INDONESIA TRAVEL GUIDE
Indonesia lies along the equator in the area between the Indian- and Pacific Oceans north of Australia. Comprising of 18 110 islands, 6 000 of them inhabited, Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world. Situated on the western rim of the Ring of Fire, Indonesia has more than 400 volcanoes, of which 130 are considered active, as well as many more undersea volcanoes.
With so many islands, each one more beautiful than the other, Indonesia is a whole lot more than just the popular island of Bali. We have only scratched the surface, but urge you to try and visit at least one other island to start to experience the diversity that Indonesia has to offer. We spent a month visiting the islands of Java, Bali, Gili-Air, and Gili-T over May / June 2016 and another month revisiting Bali, Gili Islands, and this time Lombok over August / September 2019 and we will definitely be back for more!
With so many islands and such a diverse cultural history, it may be surprising that well over 80% of the population state their religion as being Islam. The other four state-sanctioned religions are Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. While most Hindus are concentrated on the island of Bali, Christians are found mostly in parts of North Sumatra, Papua, North Sulawesi, and East Nusa Tenggara. It's mainly the ethnic Chinese concentrated in the larger cities that practice Buddhism.
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INDONESIA QUICK FACTS
- Currency: Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). Current conversion rate here.
- Electricity: 230V AC electricity. Power outlets are both round two-prong sockets (type C and type F). Be sure to pack a universal travel adaptor. Be sure to carry a universal travel adaptor so you can still use all your electronic devices. If you are from a country with 110V as a standard be aware that you will need a voltage converter.
- Visa: Traveling to Indonesia is easy; for citizens of most countries you won’t need to apply for a visa beforehand. There are a handful of countries who will require a pre-arranged visa or visa upon arrival, but most countries are visa-exempt for 30-days. Just make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your entry. The latest entry requirements are available here.
- Safety: Most parts of Indonesia are very safe to travel in. Indonesia is susceptible to many forms of natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods and tsunamis. Petty crime such as pickpocketing and bag snatching is a common issue, especially in public crowded places like bus and train stations, so keep your belongings close. Always make use of official taxi services such as Blue Bird rather than hailing a taxi from the street as there are many tax-related scams, where taxi drivers drive off before you get a chance to take your luggage. In areas where the party scene is big, drink spiking is a common problem. Political events such as elections are often times of violent and messy demonstrations that you should avoid. Whatever you do, don’t travel without travel insurance! We would suggest checking out World Nomads or SafetyWing, for travel insurance as they have the best coverage for active travellers.
- Language: The official language of Indonesia is Indonesian, which is spoken in the vast majority of the country. With more than 700 living languages spoken across Indonesia, English is also widely spoken, particularly in the more touristy areas. Even though English is less common in some more remote areas, it’s easy enough to get by in most of Indonesia.
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INDONESIA PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
17 August, Independence Day
Business openings and work schedules may be significantly affected by Waisak Day (Visakaha Day), Chinese New Year, and Christian and Islamic holidays and festivals.
FESTIVALS IN INDONESIA
Being a diverse country, multicultural Indonesia celebrates a vast range of religious holidays and festivals. Many of these are however limited to small areas, for instance, the Hindu festivals of Bali.
- Independence / National Day - Indonesia’s biggest national festival is celebrated on the 17th of August. Usually, there will be a grand parade in the capital city, Jakarta.
- Ramadan & Idul Fitri - The most significant season of the year is the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. For 30 days, devout Muslims refrain from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset. People get up early to stuff themselves before sunrise (sahur), go to work late, and take off early to get back home in time to breakfast (buka puasa) at sunset. During this time it is polite to refrain from eating or drinking in public. Many restaurants close during the day. During Ramadan, all forms of nightlife close by midnight or stay closed entirely. The month of Ramadan ends with the two days of Idul Fitri (also known as Lebaran). Almost the entire country takes a week or two off to head back home to visit family in a ritual known locally as mudik, meaning going home. This is the one time of the year when Jakarta has no traffic jams, but the rest of the country does, with all forms of transport packed to the brim. All government offices, including embassies, and many businesses close for a week or two, and travelling around Indonesia is best avoided during this time.
