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Backpacking in Indonesia: Costs, Tips and Places to See

With over 17,000 islands (I’m sure some of those are just rocks that disappear at low tide though) to choose from, planning a trip to Indonesia can be a daunting prospect. There’s no way to see it all on one trip, so if you’re thinking of going backpacking in Indonesia  it’s best to choose a couple of regions and explore them well. Here are the places I’ve been (during over 2 months in Indonesia on a few different trips) and some advice on accommodation, transport and budgeting.

Java

Jakarta

The capital city is a place most people try and avoid, and while it’s definitely not the best place in Indonesia it’s not the end of the world if you end up stuck there for a couple of days. There’s a crumbling old town to explore, some of the best (and cheapest) street food in Indonesia and an interesting antique/craft market. Check out this article on how to spend 2 days there (2 days is definitely enough).

Jakarta - a common first stop while backpacking in Indonesia

Jogjakarta

Possibly the most interesting big city in Indonesia, Jogjakarta is an ideal place to base yourself for excursions in central Java. The town itself has a nice little backpacker area – the back alleys filled with guesthouses, cafes and restaurants provide a nice respite from the chaotic streets.

Jogjakarta - a relaxing stop on the backpacking in Indonesia trail

Borobudur/Pramadan

These ancient Buddhist temples are a throwback to a time before the spread of Islam in Java. You can easily do these on day trips from Jogjakarta and are worth the expensive entry fees.

Borobudur - the best ancient temple I saw while backpacking in Indonesia

Dieng Platue

The Dieng Platue, one of my favourite spots in Indonesia, doesn’t see a lot of tourist traffic and I still can’t understand why. It’s home to the oldest temples in Indonesia, colourful volcanic lakes, steaming craters and awesome mountain scenery. It’s a bit of a journey from Jogjakarta but is definitely worth it.

Dieng Plateau - an uncommon backpacking in Indonesia destination

Mount Bromo

Seeing this smouldering volcano at sunrise doesn’t actually require much walking, but you’ll have to put up with plenty of other people at the viewpoint. It’s worth it though; it really is a stunning sight. Check out a full article on my week in Java, including more in-depth accounts of my time at Dieng Platue, Mount Bromo, Jogjakarta and Borobudur/Pramadan.

Mount Bromo at sunrise - a must do tour while backpacking in Indonesia

Surabaya

I only stayed in Surabaya for a night as I had a flight to Kupang the next morning. It seemed like a decent enough place but you don’t travel to Indonesia to spend your time in cities like Surabaya – move on as soon as possible!

Flores

Larantuka

This is where I started my voyage across Flores; it’s not the most interesting of towns but the people really made it special. They don’t see too many tourists in these parts so everyone is keen to have a chat and get a photo taken with you. I arrived here on the overnight ferry from Kupang, West Timor – overnight ferries in Indonesia are great (although they occasionally sink) – try and experience one if you can!

Locals in Larantuka - an interesting stop on my backpacking in Indonesia trip

Maumere

If you want to relax in Flores your best bet is probably Maumere. The beach I stayed at wasn’t anything special, but the pace of life, the friendly locals and the amazing sunsets made it the perfect place to settle down for a few days. Check out my full post on Maumere here.

sunset at Maumere - seen while backpacking in Indonesia

Mount Kelimutu

Kelimutu is one of Flores’ biggest tourist attractions, and I can confirm it does live up to the hype. You’ll want to visit the colourful crater lakes at sunrise, and even though it was cloudy when I was there it was still amazing. Check out a full post here.

Mount Kelimutu - a must see volcano when backpacking in Indonesia

17 Islands, Riung

The town of Riung is the definition of a sleepy seaside town, except all the guesthouses are located a good 5 or 10 minute walk from the coast, which I still don’t really understand. The islands just off shore are why you’ll visit though, and they are home to some of the best beaches I’ve seen in Indonesia. If you’re sick of island hopping with huge crowds in Thailand, make your way to Riung! Check out a full post here.

