Indonesia Backpacking – Highlights you have to visit!

Backpacking in Komodo in Indonesien

An Indonesia backpacking trip is a great experience and the country has a lot to offer and explore with its countless islands. I have traveled to Indonesia twice – during my first trip, I traveled from Java to Bali with my backpack, during my second visit I brought some more time and settled down in Bali for two months. Here I have visited all the sights in Bali and made further trips to the Nusa Islands (Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan, and Nusa Penida) and to Flores for a tour around the Komodo National Park.

Accordingly, in recent years I have already gotten to know Indonesia well. Here I’ll tell you why Indonesia is great for backpacking and how the islands differ.

Check out this video about my experience in Bali and Komodo!

 

Indonesia Backpacking – Java

The island of Java in Indonesia has a lot to offer for tourists and backpackers – from the temples in Yogyakarta to the impressive volcanoes Mount Bromo and Ijen. That’s why you should include Java in your itinerary. Here’s my experience!

Many backpackers start their Indonesia trip in Jakarta, the capital of the country. Generally speaking, there are probably not many highlights in Jakarta, as the city is mainly known for clogged streets, petty crime and air pollution. I followed the advice of many other backpackers and skipped Jakarta directly. From Kuala Lumpur, I could fly directly to Yogyakarta – the cultural capital of Java – for little money, which was a good decision.

Mt. Bromo Volcano Indonesia
The active Mount Bromo volcanoe on my Indonesia backpacking trip

Even Yogyakarta in Java is rather chaotic with wild traffic and crowded streets, but worth a visit to the city during your Indonesia backpacking trip. The two most famous attractions in Yogyakarta are the Borobudur Temple and the Prambanan Temple. Especially Borobudur is very well visited at sunrise.

The two temples are just outside of Yogyakarta. You can either organize your own transport by taking a tuk-tuk. Or you book one of the countless tours to the two temples. As you walk along the main street of Yogyakarta, you will find several smaller travel agencies offering you the same trip. Here it is worth asking, comparing prices and then decide.

I decided to go on a tour because the prices were pretty low so I did not have to negotiate the price with each tuk tuk driver at each temple. During the tours, you will be picked up at your hotel or guest house at the agreed time and driven to Borobudur and Prambanan. At each temple, you will have enough time to visit the sights before the tour continues. This tour usually takes no more than half a day and you can already see two of the highlights of backpacking in Java, Indonesia.

Besides the two temples, it is quite interesting to walk through Yogyakarta. However, there are not many other attractions to see, so 1-2 days in Yogyakarta will be enough during your backpacking trip through  Indonesia.

Borobudur Temple in Java when backpacking Indonesia
Backpacking Indonesia – Visiting Borobudur Temple

In addition to Yogyakarta, Java has two major highlights for backpackers – the Mount Bromo volcano and the Ijen volcano, where sulfur degradation takes place.

The Mount Bromo volcano in Java is one of the great highlights of any Indonesia backpacking trip and you should not miss it. Especially spectacular is Mount Bromo during the sunrise. There is a viewpoint from where you can see the volcano crater and the surrounding area. Note that this viewpoint is accessed by each tour group and is therefore crowded. Here it pays to fight your way to the front rows to get a good view of Mount Bromo. During my backpacking trip in Indonesia the Mount Agung volcano in Bali just broke out and I could even see the volcano on Bali with a cloud of smoke in the distance, which is hundreds of kilometers away.

The hike to the viewpoint is not very long and exhausting, but keep in mind that you are at a high altitude and therefore it is pretty cool at night – do not forget warm clothes here.

Mount Bromo in Java Indonesia
On the crater rim of Mount Bromo

After the great sunrise, I went directly to the crater of Mount Bromo in Java. A short hike through sand and volcanic rock brings you straight up to the crater rim. If that’s too much of a hassle for you, you can hire a horse for little money to take you up.

Now you can walk along the crater rim around Mount Bromo and enjoy the great views. The volcano is quite active and there’s a lot of smoke from the crater. For me, the visit to Mount Bromos was a great experience that you should not miss when backpacking in Indonesia.

The Indonesia Backpacking highlight is the sunrise at Mount Bromo
My highlight when Backpacking in Indonesia – Sunrise at Mount Bromo

The Ijen volcano is another destination in Java, Indonesia that you should not miss. Although not as well known as Mount Bromo, this volcanic plateau is no less impressive – because here you can admire the sulfur degradation which produces the famous blue fire.

