With a whopping 17,508 islands, Indonesia is an amazing place to go island-hopping. The world’s largest archipelago comprises five major islands and about 30 smaller groups, featuring dense rainforests, active volcanoes, interesting wildlife, and white sandy beaches. The islands are connected by a network of ferries, boats, and air travel routes. If you’re wondering how to travel between Indonesian islands, look no further than this article, where we’ll break down all you need to know about getting around this vast and diverse archipelago.
With its shimmering beaches and cerulean seas, Bali is undoubtedly the superstar of the Indonesian islands. But there’s so much to discover beyond Bali’s shores – perhaps you’ll hit up the surf in Lombok, explore the sprawling modern capital of Jakarta or catch a Komodo dragon in the flesh on Komodo Island. Luckily, with good transport links between different islands, it’s easy to fit all these exciting places into one trip.
If you’re keen to discover all that Indonesia offers, read on to find out all you need to know about travel when island-hopping in Indonesia.
Getting around by ferry
Ferries are the number one transport method for travel between Indonesian islands. The different destinations are serviced by a vast network of ferries. What these ferries look like varies depending on the type of journey you’re embarking on – smaller distances are usually covered by simple wooden boats, while you can expect 700-passenger ferries fit with cabins for overnight stays when traveling longer distances between islands. Public ferries run regularly between neighboring islands, such as between Sumatra and Java, Java and Bali, and Bali and Lombok. In more visited areas you’ll find tourist boat services, and combined long-distance bus and boat options.
While some smaller, informal ferry options can have dubious safety standards, the most reputable and reliable boats are those run by Pelni. This is a state-owned and -operated shipping company, with routes that travel across all of Indonesia, stopping at different ports along the way to allow you to jump off where you fancy.
The boats tend to carry up to 5,000 passengers and have six classes of accommodation onboard, which range from simple bench-style seating to private cabins complete with a double bed, washroom, air-conditioning and large luggage lockers for a more comfortable overnight journey. It’s always advisable to reserve in advance when traveling on Pelni ferries, particularly if you’re traveling during holiday times or religious periods such as Ramadan. If the ferries are all booked up, you could find yourself sleeping in corridors, stairwells or on the deck! Check up-to-date route information and buy tickets, available two or three days before departure, at the local Pelni office. If ferries are overbooked.
Other types of ferries, such as gangplanks, are often narrow and rickety, making them less suitable for people with reduced mobility, who may have trouble boarding. If you rent a car, there is also the option of traveling on a car ferry between many of the different islands.
Traveling by air
Air travel is another popular way to travel between Indonesian islands. This is a much quicker option than going by sea if you’re looking to cover longer distances, saving you time if you want to fit a number of islands into a shorter trip.
Travelers arriving in Indonesia from North America or Europe tend to land at major international airports in Jakarta or Bali. From here, there’s the option to travel to different islands by plane. Garuda Indonesia is a state-operated airline, offering many domestic flights within Indonesia as well as international routes. It is generally considered the most reputable of airports, however, the country’s major cities and remote island locales are also well connected via domestic air service from other carriers including Lion Air and AirAsia.
You can buy tickets online, and you’ll also find ticket offices at many airports for purchasing your airfare in person. When flying the budget airlines in particular, it’s a smart idea to call ahead and reconfirm your reservation before departure, as it’s not uncommon for passengers to get bumped. Arriving a full two hours ahead of time at airports for domestic and international flights is another good way to protect yourself.
Renting a car
Car rental is another way to travel between Indonesian islands. Driving gives travelers the freedom of getting across the country at their own pace, without having to wait around for buses or at airports. However, the roads in many Indonesian islands can get very congested, so it’s not recommended to rent a car if you’re an inexperienced driver.
Drivers must always carry an international driving license and vehicle registration documents. It’s important to note that foreign drivers can often become targets of random ‘spot checks’, where police pull over cars and request to see documents. If you are unable to provide the correct documentation, you will often be asked to pay a bribe to avoid being served with a much larger traffic infraction fine.
In Bali, Java, Sumatra, and many other spots in Indonesia, cars can be rented for around $10 per day — or even less if you barter, or opt to rent for several weeks at a time. It’s always important to check whether rental companies allow you to travel between different islands. It’s common for rental companies to prohibit this type of travel, even where there are car ferries.
Getting about by bus
Buses are an inexpensive and relatively easy way to travel between Indonesian islands. However, they are slow, cramped, and have varying degrees of safety standards. Tourist shuttle buses tend to be much more expensive than local services but come complete with air-conditioning for a much more comfortable experience. Many operators offer bus and ferry packages that take the stress and uncertainty out of getting between islands.
Tickets are sold a day or more in advance from the point of departure or bus company offices; buy them as early as possible where services are infrequent.
How to get between Bali and Lombok
There are a number of options for traveling between Bali and Lombok. The cheapest and easiest way to travel between the two islands is by ferry, costing around $4 dollars one way. The trip takes between 5 and 6 hours, with ferries leaving every hour. The journey is very scenic, with lovely ocean views.
You can also fly between Bali and Lombok. The flights are extraordinarily cheap as air travel goes, costing around $20 for the 30-40 minute flights. However, the hassle of airport wait times, as well as the cost of organizing transport to and from the airport makes this a less convenient option.
You can also get between Bali and Lombok by speedboat, which costs around $30-40 per person and usually takes just over an hour.
How to get from Jakarta to Bali
Flying is generally considered the best option for getting between Jakarta and Bali. The flight time between the two destinations is usually around 1 hour and 50 minutes, not accounting for the wait times at the airport and travel to and from the airport. It usually costs around $60-$100 per person.
There’s also the option to travel from Jakarta to Bali by bus. Buses leave from the Pulo Gebang bus station in East Jakarta. Pahala Kencana, Kramat Djati Jakarta, Lorena and Safari Dharma Raya are among the bus companies that offer a Jakarta-Bali route. Priced at around $35 per person, this is a cheaper option. However, the journey usually takes more than 25 hours, making it a fairly arduous experience.
How to get between Lombok and Java
There’s really only one recommended route between Lombok and Java – by air. The flight between the two islands takes just under 4 hours, with costs starting from $60.
How to get to Komodo Island
If you’re keen to see the famous Komodo dragon while in Indonesia, you’re probably wondering about the best routes to get to Komodo Island. The best option for doing so is flying from Bali. Both Indonesian Air Transport (IAT) and Trans Nusa Airlines (TGN) offer daily flights from Bali to Labuan Bajo, with a flight time of under 2 hours They tend to cost around $60. From the airport, you will have to get a ferry to the actual national park. These depart once daily, and the journey takes 2h 30m.
There is also the option of taking a ferry from Bali to Labuan Bajo. This is a cheaper option than flying, but it takes far longer – around 36 hours to be precise. This trip can also be treacherous, due to the shallow and rocky waters between the islands. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart!