Travel to Indonesia
The Republic of Indonesia is a large archipelago of 18,110 islands that are spread over the Equator, occupying a wide expanse of watery space between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world and 88 percent of the population are Muslim. The capital is Jakarta. Neighbouring countries are Australia to the south, Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand to the north, and India to the northwest.
Indonesia has the second-largest tropical forests in the world after Brazil. It’s forests are teeming with wildlife and it is a sanctuary for diverse plant and animal life.
There is no unifying culture in the country. However, Sumatra, Java, Bali and Lombok nurture the Hindu culture of the erstwhile Majapahit Empire. Shadow puppetry, depicting scenes from the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana is an important Indonesian artform.
Bali is the most popular tourist destination with its opportunities for snorkeling and legendary sandy beaches. Sumatra harbours rich biodiversity including a variety of endangered species like elephants, rhinos and tigers. ‘Wonderful Indonesia’ beckons to the culturally curious, beach-loving and wildlife enthusiastic traveler.
Before you go, make sure to check out our packing list for Bali.
Travel tips for Indonesia
Visa Requirements for Indonesia
It is possible to enter Indonesia without an Indonesia visa if you are a member of a stipulated list of 169 countries. Visa free entry is allowed at only certain ports of entry. If you do require a visa to enter Indonesia, you can acquire the visa on arrival (again at only certain stipulated ports of entry) or in certain cases you might have to apply for it from your nearby Indonesian Consulate or Embassy. Visa on arrival fees are $35 and the visa is only extendable once for a month. Please check the current guidelines in advance, of the visa requirements for your country.
Important Cultural Information
Though the rules of Indonesian etiquette are numerous and complicated to Westerners, the Indonesian people are forgiving as a rule. However, avoid getting in to disputes with locals or police officials.
Never raise your voice and try to be polite at all times. Loud and aggressive behavior is highly frowned upon. When greeting someone, it is permitted to shake hands gently – by lightly touching the palms and bringing your hand to your chest. Many Muslim women prefer a nod of the head in acknowledgment, rather than any bodily contact. As with other Eastern cultures, using the left hand is considered rude. Similarly, avoid pointing and making gestures with the finger.
Unknown men may be respectfully addressed by using the term ‘Bapak’ (father) and Ibu (mother). Remember to remove shoes when entering someone’s abode. Avoid standing or sitting with arms crossed or with arms placed on the hips. This type of body language is seen as aggressive.
Banking & Money in Indonesia
The currency of Indonesia is the Rupiah (Rp). The banknotes in circulation include Rp 100,000 (red), Rp 50,000 (blue), Rp 20,000 (green), Rp 10,000 (purple), Rp 5,000 (brown), Rp 2,000 (gray) and Rp 1,000 (green-brown). Coins are available in Rp. 1000, Rp. 500, Rp.200 and Rp.100 denominations. US Dollars are not widely acceptable and should be used only when making a larger purchase.
You can change money at banks and money exchangers which are prevalent in Bali, Java and Lombok but not so much elsewhere. ATMs are to be found in touristy places and major cities although there may be transaction limits. Names of some banks to be found in Indonesia are CIMB, HSBC, BII,BRI and PermataBank. Visa and MasterCard are accepted in Indonesia.
Medical Emergency Information
Emergency numbers in Indonesia include the following:
Fire Department: 113
Ambulance: 118 or 119
Search and Rescue: 115
Since, Indonesia is spread over a wide expanse of territory, presence of an integrated emergency medical service is lacking. When you tour Indonesia and are located in a remote place, search for private help. Some common emergencies in Indonesia result from Earthquake, tsunami, volcanic eruption, floods and road traffic injuries. Some recommended vaccinations for Indonesia include MMR, polio, Diptheria-tetanus-pertussis, typhoid, Hepatitis A and B, Japanese encephalitis and prophylaxis against malaria.
