With over 17,000 islands, Indonesia is the world’s largest island country and home to over 261 million people.
With extremely inexpensive local food and reasonably-priced accommodation, it’s no wonder Indonesia is a popular destination among so many travelers.
Backpacking Indonesia can take months to do because there is just so much to see and do here: hectic and chaotic cityscapes, cool white sand beaches, and violent volcanoes. Most backpackers spend two or three months traveling around Indonesia trying to see as much as possible.
But, even if you aren’t going to backpack Indonesia, you can still see plenty when you visit here.
And it’s easy to visit Indonesia on a budget too. It’s extremely inexpensive (even Bali when you get out of the tourist centers).
While most travelers fly to Bali, visit the Gili Islands or head to Lombok, I encourage you to try to get to the less touristy destinations and off the beaten path more. Find dragons in Lombok, go hiking, see the historic ruins of on Java, go to Sumatra!
Use this Indonesia travel guide to plan an excellent trip there, learn what to see and do, how to save money, costs, and everything you need to know about visiting the country!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Indonesia
1. Relax in Bali
2. Dive in the Gili Islands
3. Amaze yourself in Borobudur
4. See Komodo dragons
5. Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park
Other Things to See and Do in Indonesia
1. Explore Hindi Prambanan
There are 244 temples at this World Heritage site, with the central compound being the main attraction. There are eight minor temples and eight major temples here, with the tallest being 150 feet — this is actually taller than Borobudur. There’s a lot to see, so schedule a full day here. Admission is around 350,000 IDR ($24 USD) for foreign adults, and 210,000 IDR ($15 USD) for children.
2. Explore Jakarta
Indonesia’s capital is a large, bustling city with a population of over 10 million. Here are some noteworthy things to do in Jakarta: admire Istana Merdeka, the presidential palace, from the outside (visitors are not allowed inside); see the Monas Tower, a symbol of Indonesia’s independence; check out Ancol Beach; visit the National Museum; and go shopping at the Jalan Surabaya Flea Market. For a moment of calm, people-watch from one of the cafes overlooking Fatahillah Square in the Old Batavia, the Dutch Quarter, where you can take in the historic architecture.
3. Snorkel or dive in Bunaken
The Bunaken National Marine Park is located in the Bay of Manado, and it’s where you’ll want to go if diving or snorkeling is your thing. These deep waters offer fantastic visibility and some of the world’s most biodiverse marine life. Keep an eye out for tuna, sharks, rays, turtles, and sea snakes. Entry to the marine park is 50,000 IDR ($4 USD) per person, though children under 10 enter free.
4. Broaden your taste buds
Indonesia is home to 17,000 islands and over 260 million people, all with diverse cultures, traditions, and beliefs. If you want some idea of how diverse this place is, there are over 700 languages spoken here! This diversity is very much reflected in the food. Javanese, Sundanese, Padang, and Balinese food are just some of your options. Hit the markets, participate in cooking classes, or take food tours to get a taste of what the country has to offer.
5. Visit Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta is Indonesia’s cultural hub and is a much less industrial city compared to Jakarta. There is an interesting blend of old customs with modern living here, and there is actually still a sultan. It’s a hip place filled with street art, galleries, cafes, great nightlife, and a strong arts community. Yogyakarta is also a good jumping off point for exploring Borobudur and Prambanan.
6. See the orangutans in Sumatra
A mysterious and very human creature, the orangutan finds its habitat on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. A visit to see these primates is a moving experience. And, given the rapid deforestation and fires in the area, you probably want to do this sooner rather than later as these animals are gravely endangered. If you go, make sure you’re traveling with an eco-friendly tour company. Do your research. A reputable company will not let you get in close contact with the animals, as the risk of disease is too high. Even a common cold can knock out a baby orangutan.
7. Explore village life in Kalibaru
Kalibaru is a small village on the southeastern side of Java. It’s quiet, secluded, and a great place to tour a local cacao plantation or one of the many other types of plantations in the area on your way to or from Bali.
8. See the Bogor Botanical Gardens
Located 40 miles (65 kilometers) outside of Jakarta, the Bogor Botanical Gardens have over 200 acres of land and 15,000 species of plants and trees. The gardens are a lovely spot in which to lose yourself for a couple of hours. Admission is around 14,000 IDR ($1 USD). There is a commuter train between Bogor and Jakarta with a stop right next to the gardens.
9. See the Banyu Wana Amertha Waterfalls
These are some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Bali, and yet not too many people make the trek here. They’re located about 90 minutes from Ubud, and then you have to hike through a banana plantation to reach the falls. It’s worth it – bring your swimsuit!
