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Before you travel to Indonesia, learn about


Geography, Climate, Dress Code, Security Passports and Visas, Staying Healthy, Currency and Credit Cards, on Arrival, Shopping, Internet Access, Domestic flights, Trains, Buses, Car Rental, Pedicabs and Ojek, All about Food, Off the Beaten Track, Traveling with Kids, Where to go and what to see, Traveling with a disability.

Find more details in our free e-Book Visiting Indonesia.


This is Indonesia

A tropical archipelago of more than 18,000 islands, stretching along the Equator between Malaysia and Australia. Most of the islands are not inhabited. The major islands, in terms of population density are Java, Sumatra and Bali.
Java alone is home to almost 50 percent of the total population of 260 million Indonesians. Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country, after China, India and the USA.
There are 714 ethnic groups, speaking more than 700 indigenous languages.
Indonesia has three time zones and could easily span the Atlantic Ocean from Nova Scotia to Portugal or from Ireland all the way to Greece.

Climate

Temperatures at sea level range from 24 to 37 degrees Celsius all year round. Humidy is high. It is cooler at higher altitudes.

Bring warm clothes for mounting hiking as temperatures can drop below zero at night. Bring plenty of water. And don't hike or climb without an experienced guide.

Indonesia has two seasons: the rainy season and the dry season. South from the Equator the rainy season generally lasts from November to April. North from the Equator it is from May to October. The effects of climate change are obvious: farmers find it increasingly challenging to guess when the rains will fall and when to seed their lands.

Dress code

Indonesians dress modestly.
Although you may see men wearing shorts, outside of the big cities the norm is to wear a shirt and pants or jeans.
Women will most likely wear pants, jeans or long skirts. They usually wear long sleeves. The majority of Muslim women wear head scarves (kerudung, jilbab or hijab).
When you visit a village, it is best to adjust to the local dress code to some extent. For women that implies no sleeveless tops, cleavage or shorts. Men can wear jeans and short sleeved shirts.

Nudity on beaches is strictly forbidden.

Security, Passport and Visa

Indonesia is a safe destination for tourists, business people and expatriates alike. Areas to avoid include certain locations in Papua and the Poso area in Sulawesi. If in doubt, contact you country's Foreign Ministry or the Indonesian embassy.

You will find that most Indonesians are very friendly and helpful.

On arrival in Indonesia your passport must be valid for at least six months.

A Free Visa is available on arrival for citizens of most countries. It is valid for 30 days and can not be extended.

On Arrival Visa can be purchased (US$ 35 or its equivalent in foreign currency). The On Arrival Visa is also valid for 30 days and can be extended for another 30 days at Immigration Offices.

Other visas are available for students, businessmen and for social/cultural purposes (visa sosial budaya). Visa fees and application times vary among embassies.

Beware: Indonesia has capital punishment for smuggling and possession of narcotics. Do not carry even the smallest amount of soft or hard drugs.

Staying Healthy

Arriving travelers only need to have Yellow Fever vaccination if they have visited a Yellow Fever region. Depending on your destination within Indonesia you may want to be protected from malaria, typhoid, cholera and hepatitis.

Malaria is endemic in most parts of the country with the exception of West and East Java.

Tuberculosis is common in the eastern provinces (the islands east from Bali).

During the rainy season (October through April) Dengue Fever occurs.

Use a good mosquito repellent (tropical formula). In Indonesia you may want to buy Soffell, which is widely available in pharmaacies and supermarkets, or a similar product.

Unfortunately it is not safe to drink from the tap. Bottled mineral water is available in even the remotest locations and is safe. Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.

Be careful if you like to get a sun tan. Sunburn may occur in as little as 15 minutes. Have you wondered why Indonesians avoid the sun and remain in the shade? It is because the sun is too hot to expose yourself to.