Healthcare facilities around Indonesia vary with many patients opting to go to Singapore for care. The best care in the country is to be had in Jakarta. Government healthcare is available to travelers but there is no guarantee of doctors being proficient in English in government hospitals and payment will most likely be expected in cash, in absence of a national health insurance cover for foreigners. The best bet is opting for private healthcare. Names of some hospitals in Jakarta are Mayapada Hospital, Graha Medina Hospital and Pondok Indah Hospital. Hospitals in other regions include Bethesda Hospital (Yogyakarta), Sanglah Hospital (Bali), Dr Kariadi Hospital (Semarang), Dharmais Hospital (West Jakarta) and Aloei Saboe Hospital (Gorontalo).
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Wi-Fi and Internet in Indonesia
The country code for Indonesia is 017. It is quite easy to pick up a prepaid SIM card for low prices. Rp 10,000 can provide you with a SIM where calls generally cost Rp 500-1000 per minute. The most popular mobile phone operators include Telkomsel, Indosat, XL Axiata, 3 and AXIS. Telkomsel has the best coverage over Indonesia. If you have a GSM compatible phone you can enquire about international roaming charges in Indonesia.
A GSM/WCDMA mobile phone will enable you to acquire internet data packages through major operators. Free Wi-Fi hotspots are scattered across major cities – in shopping malls, McDonald’s restaurants, Starbucks cafes, 7 eleven grocery shops and more. Certain hotels, restaurants and bars will also provide free Wi-Fi service. Make sure to always use a VPN service when using free public Wi-Fi (check out ExpressVPN).
Arrival in Indonesia
There are three main international Indonesia airports. They are Soekarno-Hatta (CGK) at Tangerang Banten near Jakarta, Juanda (SUB) at Surabaya, East Java and Ngurah Rai (DPS) at Denpasar, Bali. Flights to Bali are convenient and hassle free.
The main flagship airlines is Garuda Indonesia which charters flights in to Indonesia from major Asian destinations, Australia, the Middle East and to Amsterdam. Travel from the USA to Indonesia will most likely have a pit-stop in Hong Kong or Singapore, before arriving in Jakarta. A number of low cost carriers like AirAsia, Jetstar and LionAir also have flights in to Indonesia.
Search for available flights to Indonesia on Expedia.
It is possible to arrive in Indonesia via boat. Ferries with frequent service connect Singapore and Malaysia with Indonesia.
It is possible to enter Indonesia via land routes from East Timor, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.
Areas of Indonesia
Indonesia is an archipelago of 17000 different islands. They have been grouped into different provinces, centred around some of the larger islands.
Here are some of the regions of Indonesia and specific Indonesia tourist places:
The Sumatran region consists of 10 provinces, centred around Sumatra – the sixth largest island in the world. This region is a habitat for many endangered species like elephants, tigers and rhinos. Ethnic communities who reside in this area are Batak, Malay, Minang, Mentawai and Kubu. This is one of the best islands in Indonesia for wildlife viewing.
This is the world’s third largest island and home to unexplored jungle and orangutans.
This forms the centre of the country, holding claim to the capital city of Jakarta. Places to visit like Borobudur, Yogyakarta and Prambanan are regional attractions.
This is a destination hotspot for more reasons than one. Bali’s culture, spectacular beaches, sea life – make this a desirable, year-round holiday destination. It’s a popular destination for digital nomads, solo female travelers and also to go on a honeymoon in Bali.
Blessed with superior scenery and a diversity of cultures and flora and fauna.
Home to the famous Komodo Lizard and scores of ethnic groups, beliefs and languages.
The relatively uncharted Spice Islands.
This region consists of the western half of the island of New Guinea. One of the most isolated places in the world, covered in dense forest.
Cities of Indonesia
Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia and also the largest and most congested city. Ubud is the main center of Bali with a strong cultural presence. Yogyakarta is home to the historic temples of Prambanan and Borobudur. Surabaya is a port city and Semarang the capital of Central Java. Other major cities are Banda Aceh, Medan and Padang.
Transportation in Indonesia
Long distance travel in Indonesia entails plane travel, which is the fastest and most convenient. Domestic airlines include Garuda, LionAIr, Sriwijaya and low cost carriers like Indonesia Air Asia and Citilink. Prices for domestic flights are affordable by international standards.
