Popular Backpacking Route in Indonesia

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Backpacking Route in Indonesia

Before you start planning a backpacking trip in Indonesia let’s 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.

Get more info on budget travel in Indonesia and the wider region by getting our Backpackers Guide to Southeast Asia (E-book) to your smartphone, kindle, laptop or tablet.


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 pre-trip expenses like getting travel insurance.

Read more on the cost of travel in Indonesia.


VISA REQUIREMENTS 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.


TRAVEL INSURANCE

We recommend World Nomads who specialise in insuring backpacking trips.


Indonesia Backpacking Route


JAVA


Jakarta

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, the city attracts few tourists which means you are likely to be something of a fascination to locals. It also boasts probably the most raucous nightlife in the Islamic world with giant 24 hour night clubs packed with ecstasy-fuelled 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.

Many travellers fly here from the nearby but much more glamorous Singapore.

Dieng Plateau

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 neighbouring 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 metres 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 organised or you can rent a motorbike and see it alone.

Yogyakarta

Jogja, 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 borobodur backpackingof travellers 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 (right) and Prambanan are easily among the most spectacular in all of South East Asia.

Read our dedicated article on Yogyakarta and the surrounding temples.


MFT RECOMMENDS – ABRAKADABRA!, Yogyakarta 

Artistic Homestay. A good place to chill out and the staff are very knowledgeable on the best trips to do.


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 hindu cultureBali

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 travellers 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 beaches if the pace of life at Kuta gets too much. There are diving and snorkelling 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, temples and museums to visit in the mountainous towns and villages.


MFT RECOMMENDS – CX Hostel Kuta Raya, Kuta Beach, Bali 

There is a lot of budget accommodation in Bali, most of which is pretty rank. This is one of the better places, a short walk from Kuta Beach and the best of Bali’s nightlife whilst also being surprisingly clean!


island hop- BALI to LOMBOK

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.


Gili islands

The Gilis (below) 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 travellers. 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 travellers is the total absence of police presence which has led to cheap and easily available weed, mushrooms and other drugs.

Read this guest post on Gili T’s best places to drink!

Gili Meno, is a peaceful and idyllic desert island 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..

gili islands

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.

South Lombok

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

komodo dragon backpackingFor many travellers, 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 60,000Rp (as of 2014).

The 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 buffalos, 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 snorkelling 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 it’s 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.

kelimutu crater lakes

Maumere

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.



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 is a good idea though as the city is enormous. 


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 or the jungles of Borneo such is the vast size of those islands. For the most part they are rarely visited by travellers 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 travellers 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 then 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.

 

pics courtesy of woonsa (bali boys) & simmo333 (komodo) on sxc.hu


This article was last updated in January 2017.




  • Freja

    First: What a great blog you got!
    Second: How did you fly back home after you’ve reached Flores? Did you go by a domestic flight back to Java or what did you do?
    Thanks in advantage,
    Freja from Denmark

    • Hi Freja, thanks for your kind words.

      Was heading out to another part of SE Asia so did something slightly different but to head back to Europe, you’d probably be best taking a flight from Flores to Denpasar, Bali which is the closest with major connections out of the country. You could maybe try to book a flight in to Jakarta and home from Bali (if you’re only doing Indonesia and roughly following this route).

  • Serena

    Hi I am planning visit Indonesia this Christmas holiday , anyone wanna join ?
    I will start form Lombok , then go to nusa lembongan,Sulawasi bunaken and jaya Ampat .

    • Irsan Anshari

      hello I’m Indonesian,
      Don’t worry to come here ..
      Every people looks very friendly and kind with tourists.
      And you can find many cultures from every island, foods, stories, and others..

      Happy enjoy for come here soon

  • Gene

    interesting blog.
    any budget boat travel island between bali, the gilis, komodo?
    thanks!

    • Plenty of boats between all the main islands in Indonesia and certainly on this route and pretty cheap. Don’t have any up-to-date info on the latest costs though so if anyone has done something similar to recently be great to know!

      There are direct boats from Bali to the Gilis but they are pretty exclusively used by tourists/travellers so it might be cheaper to go first to lombok and then head to the gilis from there.

  • Carmen B

    Fantastic post! We followed a fairly similar route in our 3 week backpacking trip to Indonesia… and absolutely loved it 🙂
    Check out our blog for more inspiration and tips:
    http://bonatravels.com/2013/08/11/country-summary-indonesia/

  • Lauren LC Camp

    Do you have any personal suggestions on must sees in Indonesia as well as placea to stay?

  • Lombok offers many tourist attractions. although some time ago Barujari mountain was active volcanic ash, still does not diminish its beauty for us. And I found a guide at http://hoteldilombok1.com/

  • GabiHairstylist

    Really enjoyed your blog about Bali. Planning on going for about 12 days in Jan. I know its not much time, but that is all the time we have. We are lookng to enjoy the beach, hike, explore, and enjoy the culture most of all. Not looking for high end places to stay. We want the most of our stay there and don’t know what places to see in that short amount of time. Any suggestions?

  • Vicka Liu

    Great post you have here. I plan to travel Indonesia for few weeks or a month this December. I will probably start from Bandung and take train to somewhere else. Been to Bromo last month, I love that place 🙂 It’s a amazing.

    • francesco

      hey I’m going to travel indonesia aswell in december for a month!! Im traveling on my own…let keep in touch if u want some company
      🙂

      • Vicka Liu

        Change of plans. I’m still stuck at work. Won’t be able to travel until early next year 🙁 hope you have a great trip in Indonesia!

