April to June is one of the best, if not the very best, times to explore Indonesia.
When the sky is clear, the peak season is early and, as such, is the perfect time to explore the less-beaten path.
Whether it's an adventurous road trip, a long boat ride or a pleasant train journey, here are our picks for excursions where the journey is as good as the destination.
April – Train ride in West Sumatra
Train journeys are nothing new in the world of traveling, but 2014 could see the revival of this popular getaway.
While Russia has its Trans Siberia line, Indonesia also has expanses of scenic railway to explore, called kereta wisata. And it is not only available in Java; there are also options in West Sumatra.
The Danau Singkarak train, for example, runs every Sunday from Padang Panjang, Batu Tebal, Solok, Muaro Kalaban and ending in Sawah Lunto. The train departs from Padang Panjang in the morning at 8:30 a.m. and departs from Sawah Lunto for the return trip at 2:30 p.m.
The tickets are quite affordable at Rp 10,000 (less than US$1) to Rp 25,000 for economy class and Rp 20,000 to Rp 50,000 for air-conditioned executive class.
Already widely known as a tourist magnet, Padang Panjang is surrounded by three spectacular mountains: Merapi, Singgalang and Tandikek, and offers the breathtaking hilly landscape of Bukit Barisan.
Another train, the Dang Tuanku, runs from Padang, Tabing, Lubuk Alung and ends in Pariaman. It operates on Saturdays, Sundays and during national holidays.
With tickets ranging from Rp 20,000 for economy class and Rp 30,000 for executive class, it departs Padang at 8:47 a.m. and heads back from Pariaman at 13:50 p.m.
When you arrive in Pariaman, take a walk from the train station to Gandoriah Beach, which is located right in front of the terminal.
Riding a train from Padang to Pariaman also allows tourists to see beautiful coastal scenery with the Indian Ocean stretching out in the distance.
How to get there
There are daily flights available from Jakarta to Padang in West Sumatra. Major airlines such as Garuda Indonesia, Citilink, Lion Air and Sriwijaya Airlines serve this route daily.
To reach Padang Panjang from Padang city, you can opt for a 90-minute ride on a public bus or around a 60-minute drive by rental car. While in Padang Panjang, you can get around town using a mikrolet (public minivan) or bendi (horse-drawn wagon).
Where to stay
As West Sumatra's capital city, Padang offers various accommodation options. The Diniya Suasso Design Hotel & Restaurant is a stylish mid-budget establishment with prices starting from $34. For a more luxurious stay, head to the Grand Inna Muara Padang Hotel or the Rumah Nenek Hotel & Restaurant, whose prices start from $40, or the four-star Mercure Padang Hotel with room rates ranging from $48.
May – Dive off the Togean Islands
Part of Central Sulawesi province and situated in the Tomini Gulf, the Togean Islands consist of around 56 islands with Batudaka, Togian and Talatakoh being its largest.
The islands were formed from volcanic eruptions and, therefore, they provide a superb, tropical, underwater ecosystem.
Four different types of the world's coral (fringing reef, barrier reef, patch reef and atoee) can be found in Togean's waters. It is also known as a habitat and breeding area for hawksbill turtles, green turtles and dugong.
Birdwatching is also an option here, with the Togean Hawk-owl and Togian White-eye bird inhabiting the islands' forests.
Visiting Kadidiri on Togean Island, visitors can meet and interact with members of an indigenous tribe called the Bajau, or “Sea Gypsys”. Bajau people are semi-nomadic and rely for their livelihoods entirely on fishing. So, visitors are suggested to buy fresh seafood, such as giant coconut crabs and fresh lobsters, from them.
For divers, there are several dive spots worth exploring around Togean's water, such as Una Una Island with its active volcano, Dominic rock, and the Crack. There is also a wreck of a World War II B24 bomber, while the Atolls are also a must-visit dive site that will leave you marveling.
How to get there
From Ampana, you can take public ferries to Wakai. The ferries leave the jetty every morning at 10 a.m. except on Fridays, and cost Rp 40,000 per person. Be advised, however, that schedules are subject to change in case of bad weather.
It takes around four hours to reach Wakai from Ampana. Thereafter, speedboats from the resorts can take you on to Kadidiri Island.
Alternatively, you can reach Wakai straight from Gorontalo. A ferry called the Tuna Tomini runs twice a week from Gorontalo; departing every Tuesday and Friday at 8 p.m. and arriving in Wakai the next morning. The price of tickets for the ferry depend on the class. Business 1 Class (in an open cabin) costs Rp 63,000 while Business 2 (air-conditioned cabin with reclining seats) costs Rp 89,000 per person.
You can then do some island-hopping across the Togean Islands by chartering a boat that costs around Rp 1 million to Rp 2 million per day.
Where to stay
There are several places to stay on Togean Islands. At Bomba on Batudaka Island, there is the Island Retreat, which offers 10 ocean-front cottages with rates starting from US$30 per person including meals.
For a more budget-friendly option, Poyalisa Island offers eight bungalows with prices starting from Rp 125,000 per person.
Alternatively, Sunset Beach, which is situated on Wakai, also offers a good option. Rates start from Rp 125,000 per person including meals plus plenty of bottled drinking water.
Divers usually prefer to stay on Kadidiri because of its strategic location. Pondok Lestari Kadidiri, the Black Marlin Dive Resort and Kadidiri Paradise are the popular choices here. Rates range from Rp 100,000 to Rp 300,000 per person per night.
June – Jeep ride to Mount Merapi
Mount Merapi can be exciting both for adventurous travelers as well as laid-back tourists.
Taking the Merapi Lava Tour on a jeep is recommended if you fancy an up-close view of the volcano without having to exhaust yourself. These lava tours usually start in Kaliurang, Sleman, where you can either opt for the long route or a shorter one.
The short route covers 20 kilometers, taking you through Kaliadem, Kepuharjo and Cangkringan, and costs Rp 250,000 per jeep, while the long route passes Argomulyo up to Mbah Maridjan's grave and back to Kaliurang and costs Rp 450,000 per jeep.
Both journeys will take you to see ruins of houses destroyed by the eruptions. You can witness how a once densely populated village is now nothing more that a rocky site full of shrubs. The journeys may also involve some off-road travel across rugged terrain, so expect a bumpy ride.
Feeling adventurous? Climbing Mt. Merapi is also a popular activity among hikers. Usually, the journey starts from Selo, the village on the north slope of the mountain. It can take around three to four hours to climb the mountain and reach the summit. Most of the time, climbers started their hikes at 1 a.m. to be able to reach the top of Merapi by sunrise.
How to get there
Several airlines, such as Garuda Indonesia, Citilink and Lion Air, serve daily flights to Yogyakarta from Jakarta.
You can also reach Yogyakarta by train - both the Argo Lawu and Argo Dwipangga offer daily schedules from Jakarta to Yogyakarta with tickets ranging from Rp 255,000 to Rp 360,000.
Where to stay
There are literally hundreds of hotels to choose from in Yogyakarta. For budget travelers, the ViaVia Guesthouse at Prawirotaman is a nice option as well as De Pendopo Homestay located in the same area.
Prices for budget hotels range from Rp 150,000 to Rp 232,000.
In the mid-range, the Ibis Malioboro and Novotel on Jl. Sudirman offer comfortable accommodation right in the heart of the city.