With over 17,000 islands making up this incredible archipelago, Indonesia is a country that you could return to again and again, embarking on wildly different trips each time. Most of these islands are characterised by individual cultures, beliefs and ways of life.
However, it is not only Indonesia’s culture and local living that differs from island to island; the country’s contrasting landscapes will have you hiking to the summit of a volcano, swimming with giant manta rays, tracking orangutans in the jungle and lounging on some of the best beaches in the world, all in one Indonesia tour if you wish!
Islamic and Hindu architecture dazzles visitors in Java and Bali, volcanoes become playgrounds across the country, and the underwater world in Raja Ampat and the Komodo National Park can be described no other way than an open-air aquarium. Indonesia epitomises every draw of Southeast Asia in one country, and then some.
Indonesia is vast, so it’s no surprise that Indonesia has so many sides to it, with Bali being one of the most popular. Bali is not just an island in Indonesia; it’s a state of mind, a word that evokes thoughts of paradise and a place where you can lose yourself. Top surf, a culture full of warmth, spiritual awakenings and endless geographical beauty define this island.
Whilst there’s no denying that Bali is a fascinatingly diverse island, you are missing out if you don’t expand your Indonesia holiday beyond a Bali trip. It is only one portion of the experiences on offer in Indonesia.
One thing is for certain, Indonesia is top-of-the-bucket-list status. There are so many wonderful places to visit in Indonesia that you could travel the country for years and not cover them all. This Indonesia travel guide breaks down all you need to know to visit Bali, Java, Sumatra and beyond and arms you with the tools to plan your perfect Indonesia itinerary;
- The Best Time to Visit Indonesia
- Unique Experiences and Places to See in Bali and All of Indonesia
- How to Get Around Indonesia
- Where to Stay on Your Holiday in Indonesia
- Must-Try Food & Drink in Indonesia
- Major Festivals & Important Events in Indonesia
- Quick Tips & Important Facts for Indonesia Travel
- Ready to Plan your Indonesia Tour?
The Best Time to Visit Indonesia
Indonesia’s climate is characterised by two distinct seasons: wet and dry.
The dry season spans the months from May to September, whilst the rainy season occurs from October to April. So you guessed it, the best time to take an Indonesia trip is during the dry season, from May to September.
During the dry season, rainfall is almost non-existent, the days are hot and dry, and the conditions are optimal for scuba diving and hiking. On the flip side, the rainy season brings fast and intense downpours for an hour or two once a day so travelling during this time certainly won’t ruin your trip.
If you’re happy with less than perfect weather, then the rainy season is a good time to visit Indonesia as you’ll experience cheaper hotel prices, cheaper domestic and international flights and fewer crowds at the tourist hotspots. If you plan to get off the beaten track and head to more remote areas, flooding and muddy roads may make this difficult.
Year-round, the average daily temperature is around 28°C. If you plan on hiking mountains and volcanoes, bring extra layers as it can get very chilly at the top!
If your sights are set on a Bali tour, then bear in mind that July and August (European summer holidays) are the peak season months, as well as December and January (Australian summer holidays). During these months, you’re likely to pay more for your accommodation, be jostling to get that photo at the top attractions and have to book tours in advance. The best months to visit Bali are May, June and September.
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Unique Experiences and Places to See in Bali and All of Indonesia
Indonesia will blow you away. The list of best places to visit in Indonesia is endless; we’ve compiled some of the best experiences to have and places to go in Bali and the rest of Indonesia for you;
Explore Bali’s Cultural Hub, Ubud
If you’re looking to get your ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ on, then there is truly no better place than Bali. At its heart, sits the cultural capital of the island and hippy town of Ubud. Known for its traditional Balinese dancing, musical performances, plant-based eateries; an amalgamation of yoga retreats, art galleries and of course, all of the free spirits that come with them.
Set in the hearty jungle of Bali, Ubud is perfectly placed to explore the famous water temples, lakes and black-sand beaches of North Bali. The famous Monkey Forest, where monkeys roam and tourists try to prize their possessions back, is one of the top places to visit in Ubud. The signs before you enter warning you not to take possessions into the forest should not be taken lightly.