Traveling by boat, from one Indonesian city to another is a popular way to travel, given the island nature of the country. Indonesia doe not suffer from the frequent typhoons that affect the Philippines, so boat travel is feasible. The largest state run ferry company is PELNI. A boat ride on a PELNI ferry, navigating most of the inhabited islands in Indonesia can take up to fourteen days. ADSP runs fast ferries in addition to PELNI’s slow boats. Lastly various island to island boat hopping services are available.
Train travel is feasible across Java and Sumatra. Java has the best network and connects the capital Jakarta with Surabaya, Semarang, Yogyakarta and Solo. Sumatra’s train service is concentrated on the northern and southern parts of the island.
Bus journeys can be very long in Indonesia and bus routes are established on Java and Sumatra. You can avail of air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned buses.
It’s possible to rent a car and drive in Indonesia with the aid of an International Driver’s Permit, although given the driving habits, hiring a driver might be a better option.
More humble forms of transport consist of the becak (tricycle cab), bentor (motorbikes with sidecars) and bemo (three wheeled truck with a rear entry).
Ojek motorcycle taxis are also prevalent, although not the safest mode of transportation.
Accommodations in Indonesia
In destinations such as Jakarta and Bali there are a wide range of accommodation options. These include five star hotels, luxury resorts, backpacker friendly guest houses, cheap and mid-range hotels.
A ‘losmen’ or a backpacker-friendly guesthouse is a popular option and runs to only USD15 a night. These facilities will most often have only a fan for cooling and shared bathrooms. In certain basic facilities you might have squat-toilets and mandis- water tanks. You need to take water from these tanks to have a bucket-bath.
Chinese-run hotels have better facilities and these might stretch to air-conditioning and western-style luxuries.
There are also hotels in the five-star (or thereabouts) luxury category- the Grand Hyatt in Bali, the Mandarin Oriental in Jakarta, the Ritz-Carlton Jakarta, the Oberoi Beach Resort in Lombok, the Viceroy Bali and the St Regis Bali Resort. The Grand Hyatt and the Viceroy Bali are some of the best places to stay in Bali.
Read our guide on where to stay in Bali.
What to Eat and Drink in Indonesia
The term Indonesian cuisine is rather a broad term, including the food of many diverse ethnic communities flung across wide geographical space. 17,000 islands, surely harbor lots of food diversity.
Javanese cuisine found across the main island of Java has simple dishes flavored with peanuts, chilies and sugar. Nasi Goreng (fried rice) is a popular food. Cuisine in Padang in Sumatra is famed for its spice. Pork is consumed by two groups- the Christian Batak people and the Hindu Balinese.
If you are looking for adventurous food- look no further than the meals of the Minahasa of North Sulawesi known for eating dog meat and fruit bat meat among other things! The Melanesian food found in Papua relies on staples like taro and sago.
The names of a few dishes you should consider trying are the previously mentioned nasi goreng (fried rice), bubur (rice porridge), nasi padang (rice with curries from Padang), bakmi (egg noodles with chicken and mushroom), gudeg (jackfruit stew from Yogyakarta), satay and gado-gado (veg in peanut sauce).
Check out this guide for food in Bali, including the best local dishes to try!
What to Eat and Drink in Indonesia
Things to Do and See in Indonesia
The places to visit in Indonesia can be broadly divided into those centering around the beach, volcano viewing, spotting biodiversity and cultural or historical attractions.
Indonesia has 167 active volcanoes – the highest concentration of active volcanoes all around the world. Not all the volcanoes are accessible to visitors though. If you are curious about visiting some you should consider visiting Mount Rinjani in Lombok, Mount Batur in Bali, Ijen Crater in East Java and the Bromo-Tengger-Severus National Park – these are among the best Bali volcano hikes.
Some of the most idyllic beaches in the world are to be found in Indonesia. A popular choice is obviously Bali but there are lesser known beautiful beaches in Sulawesi, Maluku and Nusa Tenggara. Surfing, of course, is one of the popular water activities in Bali – here are some of the best surf spots in Bali.
