Indonesia is one far flung country.
We just returned from two incredible weeks traveling around Indonesia and loved every minute of it!
From a mud-slinging off-roading adventure in Bandung to exploring the cultural heart of Yogyakarta, then scuba diving in Raja Ampat and learning to surf in Lombok… visiting Indonesia was non stop adventure!
If you’re thinking of a trip to Southeast Asia, I included our itinerary below.
It combines Indonesia hot spots like Bali and Yogyakarta along with some islands that are a little less well known – so you can truly explore some of the best places to visit in Indonesia!
Update 2019 – Indonesia was such a great memory that we went back the next year to explore even more! We’re working on some additional travel guides but in the meantime, you can check out #shershegoes_indonesia on Instagram for photos and highlights of the places we’ve been!
Keep reading, or pin this post to read later ⇟
Incredible Cities in Indonesia
Best Places to Visit in Indonesia
Before You Go:
- I read up on the main sights and regions using this Indonesia guidebook before heading east. If you already know you want to spend your time in the sun and sand on Lombok / Bali, pick up this region specific book instead.
- Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago with 17,000+ islands spread out across more than 3,000 miles so if you want to really explore, you’ll likely be flying from place to place. Domestically, we flew with Tiger Air and and Garuda and both far exceeded my expectations (in fact, they were better than the long-haul flights I took getting in and out of Indonesia!)
- Borobudur, the 8th century Buddhist temple is one of the world’s greatest religious monuments and best visited at sunrise, when the mist lifts from the mountains. The monument sells a special sunrise ticket – buy in advance and show up early, as it gets quite crowded.
- Bring sunscreen and extra strength mosquito repellent – lots of repellent. I counted over 50 bites on myself during the trip and arrived home looking like I had chicken pox! For face sunscreen, my favorite is this Biore one and for body I’m loving this Tropic one which smells amazing and is very moisturizing. I got eaten alive by mosquito while there so I’d also recommend cortizone if you’re as allergic to the bites as I am
- Curious about what to pack for a trip to Indonesia? My packing guide and outfits post is here.
The Best Indonesia Itinerary
Since everyone knows about Bali by now, I wanted to combine it in an itinerary with Indonesia’s other cities. The country has over 17,000 islands with diverse cultures and ancient UNESCO heritage sites and they’re all so different!
I’ve focused this itinerary around local culture, ancient ruins, good food and fabulous beaches. Keep reading for the off the beaten path to 2 weeks in Indonesia!
Day 1: Arrive Jakarta
Jakarta is the international hub and main landing point into the country (the other international airport is in Denpasar, near Lombok and Bali).
Indonesia’s capital city is filled with glittering skyscrapers and heavy traffic.
There’s not necessarily many tourist sights in Jakarta, but it’s still nice to spend a day or two in the capital to rest and explore after a long flight.
If you like shopping, Jakarta is paradise.
I spent an afternoon wandering the fancy malls of Grand Indonesia and Pacific Place where for enough dough, you can zoom away in a McLaren or glitter in diamonds.
For my indulgence, I chose an iced coffee drink made with espresso and condensed milk (smaller in price tag but no less luxurious ha).
Best Things to Do in Jakarta
- See the city’s highlights like Merdeka Square, the Presidential Palace and Istiqulal Mosque. This private full day tour is a convenient option as it includes transportation
- Learn about Jakarta’s colonial past and explore the Dutch style quarter of Old Batavia
Getting Around Jakarta
Jakarta traffic is legendary.
Unfortunately there’s no public subway system so grab a scooter, uber or taxi to get around and… budget double the time you think you need. That traffic is bumper to bumper!
On the plus side, taxis are very affordable!
I took a 40 minute ride into the city and paid 125,000 rupiah (just under $10 USD). My Indonesian friends recommended that tourists stick to reputable taxi companies like Blue Bird.
Or, if you’ve been to Asia before and are comfortable with motorbikes, try GoJek. GoJek is the local taxi/uber version for scooters.
Where to Stay in Jakarta
Days 2-3: Bandung
Bandung is the capital of West Java Province.
Because it’s relatively close to the city but feels completely different, the city is a very popular getaway for Jakarta locals. Whereas the capital is congested and modern, Bandung is green, airy and historic.
It’s location high in the mountains provides a beautiful open-air feel with lots of great cafes, outdoor activities and an insight into Javanese culture.
Bandung is widely considered Indonesia’s center for learning and creativity and I believe part of this is due to the prestigious local university.
After a couple days in Bandung, I could see why it was so popular with Jakartans!
Getting Around Bandung
Bandung is a spread out city and again, there really isn’t widely available public transportation.