Indonesia Backpacking to Mount Ijen and the crater lake
The Ijen volcano crater – Backpacking in Indonesia

The sulfur degradation takes place since highly toxic gases escape from the volcano. If these gases ignite during decomposition, the blue fire arises. To see this, you have to walk into the crater at night, as the flames are only visible in the dark. Finally, the sulfur will be carried in chunks on the shoulders of the sulfur workers out of the crater for miles. Tourists can pose here for a small donation with the sulfur workers for photos and even try to keep the baskets of sulfur on their shoulders – here you will quickly notice how extremely heavy and exhausting the work is. The baskets weigh up to 100kg, with which the workers have to climb up the steep volcano!

Even though the Ijen volcano and the sulfur degradation are a tourist attraction, you should not forget what a hard life the workers have here. While tourists are only allowed to enter the volcanic area with protective masks, many sulfur workers don’t have the money for this. They are exposed daily to the toxic gases and the physically demanding work to feed their families. The life expectancy of the sulfur workers is very low and this is probably one of the hardest and worst jobs in the world. A visit to the Ijen volcano is a unique experience and well worth seeing – but you should still know the reality behind this natural wonder.

Depending on where you spend the night, you have to get up early at night to be in the volcano crater on time – I started at midnight! In a jeep, you will get to the starting point of the hike, from there you hike with some other tourists to the volcano crater, before the difficult and steep descent into the crater begins. Attention – it is pitch dark here. A headlamp is necessary, and you should definitely have warm clothes and good shoes. Also, gas masks are important, you get these from your tour guide. The hike is not terribly strenuous and feasible for the average tourist, but you have to be careful – it is certainly not a walk.

In the volcano crater, you can now admire the blue fire, watch the sulfur workers and see the highly toxic volcano lake up close. In the meantime, the sun is probably rising and you have the steep and exhausting climb out of the crater ahead. Once you’re up, there are some beautiful viewpoints on the volcanic lake and craters.

As you can see, a visit to Ijen Volcano is a true adventure of your Indonesia backpacking journey and a unique experience – do not miss this one.

Workers in Ijen volcano in Java
Sulfat workers in the Ijen volcano in Java Indonesia

You can travel Java alone and organize the respective Mount Bromo and Ijen tours on-site. Note, however, that the tourist infrastructure on Java is not comparable to other parts of Indonesia, such as Bali. Of course, if you take your time and are a bit flexible with your schedule, you can backpack Java by yourself.

However, if you want a little less planning or if you are short on time, a tour is a good option. You can find these tours relatively cheap right in Yogyakarta and generally all tours do the same – in 3 days you will be transferred from Yogyakarta by land to Bali, with a stop at Mount Bromo and Ijen volcano.

Since I wanted to get to Bali as fast as possible since I was running out of time, I decided to do this tour. This volcano tour through Java has some advantages, but also some disadvantages and in the end, you have to decide for yourself. Here is my experience.

The good thing first – the tours are (depending on your negotiating skills) very cheap and you see a lot in a short time. On your own, you would never see all volcanoes in three days and get to Bali, as you are generally slower moving around in Java, Indonesia. Also, you do not have to worry about anything else once the tour is booked.

Of course, these tours also have their downsides. First of all, these three days were probably the most exhausting days I had on my backpacking trip through Indonesia. Basically, you spend the days almost completely in the full van and the nights in the volcanoes. There is no time for good sleep here. The drive from Yogyakarta to Mount Bromo took the full first day (the traffic on Java, Indonesia is horrible). After a short night, in the early morning we went to Mount Bromo, and after the sunrise, we drove directly to the Ijen volcano area. Since it was high season and hotels were fully occupied, we had to stay at a place quite a bit away from the volcano. Already at midnight (!) we had to be ready with our luggage for the trip to the Ijen volcano and the hike in the crater. Directly after the sunrise, we went on towards Bali. At some point, you have to take a ferry to get to Bali. I was incredibly exhausted. However, I have seen everything that I wanted to see on Java in Indonesia.

