a budget travellers guide to indonesia


a budget travellers guide to indonesia

Getting off the plane in Jakarta, the heat and humidity can feel a little much. Walking to get a taxi or a bus can be slightly intimidating at first, but once you get the feel of Indonesia's shining atmosphere, anything is possible in the "Emerald of the Equator".

Indonesia is the world's largest island country and it is made up of more than 17,000 islands. Boating around the Indian and Pacific Oceans to island hop from shore to shore may not be possible. But visiting the biggest and best backpacker locations in the country is within your reach.

Many backpackers, and travellers in general, only visit one or two places in Indonesia: Jakarta and Bali. The former is the country's capital and home to a throng of people living in one place. The latter is very touristy and can be the opposite of what a backpacker looks for in a good trip. Although there are plenty of non-touristy parts still available and a wealth of fun to be had in the sun.


In the past, Indonesia's culture was heavily influenced by foreign traders and sailors. The country's location on the trading routes between Europe and East Asia made it a prime stopping point.

Like in the past, Indonesia is a country travellers continue to stop off at regularly. And today's travellers continue to influence the country's culture. Throughout Indonesia you will see a fusion of influences from film to religion. However, if you want to see groups untouched – less influenced by foreigners – head to the more remote areas of the country to see indigenous groups still leaving by their ancient ways.

Places to visit

Jakarta is the jumping off point for most travellers to the country. But the traffic, mass of people, noise and smog send backpackers away quickly. As you plan your days and sites to see, it is best not to traverse the city during rush hour. Although you may be on a budget, Jakarta has some great bars that sit in high-rise buildings, and they provide wonderful views. Those bars go hand in hand with Jakarta's nightlife, which like the city, never sleeps. Many backpackers don't stay in Jakarta for long as they prefer to go to Bali. In addition, many travellers feel Java offers little outside of the capital.


Once you leave the capital city behind, you will find the peace and quiet of Sumatra to be a world away from its island neighbour. Sumatra is perfect for backpackers looking to get in touch with Indonesia's natural side. The island has a wealth of farmland, national parks and rainforests. Sumatra's size may turn backpackers off on trekking from historical site to historical site over land. Regardless, if you want a quieter, more nature centred trip to Indonesia, Sumatra is one of your best options.


Backpackers that want to get away from other tourists and walk on the unbeaten path should steer clear of Bali. But if you want a good time and don't mind tourists, then Bali is for you. Backpackers the world over love Bali because it provides beach, sun and fun. Cheap drinks, food and accommodation can be found, but so can five-star resorts. Away from the coastline is where many backpackers find cheaper deals and get a true taste of the island.


The first bite of Indonesian food will release an assortment of intense flavours into your mouth. Each island has different styles of food and those foods are influenced by different countries. You will find islands heavily influenced by Indian cooking (Sumatra), Chinese cuisine (Java) or Polynesian foods (eastern islands).

Satay is one of the most popular foods found in Indonesia. The skewered BBQ meat is served in a peanut sauce and is found in many locales in the country. On all Indonesian tables you will find sambal. The chili-based sauce is the main condiment and is put on everything.

For those days you miss home or need to shake off another hangover or jetlag, soto is the food to do it with. The meaty soup is "THE" comfort food in Indonesia.

Whether it is street food or served in a small restaurant, you can find plenty of great Indonesian eats for cheap.

What to see?

If you aren't skipping past Jakarta, the city has plenty to see and do. Start off with the largest Buddhist temple in the world when you visit Borobudur. There are also plenty of great museums to learn about the history of the country. Outside the city and into the countryside you will find plenty of great trekking routes and there are mountains to visit. Mount Bromo is an active volcano that you can hike while visiting the rural parts of the island.

Flores is an island that sees fewer tourists than the other islands of Indonesia. That will most likely change in the coming years. For now, it is a great island to visit as backpackers can still get around cheaply. The Komodo National Park is a great place to visit on Flores. It offers visitors the chance to scuba dive beautiful coral reefs. The park also has massive Komodo dragons roaming around as that's where it gets its name!

Bali is the crown jewel of the country and has some of the best sites to see. There are a number of great temples across the island and beaches as far as the eye can see. Goa Gajah is another backpacker favourite as the cave has numerous ancient carvings.


Bali has the best – or worst in some cases – reputation for nightlife in Indonesia. While there are touristy nightclubs with loud music and expensive cocktails, there are also low-key nightspots with cheap, affordable drinks. The nightlife on Bali can get wild, so be prepared.

In Jakarta, you will find loud dance clubs that stay open until the early hours and DJs spin all night in these dance clubs. Some have dress codes, so turning up after a day sightseeing and surfing isn't wise. Apparently, the bouncers at clubs in Jakarta are serious about bouncing; so don't do anything stupid. Dragonfly, Empirica and Colosseum are city favourites and always rocking.  

Borneo offers visitors a wealth of great wildlife to see from the Indonesian side. The country possesses nearly three-quarters of Borneo, so there is plenty to see as you trek overland. A guide versed in where to go and what to see is a good idea when visiting the region.

Of course, the islands of Indonesia do have secluded drinking establishments that you can belly up in after a day at the bench. Just keep your eye open for a great, affordable beer or cocktail when you are out and about.

Volunteering Indonesia has a wealth of great volunteering opportunities to backpackers. From teaching English to helping clean up the environment, backpackers have been helping others in Indonesia for some time.

While you can find places to volunteer once on the ground in the country, it is best to email an organisation before arriving. Be careful as there are groups that want to charge you to be placed in a volunteering position. With so many places to volunteer, you shouldn't have a problem finding a great place to donate your time.