Indonesia is a big country with many islands of varied landscapes. This itinerary will take you to rainforest in Sumatra, volcano in Lombok, beaches in Bali and Java. If you have unlimited time, there are other amazing places as well, like Borneo, Komodo, Papau etc. The trip starts in Jakarta and ends in Bali.
Arrival in Jakarta
Depending on what time you arrive in Jakarta you may want to fly to Medan and drive to Bukit Lawang or rest in Jakarta for a night before a long day of travel to Bukit Lawang for a 3 days jungle trek.
There are no hotels close to the airport but many options in the city center.
Jakarta to Medan to Bukit Lawang
Fly to Medan
There are many domestic airlines that fly from Jakarta to Medan. If you are flying Lion Airways then go to the airport couple hours before because the check-in counters have crazy lines.
Drive to Bukit Lawang
On an average it's abut a 5 hrs drive from Medan airport to the town of Bukit Lawang. Public transportation takes much longer, it's better if you ask the hotel in Bukit Lawang to pick you up. All the hotels in Bukit Lawang provide transportation service. Exchange or withdraw money in Jakarta or Medan as there are no money changers or ATMs in Bukit Lawang.
Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking
We stayed at the guest house run by the tour company that we booked our jungle trek with. It is very basic accommodation. They do have a very good restaurant.
The entire reason to come to Bukit Lawang is to trek in the rainforest in Gunung Leuser National Park. Indonesia has the largest rainforest outside Amazon, spread across Sumatra and Borneo. This is also a chance to see orangutans in their natural habitat which can only be found in Sumatra and Borneo. Infrastructure (in getting to the rainforeast and hiking with guides) in Sumatra is far better developed than Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan). You have to hike with a tour group or a guide and there are many to choose from in Bukit Lawang. We went with Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking and highly recommend them. The guides knew the flora and fauna of the rainforest very well and provided us with good camping equipment and food. The trek is strenuous since most of the trail is climbing and descending the many hills of the rainforest.
We saw many orangutans on the first day and camped near a stream for the night.
Jungle Trek Day 2
Jungle Trek Day 3
This a more relaxing day, hiking is optional. You can return to Bukkit Lawang on a raft (3 tires tied together), the rapids aren't that big so the made up raft works perfectly well.
Drive to Medan
Try to work around the peak traffic hrs and your drive to Medan will be shorter. We left Bukit Lawang at 1pm and reached Medan city center in 3hrs.
Stay the night in Medan so that you can fly to the next destination the early in the morning. The airport is an hour from city center and there are no hotels close to the airport so you are better off staying in Medan city.
Medan to Yogyakarta
There is only one direct fight from Medan to Yogyakarta and it's at 6 am run by AirAsia. All other flights have a stopover in Jakarta and add couple of hrs of travel time.
The 9th century Hindu temples are one of the highlights of the city and just 30 mins from city center. It's a small but beautiful temple complex, doesn't take more then 2 hrs to walk around. People usual do the Prambanan tour and follow it up with sunset at Ratu Boko. We were there on a rainy day so we skipped Ratu Boko and went to Prambanan Ramayan Ballet adjacent to the temples. It's a theater performance based on Ramayana (Hindu mythology) showcasing Javanese dance and runs every night at 7:30pm. The backdrop of the stage is the stunningly lit temples.
You can take a tour that will take you to Prambanan and then to Ratu Boko but it's just as easy to do it yourself. We used Grab car (It's the Uber equivalent of South East Asia). Ratu Boko is an hour from Prambanan so the cars might be infrequent on your way back.
Stay close to Malioboro street which is heart of the city.
Another example of cultural diversity of this city is this 9th century Buddhist temple. Most people go to Borobudur for sunrise which means you have to leave your hotel by 3 am because the temple is about 2 hrs from the city. For the not so morning people the temple is just as spectacular after sunrise. Do see the short movie about the history and architecture of the temple right at the entrance.
Shop for Batik cloths which is very unique to Yogyakarta. Very hard to get authentic and reasonably priced Batik cloths else where in Indonesia.
You can also go see the Sultan Place at the end of the street.
Same as day 6.
Yogyakarta to Lombok
Hiking Mt Rinjani is next and you have to get to the small town of Senaru, Lombok. All flights on this route have a stopover in Bali. Take an earlier flight because drive to Senaru is about 3 hrs from Lombok airport.
Lombok airport to Senaru
Any Rinjani hiking tour package that you chose includes pick up from the airport. We went with Adi Trekker, Adi was very responsive with emails and all the arrangements were as promised.
Mt Rinjani Day 1
Mt Rinjani is a multi day hike, its 2 days to go the crater rim and 3 days to summit the mountain. Summit is possible only in dry season. We did the 2 day hike. Keep in mind this is a very strenuous hike! The trail through the National Park supposedly takes about 7 hrs but it is closed during wet season (only when the police is there to enforce it) in which case all tours take the trail outside the National Park that takes about 12 hrs. So the lesson here is do this only in dry season and save yourself from a very hard hike and painful body aches. I am talking from experience.
The campsite is spectacular, it's right next to the crater lake.
Mt Rinjani Day 2
The hike back is always through the trail in the National park irrespective of season. It's a 2 hr climb followed by 5-6 hrs of descent to Senaru. Start early so that you can make the last boat from Lombok (Port Bangsal) to Bali (Port Pandang Bai) at 4pm.
Bangsal to Padang Bai
We finished our hike at 3 pm and Adi was very helpful and had us picked up at the trail end and directly driven to Bangsal Port. The driver even called the boat company and had the boat wait for us for 5 mins. It's a 1.5 hrs boat ride to Padang Bai which is on the east coast of Bali.
If you do not plan to stay in east Bali, then take a boat to a nearest port to where to plan to stay.
Bali is a big island and your experience of Bali will be significantly different based which region of Bali you stay at. We stayed in Alila Manggis in East Bali and it was just perfect after such a strenuous hike.
South Bali is the most popular area with white sand beaches, lots of restaurants and clubs, luxurious resorts, many places to shop and lots of tourists.
On the contrary East Bali is relatively calmer with few resorts and restaurants and mostly black sand and rocky beaches. Here you will see many more villages and local people.
Central Bali (Ubud) is known for paddy fiels, art galleries and lots of yoga studios.
North Bali is a scuba diving Mecca and well worth a day trip from anywhere in Bali. Wouldn't recommend staying here unless you want to scuba dive everyday.
West Bali is mostly known as jump off point to scuba dive in a nearby island National Park.
You can stay in Bali as many or few days you like. Things to do in Bali;
- Temples (Pura Besakih in East Bali also known as Mother temple)
- Hike a volcano if you still have the energy (We didn't).
One thing I would definitely recommend doing is scuba diving in Amed (North Bali). See below for information.
Same as day 10.
Generally one has to be PADI certified to do scuba diving or else take a discovery dive class in shallow waters where there is not much to see.
Amed is probably is among the very few places where the reef is just off the beach in relatively shallow waters because of which beginners can scuba dive here without certification.
Our dive instructors were from Adventure Divers of Bali. They took us on two dives (Jemeluk and USAT Liberty Wreck at Tulamben). I am scared of water and was in semi panic state the entire time and this still was one of the best experience of the trip. It felt like we were in a Finding Nemo movie. We saw fishes of all imaginable colors, corals, turtles and a giant ship wreck which is home to variety of marine life.
The instructors was amazing because I was pretty much attached to one of them.
You are not supposed to fly for 24 hrs after scuba diving, so schedule this activity accordingly.
Same as day 10.
Fly out of Bali.