Here is an important note: Ask absolutely in detail about what exactly is included if you book the tour. In the end, I had to argue and discuss if the ferry crossing to Bali and the transport to Kuta on Bali are also included – if you don’t agree in advance, you will have to pay extra here. Even though we paid attention to everything, we had to change the van at some point in Bali and pay extra again to get to Kuta. These little scams can often not be prevented when backpacking in Indonesia, but you should nevertheless protect yourself as well as possible. Best is to write down all the services and the price and get it signed by the tour operator.

Backpacking through Java in Indonesia is definitely worth it, but you have to be well prepared and experienced, otherwise, you will be quickly ripped off.

Backpacking Indonesia – Bali

Of course, the popular holiday island of Bali should not be missing on any Indonesia backpacking trip! Especially if you have already traveled to other islands in Indonesia, Bali will be extremely touristy and commercial.

Here I can only advise you to avoid the boring tourist centers around Kuta and Seminyak and rather to rent a scooter and explore the more untouched parts of Bali. A trip to the cultural center of the island – Ubud – is worthwhile because of the countless Hindu temples and the rice terraces in the surrounding area. For great waterfalls and pristine beaches, you should visit the north of Bali, for cool cliffs and surfing, head south to the Uluwatu peninsula.

I have spent over two months in Bali and got to know the island quite well. Be sure to check out my detailed guide to Backpacking Bali!

Finally, it should be said that some Indonesian backpackers from Bali are rather disappointed – but in my opinion, you should not completely avoid the island, because there are really nice places to discover.

Indonesia Backpacking in Bali
View of Mount Agung in Bali, Indonesia

Backpacking in Indonesia – the Nusa Islands

While these islands just off the coast of Bali were known by the fewest backpackers a few years ago, Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan, and Nusa Penida have become popular destinations in Indonesia. And for good reason! The archipelago has just what many backpackers in Bali miss: turquoise waters, great cliffs, white sand and untouched nature. Compared to Bali, the Nusa Islands (especially Nusa Penida) are a lot more pristine and less touristy and definitely worth a visit on your backpacking trip through Indonesia.

Indonesia backpacking - by boat from Sanur to Nusa islands
Boat transfer from Sanur to the Nusa islands

You can easily reach the islands by boat from Sanur – just east of Denpasar. Here are some cheaper slow boats as well as faster speedboats. The boats leave regularly, I arrived shortly before 10 am in Sanur and was able to transfer directly 5 minutes later by boat to the islands. Of course, you could only make a day trip to one of the islands, but it is worth spending some more time on the Nusa Islands on your Indonesia Backpacking Tour.

Nusa Lembongan while backpacking around Indonesia
Indonesia Backpacking – Nusa Lembongan

Here’s some more information about the three Nusa islands:

Nusa Lembongan

The Nusa Lembongan Island is probably the most touristic one of the three islands. There are some hotels, guest houses and villas for overnight stays, as well as enough cafés and restaurants. The island is quite manageable in size and like Bali, you should rent a scooter right after your arrival, as this is the only way to really explore the island.

Waves crashing at Nusa Lembongan in Indonesia
Backpacking Trip in Indonesia – Nusa Lembongan

Unfortunately, especially Nusa Lembongan (as of summer 2018) was chosen by Chinese tour groups for day trips. Accordingly, you will most likely encounter huge tour groups on the beaches and all other attractions of Lembongan, which is a pity on this otherwise beautiful island.

Especially worth seeing on Nusa Lembongan is the west coast. Here the little roads lead you to great view points on the cliffs of the island. At sunset, you should head to the famous “Devil’s Tear” where you can see the waves crashing against the cliffs.

Nusa Lembongan - Backpacking in Indonesia
The coast of Nusa Lembongan

Nusa Ceningan

Nusa Ceningan is the smallest island of the three Nusa Islands and is located right by Nusa Lembongan. The two islands are even connected by a yellow bridge, which you can cross on foot or by scooter. On Ceningan, you will find the coolest view points in the west of the island. Especially worth seeing is the area around the blue lagoon, where you can admire stunning cliffs again.