- Nyepi - Nyepi directly translates to “Day of Silence”. This is the Balinese / Saka New Year, and although the date changes every year, it is generally in March. This is a day of fasting and meditation and you will find everything closed in Bali on this day. Over the preceding days, you will see people of Bali scrubbing clean statues, while ceremonies and various other rituals are held.
- Kesodo / Kasada Ceremony - Hundreds of thousands of Tenggerese gather at the active crater of Mount Bromo, in East Java, during the month of August in order to ask for blessings and another year free of volcanic eruptions. They will present offerings of rice, fruits, vegetables, animals, and other local produce to the God of the Mountain.
- Waisak - This special day is in commemoration of the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha and is observed sometime during the full moon of May / June. While the whole of Indonesia is decorated very beautifully, in Borobudur (the largest Buddhist monument in the world) the day will be celebrated by thousands of monks and pilgrims.
BEST TIME TO VISIT INDONESIA
Straddling the Equator, Indonesia is a warm-weather destination. Although there are theoretically two seasons, namely the rainy season and the dry season, the dry season is far from dry, it just rains a little less! The air is pretty much always warm and humid. For most of the country (including Java and Bali), the dry season is April / May to September / October, while the wet season is October / November to March / April.
The best months for diving off the coast of Bali, Lombok, or the Komodo National Park are April to September, and you should try to avoid the rough seas particularly in January & February.
In the highlands, temperatures will, of course, be cooler, and the mountain peaks of Papua (some above 5 000m altitudes) can even be snow-covered. If you plan to climb one of Indonesia's many volcanoes, such as Mt Bromo on Java, Mt Rinjani in Lombok, or Tana Toraja in Sulawesi, then the dry season is recommended, and also remember to bring a jacket as temperatures are much cooler.
May to September is thus usually the best time to visit for mostly dry and sunny days. There are some regional exceptions:
Java - The dry season from May to September to climb the mountains of Bromo or Ijen.
Bali - The dry season from April to September, but try to avoid the busiest tourist months of April, July, and August.
Nusa Tenggara, Lombok, Flores, Komodo National Park, Sumba - The dry season from April to September to climb Mt Rinjani or dive off the coast of Lombok, Gili Islands and the Komodo National Park.
Sumatra - Sumatra is a fairly large island, so weather conditions vary across the island. Medan and North Sumatra are more tropical and the heaviest rainfall is typically from October to January. Palembang and South Sumatra experience drier weather from April to October and rain from November to March.
Sulawesi - Sulawesi experiences slightly different weather patterns depending on where you are on the island. In Toraja and the southern part of the island monsoon rains typically falls from November to April. Manado and the northern regions experience rainfall all year round, with the driest months from July to October.
Kalimantan - The southern regions of Kalimantan are generally the driest and the rainforest-covered interior area is significantly wetter. The dry season is from June to September, with August and September being the driest. Light rains typically fall from March to May, with heavier rains from November to January. Orangutans can be spotted in the Tanjung Puting National Park throughout the year, although during the rainy season they do seek shelter and thus tend to be more elusive.
West Papua & Raja Ampat - West Papua and the islands of Raja Ampat can be visited year-round; there isn’t really an off-season. Rainy season across the islands of Raja Ampat differs from the rest of Indonesia. There is a higher chance of rainfall and strong winds from June to September, which is not ideal for boat journeys or diving. The wettest months in the Baliem Valley are May and June, however, brief heavy downpours can be expected year-round.
The Moluccas - Weather conditions across the central Molucca islands of Ambon and Seram differ from the rest of Indonesia. Best visited from October to May, these islands experience rainfall from June to September. Weather patterns across the southern Molucca islands of Kei, Aru, and Tanimbar, and the northern islands of Ternate, Tidore, and Halmahera are similar to the majority of Indonesia. These islands are best visited from May to September.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
HIKING & CYCLING IN INDONESIA
Indonesia's dry season is from roughly from April to October, but always be prepared for some rain! There are plenty of stunning hiking trails throughout Indonesia and the best time for hiking is from May to September.
