
TIME NEEDED – 5-6 WEEKS
Could be done in a month or less if you don’t want to spend long on the beaches of Bali/Gili Islands.
POSSIBLE BUDGET – £825 €950 $1000
Figures are based on January 2017 prices and exchange rates. They don’t include the cost of flights to or from Indonesia nor other per-trip expenses like getting travel insurance.
We recommend World Nomads who specialize in insuring young people on backpacking trips and have huge experience in covering Indonesia.
WORK OR VOLUNTEER WHILST TRAVELING IN INDONESIA
A good way to truly immerse yourself into Indonesian culture and to make your travel budget last longer is to use Worldpackers to find a host placement. In exchange for a few hours work, you can get free accommodation, food and other benefits. The platform also enables you the chance to find volunteering projects through NGO’s and other social projects.
Backpacking Indonesia – A 6 Week Itinerary
Where to go in Java?
Temples of Borobudur, Java
The Indonesian capital is a chaotic mega-city home to over 10 million people with another 20 million living in surrounding towns and villages. It’s not worth staying much more than a day or two unless you happen to be a lover of ridiculous amounts of traffic and polluted smelly streets. Starting your Indonesian adventure in Jakarta is more akin to being thrown into the middle of the Pacific Ocean than the deep end of a swimming pool but it does have its charms.
As the capital there are many important museums where you can educate yourself on Indonesian history and culture. Unlike other destinations on the route, locals vastly outnumber tourists which means you are likely to be something of a fascination to residents of Jakarta. It also boasts probably the most raucous nightlife in the Islamic world with giant 24 hour night clubs packed with ecstasy-fueled ravers. The best tactic is to accept the madness of the place and try to understand the day to day lives of local people who for the most part are extremely friendly and eager to engage with you.
As your train or bus heads east from Jakarta you begin to get a better feel for the real Java. The island is home to 65% of Indonesia’s 250 million population but is still dwarfed in size by the neighboring islands of Sumatra and Borneo. However it is not too difficult to get away from the hot modern cities and the Dieng Plateau couldn’t feel more different than the bustling capital. At 2,000 meters above sea level, the Plateau is much cooler and the scenery includes some mysterious lakes, hot springs as well as temples that offer insight into early Javanese religion and culture. Wonosobo is the main town on the Plateau and from there cheap trips can be organized or you can rent a motorbike and see it alone.
Yogya, as locals call it, is in many ways the cultural capital of Java. A lively city in its own right with a thriving arts scene and a busy little district that caters for the hordes of travelers that come through these parts. The vast palace known as the Kraton Complex is home to the fabulously named Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono and is the main attraction in the town. The reasons why Jogja has become such a popular backpacker hub however lie an hour or so bus ride outside the city. The temples of Borobudur and Prambanan are easily among the most spectacular in all of South East Asia.
Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park
A popular stopping point on the lengthy trip from Yogyakarta to Bali. Java is an island full of highly active volcanoes and Mounts Bromo and Semeru are two of the most accessible. Both volcanoes constantly spew out steam and smoke with major eruptions not an uncommon occurrence. The surrounding landscape is spectacular and at times truly unworldly. There’s plenty of budget accommodation available around the park and it’s probably best to base yourself in a village such as Cemoro Lawang or Wonokitri. Camping is possible inside the park but it does get rather cold at night.
island hop – JAVA to BALI
From the national park head to Banyuwangi on the Eastern tip of Java. This port has ferries to Gilmanuk in Bali that run every 20 minutes, 24 hours a day. The ferry crossing is only about half an hour and will set you back just 6,000Rp (as of 2014). There is little to do in Gilmanuk so it’d be a good idea to get on a bus somewhere.
Bali is a relatively small island and you can reach any point in the space of two or three hours, however you can easily end up spending weeks on the island. Most travelers base themselves in the South with Kuta Beach the most popular and liveliest choice. For many visitors to Indonesia, Bali is all they see and some of those don’t even leave the beach resorts on the Southern tip of the island. While the beaches, surfing and parties are fantastic, there is much more to Bali than this.
There are numerous laid back traditional fishing villages and sleepy bays if the pace of life at Kuta gets too much. There are diving and snorkeling opportunities on Nusa Lembongan, a beautiful small island just off the coast of Bali. Although most foreigners think of Bali as a beach destination, the central region is really the cultural heartland and where most of the action happens for locals. Unlike other parts of the country, Bali is dominated by Hindu culture and customs, and there are many fascinating markets, arts and crafts shops, Balinese temples and museums to visit in the mountainous towns and villages.
Island hop- BALI to LOMBOK
Clear water in the Gilis,
Regular fast boat services run from Benoa, Serangan Island, Padang Bai and Amed on Bali to the Gili Islands. If you don’t want to visit the Gilis, the boats continue onto the coast of mainland Lombok.
The Gilis are small and extremely laid back and a large contrast to the mass tourism witnessed in Bali. Gili Trawangan has been a huge hit with backpackers since the early 1990’s and continues to attract a steady flow of budget travelers. Diving is popular in the Gilis and Trawangan is your best bet for this. Of the three this is the main party island and a big attraction for some travelers is the total absence of police presence which has led to cheap and easily available weed, mushrooms and other drugs. Be warned though that if you misbehave on the Gilis, you may be forced to take the Walk of Shame and paraded as a criminal in the island’s unique and certainly controversial form of justice.
