Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, meaning “Unity in Diversity,” is what Indonesia’s motto is and it couldn’t sum up this country any better.
An archipelago of over 17,000 islands, the fourth most populous country in the world, with religions from all spectrums being practiced, erupting volcanoes, world-renowned beaches, ancient holy sites, exotic marine life, a distinct ecosystem… Yeah, Indonesia is diverse AF.
Indonesia is facinating. Indoneisa is adventerous. Indoneisa is incredible. Their tourism slogan, Wonderful Indoneisa, is 1000% true. And maybe that’s why I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve visited?
I think it’s around seven times? And I’m not tired of it at all. How could I be when a country offers up so much?
There’s a lot to love here because Indonesia kinda has it all. There is so much more to this country than Bali, I can’t urge you enough to explore more places while you’re here.
The best part? Indonesia is very budget friendly. While it’s going to be hard to sum up this country in a blog post, I’ll do my best and hopefully, this will help guide you through your travels.
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Table of Contents
With thousands upon thousands of volcanic islands each with its unique geographical makeup and atmosphere, you could spend the rest of your life, and very very little money, merely traipsing from one beautiful island to the next, hanging out with majestic Komodo dragons, wandering ancient temples, catching some sweet surf, and hiking up volcanoes.
Adventure say what?!
But, you probably don’t have the rest of your life to go backpacking Indonesia. So I’ve got you covered here for anything from a week to a month. I’m telling you right now, though, you’re going to want to stay longer. Or at least come back soon.
Indonesia is a chain of islands just north of Australia and south of mainland Southeast Asia.
You can technically take a boat from Singapore to Indonesia. However, I wouldn’t recommend this mode of transport. Flying in is so cheap and accessible, another means of transportation is unnecessary.
So, hop on a plane to Jakarta or Bali, the primary entrances to this magical paradise. While flight tickets will be the cheapest to these two spots, if you’re starting in Sumatra, Medan Airport would be your best bet.
The following Indonesia itinerary is for about a month with a few extra days of “padding” for transport but it’s important to note transportation takes a while here, so you may need a few more days for transport. More on this below.
Should you be backpacking Indonesia for a shorter amount of time, this itinerary can still serve you well, pick and choose your favorite areas. Although, that may be easier said than done!
For any further info on specific places mentioned here, click the blog posts at the bottom.
Backpacking Sumatra – 5 Days
Sumatra is the big island south of Malaysia. And when I say big, I mean big. It’s one of the largest in the world and just teeming with Mother Nature’s most majestic temptations.
Head out of Medan as quickly as possible, then go up, up, up 900 meters into the sky, and find Lake Toba, a crater lake surrounding an ancient volcano island.
Yep, Samosir is an island (nearly the size of Singapore) surrounded by one of the world’s deepest lakes, sitting in the center of an island. DId you get that? An island, in a lake, in an island, it’s pretty cool!
Stunning views and super friendly people, the Batak, who reside on Samosir, are what you get here. Waterfalls to chase, a lake to swim in, nature trails, and culture. Lake Toba is pretty damn magical.
Another must while backpack Indonesia is a small village on a river, Bukit Lawang. Here, it’s all about the jungle trekking and our orange haired brothers and sisters.
The village rests on the eastern edge of a UNESCO World Unesco Site, Gunung Leuser National Park, and you can head in to spot the semi-wild orangutan that lives there. Nothing humbles you more than to see these incredible creatures swing from branch to branch all the while learning about how they are diminishing quickly due to the palm oil deforestation.
It is also chock full of a wide variety of other plant and wildlife; much you likely haven’t seen before. Make sure when you come here, you book an ethical guide to go trekking! You can find out more info at the link below.
Recommended Sumatra tours:
- Private Tour: Karo Highlands and Lake Toba from Medan
- Trekking with Orangutangs with Sumatra Adventure Holiday or TrekSumatra
- Spending a week in Sumatra
Backpacking Java – 5 Days
Ah! The lovely cultural hub of Java, Yogyakarta, is by far the coolest city on the island.
Yogyakarta is filled to the brim with excitement and sensory overload. You can ride around in a neon-lit car that blasts music from speakers on the outside of the vehicle! Who does that? Yogyakarta does.
