Balikpapan is one of the largest cities in East Kalimantan. It is a trading hub and by far Kalimantan’s most modern and cosmopolitan city. Most visitors to the province will use the city as their point of entry, and you may find that you want to spend more time there than just travelling through, which is why we created this Balikpapan guide.
The city represents a last chance to pick up essentials before heading into the wilds of Kalimantan. After a week trekking or wildlife watching the city’s shopping malls, nightlife and beaches are the perfect refresher. Read our Balikpapan Guide for tips on getting to, where to stay and what to do in the city.
Getting to Balikpapan
Balikpapan is by far the most common entry point to Kalimantan for tourists, whether by land or sea. There are two harbours, and the airport is among the busiest in Indonesia.
Getting to Balikpapan by air
Balikpapan is well connected to other cities in Indonesia thanks to its airport. Destinations include Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Surabaya on Java, Denpasar on Bali, and Makassar and Manado on Sulawesi. It is also connected internationally, with daily flights to Singapore. As ever in Indonesia, flight schedules and destinations change regularly and without warning, so check before your travel and try to make sure that you leave some room in your schedule to allow for the unexpected.
Getting to Balikpapan by boat
Balikpapan is an important port and is connected by boat to other cities across Indonesia. Pelni and ASDP ferries connect the city with Makassar and Taipa on Sulawesi, Tarakan and Nunukan in North Kalimantan, and Surabaya on Java, among others. As with the flights, schedules are subject to change abruptly, so allow a little extra time in your schedule.
Where to stay in Balikpapan
Balikpapan has a good range of hotels to suit all budgets, from low-cost guesthouses to luxury properties which illustrate the city’s wealth and high living standards. If you are looking for something upmarket, there are plenty of options in Balikpapan. The Aston Hotel & Residence is a stylish city centre hotel in the Grand Sudirman Complex, with a wide range of restaurants, bars and other facilities on your doorstep.
There are plenty of midrange options in Balikpapan, too. Zurich Hotel is a pleasant, modern property with a stylish lobby and restaurant area and sleek, modern rooms. The hotel is within easy reach of several of the city centre’s shopping malls and attractions, including the E-Walk and Pentacity.
If you’re on a tight budget, Buana Lestari is a good-value choice in the centre of town near Balikpapan Plaza. The hotel has simple but stylish rooms, with a modern design and exposed redbrick walls. Massage treatments are available, and there’s WiFi throughout the property.
What to do in Balikpapan
Many visitors to Balikpapan will only pass through or use the city as a jumping-off point for wildlife and adventure trips in Kalimantan. However, it is a very pleasant city and there’s enough to do to warrant a longer stay here. In this Balikpapan guide we reveal some of our favourite things to do in the city.
Relax on the beach
While Indonesia as a whole is blessed in the beach department, this is not particularly true of Kalimantan. However, Balikpapan is a pleasant exception, particularly given its urban setting. Kemala Beach, in the southwest of town, is one of the most popular, and is surrounded by buzzing bars. Also in this part of the city is Melawi Beach, while those in the southeast include Manggar and Lamaru. All of them are great places to chill out with a coconut and some grilled fish.
Hit the shops
If you’re in the market for some retail therapy, you’ve come to the right place. Balikpapan has several huge shopping malls, and it’s easy to spend days wandering around them, eating, drinking and shopping. The most popular is Plaza Balikpapan, where you’ll find something to satisfy every whim. There’s plenty of great place to go clothes shopping, with Nike, Adidas and Levi’s among the retailers who have outlets here.
Get back to nature
Many people who visit Balikpapan will be going on to nature and wildlife excursions in inland Kalimantan. However, you don’t need to get far away from the city to enjoy wildlife experiences. Attractions nearby include the Sun Bear Santcuary, and the Samboja Lestari orang-utan sanctuary. There’s also Penangkaran Buaya, a crocodile farm and sanctuary.
Balikpapan is a very pleasant city, and by far the richest and most cosmopolitan in Kalimantan. Many people use it as a launchpad for nature and wildlife trips into the Kalimantan wilderness. However, it’s also a good destination in itself, with superb shopping, nightlife, and a great range of hotels to suit all budgets.
Have you been to Balikpapan? Do you have any suggestions to add to our Balikpapan guide? Please let us know in the comments below.