Mount Ijen & Mount Bromo, East Java
Volcanoes line Java like the spine of a dragon, their slopes dotted with rural villages and terraced rice fields. Of the many, Mount Ijen and Mount Bromo that sit in East Java are among the most popular.
Gunung Bromo, as it’s locally known, presents one of the most memorable sunrise hikes of your life and the chance to stand at the very edge of a bubbling crater. Hopping over to Ijen, as most travellers do, you’ll have the opportunity to witness the blue fire that is emitted from this sulphur-filled lake at night. Of course, you’ll be wrapped up in projective gear and even gas masks for part of the climb, which is another reason to visit this intriguing place.
On a trip like this 14-day holiday in Bali and Java, you’ll cover these two must-see sites.
Scuba Diving in Raja Ampat
Indonesia is home to some of the world’s best diving sites, and Raja Ampat shines through as one of the world’s last paradises. Known for its marine diversity and incredible coral reefs, this archipelago sits off the north-west tip of Papua.
Reaching Raja Ampat is no easy feat, and you should be prepared to spend time and money. However, its outstanding dive sites, rustic island living, perfect beaches and lack of disturbance from the outside world makes it worth every penny.
To truly experience Raja Ampat, a liveaboard journey around the islands for several days is the only way!
Find Paradise on the Gili Islands, Lombok
The mere mention of Bali provokes thoughts of incredible beaches and crystal clear waters. However, these are rarely found on the island of Bali. It is a surfer’s paradise, known for its huge waves and black sand beaches. To find the paradisiacal islands of your Bali dreams, you’ll need to make the boat journey over to the Gili Islands off the north-west coast of the neighbouring island of Lombok.
These three islands -Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno- are each distinct in their offering from the backpackers’ paradise to the honeymooners’ dream and the one which sits perfectly in between. However, what they all have in common is stunning azure waters filled with marine life including friendly turtles, pristine white-sanded beaches and absolutely no vehicles. To get around the Gili Islands, you’ll use local boats, bicycles or step out on foot.
Discover the three Gili Islands and make your Bali dreams come true!
Borobudur & Prambanan, Yogyakarta
Locally known as Jogja, Yogyakarta is a charming city known for its food, culture and historical landmarks. Just outside of Yogyakarta, you’ll find two of the most iconic temples in the world, the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Borobudur and Prambanan, both of which can be covered in a day or two.
Borobudur is the biggest Buddhist stupa in the world which dates back to the ninth century. It would be a crime to miss the single greatest piece of classical architecture in Indonesia. Volcanoes loom on three sides of this vast site with jungle and jagged limestone cliffs filling the horizon on the other.
Prambanan is a Hindu complex home to a staggering 244 temples, with a rather impressive structure at its heart. The largest temple here is 150 feet high which is actually taller than Borobudur.
Whilst very different from each other, both temples are a must if you are visiting Yogyakarta like on this 6-day Java and Bali tour.
Rainforests of Sumatra
An adventurer’s paradise, much of the largest Indonesian island of Sumatra sitting west of Java, remains untouched by tourism. For lovers of wildlife, Sumatra presents opportunities to see leopards, orangutans, white rhinos, tigers and elephants on a range of exceptional safari experiences. Once here, you’ll realise just how diverse Indonesia is; you’re a world away from the beaches of Bali!
Sadly, these natural habitats are at risk of deforestation, so protecting them with ecotourism activities and trusted tours is important. If you’re keen to spot wild orangutans, head to the jungles of Bukit Lawang, or if you’re a keen diver, you’ll want to seek out Pulau Meh, considered one of the world’s best places to dive.
Orangutans in Indonesian Borneo
For the chance to see orangutans in the wild or to support the conservation efforts to protect these majestic creatures, Kalimantan is somewhere you should not miss. Occupying two-thirds of the island of Borneo, Kalimantan is known as the ‘Indonesian Borneo’ with the other third being occupied by Malaysia and Brunei.
