Indonesia by Boat and Ferry
Information on travelling around Indonesia by boat or ferry. Find out about buying tickets and what to expect when travelling from one island to another...
Indonesia has the world's largest archipelago with over 17,000 islands. It has numerous ports, and some ports have multiple harbours. Boat travel is thus a major form of transport for most Indonesians.
Privately-owned Passenger Boats
Boats are either traditional wooden boats made by local boat builders, or second-hand steel boats. Almost all are privately-owned and business is not conducted in a uniform way. Many boats are in need of repair: despite regulations, safety rarely comes first. They are also routinely overbooked, especially during national and religious holidays.
For longer trips, steel boats make up the bulk of Indonesia's larger-sized passenger boat fleet. They usually have three decks and can legally carry about 700 people:
- The top deck has semi-private cabins
- The lower decks are barracks-style: long rows of non-partitioned, double-tier bunks that hold hundreds of people and their luggage
Boarding and disembarking requires balance and agility. Wooden gangplanks are long, steep and very narrow, with two-way traffic. Many gangplanks have no hand rails and bounce with the weight of people walking across them. At the same time, porters carry passengers' luggage or consigned cargo.
Tickets must be booked in advance through a ticket office located in or nearby the harbour. Unless it is a peak travel time, tickets are available up to and including the day of departure. But cabin accommodation sells out quickly, and should be booked in advance.
Food is usually served three times a day for voyages of 24 hours. Sometimes snacks are sold, but it is best to buy food and water before boarding. Another option is to buy food from vendors.
If a person has a health problem that requires quick hospital access, travel by boat is not appropriate. Once at sea, boats are far from any emergency response. Cell phones are usually out of range within an hour of departure from a port.
Indonesia's national shipping company, Pelni, is state-owned and operated. Boats travel the entire archipelago: east-to-west and north-to-south. Each ship completes a circuit of several ports over a two-week period. At the end of the two weeks, boats return to the original port of departure, and the circuit starts again. Boats are German made, and can carry up to 5,000 passengers. Animals and cargo are also transported. There are six classes of accommodation; to book a higher class cabin, make reservations in advance.
Pelni offers services that are rarely found in Indonesian ship travel. There is a doctor on board, and a cinema.
- For Pelni shipping schedules: Click here
Ticket prices dictate the quality of accommodation:
- The best accommodation is a private room for two with its own bathroom and shower
- There are two to three lower economy decks. Sanitation is often poor as the communal bathrooms can flood. Food is also of a lower quality
- If tickets are oversold, passengers are allowed on board, but without a bunk. Many passengers end up sleeping on deck
Pelni ships are extremely slow and travellers should expect to spend several days on board. Make sure to check the length of time for the trip.
There are many Pelni offices across Indonesia. Reservations should be made only through an authorised Pelni office, and in person.
Car and Passenger Ferries
Some ports offer ferry services for cars, trucks and buses. They also accept passengers, but sleeping accommodation is rarely available. Those who board with a vehicle sleep in their vehicle. Passengers may walk around on deck.
Tickets can be bought at one of the offices in the harbour complex.
Passengers should buy their own food and water before boarding. It is rarely provided as part of the passage.
Ferries in Bali
Pelni lines has a ferry once every two weeks which departs from Benoa harbour in Denpasar.
Destinations for other ferry services in Benoa harbour include:
- Bima, Sumbawa
- Gili Meno, Lombok
- Kupang, Timor
- Lembar, Lombok
- Maumere, Flores
- Senggigi, Lombok
- Surabaya, Java
- Waingapu, Sumba