After arrival it is best to take it easy for a few days. Allow your body to get used to the new time zone and the climate. More on avoiding jet lag is available in 'No more Jetlag, the fun of subsonic air travel'.
The quality of healthcare varies wildly. In the main cities a growing number of international standard hospitals are avilable. Even so, wealthy Indonesians prefer to fly to Singapore to be treated.

Currency and Credit Cards

The Rupiah (Rp. or IRD) is the national currency. The exchange rate fluctuates around Rp. 13,800 to the US$ and Rp. 16,200 to the Euro (June 2018).

ATMs are everywhere. Most ATMs accept foreign credit cards and produce Rp 50,000 or Rp 100,000 bills. Money changers are widely available. Be alert when changing money. Unscrupulous money changers use a variety of tricks to deceive you.

Most major international credit cards, such as Visa, Master Card and, less frequently, American Express can be used for flight tickets, hotels, tours, and also for your groceries at supermarkets. Usually a minimum sales amount of Rp 50,000 is applied.

Receiving an overseas money transfer through Western Union is no issue at all.

Be careful when using your credit card. Unfortunately sophisticated international credit card fraud rings also operate in Indonesia. It is best to always use your pin code.

On Arrival

Taxis are on the ready in all airports. In several major airports customers should pre-pay for their cab at a designated booth, either inside the arrival hall or curbside. Rates are fixed and may already include a surcharge for toll fees. The best taxi operator is Blue Bird (also operates Black Bird and Silver Bird limousines).

If you don't use the pre-pay facility, and hail a taxi at the curb, make sure it has a meter (called Argo)  and that the driver agrees to use it. Toll fees are not included.

Indonesia's ambitious tourism goals come with large investments in airport infrastructure and hotel construction projects. Hotels vary from 5 star hotels to guesthouses, modest home stays and hostels where you need to bring your own towel and soap.

Shopping

Most shops open seven days a week from 08:00 or 09:00 AM through 09:00 or 10:00 PM.

Indonesia is a true shopping paradise. All cities boast huge shopping malls. Outside of those malls there are traditional markets, neigborhood shops, supermarkets, boutiques, souvenir shops and 'antique' shops.
On the latter, antik in Indonesia does not necessarily mean antique. It is more inclined to classic. Indonesian antik is usually just a few days old.

Souvenirs and handicrafts are of good quality, varied and innovative. High quality wood carvings (Bali) have become very costly.

Genuine and classic Batik is also worth its price.Batik designs vary locally. Be aware that the colors may fade quickly when it is used to decorate your home.

Outside of Java, batik is replaced by intricately woven tradtional cloths called ikat. The most sought after ikat is from the islands east from Bali.

Indonesia is well known for its 24 carat gold and silver jewelry and gem stones. If you don't find the design you like, just order it and it will be ready in a few days.
Wood furniture of tropical hardwoods is a major export earner.Exporters will be happy to ship your order right to your doorstep.

International brands are sold even in the most shoddy market. Don't buy these cheap counterfeits. They will probably be confiscated at Customs when you come home. Genuine branded products are availablle in all shopping malls.

If offered souvenirs made from ivory, sea shells, coral or turtle shells, it is best to refuse. Export is illegal. Offenders face steep fines and even jail time.

Internet Access

Online access is quickly improving. Yet, internet speeds remain among the world's slowest. There are more and more free wireless hotspots. All shopping areas and airports provide them. Speeds may vary considerably.

Most telecom providers offer USB modems, or portable wifi hotspots with a weekly or monthly plan. Download and upload speeds are generally good.

If all else fails there are still some Warnet (warung internet or internet shops) with cheap wired and wireless access. Many of these warnet now struggle to survive which is obvious from their ageing equipment.

