Indonesia Travel Guide
Colourful and exotic, the vast archipelago of Indonesia encompasses more than 17,000 islands spread across 3,000 miles (5,000km) of ocean in Southeast Asia, including popular tourist destinations like Bali, Sumatra and Java as well as roughly 6,000 other relatively unknown but inhabited islands.
The mysterious islands of Indonesia each hold their own charms: the resorts of Bali offer nightclubs and beaches; the sprawling metropolis of Jakarta is a melting pot of Indonesian language, food, and architecture; the jungles of Sumatra are home to elephants, tigers, orangutans and other wild creatures; and the palaces and monuments of Yogyakarta offer a glimpse into an ancient civilization.
Ongoing unrest in Indonesia has had a negative impact on tourism in recent years, but many adventurous travellers still dream of a holiday in Indonesia.
Best time to visit Indonesia
Although the weather is pleasant for most of the year, the best time to visit Indonesia is in the dry season, between May and September. Monsoons can make more remote areas all but inaccessible in the wet months, but tourist hotspots like Bali, Java and Sumatra are always enjoyable. The worst time to visit Indonesia is the period immediately following Ramadan, when the resorts are crowded and prices are high. Read more on Indonesia’s Climate and Weather.
What to see in Indonesia
-Visit Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world.
-Get a feel for traditional Indonesian architecture at Indonesia Miniature Park.
-Hike to the colour-changing lakes of Mount Kelimutu on Flores.
What to do in Indonesia
-Swim with dolphins off the coast of Lovina.
-Go whitewater rafting in Sidemen Valley.
Getting to Indonesia
There are no direct cheap flights to Indonesia from the UK or the US, but connecting flights are available to Bali, landing at Denpasar International Airport. Get more information on Airports in Indonesia.
Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw, Twilight in Jakarta by Mochtar Lubis, and A House in Bali by Colin McPhee.
Langgam Jawa and Balinese Gamelan.
Eat, Pray, Love (2010) and The Year of Living Dangerously (1982).
Brem bali (Balinese rice wine).
Nasi goreng (fried rice).
What to buy
Batik or songket fabric.
What to pack
Be sure to pack layers for a holiday in Indonesia: the cities and jungles can be swelteringly hot, while higher elevations will require a warm coat in the cooler months.
What’s on in Indonesia
Get a taste of local arts and culture at the Bali Arts Festival, held each June and July. Bau Nyale is a summer seaworm festival with a surprisingly romantic origin. The Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival brings together artists from around the world each March.
Did you know?
-Indonesia is one of the world’s largest producers of nutmeg.
-Of the 17,508 Indonesian islands only about 6,000 are inhabited by people.
-There are more than 300 ethnic groups in Indonesia.
A final word
A combination of sunny beaches, dense jungle, colourful traditions and rich history combine in Indonesia to form an ideal holiday destination.
Indonesia spans three time zones. GMT +7 (West, including Java and Sumatra), GMT +8 (Central, including Bali, Sulawesi and Lombok), GMT +9 (East, including Irian Jaya).
Electrical current is 220/380 volts, 50Hz. A variety of plugs are in use, including the European two-pin and UK-style three-pin.
Bahasa Indonesia is the official language, but many dialects are spoken. English is widely understood in Jakarta and tourist resorts.
There are a number of health risks associated with travel to Indonesia and medical advice should be taken at least three weeks before departing. Yellow fever vaccinations are required for those coming from yellow fever areas. Vaccinations for hepatitis A and hepatitis B are recommended, and a typhoid vaccination may be recommended fot those spending time in rural areas. Malaria is a year-round risk in much of Indonesia, but not in Jakarta or the tourist resorts of Java and Bali. The dengue fever mosquito is found throughout Indonesia and visitors should be aware of a significant increase in reported cases of dengue fever throughout the country during the rainy season. Outbreaks of chikungunya fever, also from mosquitoes, have occurred regularly in Indonesia in recent years.
Travellers’ diarrhoea is a major risk; visitors should only drink sealed bottled water and avoid dairy products, uncooked meat, salads and unpeeled fruit. Poor sanitation and eating contaminated food can increase the risk of cholera, typhoid and other diseases. The standard of local medical care is poor and very expensive. It is essential to take out comprehensive medical and travel insurance.
Major hotels add a 10 percent service charge to bills in Indonesia and, where it is not included, a tip of between five to 10 percent of the bill is appreciated. Airport porters usually receive around Rp 2,000 per small bag. Tipping taxi and rental car drivers is not mandatory but if you do choose to tip Rp 1,000 is sufficient for taxi drivers and a little more for rental car drivers.
Following the infamous bombings in Bali back in October 2005, there remains a risk of terrorism directed against foreigners throughout the country. It is recommended that visitors contact their foreign office for the latest travel advice before travelling to Indonesia. The security situation remains unsettled in central Sulawesi and foreigners are advised to avoid parts of Maluku, particularly Ambon. Visitors are also advised to be cautious if travelling to Aceh. Religious violence and unstable politics are an ongoing problem in Indonesia and travellers should keep an eye on current affairs.
Indonesia has a high crime rate and theft and petty crime is common in tourist areas and on public transport. Credit card fraud is on the increase. Flooding and landslides occur frequently during the rainy season between December and March. Not all Indonesian airlines are considered safe and travellers should do some research into reputable airlines before booking.
Indonesian people are generally friendly and polite and while they understand that Western culture is different to their own, it will be appreciated if their customs are respected. Religious customs should also be respected, particularly during the month of Ramadan when eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours should be discreet as it is forbidden by the Muslim culture. Visitors should always be polite and avoid public displays of affection. It is considered impolite to use the left hand for passing or accepting things. Appropriate dress is important in places of worship and women should dress conservatively, covering the shoulders and legs. The concept of ‘saving face’ is very important and public displays of anger, ridicule and blame are considered extremely vulgar and bad mannered. In Jakarta a law bans people from giving money to beggars, buskers and unofficial traffic guides in an attempt to ‘bring order’ to the city. Offenders could face imprisonment and fines. Gambling is illegal.
Due to the hot and tropical climate, formal business attire in a light, cool material is the best option. Indonesia is largely Muslim so dress should be conservative, especially for women. Business cards are often exchanged and it is customary to shake hands with a slight bow when greeting and departing. Some Indonesian names can be long and hard to pronounce and making an effort to get it right when greeting someone will be appreciated. It is best to use formal titles such as Doctor, or ‘Bapak’ for Mr and ‘Ibu’ for Madam. Business hours vary; government offices are usually open from 7am to 3pm and small businesses from 8am or 9am to 4pm or 5pm.
The international access code for Indonesia is +62. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the UK). The area code for Jakarta is 21. The local mobile phone operators use GSM networks and have roaming agreements with most international operators. Internet cafes are available in the main towns and resorts.
Travellers to Indonesia over 18 years do not have to pay duty on 50 cigars or 200 cigarettes or 100g tobacco; alcohol up to 1 litre; perfume for personal use; and personal goods to the value of US$250 per passenger or US$1,000 per family. Travellers not entering on a tourist visa will have to pay duties for photo and film cameras unless these have been registered in their passport by Indonesian Customs. Electronic equipment may not be imported to the country. Prohibited items include Chinese medicines and prints, narcotics, firearms and ammunition, pornography, cordless telephones, fresh fruit or goods to be used for commercial gain.
Entry requirements for Americans
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Indonesia. A 30-day tourist visa can be obtained on arrival.
Entry requirements for UK nationals
British citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Indonesia. A 30-day tourist visa can be obtained on arrival.
Entry requirements for Canada
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Indonesia. A 30-day tourist visa can be obtained on arrival.
Entry requirements for Australians
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Indonesia. A 30-day tourist visa can be obtained on arrival. Holders of an APEC Business Travel Card endorsed ‘valid for travel to IDN’ may stay for up to 60 days without a visa.
*Entry requirements for South Africans
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Indonesia. A 30-day tourist visa can be obtained on arrival.
Entry requirements for New Zealanders
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Indonesia. A 30-day tourist visa can be obtained on arrival. Holders of an APEC Business Travel Card endorsed ‘valid for travel to IDN’ may stay for up to 60 days without a visa.
Entry requirements for Irish nationals
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Indonesia. A 30-day tourist visa can be obtained on arrival.
Passengers to Indonesia of most nationalities can obtain a 30-day visa on arrival, provided that: (i) they arrive at a major Indonesian airport; (ii) their passport contains at least one unused visa page for the visa-on-arrival sticker; (iii) they are holding return/onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination; and (iv) they can show proof of sufficient funds to cover their stay in Indonesia (at least USD 1,000 or a valid credit card). The visa fee is USD 35.
One visa extension, of a further 30 days, is possible, via an application made to the Immigration Office. Note that the day of arrival in Indonesia is counted as the first day of stay, and that fines will be levied against tourists who exceed their permitted period of stay.
Visitors wishing to travel to the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya must obtain a special permit (“Surat Jalan”) after arrival in Indonesia from the Dinas Intel Pam Pol MABAK in Jakarta, or other regional police headquarters in Biak or Jayapura. It normally takes about two days to obtain this permit. Upon arrival in Irian Jaya, visitors must report to the local police office.
Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required, if arriving in Indonesia within six days of leaving or transiting through an infected area.
NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.