The quieter islands are Gili Meno, a peaceful and idyllic desert islet and the perfect place to spend a few lazy days. Gili Air, the closest to the Lombok mainland is similar but with more local residents.
Senaru (for Mount Rinjani National Park)
Senaru is a pleasant village on the fringe of the Mount Rinjani National Park and has probably the best choice of budget accommodation in the area. Here you can learn about the unique cultural beliefs on this island of Lombok. Close by are beautiful waterfalls and for the brave you can take on the challenge of hiking up Mount Rinjani, which as the second highest volcano in Indonesia looms large over the entire island.
The quiet beaches and bays of South Lombok are the perfect retreat
after an active few days on the North of the island. Surfing is popular
here and you won’t have to battle with anything like the crowds you find
on Bali. Kuta and Tanjung Aan are decent places to base yourself but
budget accommodation may be hard to find as the area doesn’t attract
much of a backpacking crowd.
island hop- LOMBOK to FLORES
This can be the most troublesome of the trips between the islands. In between Lombok and Flores lies the island of Sumbawa which is very remote and receives very few visitors. A company called Perana does the trip from Lombok to Flores and includes a few sightseeing stops including the Komodo National Park but we can’t vouch for whether they are good or not! The trip takes 2 or 3 days. Alternatively you can take a ferry to Sumbawa and a bus to the other side of the island and the port of Sape which has ferries to Labuan Bajo on Flores but they are not exactly regular.
Komodo National Park
For many travelers, a trip to see the menacing looking Komodo dragons is an essential part of backpacking in Indonesia. The dragons are fast, can jump to quite a height, are capable swimmers and are not unknown to have a taste for human flesh so it’s best to seek a guide who will show you around for around 80,000Rp .
The Komodo national park consists of three islands just west of the main island of Flores and is home to an abundance of animal life. As well as the famous dragons the area is home to wild horses, boar, deer, water buffaloes, monkeys and some very dangerous snakes. The tropical waters are inhabited by whales, dolphins and various other forms of marine life so diving, kayaking and snorkeling trips are also popular. The nearby town of Labuan Bajo is probably your best bet for budget accommodation from where you can easily reach the islands that make up the Komodo National Park.
Ende (for Mount Kelimutu)
Ende is the biggest city on Flores and has a fair bit of history both in town and in the surrounding areas. Nearby there are various caves, hot water pools and lakes, many of which hold bizarre ancient myths and beliefs. The highlight of a visit to these parts is Mount Kelimutu and its incredible crater lakes which regularly change colour and apparently can appear anything from bright turquoise to red and even chocolatey looking brown. Nobody is quite sure why this natural phenomenon takes place but it is likely to have something to do with volcanic activity.
This is the main transport hub on Flores and isn’t far from Ende. There are some decent restaurants and the opportunity to do water-sports but there isn’t much to hang around for. The airport has regular flights to other parts of Indonesia including flights to Denpasar on Bali which is likely to be your best bet for flying home or continuing your travels in a different part of Asia.
Do you need a visa for Indonesia?
Indonesia has loosened up its visa requirements considerably in recent years and it is now one of the easiest places to visit in the world. Citizens of 169 countries can now get 30 days visa-free including every European country, every country in the Americas (except Colombia for some reason), Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, South Korea and every other Southeast Asian country.
However it is important to note that with the visa-free option, you cannot extend your stay whilst in the country, which is different to most other Southeast Asian nations. If you think you may wish to stay more than 30 days, then it may be advisable to get a visa on arrival for 30-60 days, which can be extended.
Budget Accommodation in Indonesia
Accommodation doesn’t really need to be booked in advance and most of the real cheap places don’t have an online presence. Places like the Gilis are small enough to explore on foot and find a bed or room. In Jakarta advanced booking is a good idea though as the city is enormous and has some unsafe districts which aren’t best for wandering around aimlessly with all your belongings so make a reservation and head straight to your hostel/hotel on arrival.
Extending your trip
Of course this route misses out very large chunks of the country. You could easily spend several weeks or even months in Sumatra, which features in our best June destinations piece. The same goes for the jungle paradise of Borneo with both islands enormous. For the most part they are rarely visited by travelers and with something like 18,000 islands making up Indonesia, it isn’t hard to get off the beaten track.
If you’ve had enough of Indonesia then from Denpasar you can fly to numerous international destinations including Australia, New Zealand and many major cities across South East Asia and the Far East. If you have six months to a year on hand, then you could combine this trip with our backpacking route for South East Asia or alternatively our Ultimate Thailand Itinerary.
Indonesia appeals to some because it doesn’t have the massive crowds of young drunk travelers that you find in other parts of SE Asia. If that’s you then our Myanmar route might also be right up your street and it is much easier to visit now than it has been in recent years.
If you’re from Europe or North America and haven’t been to Australia or New Zealand, then you’ve probably never been closer to it than you would be at the end of this route. Bali is very well linked up to Australia by air so you can get good deals on flights and therefore it’d be easy to combine this with our Australia route. Nature lovers will certainly be tempted to head yet further from home and this backpacking route for New Zealand should provide some inspiration.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
You might also simply opt to work or volunteer in Indonesia as a way of extending your trip.
As always our duty is to promote mankind and his nature plus inspiring people into traveling and feel free to comment and share.