When to go
Straddling the equator, Indonesia tends to have a fairly even climate year-round. Rather than four seasons, Indonesia has two – wet and dry – and there are no extremes of winter and summer.
In most parts of Indonesia, the wet season falls between October and April (low season), and the dry season between May and September (high season). Rain tends to come in sudden tropical downpours, but it can also rain nonstop for days. In some parts of the country, such as Kalimantan, the difference between the seasons is slight – the dry season just seems to be slightly hotter and slightly drier than the wet season. In other areas, such as Nusa Tenggara, the differences are very pronounced, with droughts in the dry season and floods in the wet.
Though travel in the wet season is not usually a major problem in most parts of Indonesia, mud-clogged back roads can be a deterrent. The best time to visit is in the dry season. The ‘wet’ starts to descend in October and varies in intensity across the archipelago. The December to February rains can make travel prohibitive in Nusa Tenggara, when rough seas either cancel (or sink) ferries, and roads on Flores are washed out. Parts of Papua are also inaccessible. The rains shift in Sumatra, peaking from October to January in the north, and from January to February in the south. But seasonal change makes little difference in Bali, and in Kalimantan higher water levels from December to February improve access to rivers and small tributaries.
In most cases, experiencing an Indonesian festival is reason enough to head to a destination. Some are so significant, however, that they can generate difficult conditions for travellers. Tana Toraja’s funeral season boosts Rantepao’s population, and hotel prices, substantially during July and August. In Java it’s a good idea to avoid the final days of Idul Fitri, when public transport is mayhem and some businesses close.
A tragic drop in tourist hordes means that Indonesia’s ‘high season’ no longer presents the same kind of bother it once did. The December–January Christmas holiday period and the school holidays still brings a wave of migratory Australians, and Europeans head to Bali, Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi in July and August. But climatic impediments aside, pretty much any time is a good time to head to Indonesia at the moment.
The main Indonesian holiday periods are the end of Ramadan, when domestic tourists fill resorts and prices escalate; Christmas; and mid-June to mid-July, when graduating high-school students take off by the busload to various tourist attractions, mainly in Java and Bali.