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What to expect in Indonesia
Measured from east to west, the Indonesian archipelago covers a distance similar to New York to Los Angeles, and with over 17,000 islands, Indonesia is a whole world waiting to be explored.
Planning a trip to Indonesia is enough to make any globetrotter green with envy, but it can also be a little daunting. With so many islands on offer, huge distances to cover and a bucket-load of experiences to choose from, it’s a lot to take in. “Which islands work best together? How do I get from A to B? And when’s the best time to go?”. Luckily, we’ve got it covered. Our travel specialists have clubbed together some top tips from their own experiences to create the ultimate guide to planning your Indonesia holiday…
Choosing the right islands
Best for: wild jungles, volcanic lakes, orangutans
Sumatra is the island nearest to Malaysia and Singapore. It is one of Indonesia’s less-visited islands, though it also holds some of the most rewarding experiences. With untamed jungles and more than 10 national parks, you’ll have plenty of chances to see different species of monkeys, tropical birds, and other exotic wildlife. In Bukit Lawang, you can even spot semi-wild orangutans.
Along the shores of the volcanic lakes of Mininjau and Toba, you’ll find an inviting and laidback atmosphere. Tourism still has a roads-less-travelled feel on Sumatra, making it a dream destination for any intrepid explorer.
And to top it off, Sumatra also combines well with neighbouring Java – handy when it comes to booking international flights.
Best for: beaches, traditional arts, rice terraces, Hindu temples
Bali is Indonesia’s most popular destination and with good reason. Its iconic temples, rice terraces and beaches put this island paradise firmly on the map. The south is the most touristy part, particularly around Kuta. It can be very busy and congested here, though it’s obviously the white-sand beaches that draw the crowds to this side of the island.
Distances on Bali are very manageable which makes travelling on this island a breeze. Just a couple of hours inland from Kuta is Ubud, a more cultural destination, brimming with temples and a thriving art scene. You can find authentic Bali experiences, especially along the northern coast, for instance around Lovina, where lush green rice terraces and small fishing villages define the landscape. Fewer tourists make it out to these parts as they’re further from the airport and not all of the beaches here are sandy (some are covered in beautiful black volcanic pebbles). However, it’s a side of Bali that is sure to appeal to anyone wanting to get the proper Bali experience.
Best for: ancient temples, city culture, rumbling volcanoes
As the most populated Indonesian island, Java has the liveliest character. City streets whirl with cyclists, tuk-tuks and motorbikes, while its many cultural sights are visited by domestic and international tourists alike.
Jakarta is notoriously congested and has little to offer visitors, though Java truly shines as you head east from the capital. Java’s cultural hub of Yogjakarta is home to countless palaces and heritage buildings, as well as two of the most mesmerising temple complexes in Southeast Asia: the Hindu temples of Prambanan and Borobudur; the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Find some wonderful tranquillity in Lembang, situated among rolling green hills and tea plantations.
Java also has two of the most impressive volcanoes in Indonesia. The views of Mount Bromo in East Java are stunning, with volcanic craters creating a lunar-like landscape. The sulfur-spewing Ijen volcano, in turn, is unique as it glows blue at night — a sight you’ll not forget in a hurry.
There are some pleasant beaches on Java too, though Indonesia’s heartland is mostly famous for its cultural attractions and volcanoes. Java combines well with neighbouring Bali, which is reached easily via a short ferry ride.
Lombok and the Gili Islands
Best for: laid-back islands, volcano trekking
Lombok sits just a two-hour boat ride or a 20-minute flight from Bali. While it may lack the Hindu temples and culture that give Bali so much charm, Lombok is a more modest and peaceful island just a stone’s throw away.
Lombok’s beautiful white-sand beaches are pleasantly low-key and its jungle interior and green rice paddies invite you to explore. The island is great for escaping the crowds, seeing some of authentic Indonesia, and still having a beach nearly to yourself.
