A Tour of Borneo’s Coastal Gem, Balikpapan

Balikpapan, nestled on the eastern coast of Borneo in Indonesia, is a hidden gem waiting to be explored. Known for its picturesque coastal landscapes, rich cultural diversity, and vibrant urban life, Balikpapan offers travelers a unique blend of natural beauty and modern amenities. In this article, we’ll take you on a virtual journey through Balikpapan, highlighting its attractions, culture, and the best ways to make the most of your visit.

On the eastern side of the island of Borneo, in the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan, is the seaport city of Balikpapan. The city is a significant hub for these industries in the area and is well known for its important role in the mining, oil, and gas sectors.

What are the Best Things to Explore in Balikpapan?


Natural Wonders

Balikpapan’s stunning natural beauty is one of its main draws, offering a wide range of outdoor activities for nature enthusiasts.

Mangrove Forests

The city is renowned for its mangrove forests, such as the Sungai Wain Protection Forest and Sungai Wain Mangrove Ecotourism Park. These lush green expanses are home to diverse flora and fauna, including various bird species and proboscis monkeys. Explore the wooden walkways and enjoy the tranquility of these unique ecosystems.

Kemala Beach

Kemala Beach is a beautiful coastal area with soft, golden sands and clear blue waters. It’s an ideal spot for swimming, sunbathing, or taking a leisurely stroll along the shore. You can also enjoy fresh seafood at nearby restaurants while taking in the scenic views.

Berau Cape

For a more rugged and adventurous experience, head to Berau Cape, known for its rugged cliffs and pristine beaches. Hike to the top of the cape for breathtaking panoramic views of the coastline and the Java Sea. It’s an excellent spot for photography and solitude.

Cultural Treasures

Balikpapan’s cultural diversity is reflected in its traditions, festivals, and historical sites.

Tugu Perjuangan Rakyat

This iconic monument, Tugu Perjuangan Rakyat, stands as a symbol of Balikpapan’s fight for independence during World War II. It’s a significant historical site and a reminder of the city’s resilience and patriotism.

Pasar Klandasan

For a taste of local life, visit Pasar Klandasan, a bustling traditional market where you can shop for fresh produce, spices, textiles, and handicrafts. It’s a great place to immerse yourself in the city’s daily activities and sample local snacks.

Cultural Festivals

Balikpapan hosts various cultural festivals and events throughout the year, celebrating its diverse ethnic groups. The Tabuik Festival, for example, showcases traditional Dayak dances, music, and rituals, offering visitors a glimpse into Borneo’s indigenous culture.

1. Multicultural Society:

  • Balikpapan is a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, with a diverse population that includes Malays, Dayaks, Javanese, Chinese, Bugis, and other Indonesian ethnic groups. This cultural diversity is a defining feature of the city’s identity.

2. Indigenous Dayak Culture:

  • The indigenous Dayak communities, such as the Kutai, Kenyah, and Kayan, have a significant presence in East Kalimantan, including Balikpapan. These communities have their own unique traditions, art forms, and ceremonies that are an integral part of the region’s cultural tapestry.

3. Traditional Arts and Music:

  • Traditional Dayak dances, music, and art forms are often showcased during cultural events and festivals in Balikpapan. These performances celebrate the indigenous heritage of the region and include dances like the “ngajat” and “enggang” dance.

4. Religious Diversity:

  • Balikpapan is home to a variety of religious beliefs and practices. While Islam is the predominant religion, you can also find Hindu temples, Buddhist temples, and Christian churches in the city. This diversity is celebrated during various religious festivals and ceremonies.

5. Cultural Festivals:

  • Balikpapan hosts a range of cultural festivals and events throughout the year. These include the Tabuik Festival, which showcases traditional Dayak dances, music, and rituals. The city also celebrates national holidays and religious festivals with enthusiasm.

6. Traditional Crafts:

  • Local artisans in Balikpapan produce traditional crafts that reflect the city’s cultural heritage. These include woodcarvings, beadwork, woven textiles, and Dayak masks. These crafts are often sold as souvenirs and serve as a source of income for local communities.