17 Islands, Riung - the best beaches I saw while backpacking in Indonesia

Komodo National Park

The islands of the Komodo National Park are about as rugged and unspoiled as you’ll see anywhere in the world. Most are uninhabited and 2 of them are home to huge man eating lizards; AKA komodo dragons. The only way to see the park is by boat – sleeping under the stars on a small boat surrounded by exotic islands is an experience you’ll never forget. Komodo National Park is also a highly rated snorkelling and diving destination. Read the full article on Komodo National Park here.

Komodo National Park - a must see for nature lovers who are backpacking in Indonesia

Kanawa Island

A private resort island surrounded by electric blue water teeming with sea life, staying on Kanawa Island should be a lot more expensive than it is. It’s located just outside the Komodo National Park, if you take a tour of the park you can arrange to be dropped at Kanawa on the way back to Labuan Bajo.

Kanawa Island - a romantic place to spend a few days while backpacking in Indonesia

Labuan Bajo

This is the main tourist town in Flores and is a decent place to spend a few days either before or after your trip to the Komodo National Park. There are some great restaurants and the sunsets can be spectacular, but the town is a bit rough around the edges and after a few days you’ll probably want to go somewhere more peaceful.

Gili Islands

Gili Trawangan

I wasn’t a big fan of Gili Trawangan (or Gili T as it’s more widely known). It was really expensive, none of the affordable accommodation was near the beaches and the crowd was definitely on the younger side. It’s not a relaxing place, but if you’re looking to party you might enjoy it more than I did.

Gili Trawangan - a backpacking in Indonesia hot spot

Gili Meno

Gili Meno is much more laid back than Gili T and is aimed more at couples on a romantic getaway. I was there alone which wasn’t ideal, but it was still a decent place to stay for a couple of days. The beaches were pretty good and the water was clear, but if you’re looking for a romantic stop while backpacking in Indonesia, I’d go for Kanawa instead.

Gili Meno - a quieter stop on the backpacking in Indonesia trail

Bali

Ubud

I visited Ubud on a weekend trip while I was still living in Singapore. It’s a nice little town in central Bali; far from the crowds of drunken Australians that beachside communities like Kuta are renowned for. The Monkey Forest is a definite highlight, and cycling around the rice field filled countryside is a nice way to spend a few hours. Read a full post on Ubud here.

Ubud, Bali - a typical stop while backpacking in Indonesia

Mount Batur

A moderately difficult climb leads to the top of Mount Batur, where (if it’s not too cloudy) you’ll see a stunning sunrise.  You can organise a tour here from Ubud and if you love good views and aren’t afraid of a bit of exercise (and really early mornings) you should seriously consider doing it.

Want a great view while backpacking in Indonesia - climb Mt Batur, Bali

Sumatra

Lake Toba

Lake Toba is one my favourite places in the world – I can’t think of a better place to relax anywhere in the world. Samosir, the island in the middle of the lake, is home to some of the most laid back people in Indonesia and the scenery really is amazing. It’s also one of the cheapest places I’ve been in Indonesia, so if you’re looking spend a few days somewhere beautiful without spending much money, head for Lake Toba; the only danger is that you’ll stay for too long and abandon plans to see all of the other wonders that Sumatra has to offer. I had planned to go to Bukit Lawang, the Mentawai islands and Pulau Weh, but then I got lazy and just stayed at Lake Toba! Read the full post here.

Lake Toba - make sure you go if you're backpacking in Indonesia!

Medan

Medan is one of the most unappealing cities I’ve ever visited. You really only need to come here en route to somewhere else – it’s definitely not a tourist destination in itself (which probably makes it sound really appealing to some people).

Pulau Rote

Located just off the coast of West Timor, Pulau Rote is home to the laid back surf town of Nembrala. There are some great beaches there and they are almost entirely deserted, so even if you’re not into surfing I’d still recommend going. Pulau Rote isn’t a common destination while backpacking in Indonesia but it’s a great chance to get away from the typical tourist trail. Read a full post here.

Pulau Rote - an uncommon stop on the backpacking in Indonesia trail

Kupang, West Timor

I had planned to spend longer in this area but then I found out about Pulau Rote! I also heard that to really see West Timor properly you need a guide/driver which I couldn’t afford. I’m sure there’s some amazing things to see there and I’ll definitely return in the future. Kupang itself is a decent enough town but again, there are more interesting places to spend you time in Indonesia.