With few roads and many parts barely accessible, you’ll explore Kalimantan through its interior’s great rivers on boat trips gaining an insight into the traditional Dayak life. You can spend a few days -or much longer- here spotting orangutans in Tanjung Puting National Park and venturing into the remote jungle like the intrepid explorer you are.
Design your own trip to explore Indonesia with one of our trusted Local Designers.
Toraja Land, Sulawesi
Another one of the biggest islands in Indonesia, Sulawesi is home to a number of unique and diverse cultures. As well as being a prime hotspot for divers, this unusual K-shaped island means you are never more than 100 kilometres from the ocean at any point.
Mountain ranges isolate the four peninsulas of this island which means invaders were never able to colonise beyond the coast resulting in a unique collection of intriguing cultures – highland Torajans, lowland Bugis, isolated tribes in the central lands and Minahasans in the far north.
The mountainous community of Tanah Toraja has become well-known for its unusual architecture, vibrant festivals and intriguing funeral culture. Their lavish funeral ceremonies can last for days.
Immerse yourself in the unique local culture of Tanah Toraja in this 3-day Sulawesi tour.
Komodo National Park, Flores
The home of the mighty Komodo Dragon, the Komodo National park lies just off the west coast of Flores. These sun-bleached, majestic islands are blessed with pristine beaches with white, black and even pink sand, local communities and of course, the endemic Komodo Dragons which can grow up to eight feet long and weigh over 200 pounds complete with a deadly bite.
To truly explore the Komodo Islands, you can head off on a liveaboard from Labuan Bajo, a town on the coast of Flores that acts as the gateway to the Komodo National Park. You’ll spend your days snorkelling and diving the open-sea aquariums and sea walls that lace around this archipelago.
If you’re short on time, you can even hike to the Padar Viewpoint, showcasing the beautiful view of the park, snorkel with giant manta rays and even see the Komodo Dragons on a tour of Komodo Island, all in one day! This 3-day Komodo liveaboard enables you to do all this and more.
How to Get Around Indonesia
Despite its vastness, moving around Indonesia has become increasingly easier over the past decade due to the influx of tourists. However, Indonesia does not have the best track record when it comes to transport safety, particularly with boats so always bear in mind to book with a reputable company or design your trip with one of our trusted Local Designers.
On the island of Java, public buses will be your go-to for city transport. In Jakarta, the Transjakarta Busway will see you from point A to B in the city for as little as $0.25 USD.
Within, and particularly outside of Java, people also get around by becak, a three-wheeled motor or pedal-powered cart, similar to a tuk-tuk. They are reasonable and easy to use as long as you make sure to negotiate your rate before you begin your journey; 5,500 IDR ($0.40 USD) per kilometre is reasonable.
In major cities, you can also make use of the metered taxis. Bluebird and Grab Taxis can both be booked via a smartphone app. When on the Grab app, make sure to select “car” or the default – a motorbike – will turn up. In areas of Bali, the use of taxi apps like Grab, Bluebird and Indonesia’s version of Uber, GoJek, are strictly prohibited. You’ll see the signs, and it is safer to agree on a rate with a local taxi in this case or walk to a spot where they are not prohibited (usually a few hundred metres away from the centre).
If jumping on the back of a motorbike for short journeys does not phase you, then motorbike taxis booked via Grab and GoJek are a great way to get around the cities, towns and islands such as Bali.
If you plan to hire your own scooter or motorbike, make sure to have travel insurance that covers you and carry an international license. Be prepared to be stopped and asked for these documents.
Depending on the travel time, travelling between islands on ferries is very inexpensive. Speedboats will cost considerably more than slow, local boats, and you’ll find more of these around the island of Bali. Booking in advance is not necessary apart from during the peak season months.
Multi-day liveaboard cruises are a popular way to travel from Bali and the Gili Islands to Flores in East Indonesia. However, as a word of warning, these journeys are notorious for boat breakdowns, stranded passengers and bad experiences. Make sure to book with a reputable company.
Buses are a great way to get around Indonesia and are the most popular option with locals and budget travellers. The prices can vary depending on where you are in the country. For example, an eight-hour journey across Java may cost you $5 USD, yet a one-hour journey in Bali will cost you $6 USD. You can buy your tickets from a travel agent, on websites like 12go.Asia or at the bus terminal.