10. Explore the megaliths in Bada Valley
Near Lore Lindu National Park are 400 ancient stone megaliths scattered around the hills. No one really knows the origins of these structures, but they’re thought to be over 5,000 years old. No settlement remains or tools were ever found in the area. It’s best to hire a local guide here as the megaliths are not easy to find.
11. Visit the House of Danar Hadi
The House of Danar Hadi in Surakarta (Central Java) is considered one of the world’s best batik museums, with a handpicked selection of favorites from the owner’s collection of 11,000 pieces. You have to take a tour to see it all, but it’s worth it. There are lots of antique and royal examples on display. You will also see a batik demonstration. Admission is 15,000 IDR ($1 USD).
12. See the lakes in Kelimutu National Park
Kelimutu National Park, on the island on Flores, is renowned for its tri-colored crater lakes. The crater lakes have continuously changed color over the years, likely due to the mineral makeup in the water. Sometimes they’re green, black, brown, red, blue etc. The lakes are very sacred among the locals, who believe that they’re the final resting spots of departed souls. Moni is the closest town to the lakes; from there you can take public transportation to the park. Admission to the park is 150,000 IDR ($11 USD).
13. Chill out at Weekuri Lake
Weekuri Lake is one of the most beautiful sites on Sumba island. It lies behind 10-15 meter-high cliffs and is fed by the waves from the Indian ocean crashing through holes in the rocks. The crystal clear waters and small coral areas make for excellent snorkeling. You can also rent inner-tubes and float around for a relaxing afternoon. Admission is 20,000 IDR ($1.40 USD).
Indonesia Travel Costs
Accommodation – A bed in a dorm hostel dorm costs from 101,570 IDR ($7 USD), but smaller dorms average around 145,100 IDR ($10 USD). For a private double, prices start around 200,000 IDR ($14 USD).
Most budget hotels begin at 200,000 IDR ($14 USD) per night for a double room and usually include free wifi and breakfast. For a three-star hotel, prices begin around 400,000 IDR ($28 USD) per night. Airbnb is also widespread throughout the country, with private rooms starting from as little as 145,100 IDR ($10 USD) per night. For entire apartments, expect to pay at least 400,000 IDR ($28 USD) per night.
If you’re booking through Booking.com, keep in mind that many of the listings are actually homestays and private residences.
Since hostels and homestays are so cheap, camping is not very common unless you’re on a trek.
Food – Local food is extremely cheap, with street food costing under 10,000 IDR ($0.70 USD). For an inexpensive meal at a local restaurant, prices start around 14,000 IDR ($1 USD). For a meal at a mid-range restaurant with drinks and table service, expect to pay from 80,000 IDR ($6 USD). Western food is much more expensive but is still relatively affordable at around 125,000 IDR ($9 USD) for a meal and drink.
Fast food like McDonalds will cost around 45,000 IDR ($3.20 USD). A beer at the bar will cost around 30,000 IDR ($2.10 USD) while a week’s worth of groceries will cost between 300,000-400,000 IDR ($21-28 USD). However, food in the country is very cheap and I would encourage you to eat out as often as possible as kitchens are hard to come by!
Backpacking Indonesia Suggested Budgets
A backpacking budget of around 464,320 IDR ($32 USD) per day will cover eating street food, staying in hostel dorms, using public transportation, and paying for entry fees to national parks. Indonesia is super affordable so it’s hard to spend a lot of money here if you stick to cheap accommodation, local food, free activities, and don’t go overboard on the drinks! Expect to pay more on Bali and the Gili Islands.
For a mid-range budget of about 870,600 IDR ($60 USD) per day, you can stay in a private hostel room, a budget hotel, or a really nice Airbnb property as well as eat at nicer restaurants that serve Western meals, take an occasional taxi, and participate in more tours, and drink more. You won’t live large but you won’t want for anything.
A luxury budget starts from 2,031,400 IDR ($140 USD) and then goes up as high as you want from there. I mean Bali has some of the most expensive resorts in the world. On this budget, you can stay in resorts or luxury villas, eat at the top restaurants, drink anything you want, and do daily tours including snorkeling trips. Indonesia (and especially Bali) does luxury really well so the sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day. Who knows!). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Indonesia Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
While Indonesia is super cheap, here are some specific ways you can save money in Indonesia if you’re looking to save a little more:
- Eat on the street – You can pick up tasty local fare for under 10,000 IDR ($0.70 USD). Streetside snacks, soups, and noodles will keep your wallet fat and your belly full! Markets are your best bet for finding seriously cheap food.
- Bargain hard – Nothing is ever at face value in Indonesia. Bargain with sellers as most of the time the price they’ve quoted will not be the price you’ll pay if you bargain!
- Drink cheap – Save money on alcohol by heading to the local happy hours (or just buying your drinks at a local store instead). This will be the cheapest way to drink!
- Take the free shuttles – While taxis are affordable, pretty much every accommodation will offer free airport transfers. Take advantage of these and save yourself some money.
- Book online in advance – If you’re planning on hitting up some of Indonesia’s most popular destinations, like Bali, it’s actually cheaper to book your accommodations (and sometimes tours) online in advance rather than showing up and trying to strike a deal.
- Pay bus attendants directly – When you’re taking an intercity bus, don’t purchase a ticket from a ticket window. It’s cheaper to pay directly on the bus!
- Bring a filtered water bottle – Bali has a ton of plastic waste. It has so much that a lot of it just gets burned. You’ll see — and smell — it during your visit. Bring a reusable water bottle with a filter to save both money and the environment. I personally like Lifestraw and Grayl.
Where To Stay in Indonesia
Looking for a place to stay during your trip? Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Indonesia:
How to Get Around Indonesia
Public Transportation – Public buses aren’t really used for city transport except on Java. There’s an extensive network in Jakarta, known as the Transjakarta Busway. Fares cost 3,500-9,000 IDR ($0.25-0.65 USD) for any destination in the network. You have to pay with a card that costs 40,000 IDR/$3 USD (it comes with a 20,000 IDR/$1.40 USD credit) from station ticketing offices.
Otherwise, most people get around by becak – a three-wheeled pedal or motor-powered cart. You’ll want to negotiate your fare before you get in, but 5,000 IDR ($0.36 USD) per kilometer is a reasonable rate to ask for.
Taxis are also affordable, and they’re metered in major cities. Bluebird Taxis is available in most places, and they’re the most dependable company for metered taxis and English-speaking drivers. There’s a smartphone app that makes it really easy to order taxis. The starting rate is around 7,000 IDR ($0.50 USD) and then 4,100 IDR ($0.30 USD) per kilometer.
Grab (an Uber offspring) is a household name in Southeast Asia. It is convenient but sometimes costs even more than a taxi. Gojek in Indonesia is a similar option. Be forewarned: If you order a Grab or Gojek, you might wind up on the back of a motorbike.
Ferry – For traveling between islands, ferries cost around 7,000 IDR/$0.50 USD (and up) for a ticket from East Java to West Bali, and the rates go up from there for other routes. Bali (Padang Bai) to Lombok is about $5 (one way), while Bali to the Gili Islands is $30 (one way) on a speedboat.
While it’s not necessary to book in advance it’s a good idea to do so during peak season or on more popular routes. You can buy tickets on the ferry company’s website or via a ticket agent like 12go.asia.
Bus – Buses are the main way for locals and tourists to get around Indonesia. It’s a good idea to book your long-distance tickets in advance, especially if you want an air-conditioned ride. You can buy a ticket from a travel agent, or visit the bus terminal. Your accommodation will likely also be able to arrange your transportation. Otherwise, 12go.asia is a reliable way to find bus schedules and prices.
An eight-hour journey on a bus costs around 70,000 IDR ($5 USD). Overnight buses will start at around 130,000 IDR ($9.20 USD). A short journey, like Kuta Beach to Ubud, is just 83,685 IDR ($6 USD) for one hour.
If your ride is a shorter one, you might end up on a bemos (mini-bus). In this case, negotiate your fare beforehand.
Flying – Garuda Indonesia is the country’s main airline offering international service as well as domestic flights. Lion Air and AirAsia also offer plenty of domestic routes, although Lion Air’s safety record is spotty and I wouldn’t advise traveling with them.
Flights between Jakarta and Bali start around 697,365 IDR ($50 USD) each way, while Jakarta to Lombok starts around 836,835 IDR ($60 USD). Lombok to Bali starts from just 251,050 IDR ($18 USD). However, this isn’t the cheapest way to travel. It’s only recommended if you have limited time.
Train – In Indonesia, the cities of Java are well linked by train, including Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, Probolinggo (for Mount Bromo), and Banyuwangi (the ferry terminal for Bali). Economy class to Jakarta to Surabaya takes 15 hours and costs about 104,000 IDR ($7 USD), while a 9-hour executive class trip can cost up to 1,250,000 IDR ($90 USD). Surabaya to Probolinggo (for Mount Bromo) takes 2-3 hours and costs 29,000 IDR ($2 USD) for economy or 150,000 IDR ($11 USD) for executive class. Surabaya to Banyuwangi (for Bali) takes 6-7 hours and costs as little as 56,000 IDR ($4 USD) for economy or 190,000 IDR ($13.50 USD) for executive class. You can reserve your tickets at tiket.com.