Domestic Flights

Indonesia boasts many domestic airlines. The national carrier is Garuda Indonesia, a 5-star airline that obtained the 'World's Best Cabin Crew' Award.
Other airlines include low cost airlines Lion Air, Jatayu Air, Sri Wijaya and full service airlines Batik Air, and Citilink and several others.
Out of Jakarta and Bali (Denpasar) they operate frequent flights to all corners of the archipelago, including Medan, Palembang, Bandung, Semarang, Yogyakarta, Surakarta (Solo), Surabaya, Mataram (Lombok) Labuan Bajo (Komodo), Kupang, Makassar, Balikpapan, Banjarmasin, Ambon, Manado, Biak and Jayapura.

Between Jakarta and Surabaya there are at least 20 return flights each day.

Jakarta's Soekarono-Hatta International Airport is the world's 17th busiest airport.

The rapid growth of air traffic is now causing frequent delays.

Reservations for most domestic airlines can be made through travel agents and airlines abroad. However, it is more reliable, and a lot cheaper, to do so after arrival in Indonesia.

In all airports there are strong warnings not to use illegal calo (middlemen) but to purchase tickets diirectly at the airlines' sales counters.

Trains

In Java and parts of Sumatra traveling by train is a good alternative to cover long distances in relative comfort and for little money. Yet, airfares have become so low, that outside the major holiday seasons, trains are rarely fully booked.

Most stations have banned vendors from the platforms.

Passengers have a choice of economy (ekonomi), business (bisnis) and executive (eksekutif) class.
Even in economy class there is now airconditioning and assigned, though cramped, seats. Business class sports better seats.
Train trickets can be obtained at a number of outlets, including mini-markets and railway stations. Before boarding the train, passengers need to print a boarding pass using the bar code, printed on the ticket. Make sure to stand in the (usually long) check-in line well before the train's scheduled departure.

Buses

With enough time in your schedule, it is interesting to experience the sights, sounds and smells of Indonesia from an intercity bus. Buses are by far the most popular means of transportation. You could travel from Medan in North Sumatra all the way East to Surabaya in East Java. you could even continue to the islands east from Bali.

All buses sport airconditioning. The seats may still be a challenge for tall westerners. Be wary of pickpockets in the bus terminals and on the buses. Refuse unsollicited services and never leave your bags unattended.

Car Rental

Car rental has become more common and more affordable in recent years. What's more, GPS navigation has been introduced. Many international car rental companies can be found in Jakarta and Bali, including Avis and Hertz.

All you need to rent a car is an international driver's license and your passport.

Local car rental companies send you on the road with a nearly empty tank. That is the norm. You are not expected to return the car with a full tank either!

A half day rental lasts for 12 hours in Indonesia. A full day is 24 hours.

There are traffic rules, but most drivers seem to ignore them or invent their own rules on the go. It is helpful that most drivers agree to drive on the left side of the road. The bigger the vehicle, the better it is to yield, even if you would have the right of way.

Not in the mood for this kind of adventure? Rent a car with a driver. Daily rates hover around Rp. 400,000 not including fuel and meals for the driver. Most drivers are not fluent in English, but you may be lucky. Alternatively, prepare some standard sentences in Indonesian.

If you just want to travel from A to B, you may want to share the vehicle with other passengers. Locally this mode of travel is known as 'travel'. Travel companies sell tickets through hotels, travel agents and their outlets.

Pedicabs, Ojek and more

Travelers are surprised to find that several traditional means of transportation have survived to this day. Horsedrawn carriages and pedicabs co-exist with motorbikes and cars. Ojek are motorcycle taxis for short distances. Passengers are expected to haggle about the price.
In the main cities Go-jek can be summoned using a smartphone app. Passengers are expected to haggle about the price.

Pedicabs are knows as becak. The cultural cities of Yogyakarta and Surakarta (Solo) are by far the best for a becak ride. Keep bags and cameras close to your body: very occasionaly bags are snatched by thieves operating on fast bikes. Becak are used on short trips only. Becak fares are comparable to taxi fares.

Food

Indonesian cuisine is as varied as its people, their cultures and locations. Rice is the staple food for most Indonesians. They eat it with every meal. In the eastern provinces, Maluku and Papua maize and tubers used to be the staple foods.