Culinary Delights

Balikpapan’s cuisine is a delightful fusion of Indonesian, Malay, and Chinese flavors.

1. Fresh Seafood:

  • Balikpapan’s coastal location makes it a seafood lover’s paradise. Head to seafood restaurants and stalls like “rumah makan” to savor dishes like grilled fish, prawns, crabs, and squid. These dishes are often served with a variety of flavorful sauces and spices.

2. Nasi Kuning:

  • Nasi Kuning, or “yellow rice,” is a fragrant and visually appealing dish made by cooking rice with coconut milk and turmeric. It’s typically served with an array of side dishes such as fried chicken, beef rendang, fried shrimp, fried eggs, and a variety of vegetables. This dish is commonly enjoyed during special occasions and festivals.

3. Mie Balikpapan:

  • Mie Balikpapan is a local noodle dish unique to the city. It features egg noodles served with a savory broth and an assortment of toppings, including prawns, chicken, mushrooms, and vegetables. The broth is flavorful, and the dish is often garnished with crispy shallots.

4. Soto Balikpapan:

  • Soto Balikpapan is a popular local soup dish made with chicken or beef, rice noodles, and a fragrant broth infused with aromatic spices like lemongrass, turmeric, and galangal. It’s garnished with fresh herbs, lime, and fried shallots, adding layers of flavor to this comforting dish.

5. Lekker Cake:

  • Lekker Cake is a traditional Indonesian cake made with rice flour, coconut milk, and palm sugar. It’s known for its sweet, slightly sticky texture and is often enjoyed as a snack or dessert.

6. Martabak Manis:

  • Martabak Manis is a sweet Indonesian pancake typically filled with chocolate, cheese, condensed milk, and sometimes crushed peanuts. It’s a popular street food snack that’s both indulgent and delicious.

7. Traditional Market Snacks:

  • Explore traditional markets like Pasar Klandasan to sample a variety of local snacks. You’ll find traditional Indonesian sweets like “klepon” (pandan-flavored rice cake with palm sugar filling), “onde-onde” (deep-fried glutinous rice balls), and “lemper” (sticky rice rolls with chicken filling).

8. Kopi Tubruk:

  • Enjoy a cup of Kopi Tubruk, a strong and sweet Javanese-style coffee made by boiling coffee grounds with a lump of sugar. It’s often served in a glass, and the sweetened coffee provides an energy boost during the day.

9. International Cuisine:

  • Balikpapan’s cosmopolitan atmosphere also means you can find international cuisine such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Western dishes in the city’s restaurants and cafes.

10. Street Food Adventures: – Don’t miss the opportunity to explore Balikpapan’s vibrant street food scene. Street vendors offer a variety of snacks, from “martabak telur” (savory stuffed pancakes) to “sate” (grilled skewers) and “bakso” (meatball soup).

Read Also: Exploring Indonesia’s Equatorial Gem Pontianak

Practical Tips for Your Balikpapan Adventure

Before you embark on your journey to Balikpapan, here are some practical tips to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip:

  1. Visa Requirements: Check the visa requirements for Indonesia based on your nationality and ensure you have the necessary documents.
  2. Weather: Balikpapan has a tropical climate with high humidity, so pack lightweight clothing, sunscreen, and insect repellent.
  3. Language: The official language is Bahasa Indonesia, but English is spoken in many tourist areas.
  4. Currency: The currency used is the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR), so it’s advisable to have some local currency on hand.
  5. Health Precautions: Consult your doctor regarding vaccinations and health precautions before traveling to Indonesia.
  6. Respect Local Customs: Be mindful of local customs and traditions, especially when visiting religious sites and interacting with the local community.

Balikpapan, with its natural wonders, cultural richness, and culinary delights, is a destination that caters to all types of travelers. Whether you seek adventure in the outdoors or cultural immersion in the city, Balikpapan has something to offer everyone. Plan your trip and discover the beauty of this coastal gem on the island of Borneo.