Indonesia Travel Tips

With anything from 13,466 to 18,306 islands, depending who you ask, sprawling over 5,000 kilometres across the equator, Indonesia isn’t the easiest place to navigate as a traveller. Here’s five key travel tips to help your holidays in Indonesia go well.

River boat against the setting sun on the Mahakam River, Borneo.

Don’t Try to Do Too Much

Indonesian Borneo is around the size of Turkey, Sumatra is almost as big as Spain, Sulawesi is closing in on Great Britain, Java is larger than Greece, and Indonesian Papua is on a similar scale to Sweden. So even before you get to the myriad smaller islands, there’s a whole lot of Indonesia to get around.

And, whether you’re island-hopping, braving west Java’s toxic traffic, or stuck behind a fallen tree on some slender jungle road, it’s amazing quite how long journeys can take – even if you fly.

Pick a region – or a well-trodden tourist route, such as Bali-Lombok-Flores or Bali-Java – and stick to it. Or try one of these Indonesia itineraries for size.

Mist swirls around the volcanos of Bromo, Java.

Pick the Right Time to Visit

Because of the archipelago’s sheer scale, there’s no best time to visit Indonesia: conditions will always be good somewhere, and less good somewhere else. Roughly speaking, the rainy season coincides with the European winter in Java, Bali and Lombok, and with the European summer in Maluku and Raja Ampat. Mainland Papua and Borneo are rainy all year round, while Sumatra and Sulawesi have multiple weather systems. The rainy season presents travel challenges from landslides to litter-strewn beaches and murky seas, not to mention high humidity, grey skies and, ya know, rain, but can also be a beautiful time of year with fewer tourists.

Besides the season, there are wind and sea conditions to consider: while of particular relevance to divers and surfers, big seas can also make some islands hard to reach. The tourist season peaks in July and August, which is the European summer and Australian winter, with a subsidiary peak in December-January, which is European winter and Australian long holiday, and, increasingly, a spike for China’s lunar new year holiday as well as the Easter break. In tourist meccas like Bali and the Gilis, expect price hikes and congestion.

For most visitors to Indonesia, April to June is a sweet spot, but check the climate for the area you’re visiting before you book.

A boat anchored off Maratua, in the Derawans, Borneo.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fly

I love overland travel and, for that matter, Pelni ferries as a means of getting around Indonesia. And if you’ve got the time, overland – be that train, bus, bemo or bike – plus boat remains the best way of getting to know the country.

But if you want to cover ground, you’ll need to fly. Airline travel in Indonesia is very affordable and, given the terrain and weather conditions at some airports, safer than you’d think: national carrier Garuda, its low-cost subsidiary Citilink, Indonesia AirAsia, Lion Air and Batik Air meet EU safety standards.

Booking can be harrowing process since many international card companies flag transactions made in Indonesia as fraud and airline websites don’t always work. Online travel agents like or are much more reliable than smaller airline websites.

Do Your Research

Even if you’re lucky enough to be doing longterm travel, Indonesia’s geography and visa regulations does not generally make flying blind rewarding. If you’re going off the beaten track you’ll need to learn some basic Indonesian, and I’d recommend picking up some books about Indonesia as well, including a decent guidebook: besides the print versions, Travelfish members can download niche guides to a range of different areas.

Children paddle a canoe in the Derawans, Borneo.

Get Travel Insurance

Accidents in countries with inadequate hospitals can come in really expensive, as I found out. And medical events from dengue to pericarditis can run to thousands of dollars in hospital fees. So don’t travel Indonesia without travel insurance.

Always read the Ts and Cs to ensure you’re covered for what you plan to do, be that diving, surfing or riding a motorbike – I don’t think there’s an insurer on the planet that will cover you unless you’re licensed, sober and wearing a helmet. For most people, World Nomads is the best travel insurance for Indonesia, but check their motorbike conditions carefully.

11 Responses

  1. Becky says:

    People always view travel insurance as not necessary…until they need it. Thanks for stressing that.

    • Theodora says:

      It can feel like an encumbrance, for sure, but it is invaluable. Zac’s arm that he broke in Mongolia cost over $100,000 between the helicopter and the air ambulance and the surgery.

  2. Cat Gaa says:

    I’m dying to get to Indonesia – a close friend of mine just moved there! Looking forward to mostly eating!

  3. This is really good information to start as far as research. Love these tips. I never thought about visiting Indonesia but sounds like a very diverse terrain which I love.

  4. For a first timer, Indonesia can seem very overwhelming. Thank you for breaking down the information into digestible travel bites.

  5. Great tips. I’m also a huge fan of Indonesia. As Theodora mentioned, there are over 17,700 islands (I’m going with that number LOL) in the archipelago and in my experience the culture, attractions and vibe can vary tremendously from island to island. Travellers would do themselves a favour by spreading their wings beyond Bali.

    • Theodora says:

      Definitely I agree one should get off Bali. I live here, but there’s so much more to be experienced beyond here – although there are less-discovered parts of Bali too 😉

  6. Lillie says:

    I’ve always wanted to travel in Indonesia but have been intimidated by the size and possible stress. These tips help, though, especially the flying one!

  7. Nice Info, Indonesia is very beautiful country, many tour you can find there, which one is Lombok, the beautiful island like heaven of the world 😀