Transport in Indonesia

Indonesia is an easy place to get around. You can take local buses or tourist mini vans to most places on the tourist map, and travelling between islands on the ferries can be fun.  Transport in Indonesia is fairly cheap but distances are long and the roads are often rough. In some regions it’s possible to take a shared taxi between towns, but they really cram people into them (including putting 2 people on the front passenger seat), so it’s not always the nicest way to travel.

Further reading: Looking for a great map to help plan your backpacking in Indonesia trip? Check out this one over National Geographic

Costs while backpacking in Indonesia

Indonesia is fairly cheap place to travel, as long as you avoid the really touristy places like Gili T. You can often get all inclusive packages on small islands (like Pulau Roti) which includes a room and 3 basic meals for around 100,000 RP – not a bad deal at all! If you’re covering a lot of ground your transport bill will start to add up; the ferries and tourist buses aren’t all that cheap. You could easily travel Indonesia on $1000 USD a month and a lot less than that if you’re willing to stay in certain places for longer.

Have you been backpacking in Indonesia? Where would you recommend Indonesia first timers to go? Let me know!

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Jon Algie

Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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19 Comments

  1. May 30, 2015 at 2:39 pm — Reply

    This post just makes me realize how much traveling I still want to do in Indonesia. I’ve been living in Jakarta for almost a year and haven’t done half of these things! So sad. This really is an amazing country to travel in!

    • Jon Algie
      May 31, 2015 at 12:30 am — Reply

      It sure is! There are still so many places I want to go as well – I’m hoping to make it to Sulawesi and more of Sumatra within the next year.

  2. Ana
    June 1, 2015 at 12:31 am — Reply

    Love this post, Jon! And love Indonesia 🙂 I spent one month there earlier this year and was one of my favorite trips ever. Thanks for giving us lots of ideas for future trips. I am sure I will go back and would love to explore Flores and Sumatra. I recommend you to visit Sulawesi and Togean island, it was one of the highlights of my trips and a beautiful off the beaten path paradise. Cheers!

    • Jon Algie
      June 1, 2015 at 12:39 pm — Reply

      Thanks Ana, I’m hoping to get to Sulawesi etc within the next year, I’ll be asking you for some tips!

  3. June 5, 2015 at 2:08 pm — Reply

    Really loved this guide to Indonesia, Jon!

    For the most part, I’ve had Indonesia on my mind for a long time and am really happy you broke it down like this. Where did you get started when you first visited?

    Can’t wait to see Borobudur and Yogjakarta while touring this vast archipelago. My wife and I will be traveling through Java and all the way to Komodo, so unfortunately places Timor will not be on our radar.

    I feel like it’s nearly impossible to cover too much ground in Indonesia because each spot seems lovely, aside from the cities and hotspots. I don’t see myself spending too much time in Bali and noticed you warning against some things there. Did you have any rough moments while there?

    You say that you were living in Singapore for a bit. How was life there? Is that where you taught? I’ll be traveling there as well in the fall and only have three days planned for it.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing this guide, Jon! I really enjoyed it and will keep it along when we set foot in Indonesia. Take care.

    • Jon Algie
      June 6, 2015 at 12:08 am — Reply

      Cheers! I started in Jogjakarta and travelled around Java for a week while I was working in Singapore. I think the Java to Komodo route is perfect for a first trip in Indonesia, you’ll love it! Bali was fine for me but a lot of people talk negatively about it, especially the popular beaches. I spent me time inland and it was really nice – definitely go to Ubud if you have the time. I’m sure there are nice, laid back beaches in Bali too if you know where to look!

      I taught in Singapore for 2 years, it’s a really cool city and a great place to live. 3 days is enough to see most of the highlights – I did a post about a 2 day itinerary a while back, you can find it in the Singapore section – might give you some ideas.

  4. Asali
    June 24, 2015 at 9:01 am — Reply

    Thanks Jon for the blog post and memories. Indonesia was my first long term travel trip. I was supposed to check out SE Asia and ended up instead spending all 4 months in Indonesia. I fell in love with the food, language, culture, and people. I could return and explore for another 4 months easily.

