Composed of over 17,000 islands, Indonesia is possibly one of the most charming countries in the world. The country is huge. It is bigger than Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Laos, and Cambodia combined. If you want to explore Indonesia, you may need more than one month to do so. The country is full of unique landscapes and amazing cultures. In this beautiful country, you can see orangutans in the jungle, climb active volcanoes, admire ancient temples, enjoy world-class diving, and see komodo dragons. You will meet some of the friendliest people and savor the local’s vast selection of delicious cuisine. Another reason that makes Indonesia a dream destination for backpackers is its cost and you can easily explore the country on a budget while still staying on the luxurious side.
Planning a trip to Indonesia and making itineraries can be a daunting task, so here’s a little insider tip to help you out.
1. Where to go
There is no way you can explore all of Indonesia on one trip, so the best way to travel around the country is to choose a couple of regions. You can start your route from the island of Java (the country’s main island), continue to Flores, Lombok, and end your trip in Bali. If you can snag an 8-week visa to Indonesia, you can stop by Sumatra and Kalimantan.
The island of Java
Most international flights arrive in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. Most people avoid this city and go straight to Bali, but you should stay for a day or two. Don’t stay too long though, the city may give you a headache. Jakarta is really chaotic and crowded, but you can learn more about Indonesia’s history of independence in this city. The main attractions to visit in Jakarta include Kota Tua (Old Town) and Monas (National Monument).
Once you leave Jakarta, Java gets far more interesting. Your next stop should be Yogyakarta, which is considered as the cultural hub of the island. Yogyakarta is a great place to explore for a couple of days. It is possibly one of the most interesting cities in Indonesia. It is known to be very friendly for backpackers; the streets are filled with guesthouses, cafes, ad restaurants that provide amazing service and delicious food. One of the most famous attractions within the city is Keraton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat (the Royal Palace) and Taman Sari Water Castle (the site of the former royal garden of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta). However, most foreigners visit Yogyakarta as their base to explore ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples. The closest one from the city center is Prambanan Temple and Ratu Boko Temple, but the most famous (and probably the biggest) temple is Borobudur Temple that is located on the outskirts of the city.
From Yogyakarta, go further east to see some of the spectacular volcanoes, including the still-active Mount Bromo and the famous blue-flame emitting Ijen volcano. Both of the volcanoes can be reached by a short walk or a 4×4 ride. Make sure to bring warm clothes since the temperature in these volcanoes can get quite cold.
Here’s something to keep in mind: many attractions in Java are crowded with domestic tourists and many people (particularly teenage girls) will ask to take pictures or practice English with you. They’re usually very respectful and friendly. However, while it can be fun, it can also be annoying. If you don’t want to be crowded with teenagers, try to visit the attractions as early as possible.
Flores is a lot less crowded than Java. The first place you should visit is Maumere, which offers a relaxed pace of life, super-friendly locals, and amazing sunsets. Maumere is the perfect place to unwind. The biggest tourist attraction in Flores is mount Kelimutu. Visit this mountain at sunrise and admire the beauty of its colorful cater lakes. You need to climb for around 20 minutes, but the view will be more than worth it. The three small cater lakes on the mountain mysteriously change color from time to time.
Flores is home to the famous Komodo National Park. This park is home to large man-eating lizards that you will not find anywhere else in the world; Komodo Dragons. You can see them from up close, but be sure to be very careful. The only way to visit this park is by boat, but the experience will be unforgettable. In Flores, you will likely stay in Labuan Bajo. The town is pretty full of people, but it is very interesting. In Labuan Bajo, you should definitely visit Pink Beach. The Pink Beach in Labuan Bajo got its name from its unique pink sands. It is one of the seven pink beaches on earth and its beauty will leave you in awe.
Lombok and Gili Islands
Lombok is considered as the more peaceful and less crowded Bali. It has various tranquil beaches, with white beaches and clear blue water. Some of the most popular beaches on the island are Senggigi Beach, Kuta Beach, Mangsit Beach, Nipah Beach, Pandana Beach, Selong Belanak Beach, and Tanjung Aan Beach and each of these beaches have its own characteristics.
From Lombok, you should not skip the Gili Islands. Gili Islands “chain” has numerous islands, but the most famous are the Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air. Gili Trawangan is infamous for its party scene, but there are still plenty of relaxing spots. Gili Meno is a lot more laid back and is frequented by couples who want to have a romantic gateway. Gili Air offers a relaxing vibe, perfect for those who want to get away from crowds.
The island of Bali is the main tourist attraction of Indonesia and is packed with astonishing Hindu culture, breathtaking beaches, beautiful waterfalls, beautiful mountains covered with lush jungles, hype beach clubs, and amazing restaurants. Put Bali at the end on your itinerary because its appeal will hypnotize you to stay forever and abandon your plans to see other parts of Indonesia. Bali is actually a pretty large island (larger than Lombok) and everything inside this island is interesting, from Canggu, Kuta, Seminyak, to Ubud, you will never get enough of it. However, if we have to narrow down the attractions you must visit, make sure you visit Ubud Monkey Forest, Petitenget Beach, the Nusa Islands, and Pura Tanah Lot.
Sumatra and Kalimantan (Borneo)
Sumatra is the third largest island in Indonesia, while Kalimantan is the second-largest island. If you have more time in Indonesia, both of these islands are must-visits. In Sumatra, you can visit Lake Toba, which is a large lake with an island in the middle. The island is known as Samosir island. It is home to some of the most laid-back people in the world and the scenery is spectacular. If you want to encounter orangutans in their natural habitat, Kalimantan is the place to go.
2. Travel tips
Unless you’re visiting large cities or popular tourist destinations, it will be hard to find people who can speak or understand English. The national language is Bahasa Indonesia, but there are hundreds of indigenous languages across the country. Make sure to learn some useful Bahasa Indonesia phrases to get you going.
Indonesia is a generally safe country. However, you still need to be careful. Avoid drinking in fishy clubs or bars, as many of them have been caught making their own alcohols that end up poisoning its drinkers. Don’t bring too many expensive things on your travel to avoid thieves.
The culture and religion
Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, so drinking and wearing too revealing clothes is a bit frowned upon. You can wear bikinis on the beaches of Bali, Lombok, and Flores, but don’t do it in Java.
The local currency is the Indonesian Rupiah and the exchange rate for 1 US Dollar is around Rp13,500-14,000. The exchange currency makes travel costs very affordable. In fact, Indonesia is a very budget-friendly destination for backpackers. There are various money changers in Indonesia, but make sure to stay safe. Always count the money yourself and don’t give it back once you’re done counting it. There’s a common scam where the people in the money changers perform the exchange in front of you, and once you confirm, they will ask you to give the cashback to put it in an envelope. At this point, they will remove some bottom notes.