My partner Tom and I originally planned to travel around Indonesia for a month. After our third day there, we decided to stay for three months instead. Between the world-class surfing and the many outdoor activities to do, we couldn’t just breeze through this country. Instead, we found ourselves a home for a month where we surfed and worked to our heart’s content. Thinking of planning a trip here but don’t know where to start? Hopefully, this guide can help narrow it down for you!
Visas in Indonesia: What you need to Know
In Indonesia, 61 countries can obtain a visa on arrival. This is valid for 30 days and can be renewed for another 30 days. However, some countries are also entitled to a free visa upon arrival. Since I am from the Philippines, this visa is what applied to me (free visa). However, please take note that this visa is non-extendable and for me to get another 30 days, I have to fly out of Indonesia. We learned this the hard way! To extend our trip, we chose to apply for a social visa (social budaya) which was kindly sponsored by our friend. This gave us 6 months (renewable every 2 months) around the country-but we had to fly to Singapore to process this after our visa ran out on the first month.
Insider Tip: Carry cash with you upon arrival in Indonesia. Tom originally wanted to get the paid visa on arrival so that he could extend his by 30 days but their credit card payment system was not working, along with the ATMS. This forced him to avail of the free non-extendable visa!
Where to Go in Indonesia
Popular Routes and What to See
As most of you know, Indonesia is rather large. In fact, it is the country with the most number of islands (14,000) in the world. People usually think of Bali when they hear the word Indonesia, but to those that have been fortunate enough to have traveled here know that there is so much more to Indonesia than just Bali! If you venture through to Java and Sumatra, you will be amazed by the natural beauty around you! Between the many beautiful islands to the rich flora and fauna in the jungles, Indonesia is definitely a place worth exploring.
Although very popular, Bali can be hit and miss for some people. Given its popularity, Bali is a perfect example of how tourism has ruined the beauty of a place. Don’t get me wrong-there are still many beautiful places here but you just have to know where to go. (check out this awesome article on tourist attractions in Bali and their alternatives as well as this complete Bali itinerary to help you plan your trip)
My advice? Skip places like Kuta and other mainstream areas altogether unless you want to see drunken Australians getting plastered out of their minds every night. Instead, hit up low key places like Canggu (we lived there for a month!!) if you want some good surf and a great overall vibe. Rice fields, awesome surf, and great restaurants. We loved our time in Canggu and cannot recommend this place enough. If you want more details, check out this post on how to avoid the crowds in Bali.
Aside from Canggu, we also hit up Ubud for a few days of culture and relaxation! Here, we explored and also did some awesome activities like white water rafting and mountain biking from Mt. Batur. Two activities we definitely recommend to those that are looking to do more than just relaxing.
Other places worth exploring are the neighboring islands of Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan. If interested, take a look at this article on things to do in Nusa Penida for more information.
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Apart from places in Bali, we highly recommend that you head to Lombok and its neighboring islands. The Gili Islands in Bali is something that are worth visiting. The time we spent there was very relaxing. We opted to stay in Gili Air after a night in Gili T and loved it so much more. People are relaxed, the roads and beach are clean, and there wasn’t loud party music thumping from every direction.
From the Gili Islands, we ventured over to Lombok which we wish we had more time to explore. Unfortunately, our time there was short as we opted to jump on a 4 day boat trip from Lombok to Flores which was an experience in itself. If you are an avid fan of the underwater world, head over to Komodo National park to experience some of the best diving of your life. This was and still is one of the best dives that we have done. Every dive was an adrenaline-fuelled due to the currents and full of large creatures from sharks to Manta Rays.
Check out these Bali Related Articles:
Where to Stay in Bali:
Full of natural beauty and cultural highlights, Java is a place that you should consider adding to your itinerary while planning your trip to Indonesia. While we were there, we spent a couple of days in the cultural city of Yogyakarta, we woke up at 2 am and trekked in complete darkness to see the legendary blue flames of Kawah Ijen, and hiked the scenic Mt. Bromo.
We also traveled through smaller towns where we met some of the loveliest people! We even met a police officer in Banyuwagi who welcomed us into his home and took us sight-seeing! We ended up spending the next two days hanging out with him and his family who were absolutely lovely. Apart from Kawah Ijen and Mt. Bromo, definitely make your way to Batu Karas. A small seaside town with great surf and some of the friendliest locals you will ever meet. The waves are rolling, perfect for longboarders, and the overall atmosphere is unforgettable.
Where to Stay in Java
Admittedly, we weren’t able to fully explore Sumatra as we were running out of time. The Aceh Islands and nearby places would be a place I would love to visit. When we were there, we spent most of our time in Bukit Lawang and Lake Toba. In Bukit Lawang, we spent a few days trekking deep in the jungles where we saw Orangutans. It was surreal feeling trekking next to so much wildlife which is still an unforgettable experience.
The jungle trek there was one of the hardest 4 days spent traveling but it was worth it! We fell asleep to the sounds of the jungle lulling us to sleep as we camped in nearby waterfalls or rivers then carried on trekking alongside monkeys and other wild animals.
Lake Toba, on the other hand, was all about relaxation as we spent a couple of days riding bikes, exploring, and just relaxing next to the lake.
Getting Around Indonesia
Unlike the other countries in South East Asia, getting around Indonesia isn’t as easy. You can easily go around Bali riding local buses but Java and Sumatra are all difficult to travel around due to the countries demographic. The widespread islands make it difficult to reach unless you fly or take longboats. We had to fly from Java to Sumatra as an overland trip would have taken us ¾ grueling days. If you have time, these land transfers are available but if you’re looking at a short trip, flying between these places are your best option.
We always use Skyscanner.com to check and compare flights to help us find the best deals. Jakarta, Medan, and Bali all have large airports which are easily accessible. While in Indonesia…prepare yourself for the legendary chicken buses-a right of way for most backpackers traveling in this area. Motorbikes are pretty easy to rent in Bali but seem a bit more scarce in other areas.
Budget for Traveling Around Indonesia
Traveling around Indonesia can still be done very cheaply but isn’t as budget friendly as Thailand or Cambodia. With that being said, one can still travel comfortably for $30-35 a day, depending on your travel style. Because Indonesia is run by a Muslim Government, same-sex dorm rooms are not encouraged, making private rooms in small guesthouses more common that hostel dorms.
Like everywhere else, if you stay away from eating Western food, you can eat for very cheaply in small warungs (family run stores) all over Indonesia. We spent three glorious months in Indonesia and even with that, we only feel like we’ve scratched the surface. It is a country that is rich in culture, natural resources, and things to do! For more articles on how to plan your trip to Indonesia, check out our destinations page to see them all. Good luck and happy planning!
Check out our other tips and articles on traveling around Indonesia
- Best Bali Villas Under $100
- What to Eat in Indonesia: Dishes You Need to Try
- The Best Places to Stay in Indonesia | Hotels & Hostels
- Best Beaches in Indonesia You’d be Crazy to Miss