Regarding wildlife tourism, visiting Komodo Island to see the surreal Komodo Dragon is an exciting option. Apart from this, large tracts of tropical forests in Java and Sumatra are home to orangutans. Rhinos, tigers and many bird species are to be found here.
Regarding historical monuments, Borobudur in Central Java is a remarkable Buddhist Stupa. It dates back to the 8th century. Prambanan is a nearby Hindu monument. There are a number of Javanese temples scattered over Bali- that are relics of the Majapahit Kingdom of the 13th and 14th centuries. These places will answer questions of where to go in Bali.
Things to Do and See in Indonesia
Shopping in Indonesia
Indonesia has its fair share of western style shopping malls but if you are looking for a more authentic, local experience of shopping look no further than the local markets.
Sukawati Art Market is a famous one in Bali. Here you can find everything from silk fabrics, paintings, statues, handmade bags and a variety of other handicrafts too. The market is found near the main road near Ubud.
Beringharjo Market in Yogyakarta is famed for its batik prints since 1758. This market also sells a number of antique items.
Shop at the traditional floating markets in Borneo, to be more specific the Pasar Terapung Lok Baintain Market in Kalimantan. Leather crafts, puppets, handwoven cloth and textiles, wood carvings and Indonesian batik are all very desirable items.
When one pictures Indonesian nightlife the beach parties in Bali come to mind. The island has everything from tranquil, dreamy beach bars to the most upbeat of nightclubs with the best DJs. If you are looking for nighttime entertainment with a difference you might prefer a night of traditional Indonesian song and dance.
In the big cities karaoke bars, bars with live music and cinemas light up the scene. Some names of happening nightclubs in Jakarta include the Colosseum Club, the Dragonfly Club, Blowfish and Immigrant Lounge and Club.
Other places to enjoy nightlife in Indonesia include Bintan, Yogyakarta, Batam Island and Lombok among others.
Safety Tips for Indonesia
There are a number of safety tips to keep in mind, especially when visiting Indonesia. A number of hazards face the country- volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, corruption and crime being among them. Often the natural calamities will not affect the whole country, given its size.
More than violent crime, crime on the streets along with corruption, trouble Indonesia. Theft occurs in crowded public areas like markets and on public transport. Always leave valuables in a safety deposit box at the hotel. Do not draw large amounts of cash at a time from ATM machines.
Corruption is very much prevalent in the country. Always ask for receipts when ‘fees’ are issued by officials. Civil strife is prevalent in certain Indonesian provinces- notably Papua and Aceh. Incidents of terrorist bombing have struck tourist hotspots in Indonesia.
Indonesia is a dream destination for more reasons than one. Simple mention of the name of the country inspires the traveler to think of beautiful sandy beach escapes, lush wildlife and tropical forests, ancient temple architecture, rich history and the excitement of viewing active volcanoes, up close and personal.
Indonesia has both species of wild orangutans in the world, whose numbers across the world are gradually dwindling. The two species are the Bornean orangutan on Borneo and the the Sumatran orangutan in Sumatra. The best places to observe these animals (without interrupting their life) in the wild in Borneo are Tanjung Puting National Park, Kutai National Park and Danum Valley Conservation Area.
Indonesia is also home to several UNESCO World Heritage sites. In the cultural realm these include the Borobudur Temples and the Prambanan Temple Compounds. In the natural realm Komodo National Park, Lorentz National Park, the Sumatran Rainforest and Ujung Kulon NP also make the list.
Without doubt, the largest draw to Indonesia is the idyllic island of Bali, with its sandy beaches, ancient temple culture, hospitable people, a vibrant clubbing scene, active volcanoes and lush jungles. There are a lot of land and sea based activities to keep you busy there. There’s a lot of shopping and other things to do in Ubud, wildlife viewing and volcano visiting and also a beautiful underwater realm of coral reefs to explore.
Wherever, you go in Indonesia, the country certainly lives up to its reputation of being ‘Wonderful Indonesia’.
Travel Tips for Indonesia