Located on the south eastern coast of East Kalimantan facing the deep Makassar Straits, the town of Balikpapan is known as the Oil City of Indonesia. Its anniversary which falls on 10th of February, in fact celebrates the first oil drilling undertaken in the area, known as the “Mathilda” drill.
For this reason, Balikpapan, like its counterpart city of Pekanbaru in Riau on Sumatra, is better known for its oil rather than its tourist attractions. Oil and other mining industries are the reasons why nearly all domestic airlines fly to Balikpapan rather than to the provincial capital of Samarinda. For, it is in Balikpapan where gather the oil and mining related foreign and Indonesian business communities. Exports from Balikpapan are chiefly in oil, natural gas and coal, while agricultural produce take second place.
Balikpapan’s Sepinggan airport is also the main transit point inland to Tanjung redep airport in Berau, the hopping off point to the wonderful Derawan Dive Islands.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Balikpapan has a number of five and four starred hotels catering to top management clientele and their VIP visitors, although more reasonable rate hotels are also available around town.
Because of its large oil output, therefore, Balikpapan became the arena of fierce battles during World War II, waged between the Dutch colonial powers and the invading Japanese forces. A number of Japanese bunkers as well as a Japanese cemetery are remnants of the Japanese occupation of Indonesia between 1942-1945.
Today, besides its oil silos and refineries, which are a must to see, although from a distance, Balikpapan has quite a number of tourist attractions in and around the city.
Three most popular beaches here are the Kemala beach in the city limits, the Manggar beach, situated some 17 km. east of Balikpapan, and the Segara Sari beach, a little further east from here. Manggar beach is equipped with a recreation park, very popular with the whole family.
To see wildlife, there is theWain River Protected Forest. Covering some 10,000 hectares the reserve is habitat to a number of endangered animals, like the so-called Beruang Madu (honey bear) which are sun bears endemic to the area, orang-utans and proboscis monkeys, called Bekantan. Wain river reserve, moreover, houses a number of endangered plants.
Near Balikpapan is also a crocodile farm called Teritip, which is interesting to visit.
Balikpapan hotels provide a number of good restaurants serving both Indonesian, European, Chinese and other Asian cuisine.
For outdoor dining, Balikpapan has two popular food areas. The rather upmarket Bandar Balikpapan has a number of cafes and restaurants located on a bridge overlooking the sea. The place is great for group dining or romantic candle-light dinners. Most cafes are open in the evenings only.
While, Melawai is very popular with the locals also looks out to sea. Melawai offers food street stalls.
Balikpapan has many upmarket hotels as well as business class hotels and accommodation.
Also known as Pantai Kemala, this beach is easiest to reach, located at Jalan Sudirman, within the city limits. Locals love to flock to this beach to watch the sunset over the Straits of Makassar.
Wain River Protected Forest
This is a 10,000 hectares forest to the north of Balikpapan, habitat of orang utans, honey bears and proboscis monkeys. When you travel upriver on river boats you may see these unique animals roaming in the wild along the embankments. The forest is reachable via the Soekarno-Hatta road at km. 15, in the subdistrict of Karang Joang. As there are no public transport to the area you will have to get there by rented car.
Visiting Balikpapan, one must certainly not miss to see the pulse of this city which are the oil refineries and huge silos. The area is located on Jalan Minyak towards Balikpapan Bay, it covers some 2.5 square kilometers and is protected by a strong fence. Access is closed to the public, but people can see this from the road, near the deep sea harbour. Photographs are prohibited.
Pasar Klandasan market
Klandasan is a traditional market which has been well laid out and good to visit for locals and tourists. Located at Jalan Sudirman, the market sells fresh fruits and vegetables, and lots of seafood including crabs, lobsters, and other freshly caught fish.
Pasar Inpres Kebun Sayur market
Despite its name, which means Vegetable garden, Kebun Sayur is, in fact, the center for gems and handicrafts. Here you will find shops selling diamonds, jades, gold, silver and others precious and semi precious stones and metals. Gems are said to be cheaper here than elsewhere in Indonesia. You can also find special Dayak handicrafts sold here for souvenirs.
Balikpapan is easily reached from all major cities in Indonesia. Most airlines have flights to Balikpapan, including from Jakarta,Surabaya, and Makassar. Besides Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air, other domestic low-cost carriers to Balikpapan are Sriwijaya Air, Citilink, Indonesia Air Asia.
Internationally, SilkAir flies direct to Balikpapan from Singapore.