BEACH OPTIONS IN INDONESIA
Indonesia is an idyllic beach destination and it's always hot enough for the beach. Just note that from November to April can be very wet! You will enjoy much better beach weather from May to September.
SURFING IN INDONESIA
While you can enjoy excellent surf somewhere in Indonesia all year round, the best time for consistent swell is the dry months from April to October.
KITESURF IN INDONESIA
With some incredible spots for kitsurfing, the most consistent winds for kite and windsurfing in Indonesia blow from May to October, during the dry season.
For more details on kite surfing in Indonesia expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN INDONESIA
Be aware of possible health risks in
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
INDONESIA TRAVEL COSTS
Travel in Indonesia is very affordable, downright cheap some might say. One of the most popular destinations in Southeast Asia, the combination of incredible beauty and affordability are no doubt reasons why. If you’re happy sleeping in a hostel and eating street food, you can easily get by on $20-25 a day. If you want to stay in nicer villa-style accommodation (usually with a pool) but are happy to eat local food, up your budget to $30-35 per day and if you prefer to splurge on a fancy hotel or a few gourmet meals, you might want to up your budget to $40 or $50. If you want to get an idea of how much we spend travelling see our Budget Report section.
INDONESIA TRAVEL TIPS
Transport from one place to the next is fairly easy in Indonesia, although boat services are notorious for running late. There are no public transport systems and you will most likely end up using a combination of bus, boat and private car transfers to get around. We advise checking bus, boat and train schedules ahead of time using BookAway or 12Go website. Skyscanner.com or Kiwi.com are handy tools for finding great flight deals.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF INDONESIA
Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world and offers everything from relaxing on white-sand beaches, scuba diving in crystal clear warm waters, or surfing the waves to climbing and peering into active volcanoes, or just experiencing the diverse cultures and traditions across the many islands and regions. Indonesia is a fantastic destination for both the old and young, the adventurous and the culture seeking.
Perhaps the most distinctively Indonesian form of arts is wayang kulit shadow puppetry, where intricately detailed cutouts act out scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana and other popular folk stories. Very popular in Ubud and definitely an experience, although probably one you won’t want to repeat!
Indonesia is one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world. With so many dive sites such as Bunaken in Northern Sulawesi, Wakatobi in South East Sulawesi, Pulau Weh in Sumatra and Raja Ampat in Papua known worldwide. Diving directly from Bali is often overlooked, but there is some superb diving to be had with daily trips to Nusa Penida where you are almost guaranteed to see mantas.
Indonesia is a great destination for surfing, whether you are just a beginner or a pro wave rider, just be sure to check where the appropriate wave conditions are before planning your visit. The Mentawai Islands off the west coast of Sumatra offer many world-class surf spots.
REGIONAL HIGHLIGHTS OF INDONESIA
Sumatra is known for its strong cultural identity, with major ethnics such as Batak, Malay, and Minang, and minor ones such as Mentawai and Kubu. Be sure to visit Kerinci Seblat National Park to see wild tigers and elephants as well as the monstrous rafflesia flowers. Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake in the world and well worth seeing.
Kalimantan is a paradise for the adventurer, filled with uncharted jungles, mighty rivers, and the home of the orangutan.
Greatly underestimated, Java is a fantastic island to visit and has some incredible cultural treasures. It is worth visiting the contrasting cities of Jakarta and Yogyakarta. Not to be missed are Borobudur which is one of the largest Buddhist temples in the world and the equally impressive Hindu ruins of Prambanan. Although not as easy to reach, Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park contains some of the scariest volcanic scenery on the planet and claims to be one of the best locations in the world to see the sunrise! One-day Bromo sunrise tours from Surabaya are easy to book but if you have more time a 3-day tour taking in both Ijen and Bromo might provide for a more relaxed experience.
We went DIY to see Bromo - read about our experience at Mount Bromo here and make up your own mind. Yet another jewel of nature, Ijen Crater in East Java, with its famous blue sulfur flames is well worth the midnight wake-up and steep hike - but it is probably easier to do with as part of a group.