Whilst not the cheapest, flying is the easiest way to fit more places into your Indonesia tour without having to dedicate lots of time to travel. Garuda Indonesia is the country’s main airline, followed closely behind by Lion Air and Indonesia. Domestic flights between frequently-used routes like Jakarta and Bali can be as little as $50 USD but expect to pay a lot more for premium routes like between Flores and Bali.
Where to Stay on Your Holiday in Indonesia
Indonesia’s accommodation comes in all shapes and sizes. At the budget end, local homestays, family-run guesthouses and backpacker hostels will be your go-to and start at around $5 USD per night for a double room. Although, if in the touristy areas of Bali, you can expect to pay more.
In Indonesia’s tourist hotspots, especially areas like Kuta and Seminyak in Bali, you’ll have the choice of five-star international hotel chains and resorts to boutique hotels and mid-range guesthouses. Bali is also known for its unique jungle and tropical accommodation that looks like something straight out of a travel magazine.
If you head to the more remote and rural parts of Indonesia, you may find yourself staying in the spare room of a family house known as a ‘penginapan’. Be aware, hard beds, bolsters and light blankets are normal here.
Tip: If you do want to visit a local village and stay overnight, you must first seek permission from the ‘kepala desa’ (village head) or the local police. In exchange for meals and a bed, you should bring useful gifts such as rice, food and salt, or offer cash.
Must-Try Food & Drink in Indonesia
With its long history, diverse cultures and fertile lands, Indonesia is foodie heaven. From street food eats and snacks to fancier dishes and everything in between, you’ll want to try it all on your Indonesia tour.
With influences from China, the Middle East and Malaysia, as well as Indian and Polynesian cuisines, Indonesian food varies from region to region. In Bali, the influx of health-loving travellers, long-stayers and Australians means the standard of food really steps up and delivers.
With rice and noodles at the heart of every staple dish, meats including chicken, goat and beef, and a wealth of vegetarian and vegan offerings, Indonesian food has something for every appetite. Spices form the backbone of Indonesian cuisine; whether it’s marinated meat, pastes added to dishes prior to frying or a hefty serving of sambal (spicy sauce made with chilli and herbs) on the side, your dish will never lack flavour.
Here’s a selection of the must-try dishes;
A staple dish, this translates to ‘fried rice’. Rice is fried to perfection with added vegetables and topped with shredded meat or tempeh (fermented soybeans) and a runny fried egg. Pickled vegetables are often served on the side, and satay sticks can also be added if you’re extra fancy.
Nasi campur is effectively an Indonesian buffet, except, you point and say what you’d like added to your plate. Firstly, you’ll be asked what rice you’d like (white, brown or yellow) which is placed in the middle of your plate; then you’ll make a selection of 5-6 side dishes which are placed around your rice. These dishes will include marinated meats, grilled and fried fish, tempeh, omelettes, curry dishes, vegetable dishes and sambal.
The go-to vegetarian dish, gado gado consists of steamed green vegetables and sometimes potatoes, dressed in a peanut sauce with a boiled egg added. Every restaurant puts a spin on this classic dish so if you become a fan make sure to try it in a few different places.
Sate or Satay
Chances are, in almost every part of Indonesia, you’ll find a street food stall grilling marinated meat or fish on skewers over coals. These make for the perfect snack or accompaniment to a bigger dish.
A staple cuisine in Bali, babi guling directly translates to ‘turning pig’. It is the method of roasting pork on a spit over flames. Before cooking, the pork is soaked in coconut water and rubbed with spices which include ginger, turmeric, garlic and chilli. It is delicious!
Indonesian coffee, as well as Sumatran and Balinese versions of it, is certainly an acquired taste. Often sweetened with copious amounts of sugar (or gula, as it’s known), this coffee is earthy and will certainly pull you out of any midday slump!
Large parts of Indonesia are Muslim so in some parts of the country, such as Sumatra, alcohol consumption is frowned upon. Generally, beers like Bintang and Anker are widely available across the country; however, spirits are sold with a little more caution. The go-to local spirit is arak, a rice wine. You’ll often see ‘arak cocktails’ on the menu but consider this a warning – they are lethal!