I believe most local Indonesians drive, so it is very helpful to have a car to get around. If you’re traveling with a group, the most economical thing to do is to hire a driver for the day. That’s what we did!Book a Private Driver here
Best Things to Do in Bandung
- Tour a beautiful tea plantation
- Visit Hong Community to learn traditional games and explore Bandung’s cultural side
- Spend an afternoon off-roading in Lembang forest
- Explore Jayagiri forest in north Bandung
- Visit the colorful Lembang floating market
- Listen to beautiful bamboo instrument concert at Saung Mang Udjo (Udjo’s House)
- Take a day trip to see the beautiful volcanic crater lake of Kawah Putih
- Dip into the hot springs by volcanic crater, Tangkuban Perahu
- Go on a challenging jungle trek inside a volcano!
Where to Eat in Bandung
Two restaurants we tried were amazing:
- Dusun Bambu: This is a huge park with different greenery, sculptures and lakes. There’s lots of restaurants on site and it’s a great spot for traditional Indonesian food and fantastic views.
- Kampung Daun: Another beautiful, airy and huge restaurant. Walking through here was like exploring a rainforest with lots of greenery and bamboo hut style eating areas. Loved the food here as well!
Where to Stay in Bandung
Days 4-6: Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta is one of my favorite regions in Indonesia.
If you like natural wonders, local art and ancient culture, you can’t skip a visit!
The region is often abbreviated as “Jokja” or “Jokjakarta” (as in Indonesian, y’s are spoken like j’s) and has enough sights and attractions to keep you riveted for several days.
Jogja is home to many of Indonesia’s most famous temples. It’s also the spot to pick up local Indonesian fabric, called batik, or to try making it yourself!Read more: 10 Fun Things to Do in Yogyakarta
Best Things to Do in Yogyakarta
There’s a lot to do in Yogyakarta and its surrounding area. No matter what you like to do – cultural travel, adventure and hiking, try local cuisine – you can do it in Jogja.
- Get up at sunrise to climb Candi Borobudur, a 9th century Buddhist temple
- Explore the 3 expressions of God at Candi Prambanan, a Hindu temple and UNESCO World Heritage Site at sunset
- Visit more ancient UNESCO world heritage sites like the Sultan’s Palace and Taman Sari water castle
- Make your own batik fabric – it’s harder than it looks!
- Try crafting traditional Javanese wood puppets (if you want a harder challenge)
- Learn to cook authentic Javanese cuisine in a hands on Indonesian cooking class
- See the Ramayana Ballet performance of the classic Hindu story
- Explore Yogyakarta at night with a fun street food tour, by rickshaw!
Getting Around Yogyakarta
We also hired a driver to take us around Yogyakarta.
It’s the most convenient way to get around the city and take nearby day trips, since the sights are pretty spread out. The famous temples of Borobudur and Prambanan are outside the city in nearby Magelang, while some of the really adventure heavy sights are even farther out.Book a Private Driver here
Day Trips form Yogyakarta
There’s so much to do in the city of Yogyakarta but if you have even more time, there’s a lot of natural beauty just a short car ride away. The region is home to several towering volcanoes (that are still active!), extensive cave systems and serene blue lakes.
If you love the outdoors, you have to at least take one of these day trips!
- Day Trip to Mount Merapi in a 4×4, Indonesia’s most active volcano. This tour takes you at sunset for the most scenic visit!
- Day trip to Jomblang Cave, where you can descend 60 meters down into a tiny hole
- Day Trip to Kalibiru National Park, famous on Instagram for its scenery and views
- If you really like a challenge, trekking the summit of Mount Bromo and Ijen is a popular multi day hike
Where to Stay in Jogjakarta
Days 7-10: Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat is one of the most beautiful, untouched ocean paradises on earth.
It’s composed of four large main islands, called the Four Kings. Together the region of Raja Ampat covers 9.8 million acres of land and sea all the way in East Indonesia.
For years Raja Ampat was a bit of a “secret” paradise, known mostly to Indonesians and the scuba diving community.
While the islands here might seem “ordinary”, it’s the sights under the sea that are extraordinary.
Visiting Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat is one of the most bio diverse marine sights in the world, with over 540 types of corals, over 1,000 types of reef fish and over 700 types of mollusks.
While I’ve never been to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, all the divers on our trip who had scuba dived in both places said it was no contest – Raja Ampat blew it out of the water.
Chances are if you’re visiting here, you’ve come to scuba dive. All of our days on the islands were spent in the water, swimming, snorkeling, meeting the locals and relaxing in paradise.
Scuba Diving in Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat is on the cusp of two oceans, the Indian and Pacific and the current is pretty strong. The journey is SO worth it, but if you’re explicitly looking to visit for the diving, it helps to be extra comfortable.
I would recommend having an Advanced certification or being very comfortable with scuba diving. The waves can be a bit rough for beginners (at least they were for me).
We tried both snorkeling and scuba diving and saw incredible fish and reef life even on the snorkeling so that’s always a fantastic option either way!
Getting to Raja Ampat
So why isn’t Raja Ampat more well known? Probably many reasons but the main one is location.
