I spent a month island-hopping through incredible Indonesia, the world's largest island country. With thousands of volcanic islands each home to a wide variety of cultures, languages, beaches, volcanoes, wildlife and nature, it's impossible to visit every one! I had to narrow down my route with the free 30-day visa issued to Canadian travellers. Check the Indonesian embassy for your country's visa options.
By far the most popular international airport to arrive at in Indonesia to commence island-hopping is Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar on the famous island of Bali. Our route for the month was:
- Bali - 8 nights
- Nusa Penida - 2 nights
- Gili Islands - 2 nights
- Lombok - 3 nights
- Sumbawa - 1 night (overland travel only)
- Flores - 7 nights
- Sumbawa & Lombok - 1 night (overland travel only)
- Bali - 5 nights
The currency is the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). At the time of writing, $1 CAD was equivalent to approximately 10,670.50 IDR. I only spent cash while traveling in Indonesia, but had a credit card for backup and occasional online hostel bookings. I recommend carrying your day's budget in an easy-to-access place, with the rest safely tucked under your clothes in a secure money belt. You can take cash out at ATMs around the country - only use local, reputable banks where the ATMs are attached to a bank (not stand-alone nor those in convenience stores). I recommend Mandiri Bank. Budget approximately $20-40 per day to cover your accommodation, food, transport and activities.
Indonesia is hot. Always wear a hat to protect your head from the sun rays and avoid spending too much time with uncovered skin in direct sunlight. Always remember to reapply after you've been in the water. I highly recommend bringing plenty of thin, loose clothing to stay cool and to keep your shoulders covered.
When you're island-hopping, the best way to get around will be by local ferries. As you read this post, you'll read how to get from island to island. Once you arrive on each island, you have a couple options for transport. I recommend local buses, shuttles, hiring a private driver or, if you're up for the risk and challenge, a scooter is the cheapest way to go.
SIM CARD & WIFI
You can get yourself a SIM card for while you're traveling in Indonesia for data and calls. Airport vendors tend to be more expensive than those sold in convenience stores - just head into Kuta to pick one up on your first stay. The main network is Telkomsel and you can top up pay-as-you-go pulsa credit. Ensure you purchase Flash data (not local data) so that you can use it as you move around the country. We did not choose to get SIM cards as all the hostels we stayed in had super fast wifi plus we use Maps.Me, an offline maps app meaning we don't need data to get around.
Accommodation in Indonesia can range from a few dollars per night to in the hundreds, depending on how fancy you're going (and if you're just looking for a dorm bed or an entire villa to make all your Instagram dreams come true). I recommend using Booking.com as they typically don't add an additional fee and often let you pay at the hostel instead of online.
FOOD & WATER
You won't want to consume any water in Indonesia that hasn't come from a sealed bottle unless you want to end up with a case of Bali Belly! Avoid any drinks made with ice. Ensure any water you drink comes from a bottle that you opened! In terms of eating in Indonesia, there are no typical grocery stores such as you may find in New Zealand and the prices are so cheap in local restaurants that your best option is to eat out or at your hostel! Many main dishes go for just 20,000 - 50,000 IDR ($1.90 - $4.70 CAD).
Bali, 8 nights
Arrive: fly into Denpasar airport
Get around: I recommend the Grab or Go Jek apps, which operate a bit like Uber and will connect you with a driver to pick you up and drop you off at your destination. If you're up to the challenge, scooters are by far the cheapest way to get around - but be ready for unreliable road conditions, different driving habits and you must have a license (you can be fined for driving without one). Your accommodation can also help you book shuttle buses which are cheaper than private cars.
- STAY: Pudak Sari Unizou Hostel, dorms from 175,000 IDR
- DO: we only stayed here due to the proximity to the airport and our late arrival time. I would skip this altogether if you arrive earlier in the day and can travel further away from Denpasar.
- STAY: WW Backpackers, dorms from 100,000 IDR or Uma Kutuh Bungalow, dorms from 42,000 IDR
- DO: wander the streets and markets; eat delicious foods at the Warungs in town (Sun Sun Warung is the best!); explore Ubud Palace; wander around Saraswati Temple; walk the Campuhan Ridge; explore the waterfalls of the region; visit Tegallalang Rice Terraces; go visit Tirta Empul Temple and Goa Gajah Temple; hike Mount Batur at sunrise
- READ MORE: my complete guide to Ubud can be found here
Nusa Penida, 2 nights
Arrive: take the ferry from Bali to Nusa Penida; most hostels can arrange this transport (bus + boat) for you departing from Sanur in southern Bali and arriving at Toyapakeh in Nusa Penida.