Major Festivals & Important Events in Indonesia
With cultural and religious diversity comes festivals and national holidays aplenty in Indonesia. These are the most important festivals and events to bear in mind when planning your Indonesia vacation;
Ramadan & Eid, May to July
One of the most important events on the Muslim calendar, Ramadan is observed by the Islamic population of Indonesia, specifically so in Java, Sumatra, West Nusa Tenggara, Sulawesi and other smaller Islamic regions.
During this month of fasting, you’ll find that most local restaurants (known as warungs) and shops are closed. Some accommodation run by Islamic families may also close, so make sure to book your accommodation in advance if travelling during this time.
During Ramadan, Muslims can only eat and drink after sunset and before sunrise with the exception of those who are young, pregnant or unwell. Therefore, if travelling in the Islamic areas of Indonesia during this time, it is polite not to eat or drink in public.
At the end of Ramadan, comes Eid. For Christians, Eid is similar to Christmas. It is a time of celebration, a time to consume traditional foods and gather friends and family. Children receive guests and locals make long journeys to their hometowns. The week of Eid can be a very busy period of travel so worth checking this before you book your Indonesia tour.
Independence/National Day, August
The biggest festival in Indonesia, August is a particularly festive month in Indonesia coming to a climax on the 17th – Independence Day. Locally known as Tujuh Belasan, Independence Day is celebrated with red and white flag-raising ceremonies, commemorative events by governments and schools and joyous celebrations. Outdoor games and neighbourhood-organised parades play a large part in traditional celebrations.
In the capital city of Jakarta, there is a grand parade before the president of Indonesia on Independence Day.
Strictly observed in Bali, Nyepi -or the Balinese Day of Silence, as it’s known- is a Hindu tradition marking the traditional New Year in accordance with the Balinese Saka calendar. For one day a year, Bali comes to a complete standstill. Shops shut, restaurants close and everyone must stay indoors.
The perpetual drone of motorbikes, car traffic and even the aviation traffic to, from and on the island of Bali is halted for 24 hours. You will have to keep noise and light to an absolute minimum for these 24 hours, and it’s not uncommon for electricity, WiFi and phone signal to be turned off for the day.
Nyepi is not a reason to avoid travelling to Bali in March. In fact, choosing to take your Bali holiday during this time enables you to experience a unique event, unlike any other in the world. Before and after the Day of Silence, the streets are decorated with long ornamental bamboo poles known as Penjor, parades of people in traditional dress, music and dancing fill the streets.
Tip: If you are staying in a resort, you will be able to use the facilities and the pool as usual, but you must be quiet.
Quick Tips & Important Facts for Indonesia Travel
Currency: The Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) is the currency used in Indonesia. At the time of writing, November 2020, 100,000 IDR was $7.12 USD. This means that in Indonesia, you can very easily be a ‘millionaire’.
Tipping: It is not mandatory to tip in Indonesia, and you’ll often find that hotels and higher-end restaurants include tax and service charge automatically to your bill.
Visa: Depending on the country you’re coming from, you may or may not need a visa for Indonesia. Make sure to check before you travel.
Language: The official language is Bahasa Indonesia; however, the dialect can change from island to island. There are distinct differences between the Indonesian spoken on Java, Javanese, and in Bali.
Safety: Indonesia is one of the safest Southeast Asian countries; however, it is important to be wary of scams and pretty theft.
Ready to Plan your Indonesia Tour?
Indonesia is fascinating, spiritual and incredibly beautiful all at once. Whether you are looking for an island-hopping escape, an active two-week adventure across Sumatra and Java or simply want to tick the Komodo Dragons off your bucket list; Designer Journeys’s trusted Local Designers in Indonesia can create your dream tour for you.
Ready and waiting, our Local Designers in Indonesia can tailor any trip in our gallery of fully-customisable Indonesia tours to suit your travel style, budget and interests. Alternatively, you can ‘design your own Indonesia tour’ to start planning your dream itinerary from scratch with locals that know the country like the back of their hand!