Raja Ampat is located on the western side of the island of Papua – it’s incredibly far even if it might not look it on the map. It’s also very undeveloped, and it took us a combination of planes, buses and ferries to get there on a very long and tiring journey.
At one point I fell asleep in a hotel lobby couch because I was so exhausted! Oops.
But once we made it, we were surrounded by sand and sunshine. Time there felt unreal, like being in one of the last untouched places on earth.Read more: How to Get to Raja Ampat
Things to Do in Raja Ampat
- Scuba dive with giant manta rays, turtles and the most amazing coral reefs in the world
- Feed the fish at Sawinggrai
- Visit the community of Arborek Village for snorkeling and local food (tree sap anyone?)
- Hike Piaynemo for unbelievable views of the islands
Where to stay in Raja Ampat
Days 11-12 Lombok
Lombok is one of the more popular areas in Indonesia.
It’s known for its beaches and great surfing. We had the best time learning how to surf here and highly recommend it!
If you’re deciding between the beach regions:
- Lombok is more touristy and commercial
- Raja Ampat is untouched and more ‘Castaway’ esque
- Bali is more hippie and trendy
Best Things to Do in Lombok
- Brave the waves for a surfing lesson at Selong Blanak Beach
- Shop for local sarongs in the nearby marketplace
- Take a 3 hour cooking class to learn how to make spicy local Lombok cuisine
- Visit the famous Pink Beach of Lombok, where coral fragments turn traditionally white sand into a pastel pink
- Discover north Lombok, famous for its waterfalls, tribal villages and the Bayan old mosque
- Take a day trip to the southern part of Lombok where you can visit the Sasak tribe and relax at Kuta beach
- For a challenge, take a multi day and night trek to reach the crater rim of Mount Rinjani
Where to Stay in Lombok
Days 13-14: Gili Trangwan
Gili is the collective name for three small islands off the coast of Lombok.
We stayed on the largest of the 3, Gili Trawangan, which has the most infrastructure. Gili T is known for its vibrant nightlife and felt very similar to Cancun, with street after street of bars and restaurants.
If you’re looking for a girls getaway or party spot – this is it!
The island itself is pretty small and doesn’t allow any kind of motorized transport. So instead, you can hop on a horse drawn cart, rent a bike or just walk.
We had a lot of fun riding bikes around the island perimeter and trying out all the beach swings.
Getting to the Gili Islands
From Lombok, you’ll have to take a speed boat to reach any of the three Gili islands.
In high season, there’s often a long wait for the ferries so you can save time by booking a trip in advance. You can reserve either a trip on the fast or slow boats.Book a Fast Boat Transfer
Best Things to Do in Gili Trangwan
- Bike around the island, stopping for a pina colada or two
- Swing on the ocean hammocks and swings (although be aware these can get crowded)
- Relax by the pool and have a gelato or two (there are tons of stands on the island, all are delicious)
- Once the sun goes down… bar hop all night long!
- Learn how to scuba dive with a beginner PADI open water course
- Take a beginner dive trip to see underwater sea turtles
- Island hop between Gili Trangwan, Gili Air and Gili Meno
- Go on a snorkeling trip to the undisturbed, uninhabited islands of Gili Kondo, Gili Kapal and Gili Lampu
- Don’t know how to swim? Walk underwater with a Seawalker tour so you can see the fish
Where to Stay in Gili Trangwan
The best tours in Indonesia:
- Mount Batur Sunrise Trek: a once in a lifetime experience to enjoy sunrise at the summit of Mount Batur. Balinese guides will show you the way under dark and take you to the edge of the active volcano. Check availability here.
- Beach and Bar Hop: I wish I had known about this tour when I was traveling in Indonesia! Beach and bar hop across bali in these adorable 1980 VW buses (yes, they’re wifi and minibar equipped). Watch the sunset at Jimbaran bay, sip cocktails at Bali’s best seaside resorts and do Bali in style. Check availability here.
- Bali Reef Cruise and Lembongan Island Day Trip: Nusa Lembongan is an idyllic protected island and one of the best places to go snorkeling, diving, etc from Bali. This tour takes care of all transportation and meals! Check availability here.
- Bali Traditional Village Tour: A full day tour to Ubud’s traditional villages and most famous temples with a stunning lunch over Bali’s volcano. Check availability here.
- Seminyak Cooking Class: Do you love food? Then you can’t miss a cooking class to learn Balinese classics like coconut pancakes, fried banana and papaya soup. Check availability here.
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Quick Guide: The Ultimate Indonesia Travel Guide
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At a Glance: 50 Incredible Things You Can Only Do in Indonesia
An Off the Beaten Path Itinerary: 2 Weeks in Indonesia
Yogyakarta : 10 Highlights from Java's Cultural Center
UNESCO World Heritage: Exploring Borobudur & Prambanan Temple
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