Get around: I recommend hiring a driver for the west side of Nusa Penida as the roads are not as good quality as Bali. A scooter is doable on the east side as the roads are paved and in much better condition! Always be ready for unreliable road conditions, different driving habits and you must have a license (you can be fined for driving without one).
Stay: The Packer Box, dorms from 190,000 IDR per person but you may be able to find cheaper non-refundable rates on Hostel World.
Gili Islands, 2 nights
Arrive: take the ferry from Nusa Penida direct to the Gili Islands via a mid-ocean harbour near Lembongan. Eka Jaya fast boats operate daily at 9am and 1pm from Toyapakeh; you can book this through your accommodations.
Get around: the Gili Islands are so small that you can walk anywhere, although bicycles are also very common methods of getting around quickly! Avoid using any of the horse-drawn taxis; the animals are not well-treated.
Stay: Fantastic Bamboo Hut, dorms from 125,000 IDR per person
- watch the sunset over the Gili Islands
- wander the tiny streets filled with beautiful colours and street signs
- go snorkeling (we did a day tour that visited all three Gili Islands!)
Lombok, 3 days
Arrive: take the public ferry from Gili Air departing starting from around 8:30am once there are 40 confirmed passengers; tickets are just 12,000 IDR
Get around: the hagglers at Lombok Ferry Terminal were the most aggressive we met anywhere in Indonesia so we recommend taking a Bluebird Taxi to your first destination. After that, we haggled with local buses and open-back trucks to get us around. You can also book transport such as taxis and private cars through your accommodations but buses are much more fun and cheaper!
- STAY: Radiya Guesthouse, homestay rooms from 200,000 IDR
- DO: The main reason to come to this area for us was to visit Bukit Selong, a viewpoint overlooking the local vegetable fields, and to hike Pergasingan Hill with panoramic views over Sembalun and the surrounding mountains. We enjoyed exploring the local villages, saying hello a thousand times and waving at all the locals.
- READ MORE: my detailed guide to visiting Sembalun and Lombok can be found here
- STAY: J.A Hostel, dorms from 70,000 IDR
- DO: Kuta Lombok is known for its ocean access; the beaches here are beautiful and nowhere near as busy or touristy as others we have visited. Tanjung Aan is a short yet bumpy scooter ride out of town and is the perfect place to hang out - think white sand, blue water and gorgeous surrounding landscapes. Nearby, you can do a small walk up Merese Hill, best at sunset, to view the waves lapping up the rocks.
- READ MORE: my detailed guide to visiting Sembalun and Lombok can be found here
Flores, 7 nights
Arrive: We did the slow and cheap local method to travel from Lombok to Flores taking 2 ferries and 2 buses across 25 hours. Read about that epic journey here!
Get around: The cheapest way of crossing Flores is by public bus, easily booked with your accommodations. You can always try and haggle for a lower price, too!
- Labuan Bajo & Komodo National Park
- STAY: Centro Ruteng Hostel, dorms from 100,000 IDR
- DO: We spent the evening wandering the town of Ruteng which had a warm and welcoming atmosphere - children chased us shouting hello, locals asked for selfies, people working in a church gave us a free tour and took photos for us and a class of martial arts students showed us their skills (both in the martial arts and in their grasp of the English language!) outside the local cathedral. The biggest highlight of the day may have been the delightful bakery we stumbled across where sweet treats were available for just 1,000 IDR ($0.09 CAD).
- READ MORE: stories from the roads of Flores can be found here
- Moni & Mount Kelimutu
Finishing our Trip
After Flores, we headed back via the 25 hour trek to Lombok and took a public ferry from Lombok to Bali for 46,000 IDR. We spent another 2 nights in Ubud and then 3 nights in Lovina to finish off our trip; I have added both of these to the first Bali entry at the top of the page for clarity.
I hope this post helps you plan your epic Indonesia adventure and don't hesitate if you've got more questions!