At the heart of Lombok also stands Mount Rinjani, an active volcano that rises to 3,726 metres. It’s a popular trekking destination, with a typical choice of 2 or 3-day treks up to the crater summit. Mount Rinjani is different from the volcanoes on Java or Flores, which are usually easier to reach by car or have shorter hikes up to a panoramic view. Rinjani is favoured by those looking for more of a climb, and the breathtaking sunrise views of the crater lake make this well worth the effort.
Along the northwest of Lombok, you’ll find a series of three islands collectively named the Gilis. The biggest, Gili Trawangan, is a busy island mostly frequented by backpackers. For more of a Robinson Crusoe feel, we recommend the wonderfully quiet Gili Meno.
Note: Lombok and Flores are part of the Nusa Tenggara island cluster. You can find both of them grouped under Nusa Tenggara among our Indonesia trips.
Komodo & Flores
Best for: seeing Komodo dragons, authentic rural Indonesia
The Komodo Islands off the coast of Flores are famously the only place where you can find the legendary Komodo Dragons. Guided by a park ranger, you can meet these ferocious reptiles in their natural habitat (don’t worry, it’s safe!). The Komodo Islands are also increasingly gaining fame as a scuba diving and snorkelling paradise, as the area has some of the highest marine biodiversity on the planet.
Flores itself is wonderfully low-key, with just a single ‘highway’ running through its interior (it’s actually just a quiet, two-lane country road). Originally named by the Portuguese, the island of Flores is mainly Catholic, which gives it a distinctly different feel to other parts of Indonesia.
The quiet roads lead you to various traditional tribal villages, as well as the three multi-coloured crater lakes of Kelimutu volcano. Flores is the perfect choice for seeing a different slice of Indonesia.
Indonesia essential information
Time in Jarkata
Best time to go
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Indonesia has a dry season (April to October), and the monsoon season, (November to March) and enjoys hot and humid temperatures all year. Each island’s weather differs slightly.
Although Bahasa Indonesia is the official language, English is widely spoken and there are hundreds of regional dialects and languages throughout Indonesia.
You’ll require a short stay tourist visa of 30 days which you can arrange for free on arrival at most airports. If you’re travelling on a British passport, you need at least 6 months validity beyond your departure date.
We suggest tipping your guides and drivers around £2 per person per day…but of course, tip more if you want to give a little more to the local economy.
You can fly to Indonesia from London, daily. Flights usually stop in Dubai, Qatar or Kuala Lumpur.
Gallery & video
Take a peek at our Indonesia itineraries
From 14 days / 13 nights (flexible)
Indonesia, Ubud - Maumere - Kelimutu volcano - Bajawa - Ruteng - Labuhan Bajo - Komodo National Park - Jimbaran
From 12 days / 11 nights (flexible)
Indonesia, Yogyakarta - Sukuh - Malang - Mount Bromo - Palangkaraya - Bapallas Island - Sanur
Which Indonesian islands should you combine?
Java & Bali
A truly powerful combination! You can travel overland from Java to Bali in 3 days – giving you a chance to stop along the way to see some sights as you go.
You can also take a 3-hour flight from Jakarta (in Java) to Denpasar (in Bali), if you want to get there a little quicker.
Bali, Lombok & the Gilis
It takes a couple of hours to sail from Bali to Lombok, which is a peaceful way to go from one island to the next.
However, if you fancy a slice of paradise on your way, hop over to the Gilis‘ for some beach time – just a 40-minute boat ride.
Sumatra & Java
It takes 2.5 hours to fly from Medan (in Sumatra) to Jakarta (Java).
Rickshaw Tip: If you’re visiting Sumatra and want some beach time too, avoid the long flight to Bali and go for a trip to Cubadak Island instead. This stunning island is just off Sumatra and saves the travel to Bali.
Bali, Flores and Komodo
If you want your fill of volcanoes, wildlife and beaches, these are the dream cluster of islands for you.
It’s a quick 2-hour flight from Bali to Flores, and then a couple of hours by boat to Komodo, with a chance to see the ancient Komodo dragon while you’re there.
How can we help?
Aside from the odd bike or boat ride, in most of our holidays, we will whisk you around the islands by private transfer. Taking the stress out of organising it yourself and you can enjoy your trip to the fullest.