With rice, either boiled or fried, come one or more side dishes of vegetables, meat or fish. Most of the food is spicy. The varieties are overwhelming.

Vegetarians are finding it increasingly easy to find veggie menus, especially in the cities. In the countryside vegetarian dishes are: gado-gado, pecel, ketoprak, karedok, siomay, tofu and tempe.
If you don't mind to 'fish' around in a dish, ask for sayur lodeh or sayur asem. Or ask the waiter to preapre one of the items on the menu without meat or chicken.

On the eBooks page you will find an e-booklet with a few easy to prepare Indonesian dishes. Also check out our Recipes page.

A good way to try Indonesian food is at one of the many Padang restaurants. You don't have to order anything: the waiter will put the complete menu on the table. You will only pay for the dishes you eat.

Just in case you feel a sudden craving for burgers or pizza, don;t despair. Pizza Hut, KFC, Burger King and McDonald's have become household names in all major cities.

Pork is available in major hotels nd supermarkets that cater to expats and tourists.

The Government has introduced strict alcohol regulations, making it harder to obtain a beer or a glass of wine. However, it is left to the local administrations to enforce the law or relax it. Bali is largely unaffected. Even so, liquor is not cheap in Indonesia.
Even though Indonesia allows foreigners to bring one bottle of liquor into the country, Customs officials are notorious for confiscating liquor.
Every year dozens of men die in Indonesia after boozing on bootleg liquor. Always reject any offer of sharing a bottle with the guys if you are not fully convinced of the drink's origins.

Tipping

Whatever amount you's like to tip is appreciated. Essentially, Indonesian workers don't expect to be tipped. The exception is in 4 or 5 star hotels, where staff have grown accustomed to be tipped. Tourist guides must be tipped, because they cannot survive on their basic salaries -if they have one at all.

Off the Beaten Track

Indonesia has a tremendous and largely undiscovered potential to be enjoyed by travelers.
The small islands of Nias and Sibolga in northern Sumatra are only one example. Other islands big and small offer opportunities for diving and snorkeling.
You may go hiking in the island of Flores, or see the Komodo dragons in Komodo island.
Even relatively nearby Madura island (north from Surabaya, East Java) holds surprises, such as traditional bull races.
In the island of Lombok (eats from Bali), Indonesia's tallest volcano, Mount Rinjani offers long and short hikes. Always do so with an experienced local guide.

In Sulawesi or Bali you may board a traditional motorsailer called pinisi for an island hopping and diving cruise.

In the island of Kalimantan a river cruise visiting traditional Dayak communities is a great way of exploring the island.

See more suggestions here.

Traveling with Kids

Should you bring a suitcase full of diapers and baby food? Probably, as your diapers (suited to the tropical climate) are widely available.
Baby formula and baby food in Indonesia are a little different, but tasty and healthy. Baby food comes in freeze-dried sachets. Popullar brands include Promina, Sun, and SGM.
For older children fries and burgers are widely available.

Indonesia offers lots of entertainment for kids. Such as theme parks in Jakarta, safari parks in Bogor and Trestes, the elephant park in Bali, boat rides, water parks, games, beach fun and lots more. Before the trip, prepare children about what to expect. Tell them about different traditions, language, climate and how adventurous it will be to discover it all.

Indonesians adore children and will miss no opportunity to say 'hi', to touch them (especially if they are blond and have blue eyes) and to pass sweets. Sometimes, all the attention may become overwhelming.


Traveling with a Physical Disability

Disabled travelers may find it a challenge to travel Indonesia. All cities and towns have high curbs. There are very few ramps and building designs have not considered accessibility for wheelchairs. Thanks to advocacy by interest groups, awareness to the needs of the physivally challenged, change is in the air.

Preparing your trip, check about accessibility before booking hotels and tours.