Indonesia island hopping – 2 week itinerary

With thousands of islands extending more than 5000 km from east to west, it is difficult, if not impossible, to do justice to Indonesia in just two weeks. The three parts of the country covered in this itinerary (Eastern Java, Komodo, and Kalimantan) are relatively close together, but very different in terms of climate, landscape, and activities. Together they offer a great sample of what Indonesia has to offer.

Highlights

  • diving & dragons in Komodo
  • culture old and new in Yogyakarta and Borobudur
  • hiking Ijen and Bromo volcanoes
  • romantic jungle boat tour spotting orang utans

Day 1-5: diving & dragons in Komodo National Park

We started off our holiday with a 5 day live aboard diving trip around Komodo National Park, a great way to acclimatize and get over your jetlag while discovering Indonesia’s rich underwater world.

The national park consists of the islands of Komodo, Rinca, Padar and other smaller islets, and its main claim to fame are their impressive occupants: Komodo dragons, the world’s largest lizard. The abundant underwater life is no less impressive. There is plenty of good dive sites so it’s not crowded and the marine life is just overwhelming. A great spot to see manta rays up close!

Fly to Labuan Bajo, Flores, from where it’s a short drive to the harbor. We booked our liveaboard through Pirates Bay Cruising. I can highly recommend our boat, the Antares, which was very comfortable without being too luxurious: we did want to feel like adventurous divers after all! The crew and dive masters were just amazing. For a day to day description of our diving adventures (and some great underwater pics!) see my Komodo diving and dragons itinerary.

2 nights will probably be enough for non-divers to see the islands and do some snorkeling, but I highly recommend diving here, one of my favorite spots so far!

Day 6: to East Java

Leisurely make your way back to Labuan Bajo harbor and take an early afternoon flight to Yogyakarta. We stayed at a lovely traditional wooden house.

Unfortunately, our flight was delayed, so we arrived too late to take in Yogya in the evening. You might want to check out Omar Duwur or Bu Ageng for dinner. If you are there at the right time of year (each full moon between May and October), you could go see the Ramayana ballet shown in the open air with a view over Prambanan temple.

Day 7: Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta is a human-sized Indonesian city, mostly doable on foot. Start your day at the market, Pasar Beringharjo. Get lost between the piles of exotic fruit and stock up on local spices. They make for small and light packages that can stand a few weeks in a suitcase so they are my favorite souvenir. A stroll along Jl. Malioboro, a lively shopping street, is a fun way to get an idea about life in Indonesian cities. Get some snacks or try the tasty bakpia sweets (round sweet pastries flavored with anything from black sesame to durian).

Although the river that passes through the city is not very attractive, the surrounding little alleys are also interesting to wander around.

The sights in Yogyakarta are nothing spectacular, although the underground mosque at Taman Sari is worth a visit. At the unimpressive Kraton you will be the attraction: be prepared to pose for plenty of photos with Indonesian visitors. We even got interviewed by students!

Stop for lunch at Milas, which serves delicious vegetarian food and fruit juices in a pleasant garden. Then hire a taxi to take you to Borobudur (about 1 hour). One day is enough to visit Yogya, if you have more time consider visiting the Prambanan temples.

In Borobudur, splash out on a stay at the beautiful Plataran Hotel. Although expensive by Indonesian standards, the stand-alone villas are gorgeous and good value for money and the view over Borobudur temple is magical.

Day 8: Borobudur temple

Sleep in (or join the Plataran’s complimentary morning yoga classes), enjoy breakfast with a view over the temple and spend a morning relaxing in and around your private pool.

For lunch check out Saung Makan Bu Empat, scenically situated in the rice fields a short taxi ride away.

Time to see the temple from up close. Borobudur temple is the largest Buddhist monument in the world and the most famous temple in Indonesia. While not as impressive as Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the setting is beautiful and taking in the view from the top amongst the 72 Buddha’s in their stupa’s is quite spectacular.

It is an absolute must to go at sunrise or sunset if you don’t want to get stuck in traffic jams of people. You will need a special sunrise or sunset ticket which can be obtained at the reception of the Manohara Hotel, which is located on the grounds of Borobudur temple (no need to stay at the hotel or book in advance). These tickets are slightly more expensive, but absolutely worth it.

Sunrise might offer the best views and photo ops, if weather conditions are good, but this time has apparently become very popular. We decided to go at sunset, no less beautiful and decidedly less crowded, with the bonus of not having to get up at 3 am. We arrived around 4.30 pm when it was still very busy (be prepared for more “selfies”) but by the time the sun went down only a handful of other tourists were left with us on the top of the temple. The site regains its mystery when you’re climbing down, alone, as darkness closes in.

Borobudur is very popular with local tourists, there are plenty of hotels, most with restaurants, but nothing particularly interesting. You might as well be lazy and have dinner at your hotel.

Day 9-12: climbing East Java’s volcanoes, Ijen and Bromo

Java has its share of active volcanoes, some of which you can climb and which make for absolutely stunning destinations.

We flew from Yogyakarta to Banyuwangi, from where we went on a little road trip taking in the crater lake and sulphur miners of Ijen Volcano and the majestic scenery of Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, leaving again by plane from Surabaya. This 4-day itinerary also works the other way around.

Day 13-15: spotting orang utans in Kalimantan

Round off your Indonesia trip with another boat tour, this time through the jungle in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo. Fly to Pangkalan Bun, from where there is easy access to Tanjung Puting National Park.

Pangkalan Bun itself is really a thoroughfare and has no good hotels or restaurants and very little to see. If you have some time to kill, stroll along the river boardwalk and soak up the backwater mood, quite a contrast with what you have seen of Indonesia so far!

Book any of the 2 day, 1 night klotok boat trips. I can recommend Jenie Subaru‘s tours (you can contact him via email jeniesubaru@gmail.com). Although charming, the klotoks are mostly very basic. You sleep on deck at night, which is lovely, but I missed not having a proper shower in the sweaty jungle!

But of course, it’s all about the orang utans. As Tanjung Puting National Park is home to a mixed population of wild orang utans and rehabilitated rescue animals, you are guaranteed to see them, sometimes at very close range. There are three feeding stations along the river where your klotok will take you around their respective feeding times.

Besides orang utans, you will also see plenty of macaques and, my personal favorite, the very funny proboscis (nose) monkeys. Other animals in the park include gibbons, deer, sun bears and clouded leopards, but they are notoriously hard to spot. We did see wild boars and kingfishers, hornbills and other birds.

The most beautiful part of the park is the Sekonyer River (or “black river”), where the water suddenly turns oily black and the jungle is at its most lush. If you are going to stay more than 1 night in the park make sure this is where you spend most of your time (only a small part of the national park is accessible, so if you stay more that 2 days you will probably visit the same camps again).

Overall a little touristy (although not too busy at the time we were there), but very comfortable and romantic, and an amazing way to get a good look at orang utans and proboscis monkeys.

If you have more time you could opt for a jungle trek in Sumatra instead of Kalimantan. The jungle there is more difficult and time-consuming to access, and wildlife more difficult to spot, but that will make it all the more adventurous!

After having said goodbye to the orang utans, it was time for us to go back to Pangkalan Bun and from there to fly back home. Indonesia is one of the most beautiful and varied destinations I’ve ever visited, and I can’t wait to go back to see more of the country!

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