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Essential guide to remote travel in eastern Indonesia

Torben Lonne
Torben Lonne

Editor in chief of divein.com

Jakarta | Fri, March 23, 2018 | 04:41 pm
Essential guide to remote travel in eastern Indonesia

Crystal-clear waters and a deep blue horizon mesmerize at Ora Beach on Seram Island, Maluku. (Shutterstock/File)

Indonesia is one of the most popular tourist locations in the world, known for its incredible landmarks, beaches, temples, marine life, land animals and of course, its thousands of islands just waiting to be explored.

If you’re a traveler looking to experience all that "remote" Indonesia has to offer, eastern Indonesia is the place to go. The beaches of eastern Indonesia are second to none, with crystal clear, warm water lapping clean, soft sandy beaches. Eastern Indonesia is also known for budget-friendly accommodation and food.

With all that it offers, it's not hard to understand why eastern Indonesia is on most travelers' bucket lists. It's certainly the place to go if you’re looking for exceptional experience, rough and raw travel, genuinely lovely people and places far from tourist traps. 

How to get there

By air

Jakarta and Bali are both international hubs, so if you’re flying to Indonesia from North America or Europe, you’ll most likely land at either Soekarno-Hatta or Ngurah Rai. Jakarta and Bali flank the central island of Java to the east and west, so getting to eastern Indonesia only takes a short journey by plane.

You can fly direct from Jakarta to Kupang, West Timor for around US$75 to $240 one way. Flights depart daily and travel time can depend on the airline, ranging from 3 to 6 hours.

If you’re flying from Bali, daily flights are also available for $55 to $210 one way. Again, the travel time depends on the airline, but flights generally take 2-5 hours.

By car and ferry

It is possible to get to Kupang by car and ferry. If you’re traveling on a budget and want the experience of getting from one side of Indonesia to the other by land and sea, then this method is definitely for you. This incredible experience will cost travelers between $23 and $34.

Your journey starts in Denpasar, Bali, from where you can drive to Padang Bai ($1-$3). Here, hop on a ferry that leaves hourly to Lembar, West Lombok ($2-$3). This part of the journey takes around 5 hours. Once you've arrived in Lembar, drive for an hour and half to Pringgabaya Port ($5-$8) to catch the next hourly ferry that will take you to Poto Tano Port ($2), 2 hours away in West Sumbawa. Drive to the ferry port in Pototano, which will take 2 hours ($6-$9). A ferry leaves once daily on a 2-hour jaunt to Lembah on Lembata island ($2). Once you get to Lembah, drive to Lewoleba, only an hour away ($3-$6). Finally, catch the ferry that leaves once daily to Kupang, West Timor, which takes 10 hours. There are many places where you can break your journey and explore the local culture.

Maluku Islands

The Maluku Islands are a must-see if you’re planning a trip to eastern Indonesia.

By air

You can reach the islands by air from Java and fly into one of the two provincial capitals of Ambon and Ternate. Merpati also has flights to Maluku from Timor. Unfortunately, there are no direct flights from Bali, but there are flights with stopovers in Sulawesi and Java.

Once you’re in the Maluku Islands, there are a number of local flights that will take you to the smaller islands.

By sea

Traveling by sea is often the best way to get to and around Maluku. Huge state-run ferries connect Ambon and Ternate, as well as a few smaller towns, to the rest of Indonesia.  

A number of smaller local boats and ferries, from speedboats to wooden boats, can connect you to the many neighboring islands of Maluku.

If you’re hoping to get to the remotest part of these islands, you might need to charter a boat.

By car

On the islands that have roads, take a look at buses, bemo (minibuses), kijang (shared taxis) and ojek (motorcycle taxis) that run between the different settlements and villages.

If you’re hoping to go slightly further afield, transport on these routes usually leave in the morning. Compared to large thriving places such as Bali or Java, traveling by road can be slightly more expensive and a lot slower. Minibuses run on set schedules in the larger towns like Ternate and Ambon.

Best time to visit

Generally, the best time to visit eastern Indonesia is from October to March, when the days are dry and sunny. However, even during the rainy season from May to August, the temperature is still warm, with tropical downpours that usually last only a couple of hours.

When traveling to eastern Indonesia, it is important to remember that the rainy season is slightly different from the other parts of the country, as floods can occur. Dry season in the east can also lead to drought.

The rainy season can cause issues if you travel through backroads, as these can become inaccessible due to flooding. Additionally, some of the islands can also become inaccessible to smaller boats. If you’re planning to scuba dive in the east, the best time to travel is between April and September.

Climate

Local wind patterns can affect the temperatures in the eastern islands of Indonesia. The winds usually bring humidity from the Indian Ocean, along with high pressure. Whatever time of year you choose to travel to the eastern islands, the temperature typically ranges from 27-30 degrees Celsius.

Finding a place to stay

Accommodation is easy to find, and you can choose from a large variety and style: from 5-star hotels, which are relatively cheap compared to other tropical destinations, to simple rental rooms and homestay options, which can be as cheap as $5-$10 a night. Homestays are usually a great way to assimilate into the local culture and really get to know the people who have been born and raised in eastern Indonesia.

Hostels are also available in nearly every corner of Indonesia, so it’s not hard to find somewhere to stay on a budget.

Things to pack

Wherever you are traveling around the world, if you’re planning on taking a trip to remote locations, it is always a good idea to pack these essentials.

1. Basic essentials

Even though there are ways to obtain basic items while on the remote islands of Indonesia, it is always a good idea to take a refillable bottle of drinking water and snacks such as nuts, fruit and protein bars. These will help you if you find yourself off the beaten track. Always carry a small first aid kit with you in case of cuts, scratches or minor burns. Cash is essential, as there are no banks at all on the remote islands of Indonesia. Additionally, most hostels and homestays do not take credit card payments, so cash is a must.

2. Sun protection

Indonesia is extremely hot, so always take precautions when going out in the sun. Sunblock, hats, long-sleeved shirts, linen trousers and sunglasses are all a good way to protect yourself from harmful UV rays.  

3. Swimwear with sealable pockets

This kind of swimwear is great if you are traveling on your own, as it will allow you take your valuables with you while venturing into waterfalls or the ocean.

4. Dry bag

Taking your clothes and valuables in a dry bag is a great way to keep your clothes and other belongings dry. Cameras and phones can also be kept in a dry bag if you’re in areas with high humidity, like a jungle.

5. Backup batteries 

Backup batteries and power banks are essential for any traveler journeying to remote locations. If your flashlight, phone or camera runs out of juice, just switch batteries or plug them into a power bank and they will be as good as new. Just make sure that you charge your batteries and all backups wherever and whenever you find electricity.

6. Portable hammock

If, for any reason, you find yourself in a situation with nowhere to stay or just want to take a nap, these nifty little contraptions will allow you to set up camp anywhere two trees are standing close together. Why wouldn’t you take a portable hammock to Indonesia?

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The editor-in-chief of divein.com, Torben Lonne has spent the last year-and-a-half traveling all over Indonesia to find the best dive spots. He believes the archipelago has so much to offer divers and travelers that have yet to be published in any guidebook.

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