Blue lagoon on Nusa Ceningan while backpacking Indonesia
The blue lagoon of Nusa Ceningan

Nusa Penida

Nusa Penida is the largest, least developed and most interesting island of the Nusas. You should definitely visit this one during an Indonesia Backpacking trip. Although you can stay at Nusa Penida (which you should do if you want to see every part of the island), I have stayed at Nusa Lembongan and went for a day trip to Penida. There are fast boats to take you to Nusa Penida. Departure is right at the start of the yellow bridge that leads to Ceningan. The boats run regularly, do not let you sell an expensive ticket on the road, but walk to the table on the beach, where the official tickets are sold. Here you can also buy the return ticket directly, also make sure to know when the last boat leaves from Penida back to Lembongan.

Steep coast on Nusa Penida
The coastline of Nusa Penida

Once on Nusa Penida you will have to rent a scooter to explore the island – you can do that right on the beach.

Attention: The roads on Nusa Penida are extremely bad, little paved and many paths to the sights and viewpoints are pure gravel roads. If you’ve never scooted in your life before, you should not try it on Nusa Penida for the first time. Here you have to be extremely careful. Insist on borrowing a helmet when getting your scooter. I’ve been riding scooters since I was a teenager and I’m quite experienced in that, but even I had some problems and had to drive extremely slowly.

If you only have one day on Nusa Penida, you should limit yourself to the sights in the southwest of the island. These are the most well-known destinations on Nusa Penida and especially because of the bad road conditions you will not manage to see other areas of the island in one day.

The most famous destination on Nusa Penida is the famous Kelingking Beach – the T-Rex beach. Here are of course a lot of tourists, since all day trips go to this beach. From the cliffs above you have a great view of the cliffs. From here it is a very steep path down to Kelingking beach. If you do not have much time and want to see other parts, you might not want to go down to the beach as it takes a bit longer. I climbed down a bit for the beautiful view, but then I went back again.

Highlight of Indonesia Backpacking - Nusa Penida
The famous Kelingking beach on Nusa Penida

By the way: On your right (if you look towards the ocean) you can walk past the parking lot and a little along the coast. Here you have great views of the Kelingking beach and no tourist crowds like at the lookout point right on the path.

If you drive down the (bad) roads from Kelingking to the south you will find some more cool viewpoints. Here I used the offline maps of the App Maps.me and followed the marked paths to some marked viewpoints.

The other two attractions that you must not miss on Nusa Penida are Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach. These two spots are right next to each other. The road there is horrible and you should be extremely careful on the scooter. Worth seeing are Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach certainly.

Backpacking to the Broken Beach on Nusa Penida in Indonesia
Broken Beach on Nusa Penida – Backpacking Indonesia

If you have more time for Nusa Penida on your Indonesia Backpacking itinerary or if you stay overnight, it is also worth exploring the south and east of the island. But on a day trip, you do not have the time.

Backpacking in Komodo, Indonesia
Sunset in Komodo

Indonesia Backpacking – Flores and Komodo National Park

The island of Flores in eastern Indonesia is best known for the unique Komodo National Park. Besides some of the best diving and snorkeling sites in the world, Komodo is famous for the Komodo lizards – also known as the Komodo Dragons.

You have two options to reach Flores and Komodo. Either you fly from Bali directly to Labuan Bajo in Flores, this is the easiest way and flights cost about 120 euros round trip. Alternatively, you can book a boat tour from Lombok to Flores through the countless islands. These tours take about 4 days, you save the flight money one way and you can fly back to Bali after your arrival in Labuan Bajo at the end of the tour. I heard mixed experiences about the boat tour from Lombok to Flores. Friends of mine were thrilled and had a great experience, while other people had terrible experiences with overcrowded ships, low safety standards, and heavy waves. In the past, several boats have sunken here in the region, so you should inquire very carefully about the boat company and their safety standards. In any case, I was very happy to have decided on taking the flight.

On the boat through Komodo while backpacking Indonesia
A highlight on my backpacking trip in Indonesia – boat tour around the Komodo national park

Labuan Bajo is a small village right on the coast, which is the starting point for visiting the Komodo National Park. While the town is still relatively underdeveloped and poor, Labuan Bajo is currently undergoing major changes due to growing tourism in Flores. During my visit in the summer of 2018, the entire waterfront was a construction site and one can assume that the infrastructure for tourists will develop rapidly. In Labuan Bajo you can get various offers for trips to the Komodo National Park – there are day trips to see the dragons, diving trips, and multi-day boat trips through the national park. As always, it’s smart to google different tour providers and compare prices.

I already decided in advance for a 3-day boat tour with Flores XP Adventures and had a great time. I can only recommend the tour (called “Padar Tour”) and the tour operator, as Flores XP Adventures is probably one of the best tour companies on Flores. Although you can see the highlights in Komodo (the two islands with the lizards and Padar Island) in 1-2 days, I chose the 3-day tour to have enough time for several dives (of course, these were voluntary – those who do not dive could go snorkeling, which was also impressive). One night we spent in cabins on the boat, the second night in the “Pirates Camp” – in small cabins on an island in the Komodo National Park.

The Komodo dragons live on two islands in the National Park – on Komodo and on Rinca. Since there is less jungle on Rinca you can see the lizards here a bit better. However, the dragons in Rinca were all in the immediate proximity of the small village by the kitchen (attracted by the smell), while on Komodo we could see the dragons near the beach in the wild. In July / August, a visit is particularly impressive, since the mating season takes place here and the lizards are extremely active, but also aggressive.

Visiting the Komodo dragons on Flores
The Komodo dragons – a backpacking highlight

Another highlight of the Komodo Tour (and probably generally when Backpacking Indonesia) was a visit to the beautiful Padar Island. Here we climbed the mountain for sunrise and had fantastic views of the island.

Backpacking in the Komodo Nationalpark in Flores, Indonesia
Padar Island when Backpacking Komodo, Indonesia

Additionally, there were plenty of opportunities for diving and snorkeling during the Komodo Tour. At the coral reefs, you could admire all kinds of fish and countless turtles. The water and the view were incredibly clear. A big highlight for me was swimming at Manta Point, where you could see some giant manta rays up close – a unique experience.

My tour of the Komodo National Park Flores is one of the absolute highlights of backpacking in Indonesia and you should definitely plan a few days for it.

Backpacking around Komodo, Flores of Indonesia
Local village life in Komodo

More islands for Backpackers in Indonesia

Here I briefly report about other interesting travel destinations for Indonesia Backpacking, which I unfortunately have not visited yet. However, since I have spoken with many travelers, I try as best as possible to give a brief assessment.

View from Labuan Bajo during sunset
Sunset in Labuan Bajo, Flores

Lombok + Gili Islands

Lombok is right next to Bali and many backpackers in Indonesia love it. From Bali, you can reach Lombok by boat or through a cheap and short flight. Lombok is a lot less developed and untouched than Bali. Here you will find deserted beaches, dense rainforest, and impressive waterfalls. Above all, Lombok is known for climbing the Mount Rinjani volcano. The tour to Mount Rinjani on Lombok usually takes three days and is incredibly exhausting. Of course, the views are certainly unique. However, you should be a little bit trained and in good shape for the ascent.

Here’s a warning about Lombok: While many backpackers in Indonesia love Lombok, my friends also had very bad experiences. A fellow travel blogger found the locals on Lombok extremely intrusive and exhausting and could not really enjoy her time. Another friend had been watching the sunset at one of the viewpoints near Kuta, Lombok, and was returning at 7 pm to her accommodation by scooter when she was ambushed. Locals have threatened her with a machete, brutally pulled her from the scooter and completely robbed her. This is particularly shocking as I have always found backpacking in Indonesia to be very safe. Above all, such violent crimes in Asia are generally extremely rare.

Lombok is certainly worth seeing and has great nature to offer – but you should be a bit careful when backpacking, especially if you’re traveling alone.

The Gili Islands are also part of Lombok, these can also be reached by boat directly from Bali. The islands are known as a beach and especially as a party destination, though they are also good for snorkeling and diving. Here you can relax, for example, after the strenuous climb of Mount Rinjani.

Sumatra

The island of Sumatra on Indonesia is large, generally less accessed by tourists and therefore more of a destination for adventurers and nature lovers. Above all, Sumatra is known for its rainforests with orangutans in the wild and also volcanoes. However, it is probably not so easy to travel large parts of Sumatra alone and often a guide is necessary – here you should get more detailed information if you want to include Sumatra in your Indonesia Backpacking Tour.

Indonesia backpacking - chilling with the locals
Meeting the locals while backpacking Indonesia

Résumé to Backpacking in Indonesia

As you have seen, Indonesia has so much to offer for backpackers. With all these islands, the country is extremely diverse and a true paradise. It will not get boring for you and you can spend weeks or even months backpacking around Indonesia.

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