Guide to Island Hopping in Indonesia: Top 12 Islands

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Perfect the art of island hopping in Indonesia. Explore underwater seascapes & overland adventures in this 12-island guide.

hut floating over water in the islands in Indonesia

Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world, formed out of over 18,000 stunning islands and islets.

With a diverse climate and welcoming people, Indonesia is the perfect destination for under-the-sea and overland adventures.

Visitors will fall in love with its panoramic views from the peaks of vast volcanoes and struggle to come up for air after being entranced by underwater seascapes.

Island-hopping in Indonesia is undeniably the best way to see this vast country. I wish I’d spent more time exploring its many corners, but here is the best itinerary to give you a taste of everything.

Map of the Indonesian Islands

We couldn’t map all the islands, but this will give you a general idea of where you need to go.

Start in Bali

rice terraces in Bali Island in Indonesial

Yes, Bali is an overhyped holiday destination, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it.

This giant island is by far the most popular destination in Indonesia, and it’s for many good reasons.

It’s often the best place to start because flights into the country typically arrive at Denpasar Airport, the main city on the island.

Aside from its convenience, Bali also has many treasures to explore.

Uluwatu

Uluwatu cliffside temple in Bali Indonesia

The southern tip of Bali is home to the area of Uluwatu. This stunning stretch of the island is ideal for first-timers visiting the country.

Thanks to its single-lane traffic, the area is ideal for moped beginners. There are also plenty of friendly locals and fellow travelers to hang out with, so there is always someone to explore with.

Start by visiting Uluwatu Temple to watch the Kecek Fire Dance at sunset. Okay, it’s hectic and touristy, but it’s also really cool!

Watch the traditional dancers let loose as the flames rise to the skies, joining the sun’s rays dipping beneath the horizon. It’s an unforgettable experience.

Pro tip: Turn up early to buy your tickets and snag a good seat because the arena fills up quickly.

Spend another day exploring the stunning beaches that encircle the coastline of Uluwatu. You can’t go wrong with any of them — one is more beautiful than the next.

Make sure Pandawa Beach is on your list. It boasts incredible views, and an old, retired jet sits atop the cliff, which is now being turned into a luxury Airbnb.

Be prepared that many of the beaches in Indonesia require significant walking up or down hills and stairways to reach the shore.

Pro tip: Walk down to the beach and pay $0.50 for a driver to zip you back up the hill when you’re finished for the day.

Ubud 

Bali sculpture close up

Ubud is hugely popular, attracting tourists and digital nomads from across the globe.

Don’t plan to stay too long because the crowds may be overwhelming after a while. Rent a motorbike to zip around all the top sites for a day or two and then head to the quieter northern part of Bali.

Don’t skip out on the Monkey Forest. It’s absolutely a tourist trap, but it’s so fun! It’s a beautiful walk and a surreal experience to see an area wholly dominated by monkeys.

Listen to all the warnings as you enter the forest. The monkeys will try to grab any loose items, like water bottles or sunglasses.

Pro tip: Avoid wearing a one-use rain poncho in the forest. One monkey thought my friend’s was a toy and ripped it to shreds in seconds.

For a gorgeous sunset view, head to the Campuhan Ridge Walk. The 2-kilometer-long winding pathway is an idyllic scene that looks over rice terraces and temples.

If you want more pictures of rice terraces, head to Tegalalang Rice Terraces for some spectacular views. However, be mindful that the area is still farmland, so respect the workers and stay on the paths, no matter how badly you want the perfect angle for your Instagram.

Skip the tourist trap swings and just enjoy the views when visiting one of the many waterfalls surrounding Ubud.

Lastly, check out the Pura Gunung Kawi archaeological sites. Over 1000 years old, the site is one of the oldest on the island and is a prime example of Balinese architecture.

Sidemen

rural home in Sideman, Bali Island Indonesia

To step off the classic tourist trail on Bali, head to Sidemen. This often-missed area is like a quieter version of Ubud that fewer tourists bother to trek to.

Start by exploring Gembleng Falls. The tiny pool overlooks the surrounding jungle from a high viewpoint. Get there early to avoid being crammed in with a dozen other tourists trying to snap the perfect picture.

Alternatively, visit the cave waterfall at Tukad Cepung, a colossal cascade hidden in a deep canyon.

Visit a nearby Iseh village to experience a more tranquil snapshot of local life. The quiet area is still largely untouched by tourists, so enjoy a peaceful lunch in the single warung (café) to sample delicious organic food and watch the world go by.

Lastly, you have to trek Mount Agung. This 3,031-meter-tall volcano looms over Bali’s skyline and is a highlight of any trip to Indonesia.