    Thanks for showcasing the places I didn’t yet visit like Pulau Rote and the interior of Flores. Staying in the rice fields at Kupu Kupu Bungalows in Ubud was affordable and relaxing.

    I highly recommend that people check out Abdi Homestay in Harau Valley, West Sumatra. It’s isolated, no wifi, great views, and amazing food. I tell everyone going to Indonesia to go there because of the owner’s hospitality and lovely cottages.

    Other recommendations are the Tana Toraja funeral festival in Sulawesi, the Green Valley in Pangandaran in Central Java, hiking up Mt. Rinjani in Lombok, Ijen Crater at night/sunrise in East Java, and Meulaboh and Takengon in north Sumatra (very few foreign tourists).

    I don’t get commissions or work for any of the lodging places mentioned, but I’ve had enough friends ask me about where I stayed from my photos that I can’t help but share them with your readers as well.

    Great blog, and thanks again for the memories!

  5. Jon Algie
    June 26, 2015 at 6:52 am — Reply

    Thanks for the tips, I definitely want to get to Ijen Crater and Tana Toraja some time next year!

  6. August 23, 2015 at 7:20 am — Reply

    Hi Jon… really enjoy your post here. It reminds me to explore my own country more. Hope you enjoy your backpacking in Indonesia. And i think i have recommendation for your next trip, it is Raja Ampat island in West Papua. It’s really good.

    • Jon Algie
      August 30, 2015 at 3:02 am — Reply

      Hey Ishlah, I really want to go there!

  7. July 6, 2016 at 1:57 am — Reply

    Fantastic post!
    I backpacked in Indonesia for 3 weeks, hitting many of these spots plus some other awesome ones. My must dos would be Yogya, Kelimutu, Ubud and Gili, you just have to be creative with transportation to pack all these in a short vacation hehe.
    Check out our blog for more inspiration, pictures and tips:
    https://bonatravels.com/2013/08/11/country-summary-indonesia/

    • Jon Algie
      July 12, 2016 at 12:52 am — Reply

      Cheers Carmen, there is so much to see in Indonesia, it’s the kind of place you need to return to!

  8. September 21, 2016 at 12:03 am — Reply

    Impressive travels in Indonesia. I absolutely love the country (and its waterfalls). So far I have been to (rural) Bali, North Sumatra and East Java and I am planning one trip there each year (based in Taiwan). Lombok is next with Flores high on the list. After that West Java, Sulawesi, Sumba/Sumbawa, Bukitingi/West Sumatra are also somewhere on the list. And Raja Ampat – beautiful place.

    • Jon Algie
      September 28, 2016 at 10:23 am — Reply

      There’s so much to see — I might be going to Raja Ampat soon, it looks amazing.

  9. Shinta
    November 26, 2016 at 11:34 pm — Reply

    Hello! I suggest you to go to Sumba, it’s in Nusa Tenggara Timur, near Flores.. It’s a beautiful place.. I went there a few months ago, and really amazed by the nature..

  10. Natalie
    January 23, 2017 at 6:40 am — Reply

    Hi, I’ve got a tour trip booked in Bali for July and thinking of backpacking for about a month after. Any ideas for places to go next?

    • Jon Algie
      January 25, 2017 at 10:43 am — Reply

      Hey Natalie, there are heaps of places you can go. I’d suggest spending a bit of time in Java (Jogjakarta, some volcanoes etc) and maybe Lombok / the Gili Islands and then take a boat through the Komodo Islands. It depends on how fast you want to travel and how much money you have though.

  11. Elle
    October 10, 2017 at 5:57 pm — Reply

    Hi Jon, thank you for your wonderful and detailed itinerary. I am travelling to Flores in January and have about 12 days to explore after New Years. I understand Jan can be wet, but I am running the risk 🙂

    I have planned my itinerary over 12 days and I was just wondering if perhaps I could run it by you? See if you have any suggestions or if you would take a few places out to slow it down.

    Would love to hear your thoughts if you have the time.

    Cheers

    • Jon Algie
      November 2, 2017 at 7:42 am — Reply

      Hey Elle, sorry for the late reply! I’d love to see it, you can give me an email or just reply on here. Thanks!

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