You can walk street markets, visit temples, and check out graffiti riddled alleyways.
For a small city, it packs quite a punch.
Java is also the launch pad for some pretty badass adventures. You have to head to Mount Bromo. I hiked into this incredible volcanic complex without a tour, for free, because I’m good like that and I’ll tell you how to do the same below. After all, we’re backpacking Indonesia, right?
The next trip as you make your way closer to the east of Java is Kawah Ijen.
In classic Nina style, I chose to forego the tour (again), hike down at 1 am into rotten egg smelling poof of smoke to witness the magical blue flames deep inside a sulfur mine, and then hike my way back out to gaze down at the toxic blue-green lake inside the crater for sunset.
Java is the place for some pretty wicked adventure, definitely spend a chunk of time here. If you have some extra time, there’s some excellent surf in the sleepy town of Pacitan as well.
Recommended Yogyakarta tour:
Backpacking Bali – 5 Days
So Bali was already a big-time tourist attraction in Southeast Asia, but then Melissa Gilbert came along, ate, prayed, and loved, and now Bali is even crazier!
Ubud is the focal point of Gilbert’s trip, and with good reason.
If you’re seeking zen, there may be no better place on earth to find it than in this epic green sanctuary sprinkled with yoga retreats throughout the valleys, artist havens, and one of the biggest hippie vibes in the region.
Get lost in the rice fields, eat all the fresh, vegan, and wholesome food you can find, chill in a hammock, and repeat.
After a few days in Ubud, your backpacking Indonesia trip might find you as another expat. So many digital nomads find themselves here or in Canguu, so you’ll run into plenty of people who came to backpack Indonesia and never left…
Once your chakras are aligned, head over to Uluwatu for some world class surfing if you’re a pro!
The beaches here are known for this, and pretty much this alone as most of the area is not suitable for swimming.
The surf here ain’t no joke. I had been surfing before, but the waves were intimidating for me, so observing with a beer in hand at the cliffside restaurants is totally acceptable as well. The temple (Pura Luhur Uluwatu) sitting on the edge of the cliff is one of the most beautiful temples you’ll see in Indonesia. Just watch out for those cheeky monkeys, they’ll steal anything they can get.
You’ll also find plenty of fancy resorts on cliffsides and restaurants with five-star chefs. So just chill. It’s got nothing but good vibes for beach bums. The best way to get around the area here is a motorbike. Check here for some of the best places to stay in Bali.
Recommended Bali tours:
- Relaxing Spa at Maya Ubud
- Uluwatu Temple Sunset and Kecak Fire Dance
- Bali Waterfall & Jungle Swing Day Trip
- Bali Holy Bath and Jungle Swing Private Day Trip
- More Incredible Bali Tours
Backpacking Lombok – 6 Days
The enchanting string of three little islands off the coast of Lombok called the Gili Islands now awaits you.
While these islands are on the tourist radar, but they’ve managed to maintain their charm nonetheless.
It kinda of hard to lose that when the largest of the three can be walked in a few hours, right? That’s how tiny these islands are!
Check out the character of each island, as they each have their unique flavor. Gili T (Trawangan) is for my party people who haven’t quite hung up their wild nights license as I have, Gili Meno is the least developed, pristine island for the recluse in us all, and Gili Air is in the middle, literally and figuratively as it has more life than Meno but not as much a T!
For less touristy islands, there are private day tours mentioned below.
Kuta is for chilling on gorgeous secluded beaches, stunning views, and great food. (This is Kuta, Lombok, NOT Kuta, Bali, which isn’t a place I recommend)
Kuta, Lombok is calm and peaceful, with surfing for breakfast at the nearby village of Grupuk, yoga for lunch, and a beautiful sunset walk on volcanic stones as waves lap up to your ankles for dinner. Simply perfection.
Recommended Lombok tours:
- Discover Pergasingan Hill for Incredible View Over Lombok
- Explore The Less Touristy Gili Islands on a Private Day Tour
The next week on this backpacking Indonesia itinerary is a bit more off the grid, and you’ll be exploring some far less touristy islands!
