Seasonal Planning for Indonesia Travel
As the world's largest island nation, Indonesia is a treasure trove of endless wonders. While most are familiar with the tourist hotspot of Bali, there are other highlights across this country's nearly two million square kilometers. These include the islands, cities, and regions of Java, Jakarta, Komodo, Borneo, Sumatra, and Sulawesi—each boasting its own culture, history, and natural beauty.
Planning which of these locales to visit according to weather is an easy task. Indonesia's position on the equator means temperatures remain consistent throughout the year, hovering around 86°F (30°C). That said, temps can fluctuate depending on which of the two seasons it happens to be. If you're here from November to April, expect rain.
The dry season, however, occurs from May to September. During these months, there's more sun so that temps can spike to around 93°F (34°C). Farther inland, you'll often find cooler temperatures of around 78°F (26°C), while the mercury in the higher mountain regions can drop to 73°F (23°C). In most places in Indonesia, the temperature rarely drops below 68°F (20°C).
To decide which of these seasons is ideal for your needs depends on what you'd like to do. Diving and beach holidays are best during the dry-season months, as water visibility is good and there's less chance of a rainout. On the other hand, the wet season months (especially the shoulder season around those months) are great times to avoid the tourist hordes.
|Seasons||Pros||Cons||Best for||Where to Visit|
|Dry (May-Oct)||Mostly sunny; great weather for snorkeling and surfing; ideal climate for nature excursions, hikes, and sailing||Summer months can be crowded (especially in Bali); higher prices; need to book hotels and flights far in advance||Snorkeling, surfing, island-hopping, festivals, hiking, nature excursions||Bali, Java, Komodo National Park, Lombok, Rajat Ampat|
|Wet (Nov-Apr)||Moderate prices in shoulder season; don't need to book ahead; fewer crowds||Wetter weather; beach rainouts; often poor conditions for snorkeling/diving||Jungle treks, wildlife spotting, nature excursions||Borneo, Java, Komodo National Park, Ubud (Bali highlands)|
Dry Season in Indonesia (May to October)
The dry season brings sunshine to Indonesia, along with the tourist crowds looking for an epic beach holiday. Expect prices to be higher and places like Bali to be packed with sun-seekers. This is particularly true during the three North American summer months of June through August. Regardless, conditions throughout the dry months are ideal for diving and surfing. This is also a great time to enjoy nature excursions: summiting volcanoes in East Java; hiking to mountain waterfalls in Bali; visiting orangutans in Borneo; or touring massive Buddhist and Hindu temples in Java. See this active highlights of Java itinerary, great for the dry season.
It's also the best time of year for aquatic adventurers to sail around Indonesia's many island archipelagos. An excellent excursion is to hit the water on a 30-foot schooner and explore Rajat Ampat, an archipelago in far east Indonesia that consists of hundreds of islands. The turquoise waters, endless corals, and soft, white-sand beaches are nothing short of breathtaking.
If you want to beat the crowds while still enjoying great weather, plan an Indonesia trip during the summer shoulder months. May and October are great times to visit, particularly if you want to vacation in a hot spot like Bali. The best month might be May, as this is at the tail-end of the rainy season when the rice paddies and jungles are at their most verdant, and the exotic wildlife is out in force. And not only does Bali experience some of its best weather during May, but so does the adjacent island of Lombok. Or check out this off-the-beaten-path nature trip featuring Java and taking advantage of Indonesia's lush landscapes.
Another advantage to traveling in the shoulder months is that you can often score hotel deals comparable to prices in the low season. Plus, you don't need to plan your trip so far in advance. The same goes for airfare, which can be at least a couple hundred dollars less the closer you travel to low season.
Events in the dry season
Waisak Day (or "Buddha Day"), Borobudur, Java. This major holiday is celebrated throughout Asia and commemorates the birthday of Buddha. Typically held in early to mid-May, thousands of monks gather in the town of Borobudur to chant and perform rituals with holy water and flames.
Bali Arts Festival, Denpasar, Bali. Perhaps the biggest event on Bali (and Indonesia's longest-running arts festival), the Bali Arts Festival typically starts on the second Saturday of June and lasts through July. Revelers flock to Denpasar to enjoy the raucous celebration.
Muharram (Islamic New Year), nationwide. This major public holiday falls in July or August and marks the founding of Islam by the prophet Muhammad. There are huge festivals and celebrations on nearly every island involving food, music, parades, and dancing.
Hari Olahraga Nasional (National Sports Day), nationwide. The occasion is usually held on the 9 of September and sees Indonesians host traditional sporting tournaments that involve much food and celebration.
Maulidur-Rasl (Muhammad's Birthday), nationwide. This public holiday marks the birth of Muhammad and occurs in early October.
Wet Season in Indonesia (November to April)
Around November, frequent (albeit brief) showers hit Indonesia. This is the start of the wet season, with the rainiest months occurring in January and February before peaking in March. So while rain is undoubtedly common during these months, the showers are primarily brief and clear up quickly.
The amount of rainfall Indonesia receives varies slightly by region and topography, but lowland areas generally receive 70-125 inches (180-320 cm) annually. However, like Sumatra, rainier areas can receive up to 155 inches (393 cm). The peak rainy month in Jakarta, for example, is March, which receives close to six inches (15 cm). This amount of rainfall is comparable throughout the country. Also, during the rainy season, winds typically blow in from the northwest, and the tropical storm season occurs from September to December. Yet, Indonesia is usually spared the most extreme weather conditions. Typhoons are rare, and those that hit the country typically aren't very strong. So while travelers planning a trip during these months should prepare to get wet, they needn't worry about cyclones or hurricanes.
The immediate effect on tourism during the wet season is that the frequent rains can make outdoor excursions a slog and can all but ruin a beach holiday. The best strategy to avoid a rainout is to visit Indonesia during the start or end of the wet season. If you do come during May, try to plan an inland itinerary so you can see nature in full bloom. This authentic Bali trip is the perfect shoulder-season holiday to enjoy active adventures and cultural exchanges in Bali's highlands' green jungles and villages. Plus, there's a bit of beach time thrown in for good measure.
The exceptions to the realities of the low rainy season are, of course, the holidays. If you plan to visit Bali over Christmas, you'll need to book far in advance. You can also expect prices to be as high as those during the dry season.
Events in the wet season
Christmas. Indonesia may be a Muslim-majority country, but there are Christians who celebrate Christmas similarly to Europe and North America. Also, expect hot spots like Bali to be packed during the holidays.
Chinese New Year, nationwide. In Indonesia, locals celebrate the Chinese New Year, which occurs toward the end of January, with greater enthusiasm than the western New Year.
Maha Shivaratri (or "Great Night of Shiva"), nationwide. This Hindu religious holiday occurs in late February (or sometimes early March) and pays tribute to Lord Shiva. It's celebrated in larger numbers on Bali where many residents are Hindu.
Holi Hindu Festival, nationwide. This ancient Hindu festival, known also as the "Festival of Colors" and the "Festival of Love," occurs in early or mid-March and involves a night of prayers and bonfire rituals followed by a massive festival the next day.
Nyepi/New Year's Day, Bali. This unique Hindu celebration, celebrated on Bali, falls between late March and early April every year. Know that if you travel to Bali during Nyepi, almost everything, including the airport, will be closed.