When to Go to Indonesia
Indonesia has just two seasons: wet and dry. Dry season lasts from May to September, while the rainy season occurs from October to April. The average daily temperature year-round is 80°F (28°C).
Overall, the best time of year to visit is between May and September when it’s dry and sunny. It’s still pleasant to visit during the rainy season, however, as rainfall usually comes as fast and intense downpours that only last a few hours. The Nusa Tenggara region is more affected by the wet season which may sometimes result in flooding. Wet season may also be a problem if you’re looking to get off-the-beaten-track in Indonesia, as muddy roads will sometimes keep you from getting around.
In Bali and Kalimantan, the extremes between seasons aren’t drastic. Dry season is the best time to climb the volcanoes, and the best time to dive is from April to September. (If you are expecting to do some climbing, remember to pack some warm layers. It gets cold at the top!)
How to Stay Safe in Indonesia
Indonesia is an incredibly safe place to backpack and travel — even if you’re traveling solo (and even as a solo female traveler). Violent crimes here are rare. Petty theft (including bag snatching) is the most common type of crime in Indonesia. Theft is also very common on public transit in Indonesia. It’s easy for thieves to grab your wallet or purse when you’re distracted by all the chaos around you. Stay alert and secure your valuables. That will be the best way to prevent petty theft.
Credit card fraud is also common in Indonesia. To avoid this, it’s always best to pay with cash when possible. To avoid getting your information stolen at an ATM, enter a reputable bank to withdraw money from there.
When in doubt, always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
Generally speaking, if you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Indonesia. Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.
Worried about travel scams? Read about these 14 Major Travel Scams to Avoid and be in the know! There aren’t many in the region but the few there are can be quite expensive!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Indonesia Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Indonesia. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings!
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Agoda – Other than Hostelworld an Airbnb, Agoda is the best hotel accommodation site for Asia as it has the largest inventory and offers the best rates. If you want a guesthouse or hotel, book it via this website!
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Indonesia, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Grassroots Volunteering – For volunteering, Grassroots Volunteering compiles a list of good local volunteer organizations that keep the money within the community.
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Indonesia Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Indonesia Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The Backpacker, by John Harris
I picked up this book at a second-hand shop in Vietnam years ago, and it intrigued me as I was backpacking around Southeast Asia. Amazon suggested it to me recently, so I picked it up again for another read and found it just as enthralling! John travels to India, where he meets Rick, who then persuades him to go to the Thai island of Ko Phangan, where John, Rick, and their new friend Dave pose as millionaire aristocrats. after getting on the wrong side of the Thai mafia, they leave for adrenaline-fueled journeys to Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, and Hong Kong. I’ve always wondered if this was a true story since so much of it seems far-fetched, but, even if it’s all fake, it’s an entertaining read about life as a backpacker. Light, easy, and fun, it will get you excited for the road.
A House in Bali, by Colin McPhee
This book was published in 1947, long before Bali became the tourist hotspot it is today. The story focuses on composer Colin McPhee who came across some rare gramophone recordings of a type of Balinese metallic music known as gamelan. From that moment, McPhee dreamt of going to Indonesia so see where the music originated, and he eventually ended up spending most of the 30s in Bali. This is a collection of his writings from that time when Bali was untouched and isolated from Western culture.
The Rainbow Troops, by Andrea Hirata
When this book came out in Indonesia in 2005, it was an immediate sensation selling more than five million copies. It’s a near autobiographical account of author Andrea Hirata’s life. Ikal is a student at the poorest village school on the island of Belitong. The school is at risk of closing. But the students are hopeful, and thanks to some amazing teachers, Ikal’s education becomes an inspirational one. The characters throughout this book are really wonderful, and it offers a lot of insight into the customs of the largest Muslim society in the world.
Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
The travel book that shot around the world. This book was a phenomenon and inspired millions of women to travel the world. I feel as if everyone has already read this book. While I don’t like the self-indulgence of the book (notice how all the country’s she visits start with the letter I), the book is well written and an really inspirational story. Sometimes that’s all you really need in a good travel book. I was very captivated by her writing and story.
Stranger in the Forest, by Eric Hansen
Back in 1982, Eric Hansen set out on a seven-month journey through Borneo’s rivers and jungles. Although Hansen had already spent a great deal researching the area in advance, the experiences he has while here are something that nobody could possibly predict. From encounters with the Penan nomadic hunters to being mistaken for an evil spirit in a village, Hansen’s expedition is something you have to read to believe.
Indonesia Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Indonesia travel and continue planning your trip: