Are you considering an exciting voyage to Indonesia? This page is designed as a practical resource for first-time, as well as seasoned long-distance travelers who are ready to immerse themselves in the spectrum of unique cultural experiences Indonesia has to offer.
The most visited islands are Bali and Java, and there is plenty to see on these two islands alone. But there is much more. Itineraries will vary greatly based on individual interests and budgets. Backpackers as well as world-class travelers all have discovered the fascinations of Indonesia. Besides tropical beaches, there are many volcanoes, fantastic wildlife, archeological wonders, ancient traditional cultures, exotic performing and visual arts, and bustling cities.
It is impossible to fully explore Indonesia in a few weeks' time. It is therefore advisable to choose only one or two regions to explore at a time. Of course, that may mean that you will find yourself planning a return trip to Indonesia as soon as you come home from your first visit. That is not unusual. Indonesia's many charms have stolen the hearts of those who have tasted the delights that only experience can explain.
Tour packages are a good way for many solo or first-time travelers to experience the highlights of Indonesian culture and beauty. They can often be a good value as well. There are tour packages for every travel preference, from ecotourism, edutourism, and adventure sports, to beach lovers, art enthusiasts, and bargain hunters. However, if you are more the independent type, here are a few suggestions to include in your plans:
v Beach lovers often flock to the popular white as well as black sand beaches of Bali. Often called a surfer's paradise, the excellent waves of Ulu Watu, Sanur and Nusa Dua are an adventure for experienced surfers, but even beginners can learn to surf at popular Kuta and Legian beaches where rental equipment and local instructors are plentiful.
v Bali's mecca of traditional art and culture is found in the central mountains of Ubud. Tourism competes with the arts here, but together they give the visitor a glimpse into a more genuine experience of the Balinese people.
v Lombok is the small island east of Bali, which is lesser traveled by tourists, but offers white sand beaches, mountain trekking, and visits to craft villages.
v One of the wonders of the world, the Buddhist temple of Borobudur is located in Central Java. Rich with history and ancient architecture, this is the largest temple in the world. Put on a comfortable pair of walking shoes and your sun hat and plan a day to climb to the top and fully absorb this must-see attraction.
v The center of Javanese culture and a popular tourist destination is the Central Java city of Yogyakarta. This is also a university town that boasts many nearby attractions, such as the ancient Hindu temple of Prambanan.
v Northern Sumatra offers the magnificent natural wonder of the crater lake Danau Toba, which is the largest lake in Southeast Asia. Pulau Samosir is a volcanic island the size of Singapore that rises from the center of the lake.
v The famous Komodo Dragon makes its home in Nusa Tenggara, which catapults visitors back in time to the age of the dinosaurs.
v The beautiful mountains of central Sulawesi are perfect for adventurous trekking, and the Toraja people are best known for their unique and colorful ceremonies. Some of the best snorkeling and diving is also available around the reefs of Pulau Bunaken.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: A passport valid for at least six months from arrival date and an onward/return ticket are required. It is not necessary for citizens from the USA (Canada, the UK or Australia) to obtain a visa before arriving in Indonesia. Since February 1, 2004, tourists are required to buy a visa upon arrival at a cost of $25 for a stay of up to 30 days. If you want more detailed information, contact the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in at (202) 775-5200 or their web site. You may also contact the nearest Indonesian Consulate General: Los Angeles (213) 383-5126, San Francisco (415) 474-9571, Chicago (312) 595-1777, New York (212) 879-0600 or Houston (713)785-1691.
There are no non-stop flights from the United States to Indonesia. You must make at least one connecting flight, and depending on the airline, a stopover may be required, usually in Asia. Both transpacific and transatlantic flights are available, with the major US gateways being New York, Newark, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Lately fares can be found from the USA to either Jakarta (Java) or Denpasar (Bali) roundtrip for well under $1,000.