Backpacking Sulawesi – 3 Days
Explore new wildlife (I’m looking at you black crested macaques and tarsiers!), snorkel in some of the best waters in the world (hello abundant sea life and shimmery coral reef), and hop to one seemingly untouched island after another.
Sulawesi is almost embarrassingly undiscovered by the tourist scene.
It is magnificent all around, from food to sunsets to friendly people. I could write an entire essay on why you must put this on your Indonesia itinerary. Oh, wait! I did!
Snorkeling on Bunaken Island and basking on black sand beaches are some of the best things to do.
Recommended Sulawesi tour:
RELATED: 11 Phenomenal Things to Do Around Sulawesi and Maluku, Indonesia
Backpacking Ambon and Saparua Islands – 3 Days
So, if you know anything at all about me, you know I love a good discovery.
Hello Ambon and Saparua!
These little islands just off the coast of Sulawesi have somehow managed to remain underdeveloped in terms of commercialization for decades.
This means that you get to wander the islands like an old-school tourist, revisiting the past, meeting the locals, and diving into isolated oceans to snorkel with undisturbed fish.
With 17,000 islands, there’s no end. Of course, Flores, Komodo, Nusa Pedina, and Raja Ampat (which I’m dying to visit) are some more wonderful islands to visit but, as I’ve mentioned, you could spend your entire life island hopping here!
I’m not sure how many visits I’ve made to Indonesia but I know I have many more to come and will update here when I have more to add!
- Sate (Indonesian satay) – Juicy meat on skewers, dripping with mouthwatering peanut sauce. Need I say more?
- Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice) – You can’t complain about fried rice. Who doesn’t love it?
- Nasi Rawon (Beef soup) – Attention beef lovers… This is one helluva favorite dish with its nutty flavor and its thick, rich texture. If you eat beef, you must try this one.
- Siomay – Fish dumplings with steamed veggies and peanut sauce.
- Beef Rendang – A spicy and rich sauce with tender beef.
- Gado-Gado – It’ essentially a salad of sorts drenched in peanut sauce.
- Mie Goreng – Fried noodles with veg and chicken usually.
- Tahu Gejrot – Little fluffy rounds of fried tofu (I’m vegetarian, had to through this one in here!)
- Tempe – Another veggie fav I LOVE Tempe, it’s a heartier textured version of tofu.
- Ikan Bakar – Simple grilled fish, you’re on an island, of course!
- Sate Lilit Bali – Popular around Bali, this is a fish cake satay.
Sambal is fantastic and goes on almost everything. It’s essentially a fermented, spicy, and tangy sauce.
In Indonesia, the easiest way to get from island to island is via plane. Yes, even if that means a prop plane. It takes a very long time to get from island to island when you’re using boats, buses, and rickshaws.
And with that said, just because you do take a flight, it doesn’t mean you’ll be avoiding boats, buses, and rickshaws! Getting around takes great effort and getting anywhere quick is probably not going to happen.
Particularly for those backpacking Indonesia, trying to save a few bucks here and there… You’ll soon find yourself spending an entire day getting from A to B, and you didn’t even realize until it’s too late. Boom, there goes an entire day down the drain…
A good recommendation is to chill on islands longer rather than hop from island to island every few days. Each island offers A LOT, so take your time, you won’t see all of the islands anytime soon…
Sometimes spending that extra few bucks will make a massive difference. So I encourage you to check out flights and compare the price VS time difference before you jump automatically to the cheapest option.
Once you make it to the island of choice, buses, boats, and rickshaws are the way to get around, unless you know how to ride a motorbike. If you do, that’s one of the best ways to get around, although I should note it’s not for the faint-hearted.
Rules…? Hardly any exists or are followed. Nicely paved roads? Maybe… Wear a helmet and be very aware.
Once you know you’re in the clear, helmet on and all… you can cruise the coastlines of many of these hotspots and save some time getting places and affording yourself the freedom to explore more.
Grab and GoJek – Download these taxi-hailing apps for a safe and easy ride. No negotiating needed. (GoJek is a like Grab but on a scooter! So it’s best used when you don’t have all your luggage)
May to September are your dry months, but I wouldn’t limit myself.
Think about it, the “wet” months just bear witness to some flash rains that get everything wet for a few hours and then welcome the sun back in quite often.
It’s entirely up to you, but as a lover of all things less touristy, traveling during the tail ends of those months would be a good time as well.
In fact, I traveled for a few weeks in December during one of my many visits to Indonesia, on Java specifically, and overall, I had great weather. I was able to trek Bromo and Ijen, and even rage at a music festival in Jakarta.
It’s also worth noting this is a “blanket” for the weather in Indonesia but it’s a massive sprawl of islands and there are exceptions to the “rules.” Definitely double check the weather depending on the islands you plan on backpacking through.
You can stay on pretty much any island or in any metropolitan area in Indonesia for less than $10.
Looking to go a bit bigger? You’ll be out less than $20 a night. Seriously, what other gorgeous places can you stay at overnight for pennies? (OK fine, most of Southeast Asia, but still!)
I have a better breakdown of hotels just below so you can start thinking about accommodation budgets as this, of course, is the biggest chunk of money when you’re abroad.
The average prices below are in USD and are simply that, averages. You can find hostels for $3 and resorts for $800 if you’re in need of a splurge but hey, this is a post about backpacking Indonesia, so I chose the most budget-friendly resorts for my flashpackers.
It’s very possible to get something around 5 stars for about $100!
So splurging a few nights and still being on a backpacker budget is totally possible. Curious about what type of properties you can get for the price? I provided a link, just click and browse.
You can get a great, inexpensive meal for under $2, anywhere! Double it and more if you want a foreigner meal like pasta or a big western-like breakfast.
Rent a motorbike for under $2-$5 in most places. A tank fill up will set you back another $1 or $2.
Buses and overnight trains going long distances will be in the range of $12-$15
Adventures and Activities
Trekking in Sumatra can cost around $60-$100.
Temple entrances will be in the range of $5 on the higher end unless we’re talking about Borobudur which is around $25.
Diving will be around $60-$100 depending on where and if the day has 1 or 2 dives.
If you follow some of my guides above like my Bromo guide, you can see places for VERY cheap or even free.
The Total Cost of Backpacking Indonesia
I’d average around $25-$30 a day for a shoestring budget but if you’re planning on hopping around a lot, staying in nicer hotels, and doing more of the big ticket adventures like treks and diving I’d say something more in the range of $50-70 a day to be safe.
Of course, somedays you will spend less as you’ll just be beach bumming and somedays, you’ll shell out over $100 on a diving trip and a bus and boat to get to the island for said diving.
Bring more money, always bring more.
And don’t forget about travel insurance! I use Safety Wing or World Nomads depending on my trip, get a quick quote and purchase it before your trip.
1. The blessing – A fake “priest” comes to you and “blesses you” then demands donations. Simply don’t engage or be prepared with a small bill to donate to get them off your back.
2. The pickpocketer – Nothing new here. The same stuff that happens around the world. In this area of the world, slashing bags is popular, so anti-theft gear is a good bet. Also, just watch your stuff!
3. Tourist markets – Not a scam per se, but there are markets, and there are tourists markets. Make sure you’re not going to a tourist market with wildly overpriced goods.
4. Fake Arak – This Balinese spirit is “the drink” to drink, but it should overall just be avoided. Unless you want to go blind, or worse, possibly die because they switched it out with methanol. Reputable bars won’t do this, but I say, better stick with beer at the tourist bars and clubs.
5. A taxi’s recommendation – They will tell you about a better hotel, a better shop, a better *insert place you’re going to*, you oblige and next thing you know you’re not where you want to be and your taxi driver got a commission for bringing you to his friend’s place. Just be wary of recommendations from your “new friend.”
6. Pay the porter – Or not! People at the boats, airports, etc. will try to help with your bags, seemingly being helpful… Until they want you to pay for their service. Even if it was just lifting the bag into a trunk. Just say no to help or be prepared to pay.
7. Unofficial taxis at the airport/anywhere – Another common scam in many places around the world, Indonesia is no different. Go with an official taxi or risk being charged double or more. Airports are usually the worst, but this happens on a regular road too. Make sure they use their meter. In Bali, it’s very easy to walk just outside the airport and get a Grab or something as well. BlueBird is the best most official taxi to use. Always get taxis from the official taxi stand at the airport.
8. Unsolicited tickets – Not sure why or how people fall for this one but never buy a ticket off random people on the beach or the street. It’s likely not at a real ticket and you probably just paid double even if it was.
9. Corrupt police giving tickets – Should you rent a motorbike, you put yourself at risk of getting pulled over for trivial reasons (should you be following the rules). They try to get a large fine out of you for going to the police station but make a “deal” that you only need to pay a smaller fine, if you pay now. Unfortunately, this one isn’t one you can get out easily, but you can be prepared for it by hiding all your cash with the exception of a few small bills. This way, you can “take up their gracious offer” on the smaller fine but only be out a few bucks because it’s “all you had” in your wallet.
10. Fake SIM cards – This one is easy, don’t buy SIMs from sketchy shops or randoms and you’re good. Only buy from big convenience stores or the official telecommunications store. Or better yet, you can buy them online here and just pick it up at the airport. If you don’t have an unlocked phone, you can’t get a SIM card but you can get a portable wifi hotspot like Skyroam (code: nina77 gets you 10% off)
11. Children beggars – Unfortunately, a lot of them are scammers and donations are used in a vicious cycle that keeps the children “working” aka scamming. First, the child could be scamming because they grab your wrist being all cute when in reality, they just stole your watch or wallet. Other times, it’s even worse, and the beggar may be carrying a drugged up baby begging for money. The money doesn’t go to the children… Donate to reliable charities only.
- Bottled water only. Drinking tap water will get you sick.
- Blue Bird taxis only! They use their meter and are the most trusted network of taxis. Using a Grab or GoJek is a good choice too. Randoms can result in getting scammed.
- Having a SIM or portable wifi hotspot will definitely help. Use my recommendations above to get yourself sorted.
- Respect the locals and their traditions. Remember, Indonesia is a mostly Mulsim country (all but Bali). Don’t dress skimpy when you’re out and about. Don’t touch or step on their offerings, which will be everywhere (banana leaves with flowers and other random items like gum and such in them is what I’m speaking of)
- Carry small cash. You can easily break your larger bills at large convenience stores or maybe at your hotel. Handing over large bills is annoying to people in the market who don’t carry too much change plus you can get confused with the bills when give you change.
- Know your bills. The Indonesia Rupiah has A LOT of zeros.
- Carry toilet paper on you, always. And work those thigh muscles because you’ll be using squat toilets too.
- Drugs are a no-no. Some other areas of Southeast Asia are a bit more liberal, although it’s illegal everywhere. In Indonesia, it’s a massive, huge, NO. They give out the death penalty here, just read about The Bali 9.
- If you’re flying budget airlines around Indonesia, don’t forget to look into baggage limits. What you bring on your international hop over will be reduced on the domestic flights.
- Plugging in – Don’t forget that international travel adaptor to charge everything.
- A dry bag will be a great accessory to bring. I use this thing SO much when traveling Southeast Asia. Here are more tips on what to pack.
- Bring reusable items – utensils, a water bottle, and reusable bags… Indonesia is one of the top WORST countries polluting the earth with plastic. Doing a little bit helps. Don’t be surprised if you find a beach or two full of plastic. Unfortunately, it’s becoming worse by the day. Help out and bring common items to avoid contributing to the mess.
Well, that was over 4,000 words on everything you can do with a month in Indonesia and why it’s so magical, surely I could go on forever but that’s what more specific blog posts are for! Check out all the links above within my Indonesia itinerary or just below to get more specific info on what to do.
Where will you go after Indonesia?
So when are you backpacking Indonesia? What are you most excited about? Let us know in the comments!
>>> EVEN MORE ABOUT INDONESIA <<<
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Nina Ragusa is an adventurer, messy bun master, breakfast fan, and full-time travel blogger. She’s been abroad and epically failing at the American Dream since 2011. Her sassy yet informative blog, Where in the World is Nina? is all about how to work abroad to live a more adventurous life. If you want to travel longer you have to work to wander.