Indonesia is famed for its paradise islands, historic temples and live volcanoes. We spent a month island hopping around a fraction of it's 8000 named islands and had a blast doing so. To explore the entirety of Indonesia would require a lifetime and then some! Here we have summed up an itinerary of highlights which is manageable on the standard 30 day visa.
Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia is situated on the northwest coast of Java. It's a popular starting place for a backpackers trip to Indonesia as it serves budget flights to and from most Southeast Asian countries and then allows a smooth route travelling east towards Bali. We travelled to Java from Bali so we didn't make it as far west as Jakarta but from what we've heard, it's a very over populated city that could be missed if short of time; we don't feel as though we've missed out on visiting this city but no doubt we'll find ourselves here in the future. Our highlights from Java were Ijen, Bromo and Jogjakarta, our favourite of which was Jogjakarta, even just to chill out in the laid back city that it is. Bromo is a live volcano situated in a stunning national park and Ijen is famous for the blue flames of the sulphur pits. You can read all about exploits in Java in further detail here.
Sanur is all about finding your own little piece of heaven, whether in a boutique hotel or, as we chose, a private villa complete with outdoor shower and infinity pool; Rumah Samba, was our salvation from the heavily tourist populated Sanur. When we ventured outside of our private paradise it was mainly to source out the stunning western food that Sanur offers, great when you've been on the road for coming up to a year. 'Soul In A Bowl' is exactly what we were looking for, they offer a menu packed full of exciting breakfast and health food, not to mention the affagato (ice cream coffee). We also enjoyed the Italian food on offer at Massimo and there are some other good food spots to be found, but in general we found Sanur to be full of holiday makers and boardwalks littered with over priced bars and restaurants. Kuta is a party spot full of drunk Aussies and has a bad reputation. Seminyak is an upmarket area, complete with trendy bars, fancy restaurants and designer brands galore, it acts as a bit of a middle ground between Sanur and Kuta. Ubud, similar to Sanur in that you want to find a beautiful private place to hide away from the busy streets, but you won't struggle as there are hundreds of infinity pool boasting villas. However it differs from Sanur in that it is home to some wonderful walks through rice paddies and temples begging to be explored. We stayed at Prama House which was simply stunning and we can't recommend it enough, from the spotlessly clean rooms and refreshing swimming pool, to the delicious breakfast and attentive staff. Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan are Balinese islands off south coast, accessible via a short boat ride from Bali or around 2 hours from Lombok. Check out our full blog about what to do in Nusa Lembongan here.
Mainly visited for the Gill Islands; Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno. These tropical paradise islands lie between Bali and Lombok and are easily accessible by boat from either. Revellers tend to flock to Gili T, while Gili Air and Gili Meno are reserved for chilling out, snorkelling and honeymooning. One of the most popular activities on the Gili's is to grab a snorkel and go in hunt of sea turtles, check out our blog on finding sea turtles here which also includes a comprehensive review of each island. On the mainland, Senggigi seems like it was once a popular tourist spot but we found it to be quite run down with mainly local tourists frequenting the beach. Kuta, a world away from Kuta in Bali, is located in the south of Lombok with many beautiful beaches along the coast which we would recommend hiring a scooted to visit them all however remember to stay safe as it has a bad reputation for crime against tourists and especially those driving around scooters late at night. There is a lack of infrastructure on the island of Lombok with our main gripe being the lack of public transport or more so any information for this and even taxis. This meant hiring a number of private cars to get us around which proved costly and meant we were unable to explore Lombok as much as we would have liked. The journey we did take to Mount Rinjani provided us with a cool haven away from the run down, tourist filled coastline. The most common reason to head to Rinjani is for the two day trek to the crater of the live volcano. However, there are some fantastic one day treks to do around Rinjani, one which includes two waterfalls and clambering through a pitch black tunnel was our favourite. The trek ends at Rinjani Lodge Hotel which boasts an infinity pool overlooking the whole jungle surrounding Rinjani, did we mention anyone can use it as long as you purchase some food or drink?
The 4 day boat cruise offers a cheap and scenic method of getting to Flores, we did our research and the islands look beautiful and the trip has good reviews however we didn't fancy 3 nights at sea. The reviews of bad seasickness, rough seas and even sinking put us off. Alternatively, you can take a flight from Bali in approximately 1 hour but this needs to be booked in advance in order to pick up a good deal as the prices get quite expensive. Unfortunately for us, as we were in Lombok there is no direct flight from here which would have meant a flight or boat back to Bali first which our time scale and budget didn't allow for. We really wanted to visit the Komodo National Park so we guess it's always a reason to return; if you've been then please let us know your experiences below!
Gado Gado; vegetables and potatoes served in a peanut sauce, Sambal; a fiery chilli chutney usually served with tempeh, fried tofu and vegetable, Nasi Goreng; fried rice with an egg on top, and Bakso; a noodle broth with balls of beef, are the staples of Indonesian cuisine. It's great for both carnivores and vegetarians alike as most dishes can be served with either meat or tempeh. A fun way to sample many of the different delicacies in one sitting is by going to a local warung in which they prepare all the food and display it for you to pick and choose and pay per item and, in our experience, usually really cheap! Vegetable coconut curries were another favourite of ours, mainly found in Bali and the Gili's.
Public transport on Java makes it the most accessible of the islands mentioned in this itinerary. Although, be prepared for long, sweaty, cramped train and bus journeys with no AC. A lot of the transport runs overnight although don't expect a sleeper bus as you will mainly find you have a standard seat. That's not to complain as the island is very well connected with trains and buses which make it easy to navigate. The same cannot be said about Bali and Lombok in which a great deal of the time you find yourself having to shell out for taxis. The one suggestion we would make when getting taxis is to use Uber, regardless of the signs stating that it is banned, otherwise you will find yourself being heavily extorted by the taxi mafia. There is no need for transport on the Gili Islands or Nusa Lembongan other than boats between them, and possibly renting a scooter on Nusa Lembongan. The boats between the Gili Islands and Lombok are cheap and quick for a fixed rate from the docks on each island however, the boat from Lombok to Lembongan and Bali to the Gili's can be much more expensive so best to shop around.
In Java and Lombok expect to stay in cheap guest houses and homestays, apart from Yogyakarta in which you will find some great hostels, we recommend Laura's Backpackers. It's pretty basic as far as hostels these days go but they have a really friendly atmosphere as well as delicious free vegetarian food three times a day. In Bali we highly recommend treating yourself to a private villa for a few days, most come with tropical gardens, exposed showers and infinity pools, we stayed at Prama House in Ubud and can't recommend it highly enough. In the Gili Islands and Nusa Lembongan it's all about beach huts and bungalows, they are all pretty similar obviously varying in quality the more money you are willing to spend, however they all give you the same feel of paradise island life.