Note that prior to departure from Indonesia for the flight home, passengers must pay an airport tax of anywhere from Rp15,000 to Rp100,000 (approx. US$1.75 to $11.75 ) , depending on the airport.
Lodging in Indonesia can be found to fit just about any budget, from simple and cheap to as posh and luxuriant as any five-star accommodations in the west. The US dollar goes far in Indonesia, and one could pay less than $10 per night with two meal a day at clean and adequate homestay accommodations, or into the hundreds of dollars per night at the top-notch Oberoi Bali.
Room rates at many of the mid-level hotels may be negotiable and discounts are often given if one simply asks. It is also a good idea to request the price list when checking in to be sure that you are not being quoted the highest rate. Always ask to see the room before accepting a price at the budget hotels.
Travel of any great distance either on or off island may be by air, bus, minibus (bemo), train, car or boat.
Air travel is relatively inexpensive and there are several domestic airlines in addition to the major national airline, Garuda Indonesia, which is named after the mythical man-bird of the Hindu god Vishnu. Garuda has a good domestic network to all major Indonesian cities and operates international flights as well.
Buses are quite economical, even the luxury air-conditioned models, for long and short jaunts. Buses are the main form of public transportation for Indonesian citizens. There is little space for luggage though, so travel light when traveling the islands by bus.
Minibuses, or Bemos, as they are called locally, are another popular form of transportation between and within cities and travel standard routes. Bemos are usually cramped and at times the drivers will try to overcharge foreigners. Also be careful of pickpockets in such crowded traveling conditions. There are also some more comfortable express minibuses that operate between the major tourist centers in Sumatra, Bali and Lombok, sometimes called "travel". They offer service from your hotel to your destination. Fare for this service is, of course, higher than that charged by the typical bemo services.
Train service in Indonesia is only operated in Sumatra and Java. The best service is in Java, which is comfortable and convenient. The train service in Sumatra is minimal by comparison.
In some areas car and motorcycle rental is available, but realize that Indonesians drive on the left side of the road, and often any side that will serve their purpose. Driving in Indonesia can be a hair-raising experience for the mild-mannered tourist. Many Indonesian drivers have never had any formal driver's education and licenses are often acquired mysteriously, if at all. If you are involved in an accident, it can be a nightmare. Because you are a foreigner, you will be held at fault no matter what the actual situation was. A wiser choice is to hire a driver, travel by taxi, or use public transportation.
There are ferries that run between all of the islands. The sailing frequency is from several times per day to several times per week. Most accept large vehicles as well as motorcycles and passengers.
Indonesia has three time zones:
To quickly and easily see what time it is anywhere in Indonesia (or the rest of the world for that matter) go to World Clock, cities are listed alphabetically.
Indonesian currency is the rupiah. You will be happy to know that the US dollar goes far in Indonesia. In fact, most of the cost to visit Indonesia is for airfare, unless of course, you choose to stay at the ultra luxury hotels whose room rates are comparable to those in the States.
The exchange rate as of February 2004 was approximately Rp.8500 to $1 USD.
The current exchange rate is published daily in The Jakarta Post.
Prices quoted in rupiah or dollars can easily be converted using the Universal Currency Converter.
You will have to change your money, and in tourist areas, there are plenty of moneychangers and banks available. The best rates are generally at the banks, though moneychangers in Bali may give a better rate for cash as opposed to travelers checks. Curiously, newly printed (2001 or newer), unfolded and unmarred US bills draw a better rate than do older bills of the same denomination. Larger denominations are more desirable than smaller ones. So if you do bring cash, it is worth it to ask for crisp, new bills from your banker before leaving home. Always carefully count your rupiah before handing over your dollars or travelers checks, especially when dealing with moneychangers in Bali.
As far as the use of credit cards, many of the larger hotels, restaurants and stores in tourist areas and large cities will accept them, but if you go to the smaller budget hotels, guest houses, homestays or local restaurants and shops, be prepared to pay in rupiah.