By far the most popular tourist destination in Indonesia, Bali's blend of culture, exquisite beaches, spectacular highland regions, and colourful underwater life make it an all-round favourite travel destination
Sulawesi is home to a number of diverse societies, such as the Toraja culture, as well as spectacular scenery, rich flora and fauna, and of course its incredible world-class diving sites.
Nusa Tenggara is home to many different ethnic groups, languages, and religions. The well known Komodo National Park is the home of the Komodo dragon and a protected marine ecosystem which offers spectacular diving.
The historic Spice Islands, still fought over in recent times, remain largely unexplored and almost unknown to the outside world.
The western side of the island of New Guinea is covered with mountains, forests, swamps, and is an almost impenetrable wilderness and one of the most remote places on earth. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, visiting Papua requires considerable planning, a lot of money, and a tolerance for extremely challenging conditions! If you happen to possess all of the above, then Baliem Valley has superb trekking into the lands of the Lani, Dani, and Yali tribes. Lorentz National Park is the single largest national park anywhere in Southeast Asia and has a permanent glacier.
Lombok is a popular island region just to the east of Bali and includes the tiny laidback Gili Islands which many people visit directly from Bali. The island of Lombok itself is known for the mighty Mount Rinjani which also offers a fantastic, but not to be underestimated, 3-day, 2-night hike to the Senaru Crater Rim.
WHAT TO PACK FOR INDONESIA
The biggest thing to remember when packing for Indonesia is that it is going to be hot, humid, and often wet. Bring lightweight, comfortable walking shoes, breathable clothes, and pack a travel umbrella and poncho! Not only will you use it when it rains but it comes in handy to shield yourself from the sun.
Do not forget to pack your mosquito repellent! The humidity of Indonesia brings with it many mosquitoes! While most of Indonesia is considered low malaria risk, there are high-risk areas (such as Papua), so check this and take the necessary precautions before you go.
While most of Bali is used to foreigners and western tourism and is thus more relaxed, however, if you’ll be travelling in more rural areas and in particular the rest of Indonesia (parts of Sumatra, Java, and Sulawesi), it’s a good idea to wear more modest attire as Indonesia is a primarily Muslim country and in some areas, Islamic dress codes apply. Dress a little more conservatively if you want to be accepted and welcomed and in particular when visiting temples and shrines.
If you have space and will be spending a lot of time on the islands, bring your own snorkelling gear as you will definitely want to be spending as much time as possible with your head underwater!
A lightweight jacket or sweater is always a good idea, especially when the freezing cold air-conditioning in restaurants and shops feels like winter compared to the heat outside!
WHAT TO EAT IN INDONESIA
The 6 000 inhabited islands making up Indonesia offer such a vast variety of regional dishes that the "Indonesian cuisine" is more an umbrella term than anything specific. Javanese cuisine consists of an array of simply seasoned dishes, with predominant flavourings of peanuts, chillies and sugar. Due to the majority of Indonesians being Muslim, most of its dishes are considered Halal, with a few exceptions and pork products predominantly only found in Bali. Vegetarians are also better catered for than in most other countries.
Keep an eye out for the following must-try foods:
- Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice) - Essentially just wok stir-fried rice with a host of salty seasonings, this simple hot and freshly cooked popular street food is both cheap and delicious. Be sure to ask for “Nasi Goreng Special” if you want a fried egg added to the dish!
- Balinese Babi Guling (Roast Suckling Pig) - Bali, with its mostly Hindu population, has a unique variety of pork dishes. Babi Guling is flavoured with herbs and spices like ginger, garlic, shallots, and chillies. The pig is roasted until crispy and you’ll have to set out eat this dish before it sells out!
- Sate Ayam (Chicken Satay) - The meat is marinated in sweet kecap manis soy sauce, before being grilled on an extremely hot charcoal fire. This means that the meat cooks quickly, leaving it juicy but also giving it a smoky flavour.