      • Lauren LC Camp

        Francesco i plan on traveling to indonesia as well, in january. Lets keep in contact

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  • Sadie Lenton

    Hi Rebecca, did you get the info you need? I’m also travelling to Indonesia from UK on 17th Sept (first time travelling and going solo!) so am looking for fellow travellers to poss meet up with. Let me know if you fancy meeting up if our paths cross, if there’s a way to pm I can forward you my facebook name so you can check out some info about me 🙂

  • Gumji Kang

    Hey, I’m travelling to Indonesia later in December and would love to hear about your experience. How did it go?

    • Karyne

      Hi Gumji! I just love Indonesia!! How much time do you have? Don’t spend too much time in Bali, exept if you go to less touristy places… Kuta bali is good for partying only. Ubud is nice (actually, around Ubud it’s nice) but so many tourists… You will see only shops in Ubud. The rice terraces are impressive!
      You should Spend more time in Lombok! It is more beautiful than Bali, cheaper and less touristy! I went back a second time at the end of my journey just because I fell in love with this island! Kuta-lombok (not bali!!) has manyyy awesome and not crowded beaches! It is worth staying at least 3-4 days if you like beaches!
      The Gili islands are very close to Lombok (10 minutes of boat, US $1!) if you want to party, you can go to gili T and if you want to relax, you can go to gili Air. Both islands are really nice. I dont party too much (but still a bit) so I got a private room in Gili T so I could sleep well when I wanted. It is beautiful and peaceful as there is no cars or scooters on the islands… If you like diving, then you must dive in gili 🙂
      Do you plan to go to java? I was supposed to travel in Java for 11 days but after being on the road for 16-18 hours to get to Bromo, I got tired and bought a ticket back to Lombok. Java is time consuming… If you dont mind being on the road with night buses/trains… Go for it. Java has many beautiful things to see! Yogyakarta, bromo, pangandaran (green canyon) are great places to go.
      Hope this helps… I plan to go again next year! I fell in love with this country and the people <3

      I didnt have time to do the Flores and Komodo islands but I heard a lot from it! People say it's worth the détour! Have fun

      • Gumji Kang

        Ah that sounds amazing!! Thanks so much for that Karyne 🙂 Yeh I was tossing between java and lombok – so torn that I can’t visit both! At the moment my rough itinerary is Tulamben – Gili T – Gili A – Lombok – Ubud. Any places to stay you would recommend?

        • Karyne

          As you are gonna travel in December, you will have plenty of choices for accommodation! Don’t worry. I went back to Gili T in peak season without a booking and found myself a room in 10 minutes 🙂
          In Ubud, I stayed in “In Da Lodge” its cheap, clean and it has a pool! A lot of backpackers go there.
          In Gili T, it depends if you wanna have a private room or you wanna go for hostels. You can find many on booking.com
          I staying in a homestay (pondok Hadi Homestay). It was simple and clean!
          In Lombok, if you go to Kuta, you will not be able to book something online but dont worry, when you arrive by bus, people come to you and they take you to their homestay. In Kuta Lombok, that’s where I found the cheapest room in Indonesia! A room with 2 beds and breakfast included for $10 US… For 2 people!!! In peak season!! 😀 of course, they started at $20 but went down to $10. So I’m sure you will have a lot of fun… Try to meet with local people… They are awesome!

          • Krijn van der Lugt

            Hi Karyne, I am going to Indonesia on the 5th of Oktober until the 5th of November.
            I am starting in Jakarta, my plan is to fly back from Bali to Jakarta when I leave. I am 17 years old (almost 18), do you think you meet enough people who are young like me? I am looking forward to go but I am also a bit scared because I am alone haha.
            My plan is: Java – Bali – Lombok (Gili Islands). Are there things I must need to do?
            I am also going for my Padi on the Gili Islands.

          • Karyne

            Hi! well… The age average is a bit older for sure but maybe you’ll recognize and see the younger travellers more than me. Make sure to sleep in dorm rooms to meet more people 🙂
            Jakarta is not worth seeing so much so don’t waste your time there. Bali is nice but make sure to visit less touristy places. I made the mistake to go to Kuta for wayyy too long in the beginning of my trip!
            If you have time, go to Lombok island!! This island is awesome, still so much cheaper than Bali and moreee beautiful!!! Go to Kuta Lombok (yess there is a kuta bali AND a kuta lombok) kuta lombok has the most beautiful beaches i have seen in my life! And believe me, i have seen plenty! Enjoy your holiday and please, connect with the locals: they are awesome 🙂

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  • Eda Wall

    Hey Karyne, is it really possible to teach in China without a degree? I heard its illegal/dodgy and that if you don’t have a degree, you end up getting crappy teaching jobs that don’t pay well/treat you like crap

    • Karyne

      Hi Eda! It is illegal to teach without a degree but everybody does it. I worked in a private school, 25 hours per week, and I had one day off each week. I made $1500 per month (which was 3 X what I needed to live comfortably). They also paid my appartment, bought bran new furniture, paid for my visa, etc! They also treated me really well! The only reason I didnt stay there another year was because i was starting my studies in Canada. The name of the school is DDDragon English School (they have many everywhere in china), if you are interested 🙂

    • Karyne

      Hi Efa! It is illegal to teach in China without a degree but everybody does it… I had a student-visa. The school paid my university so that I could learn mandarin while working in China. I made $1500 per month, with apartment, visa, wifi and $1000 bonus at the end of my contract included. They treated me really well… The only reason i didnt stay more than a year was because I wanted to go back to school in Canada. But seriously, I have nothing bad to say about my experience. The school’s name is DDDragon English School. They have schools everywhere in China. You can also find many (thousands) jobs on this website: http://www.davescafe.com
      That’s where I found the job 🙂