Packing light is always recommended for long-distance travel. You should be able to carry all of your luggage yourself for 15 or 20 minutes without too much struggle.
Indonesia is a warm, tropical climate year-round. Casual, loose, light-weight clothing of breathable, wrinkle-resistant material is preferable. It is generally best to dress conservatively throughout Indonesia where culturally, manners and courtesy are important. Wearing shorts, tank tops and bathing suits outside of beach areas is considered rude.
Under-packing is better than over-packing since clothing is delightfully inexpensive in Indonesia. Buying any additional clothes you may need during your visit there is a practical way to bring home some personal souvenirs. However, remember that Indonesians are generally smaller people than westerners, so be aware that larger sizes for both men and women may be difficult to find.
Remember to bring the following items:
For excellent tips on packing methods and traveling light, as well as many travel resources, visit OneBag.com.
A recommended book that is very helpful when planning your trip is The Packing Book.
A little pre-trip education and planning is wise for any overseas journey. Indonesia does not require vaccinations before travel, however, the Center for Disease Control recommends the following before travel to Southeast Asia:
See your doctor at least 4Ė6 weeks before your trip to allow time for shots to take effect.
Far and away the most common health problem for travelers to the major cities and tourist areas in Indonesia is travelers' diarrhea or "Bali belly." This is caused by contaminated food or water, or even just the sudden change in climate, diet, as well as bacteria new to the digestive system. Up to 50% of all travelers (not just those to Indonesia) experience some upset to their system in the early part of a trip. A few rushed trips to the toilet with no other symptoms should be no cause for alarm. Just be sure to drink plenty of clean water (air putih) and eat a light, bland diet for a few days.
To stay healthy, do...
To avoid getting sick...
It should be remembered that Indonesia is still a developing nation, and religious and cultural diversity also has its downside, at times leading to unrest and even riots. In northern Sumatra there is currently a violent struggle for independence in Aceh, and in the Maluku islands religious strife between Moslems and Christians continues to flare up. These areas should be avoided by tourists. Terrorism has also been a concern over the past year in Java and Bali, so travelers are wise to be aware of the current social climate and steer clear if any large public demonstrations are encountered.
Conditions have improved in the popular tourist areas of Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Bali due to increased security measures by the government; travelers and expatriates report experiencing no safety concerns due to the social climate or attitude toward westerners. Indeed, the Indonesian people are generally extremely hospitable and view foreigners as their guests. However, each traveler contemplating a visit to Indonesia must make his/her own decision regarding whether or not travel is advisable. It is wise to make an informed choice and consider your personal risk tolerance. We recommend keeping abreast of the news in Indonesia and reviewing appropriate travel information provided by the US government (also see FAQ About Travel to Indonesia).
When looking for restrooms, ask for the "way say" (WC), toilet or "kamar kechil" (kamar kecil), and your needs will be understood.
Using restrooms in Indonesia may at first be a challenge for American travelers who are not accustomed to the Indonesian squat toilet. There are several kinds, but they are basically all holes in the ground with foot rests on either side. Don't panic yet, however, since most restaurants and hotels in major tourist areas are equipped with the standard Western throne-style toilets. Eventually, though, you will encounter a squat toilet.
For a light-hearted discussion of squat toilets, along with extremely helpful instructions on their use, we highly recommend reading Going Abroad by Eva Newman.
Many tourist hotels are now equipped with hot water and showers, but you may encounter another form of bathing at the lower priced accommodations. The Indonesian mandi is generally a tiled water reservoir with a plastic saucepan. Do not climb into the reservoir to bathe! The proper method is to scoop the water out and pour it over yourself. Yes, the water is cold, but with an open mind in a hot tropical climate, you will come to enjoy your rather refreshing morning and early evening mandi. It is customary to bathe twice daily in Indonesia.
Note: Something to keep in mind when taking care of personal hygiene, remember to brush your teeth using only boiled or bottled water. Never use tap water, or you risk a case of "Bali belly."