- Sate Padang (Padang Satay) - Originally from Padang, on the west coast of Sumatra, Sate Padang skewers consist of a mix of meat, including beef, beef tongue, and offal. The meat is marinated in a mixture of spices before being grilled over flaming hot charcoal. The skewers are then served over sliced up compressed rice cake (ketupat) and covered in a thick brown sauce and sprinkled with crispy shallots.
- Ikan Bakar (Grilled Fish) - Typically the fish is butterfly cut and rubbed in a sambal marinade before being grilled quickly over a very hot charcoal fire. This leaves the fish incredibly tasty and tender and it is usually served with either kecap manis or a variety of different sambal chilli sauces and rice.
- Bebek Goreng (Fried Duck) - This deep-fried duck is the equivalent of well known deep-fried chicken. They are often very small, can be a little greasy and salty but are also rich in flavour. Served with rice, a few raw herbs like lemon basil and some sambal chilli sauce.
- Bakso (Indonesian Meatballs) - A very popular street food dish, the minced meat is mixed with some tapioca starch which gives them their serious bouncy texture. Bakso will either be served with noodles and soup or dry with soup on the side.
- Nasi Uduk (Coconut Rice) - Known as nasi lemak in Malaysia, this fragrant and slightly sweet rice is cooked with coconut milk and cardamom. Popular for breakfast, it is often eaten with omelette and fried chicken.
- Nasi Campur (Mixed Rice) - Nasi campur literally just means mixed rice, and in Jakarta, it refers to rice with a variety of Chinese meats like char siu, pork belly, roast chicken, or egg, all served with a sweet tangy sauce.
- Bubur Ayam (Chicken Congee) - Chicken congee, or rice porridge, is one of the very common street food dishes in Indonesia. The rice is cooked so it’s thick and hearty and while it can be prepared with an assortment of toppings, chicken is one of the most popular.
- Beef Rendang - Rendang is a dish that originates in the western part of Sumatra from the Minangkabau people. There are two main variations of rendang, the supposed original version that’s quite dry with all the spices coated onto the meat, and the other that has more of a curry gravy sauce. Redang makes use of spices like cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, and dry chillies, garlic, shallots are the essential ingredient is desiccated coconut, which gives the rendang curry a grainy texture.
- Mie Goreng (Fried Noodles) - Indonesian Mie Goreng is usually prepared with yellow noodles, stir-fried in a hot wok with plenty of oil, garlic, egg, and a combination of extra ingredients that can include cabbage, tomatoes, kailan, onions, and any choice of meat. Also a very popular street food dish.
- Gorengan (Deep Fried Snacks) - Gorengan refers to street food stalls that serve all kinds of deep-fried snacks. This can include Pisang Goreng (deep-fried bananas), fried stuffed tofu, bakwan (veggie batter fritters), fried cassava, fried breadfruit, and many more. Our favourite is Pisang Goreng.
- Martabak Manis (Sweet Pancakes) - These sweet waffle-like pancakes are smothered in butter, sugar, peanuts, chocolate, or a variety of other fillings of choice. Simply delicious!
- Durian (King of Fruits) - Considered the King of Fruits in Indonesia, you'll find an abundance of fresh durian, as well as many different durian treats, like durian cake, durian ice cream, and durian, flavoured shaved ice.
WHERE TO STAY IN INDONESIA
From $4 hostels to $100 hotels, Indonesia has a huge variety of accommodation options. Bali has the best variety, as tourism is at its highest here. Competition can be fierce and if your dates are flexible and you can stay for a longer period there are plenty of bargains to be had. During May / June 2016 we spent 4 weeks in Java, Bali and the Gili Islands and ended up spending an average of only $26 per night for some really lovely places, all private double en-suite and mostly with a swimming pool.
Rural areas generally offer simpler accommodation options, such as basic guesthouses.
We recommend booking accommodation in advance if travelling during peak seasons or holidays, checking with sites like Booking.com or Agoda for availability. No matter where you stay, you’re almost certain to experience the wealth of Indonesia hospitality. It’s an amazing place to visit!
Airbnb Travel Tip: Airbnb is recommended for an apartment- or villa-style accommodation. Click here for our coupon code to apply with your next booking, or see our article on how to get a $65 discount coupon code.