What to skip?

Don’t bother visiting the tourist-overloaded area of Canggu unless you desperately need to party.

It’s a hotspot for surfing lessons, too, but you can get the same experience in Uluwatu with far fewer tourists.

Avoid spending too much time in Denpasar as well. It’s a chaotic city with very little to do, and it’s not great for anyone new to driving. Plus, it’s almost impossible to walk anywhere.

The Nusa Islands

girl overlooking a beach on an island in Indonesia

This collection of three islands sits just south of Bali, and these treasured islands must be at the top of your itinerary.

When I hopped on a ferry from Kuta, Bali, to Nusa Penida, I had no idea how quickly I’d fall in love.

My time on Nusa Penida and its neighboring islands — Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Lembongan — is one of the most precious trips I’ve ever taken.

Nusa Penida

cliff and stairs in Nusa Penida Island in Indonesia

Using Nusa Penida as your base, start by exploring its incredible beaches.

As most tourists visit on day trips, the best time to see any of the sites is in the early morning or late afternoon when they’ve all gone back to Bali.

Angel’s Billabong on the island’s south side offers incredible views and natural pools for swimming during low tide.

Pro tip: Wear reef shoes; it can be rocky, and it’s easy to get injured!

The nearby Broken Beach is an amazing viewpoint, thanks to its arched rock formation and the waves rolling beneath it. Sadly, you can’t reach the beach at the bottom unless you take a boat ride from the coast.

At sunset, drive to Crystal Bay on the west coast to enjoy its 200-meter secluded cove of sand. Come back in the daytime to snorkel and catch a glimpse of sea turtles swimming in the shallows.

Lastly, visit the iconic Kelingking Beach, now globally famous, thanks to Instagrammers sharing pictures from the cliffside overlooking it.

I thought I might collapse from exhaustion hiking down because it requires some agility and climbing skills I was unprepared for. However, it’s one of my favorite memories from this section of my trip.

The untouched landscape is unbeatable, and swimming in the rolling waves is a treasured memory.

Pro tip: Do not get in the water if you’re a weak swimmer. The intense waves may be overwhelming for you.

Visit the Goa Giri Putri Temple, built inside a cave, for a little spiritual reprieve.

Nusa Lembongan and Ceningan

waterfalls in Nusa Island Indonesia

Head to Nusa Lembongan on a ferry for a day trip and start at the Devil’s Tear viewpoint to marvel at its magnificent scenery.

Spend the morning relaxing on Dream Beach beneath low-lying limestone cliffs and rock formations. Hike up to the peak to take in the panoramic views over the Indian Ocean.

Cross the Bridge of Love between Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan to visit the next island. Take a moment to enjoy the ocean views midway across the 140-meter-long suspension bridge.

Lastly, book a trip to experience the underwater scooter experience just off the coast of Nusa Ceningan. A company operates an excursion that allows you to explore an underwater garden on a submersible scooter.

Gili Islands

clear water and a boat for island hopping in Indonesia

The Gili Islands include 26 different stunning shores to explore. However, the main three should get the most attention.

Grouped off the shore of Lombok, Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air were among my favorite destinations in Indonesia.

These tranquil islands feel like stepping back in time thanks to their policy of no vehicles. The only way to get around is by bicycle or a horse-drawn cart.

However, the islands can easily be navigated on foot, too. It only takes two hours to walk around the biggest, Gili Trawangan, and less than an hour to circumnavigate the smallest, Gili Air.

Spend a night on Gili Trawangan, enjoying the party island and all the delicious food, before island hopping over to Gili Meno for a luxury day at one of its gorgeous resorts.

Lastly, spend a couple of nights savoring the serenity on Gili Air. Treat yourself to a massage or three, and spend a couple of well-earned rest days sunbathing on the beach, only moving to follow the light between sunrise and sunset.

Book a snorkeling or scuba diving trip on any of the three islands to see the incredible underwater sights around them.

To see the rest of the Gili Islands, book a tour from Lombok to explore these far-from-secret treasures made up of uninhabited sandbars.

Pro tip: On the ride to and from the islands, get on the boat’s roof for incredible views. It’s a bumpy but thrilling ride!

Lombok

View of a crater lake in Lombok Island Indonesia

From Gili Air, book a ferry to Lombok, just over the horizon.

This vast island is home to countless gems for tourists of all tastes.

I recommend starting with a day spent exploring Sendang Gile and Tiu Kelep Waterfalls in the foothills of Mount Rinjani, the second-highest volcano in Indonesia.

