It would be impossible to write an Indonesia travel guide that even scratched the surface of what this amazing Archipelago offers in the length of a standard article.
The truth is, it would take a lifetime of traveling and exploring just to see what Indonesia is all about. With a colossal 17,000 islands (or 70,000, depending on which Indonesian you ask), each with its own unique culture, natural wonders and unique way of life, Indonesia is a much-underrated destination when it comes to backpacking and traveling in Asia. It gets only a small percentage of the people who visit Thailand every year, despite having a lot more to offer!
I count myself fortunate to have been able to spend 8 beautiful years living, working and exploring in Indonesia. Even then, I only saw a fraction of what this immense and unthinkably huge archipelago has to offer.
Indonesia – A Snapshot Guide
Indonesia is the world’s most populated Muslim country, with some 260 million people living there. It’s also one of the most tolerant and welcoming countries on earth, recognizing the right to free speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press openly. Indeed, Indonesia’s national slogan is ‘Unity in Diversity’, and diverse it is!
With countless islands, languages, traditions, and subcultures, Indonesia is an anthropologist’s dream come true and a nomad wonderland. Whatever you can think of doing in a place from partying in Jakarta’s glitzy and modern night clubs to catching perfect waves off Bali’s coast to trekking to meet a Papuan hill tribe living on an untouched, jungle-clad mountainside, Indonesia has it all and then some.
Spanning almost the width the USA, Indonesia runs from the tip of Singapore almost to the north coast of Australia and while most of it is rainforest, there are also grasslands in Flores and Ambon and even, every once in a while, a little snow on the highest peak of Irian Jaya.
Indonesia is an all-in-one destination. Whatever you want to do here you can, from getting involved in adventures and treks that will take you to your limits and beyond, to kicking back on an idyllic beach and reading a good novel.
It’s difficult to put Indonesia into words, but since that’s what we set out to do in writing this Indonesia travel guide, let’s take a look at some of the top things to do in Indonesia.
Indonesia Travel Guide – 5 Things you Must Do
1. Visit Bali
Bali captures the essence of the words ‘exotic’, ‘tropical island’ and ‘paradise’ in the minds of many. Nestled between Indonesia’s main mega-island of Java and neighbouring laid-back Lombok, Bali is still on almost every visitor’s to-do list, and so it should be!
Bali is where you come to surf, party, and enjoy the beach. It’s Indonesia’s only Hindu island, and the Balinese wear their traditions and way of life with great pride. Nightclubs and bars sit side by side with Hindu temples, demonstrating the tolerant, accepting nature of the Balinese people.
Surfers will also find Bali to be a must. Some of the best waves in the world can be found off its coast and there are plenty of surfers who came for a couple of weeks and decided to stay shacked up around the island.
No trip to Indonesia would be complete without a visiting Bali. For that reason alone and many more into the bargain, Bali should be top of your agenda when visiting Indonesia.
2. Explore Lake Toba
Imagine a lake on a tiny island in the middle of a bigger lake inside the crater of a massive volcano which caused the largest eruption in history 75,000 years ago. Sounds pretty cool, right? Welcome to Lake Toba!
Toba is a hugely underrated and often overlooked destination, yet having explored the place as thoroughly as possible, I honestly can’t say I found a better spot in the entire country.
Lake Toba is in North Sumatra, one of Indonesia’s last remaining frontiers. Thick with jungle and ancient traditions, Sumatra is something to behold in and of itself, but Toba is the highlight of the island and is a must see if you’ve come this far.
There’s plenty to do in terms of exploring and motorbike rides with friendly locals who are available anytime you please for a very reasonable price ($30 USD per day). That said, make sure you schedule in some time to do absolutely nothing but sit by the lake and take it all in.
3. Chill on the Gili Islands
Between Bali and Lombok there are three tiny little islands in the sea called the Gili Islands. These have become somewhat of a ‘hot spot’ in recent years, and more and more nomads and backpackers are flocking there to see what all the fuss is about.
The Gili’s can be characterized according to size.
Trawangan is the biggest (a staggering 3km squared) and is the party and activity island of the three. It’s not overwhelming by any means and is nothing on the scale of Ko Pha Ngan is Thailand or Ibiza in Spain, but it is still a place to enjoy a few drinks and get your groove on after a spot of snorkeling on the reef.