Key Bahasa Indonesian phrases
Hello! / Goodbye! – Halo!/Selamat Tinggal!
Thank you! – Terima kasih
Ok – Baik
Yes – Ya/Ia
No – Tidak/Tiada
How are you? – Apa kabar?
My name is … – Nama saya..
How much is this? – Berapa banyak ini?
I don’t understand – Saya tidak mengerti
Chicken – Ayam
Beef – Sapi
Pork – Babi
Vegetables – Sayur
Fish – Ikan
Noodles – Mie
Rice – Nasi
Spicy – Pedas
Know before you go
The risk of contracting disease whilst travelling in Indonesia is greater than in the UK, however not nearly as common as you may think. It will vary between individuals and many issues need to be considered, such as which islands you’ll be visiting, activities and your general health. Make sure you use plenty of mosquito repellent, wear a sun hat, use hand sanitizer and of course slap on the sun cream – we recommend Green People for eco-friendly sun cream options.
There are no statutory health and vaccination requirements for Indonesia, however, Hepatitis A, Tetanus and Diphtheria vaccinations are usually advised. Malaria and Dengue Fever are present in Indonesia and can be avoided by covering up with long clothing, especially after sunset, using insect repellent and sleeping under a mosquito net. Find out more on the government site Fit For Travel.
Essentials to pack:
- Always carry an antibacterial hand wash and wet wipes with you.
- The sun can be very strong in Indonesia so make sure so take plenty of sun cream with high SPF, and preferably eco-friendly. Apply on a regular basis throughout the day to avoid getting sunburnt.
- Drink plenty of water to make sure you stay hydrated. You can top up a reusable bottle in most hotels, as a lot have refilling stations.
- Mosquito repellent – mosquitoes in Indonesia can be fierce, so make sure you take along insect repellent.
- Sarong – As well as being used as clothing, a sarong can also serve as a blanket, towel or even a makeshift curtain for privacy when you travel. There’s nothing sarong with that!
Indonesia is a relatively safe country to travel through, however, it’s important to be aware of street crime and pickpocketing, particularly in busy tourist areas. Avoid having your valuables obviously on show and take just the essential items with you, taking good care of your passport and bank cards.
For the latest advice on the areas better to be avoided please take a look at the FCO website. We do not offer trips to the areas that are considered unsafe (and will keep you posted if the current advice for travelling to Indonesia changes at any point before you jet off). If you are making your own arrangements at any point of your trip, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the latest updates.
Currency & money
The Indonesian currency is the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) and can be quite volatile, usually sitting between IDR 15,000 and 20,000 to £1.
Debit and credit cards are also widely accepted and you can make most payments using them in the more built-up areas of Indonesia, we recommend keeping some cash for small eateries, off the beaten track locations and tips. It may also be a bit trickier on the smaller, less touristy islands like Flores, where the only cash machines are in Maumere and Labuhan Bajo. We also recommend splitting your money between cash and cards.
While it’s quite difficult to predict how much exactly you’d end up spending, Indonesia is relatively cheap compared to the UK. Generally, £30-£40 per day should easily cover any extra meals, souvenirs, or a Bintang beer or three on the beach!
Tips and haggling
Tipping is generally expected in Indonesia, how much you tip is totally up to you. On average, we suggest tipping your guides and drivers around £2 per person, per day. Of course, if they’ve done a really great job you can offer them more and they will greatly appreciate your generosity. In restaurants, it isn’t expected to tip, but it’s a nice gesture to round up the bill.
Street vendors and beggars are generally very persistent. If they start to overwhelm you, it’s often best to ignore them. Even eye contact, a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ acknowledgement gives them an opening to try to persuade you to buy something from them. Be wary of people trying to approach you, walk along with you and trying to chat with you. Of course, this could just be a friendly person, but it can often be a ruse to make you pay for their services as a guide.
When haggling, start at 50% of the asking price, and haggle until you reach a happy medium. But remember to keep smiling and keep it friendly. Just like in the UK, you should pay what you think is fair, rather than haggling insistently for the sake of it.