At sunset, head to Pergasingan Hill. This intense one-hour trek is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s worth it for the panoramic views at the top. With a trekking guide, you can also camp overnight at the top to catch the sunrise.

Alternatively, book a camping trip on the Senaru Crater Rim. After a six to eight-hour walk up the side, you’ll spend a night marveling at the stunning vistas assaulting your senses from every direction.

Spend a day learning to surf at Seger Beach, a popular surf point, and then go to Semeti Beach for an afternoon of sunbathing.

To add some shine to your Instagram feed, visit Bukit Selong Rice Fields to take some shots of the vast patchwork of fields.

To finish your time on Lombok, book a three-day, two-night trek up to the peak of Mount Rinjani. This epic adventure through waterfalls, a crater lake, and gorgeous forests will be the highlight of this island adventure.

Komodo Islands

Komodo dragons fighting in Indonesia

The iconic Komodo Islands refers to three islands that make up Komodo National Park between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores.

The park comprises three major islands — Rinca, Komodo, and Padar — and a series of smaller ones.

Most tourists to this area explore the islands on a multi-day boating trip that winds through the various islands, stopping to snorkel, marvel at volcanoes, and spy Komodo Dragons.

Otherwise, you can island-hop across the archipelago independently. I recommend using Flores as your base.

Start on Padar Island and hike to its peak to see dozens of Komodo dragons. Be careful! They are as dangerous as they look.

Book a snorkeling trip from Flores to explore the wildlife around the islands, including turtles and manta rays.

Visit Rangko Cave, which is close to Labuan Bajo, a fishing town on the west coast of Flores. It’s a small mission to get there with a 90-minute drive and a boat trip to enter, but swimming in the clear blue water inside is worth it.

Lastly, visit Komodo Village to mingle with locals and buy beautiful handicrafts to support the community.

Maluku Archipelago

Maluku Archipelago aqua ocean and islands

Once one of the world’s only sources of nutmeg and cloves, nations like Portugal and England warred over the archipelago’s resources for years, but now it’s a tranquil tourist destination.

Still often missed by tourists, this region is best visited by snorkeling and diving enthusiasts.

To immerse yourself in nature, visit one of its two national parks: Manusela National Park and Aketajawe-Lolobata National Park.

Manusela sits inside the Wallacea Transitional Zone, a key area for global studies on species evolution. Between the two parks, countless species of animals wait to be discovered by you.

To dive into the region’s history, visit the Spice War Forts of Bandas.

Most importantly, book some diving trips to immerse yourself in Maluku’s underwater landscapes.

I recommend prioritizing a trip to Ambon, where countless fish species and gorgeous coral formations wait beneath the depths. Some areas get as deep as 500 meters.

Explore the Pinut Kota water arches and the Duke of Sparta shipwreck while searching for octopus and spotted zebra crabs.

Weather in Indonesia

aqua ocean and hilly landscape in Indonesia

Indonesia enjoys a tropical climate with high temperatures throughout the year.

With two distinct seasons — wet and dry — there isn’t a bad time to visit, as long as you don’t mind the occasional tropical shower.

For the driest weather and the lowest rainfall, organize your trip between May and August.

Packing list essentials for island-hopping in Indonesia 

aerial view of water and land in Komodo Island Indonesia

Make sure to remember to pack:

  • Plenty of layers for the varied weather
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Sandals and trekking shoes
  • A durable rain poncho. Don’t waste your money on cheap, one-use plastic ones. They won’t do anything in a tropical rainstorm.

Island hopping in Indonesia: Final thoughts

boats over clear water next to an island

You’ll never forget your island hopping in Indonesia, especially if you follow this guide. 

Don’t spend too much time on the mainland. Explore the ocean’s farthest reaches and find Indonesia’s most incredible gems.

FAQ

Is Indonesia a safe country?

It’s a very safe country, and the people are incredibly welcoming. You’ll always find someone to help if you get lost or confused.

Is it affordable to island hop?

It can be if you’re careful with your budget and avoid eating more expensive Western food.

Where should I start my trip?

Start your Indonesian experience in Bali.

Posted February 28, 2024
Image of the author Hannah
Hannah Shewan Stevens
Hannah Shewan Stevens is a disabled and LGBTQ+ freelance writer, editor, and sex educator. She started out as a digital content producer before transitioning into managing press and communications for charities. These days, she focuses on feature writing for international publications, specializing in sex, relationships, and health. Since leaving the UK to travel full-time as a digital nomad, she has started to explore the world of travel writing. Primarily, she is passionate about shining a spotlight on issues and topics that are rarely given an opportunity to make headlines.
Image of the author Hannah