Before you decide upon an Indonesia backpacking route, you need to get one thing straight. Indonesia is a very large country which covers a vast area with thousands of islands on both sides of the equator. While it is frequently classed as part of Southeast Asia, many of those islands are a world away from the main SE Asian backpacker trail with much of Indonesia closer to Australia than Thailand, Cambodia or Laos.
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 haven’t 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. Below you will find our suggestions for some of the best backpacking places in Indonesia.
Backpacking Indonesia – Route Info
TIME NEEDED – 5-6 WEEKS
The route outlined below could be squeezed into an Indonesia 1 month itinerary by skipping a few destinations or reducing your time in Bali or the Gilis. However we suggest 5-6 weeks for this itinerary and there are loads of options for extending your trip further.
POSSIBLE BUDGET – £850 | €1000 | $1100
Indonesia is very cheap for backpackers on the whole, although costs are perhaps a fraction higher than some of the very cheapest countries in the region. The above budget is designed for shoestring travellers willing to watch what they spend, although it should still allow you a bit of freedom to do any trips or excursions that really appeal.
Figures are based on doing this route for around 6 weeks (based on March 2022 exchange rates). However please don’t take this as anything more than a very rough guide! Read more on the cost of travel in Indonesia.
TRAVEL INSURANCE FOR BACKPACKERS IN INDONESIA
The cost of travel insurance isn’t included in the budget figures above. You can get a quote in less than a minute from Heymondo who provide well reviewed international travel insurance for longer, backpacking trips. Use our Heymondo promo code to get 5% off.
INDONESIA BACKPACKING JOBS & WORK EXCHANGES
One way to save money and potentially learn a few new skills whilst travelling in Indonesia is to look for work exchanges or short-term jobs. Sign up to Worldpackers to get access to work exchanges in Indonesia. You can get $10 off the annual membership fee by using the Worldpackers promo code “MYFUNKYTRAVELWP”.
Check out our list of the best travel jobs for a bit of inspiration if you’re looking for paid work.
Backpacking Indonesia – A 6 Week Itinerary
1. Jakarta, 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 really worth staying much more than a day or two unless you happen to be a really dedicated city lover and many travellers opt to skip it altogether.
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 some charms. As the capital, there are many important museums where you can educate yourself on Indonesian history and culture. Unlike some other destinations on the route, locals vastly outnumber tourists which means you are likely to be something of a fascination to local residents.
As well as its cultural attractions, Jakarta also boasts possibly the most raucous nightlife scene in the Islamic world with giant 24 hour night clubs and bars, some of which are 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 friendly and eager to engage with you. However like most big cities, Jakarta does have its share of dangers, so take good care of yourself and your belongings.
2. Dieng Plateau, Java
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 roughly 65% of Indonesia’s 275 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.
3. Yogyakarta, Java
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 of 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.
However, the reasons why Jogja has become such a popular travel hub lie an hour or so bus ride outside the city. The temples of Borobudur (pictured above) and Prambanan are easily among the most spectacular in all of Southeast Asia and can all be visited in one day, although prepare to go over your daily budget. Read our article on what to see in Yogyakarta for more.
4. Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, Java
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, during normal times. The ferry crossing is only about half an hour. 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 travellers base themselves in the South with Kuta Beach the most popular and liveliest choice, although it may be some time still before the really party atmosphere of old returns. For many visitors to the country, Bali is all they see and if you only have one week in indonesia, you may just want to head straight here.
Away from the beach resorts and surfing locations in the south, Bali has many different faces. There are numerous laid back traditional fishing villages and sleepy bays. 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, Balinese temples and museums to visit in the mountainous towns and villages.
Island Hop – BALI to GILIS & LOMBOK
Regular fast boat services run from Benoa, Serangan Island, Padang Bai and Amed on Bali to the Gili Islands during normal times, although it’s possible there may be some reduced services depending on the Covid situation when you visit. If you don’t want to visit the Gilis, the boats continue onto the coast of mainland Lombok.
6. Gili islands
The Gilis are small and extremely laid back and a contrast to the mass tourism witnessed in parts of 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 is somewhat notorious for the absence of a permanent police presence which has led to it attracting many travellers looking for 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 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.
7. Senaru (for Mount Rinjani National Park), Lombok
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 the 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.
8. 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 even during busier times, the area doesn’t attract that 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. There are some options for organised trips from Lombok to Flores such as this one outlined on Southeast Asia Backpacker. They typically include a few sightseeing stops including the Komodo National Park, which is the next stop on our Indonesia itinerary. Alternatively you can make the trip yourself by a combination of ferries and buses but be prepared for a lot of travelling.
9. Komodo National Park, Flores
For 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 or find a more organised tour.
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 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.
10. Ende (for Mount Kelimutu), Flores
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.
11. Maumere, Flores
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.
Indonesia Map & Itinerary Overview
The Indonesia backpacking itinerary outlined above 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.
Indonesia Backpacking Route – How long to spend in each place?
|2||Dieng Plateau||2 Days|
|4||Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park||2-3 Days|
|6||Gili Islands||1 Week|
|7||Senaru/Mount Rinjani National Park||2-3 Days|
|8||South Lombok||2-3 Days|
|9||Komodo National Park||3-4 Days|
|10||Ende (for Mount Kelimutu)||2-3 Days|
This is just a suggested time-frame and obviously you will want to adapt it according to what your primary interests are and what places appeal most. You should also factor in that some days may be largely spent simply getting from A to B as island hopping and getting from place to place can be time consuming, but overall it should be worth it as backpacking Indonesia is a great experience.
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 rundown of the best June destinations. The same goes for the jungle paradise of Borneo with both islands enormous. For the most part, they are wild and relatively 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 many major cities across South East Asia and the Far East. If you have six months to a year on hand, then you could easily combine this trip with our backpacking route for Southeast Asia or alternatively our ultimate Thailand Itinerary.
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 often 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 our backpacking route for New Zealand should provide some inspiration.
Check out our other Asia itineraries!
This article was last updated in March 2022. However specific information regarding the current situation regarding the backpacking/travel industry in many of these destinations is hard to verify given, at the time of writing, relatively few travellers have returned to the country following the pandemic.