Meno is the middle sized island and is where people go to relax and do absolutely nothing – because there’s nothing to do! I had to physically wake up the guesthouse receptionist when I landed on the beach, who was well and truly comatose on the counter. This just about characterizes the island perfectly. It’s the perfect place to unpack, unwind and read a good book.
Air is the little island of the three and has a reputation for being somewhat of a lover’s lair. Air is where many newlyweds and honeymooners go to get away from it all and have a perfect tropical island to themselves.
The stunning natural beauty of The Gili Islands is difficult to describe. Standing there, looking up at countless glimmering stars as glowing plankton wash up on the shore on the crest of a gentle tide, it’s difficult to resist the alluring charm of these quaint little islands.
4. Check out Borobudur
Borobudur is a fascinating glimpse into Indonesia’s Hindu history. A huge temple dedicated to the Buddha lay buried in the ground until it was accidentally stumbled upon by archaeologists discovered it in the early 20th century, and is now one of Java’s most spectacular sites.
Borobudur is a little crowded and overwhelming during high season, but it’s definitely worth the trip.
To get there head to Yogyakarta, which is worth a day or two in itself, and arrange a tour from there.
5. Snorkel in Raja Ampat
This is one only the most adventurous nomads and backpackers visiting Indonesia will ever get to experience. Raja Ampat is an unbelievably beautiful marine park on the last island in the far East of Indonesia – West Papua or Irian Jaya.
If scuba diving, snorkeling or exploring the underwater world is your thing Raja Ampat will be a dream come true. It has extremely strict conservation and environmental protection rules and is one of the growing number of places in Indonesia practicing sustainable eco-tourism.
With all of that to keep you busy, let’s take a look at some frequently asked questions about Indonesia. No Indonesia travel guide would be complete without addressing these things.
Indonesia Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How do I get to Indonesia?
A. Since Indonesia is an archipelago you can get there by either plane or boat. Boats are not recommended as they take forever and can be crowded to dangerous levels. It’s so much easier to take a flight with Air Asia or Lion Air from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand or the Philippines.
Q. What’s the visa situation?
A. Most visitors can get a 30-day tourist visa free on arrival. Most travelers agree this is nowhere near enough to see Indonesia, but it’s nonetheless what’s on offer. 60-day visas can be arranged at Indonesian consulates before you travel there.
Q. What is the currency of Indonesia?
A. Indonesia’s currency is the rupiah, and you’ll need millions of them to travel in Indonesia. The rupiah is currently trading at 13257 to the USD (25/08/16). You can get them on arrival but don’t try to sell them when you leave Indonesia as very few places want them and rates will be low.
Q. Is Indonesia safe?
A. Despite travel warnings and the odd terror attack, Indonesia remains very safe. The biggest hazard by far is the drivers.
Q. What vaccines do I need to visit Indonesia?
A. Rabies and hep B and C at a minimum. You’ll also need some anti-malaria pills, especially as you push past Bali and Lombok further East.
Q. Is Indonesia safe for female travelers?
A. Female travelers can experience a little bit of hassle when traveling in Indonesia, but it’s usually nothing sinister. Cat calls and minor annoyances are power for the course, so be prepared for it going in and bring a sense of humour.
Q. How much do I need per day to Travel in Indonesia?
A. $30-$50 USD is round about right for a budget traveler/backpacker. Moving frequently and enjoying Indonesia’s many adventure activities will make things a fair bit more expensive.
Q. Is English widely spoken?
A. No, it is not. You’ll find plenty of people who know a few words, but Indonesia is not a country where you can barge in and expect everyone to speak your language. Learn the basics. Bahasa Indonesia is a very easy language and a week should be enough to master the necessities. Speaking a few words of Bahasa can also considerably lower the prices of goods and services you are attempting to buy.
Q. What are the drug laws in Indonesia like?
A. Drugs in Indonesia are a huge no no. If you want to get killed by firing squad, buying and selling drugs is a fast track to that fate. Do not mess around with drugs in Indonesia. This point can not be emphasized seriously enough!
So what are you waiting for? One of the most exciting and intriguing destinations in the world has flung its doors wide open and is waiting for you to arrive. If you’re headed to Asia, do not miss out on Indonesia!