There’s so much more to Indonesia than just the beaches of Bali and The Monkey Forest, if you want to see the best that Indonesia has to offer, take a look at my guide, which will take you overland to some of the famous spots but also some more off-the-beaten-path destinations to ensure you get a chance to see the real Indonesia in all its glory…
A Traveller’s Guide To The Best Of Indonesia
Start your Indonesian journey in Jakarta
Jakarta is a cheap place to fly into and makes a great launching pad for your Indonesian adventure. Be under no pretences that Jakarta is not a particularly beautiful nor exciting place, it’s a loud, busy and smelly concrete jungle for the most part – but a few rough gems can be found. Such as ‘Kota Tua’ (the old square), with its Dutch colonial era buildings and restaurant; there’s also a Gothic church (which is unusual for Indonesia), the Istiqlal Mosque which sits opposite (and houses the second largest drum in the world apparently) and the independence monument, with a 360 panoramic view of the city from the roof.
Accommodation options: I found Six Degrees a pleasant hostel to stay in whilst in Jakarta. Well located with friendly staff, excursions, kitchen facilities and comfortable beds with privacy curtains.
From Jakarta you can you can easily get a cheap economy ticket for the train to Yogyakarta. The journey is about 9hrs, and I would suggest, if possible, to take some food with you, especially if you have dietary requirements as the food on board is limited and not very tasty. If the weather is good, you can catch glimpses of the countryside, local towns and everyday lives of locals as you pass through.
Yogyakarta is quite lovely and there’s plenty to do, from the palace and traditional puppet shows, to various art galleries and museums. There’s colourful local markets to explore and lots of great places to eat (if you fancy a nice meal head to House of Sate for some of the best satay, including vegetarian/vegan tempeh options). It’s easy to book a tour to the famous temples of Borobudur and Prambanan and the drive is not too long.
We also did a cooking and cycling tour, which took us through local rice paddies, to a small tempeh factory, to where locals made mud bricks in the sun and then to the house of a local woman who taught us how to make some traditional recipes such as coconut stew and Gado Gado.
Accommodation option: I loved the Good Karma hostel in Yogyakarta, it had a wonderful vibes, lovely staff, probably the most amazing (included) hostel breakfasts I’ve ever had, and they offered some really great tours such as the cooking and cycling tour that we did.
Head to the mountains: Volcano treks in East Java
From Yogyakarta, you can either get the train to Surabaya or book a tour that will pick you up to head to Mount Bromo and/or the Ijen Crater. The journey is a pretty long drive, so make sure you wear comfy clothes and have things to hand to keep you entertained. We booked a tour that drove us there, and included a stay overnight near Mount Bromo, a walk up to the crater, and then another drive to the Ijen Crater.
We stayed the night there and got up early to hike up to the Sulphur Mine of the Ijen Crater and then the tour drove us to the ferry port so that we could get the boat to Bali. The total cost for all of that was probably around £100 (for the tour, not including the ferry ticket), and sure, if you really want to save money you can do it all yourself, but with a lot more hassle.
Take a break after your hike in Bali
From the ferry port you can head to Bali. Depending on what you want to see, there is the cultural hub of Ubud with the nearby Sacred Monkey Forest, temples of Goa Gajah and the Tegalalang Rice Terraces, or for surfing you can head to Uluwatu or Canggu. There are plenty of surf and yoga retreats that you can book into, and loads of hostels to choose from.
Accommodation option: I stayed at the Canggu Surf Hostel in Canggu which was a nice enough hostel (not the best but not the worst) but some of the staff rubbed me up the wrong way. In Ubud I stayed in Wayan’s Family Hostel which was quite lovely, close to the Monkey Forest, and had a nice small pool and breakfast included.
Head to the Gili islands for parties and snorkelling
From Bali you can easily get a 2hr boat to the Gili islands. There’s three main islands, Gili Trawangan is most popular with backpackers and is a huge party spot, then Gili Air and Gili Meno are much more quiet and secluded. The Gili islands have a no motor vehicle policy, so you won’t see any scooters zipping around here, but plenty of bicycles and horse-drawn carts!
The Gili islands are amazing for snorkelling, so if you want to swim with turtles, then this is a great place to do it! Party the nights away on the main strip of Gili T, cycle around the whole island trying out different snorkel spots, or splash out on a glass bottom kayak!
Accommodation options: We were a bit stuck for choice in Gili T as most places were fully booked, we stayed a few nights at Wonderland Guest House and a few nights at Flipside Bungalows.
Other awesome options for the Best of Indonesia
From The Gili islands you can head down to Komodo to see the Komodo Dragons, or get a short boat ride over to Lombok. If you decide to go to Lombok as we did, you can explore waterfalls, relax on Senggigi beach, and visit temples carved into the rockface.
Accommodation Option: We stayed at Ressa Homestay in Lombok which was basic, but the staff were very friendly and helpful.
From Lombok, I flew to Sulawesi. If you’re looking for a totally unique cultural experience, where you can see something totally authentic and different to the hoards of bikini clad tourists that throng the beaches of the Indonesian islands, then Sulawesi might just be the place for you!
Head up into the highlands of Tana Toraja to see a dying culture who still have strong animist beliefs, hold sacrificial rituals and bury their dead in caves and cliffs. If that doesn’t seem your jam, Sulawesi is also amazing for diving. If none of that takes you fancy, then head to neighbouring Borneo instead to see some of the most incredible wildlife in the world and visit an Orangutan sanctuary.
You can fly onwards from either Borneo or Sulawesi to the Philippines, back to Jakarta, or to Kuala Lumpur. This whole trip, depending on how long you stay in each place, will take more or less just under a month in total. Take some time to see the real Indonesia and you won’t be disappointed!
Rhiannon is a freelance writer, who funds her intrepid travels with her words. She loves adventures and exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations. She’s curious about the more weird and wonderful aspects of life, and would rather be trekking to remote tribe villages than be out hitting the clubs. You can follow her latest escapades on her blog The Gypsy Heart Travels. [LINK https://thegypsyhearttravels.com]