Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world, is spread across more than 17,000 islands—the travel and adventure possibilities are endless! Knowing a few essentials before your trip to Indonesia will make your landing "softer" and allow you to get to the fun stuff sooner.
Indonesia is one of the earth's most geologically tumultuous places. Volcanoes can be seen everywhere, and many are climbable. From quiet paradises and raging party scenes to rainforests where indigenous tribes and orangutans still roam, the islands in Indonesia can satisfy all trip interests. The sheer size of the archipelago is staggering; diversity abounds. More than 700 languages are spoken among more than 600 ethnic groups! Simply hopping between nearby islands can yield new religions, dialects, foods, and animist customs.
- Timezone: GMT +7 to +9 hours depending on location (Jakarta is 12 hours ahead of EST)
- Country Phone Code: +62
- Capital City: Jakarta (population: 10.1 million)
- Primary Religion: Islam (Bali is Hindu)
- Drives on the: Left
Indonesian Visa Requirements
Citizens of the United States and most nationalities need a visa for Indonesia travel. You can obtain a free 30-day visa exemption upon arrival in many airports, including Bali and Jakarta. This freebie cannot be extended. If you think you'll stay longer than 30 days, you'll need to pay $35 for a visa on arrival in the airport. The visa-on-arrival can be extended for an additional 30 days while in Indonesia.
Ports of entry around Indonesia maintain different rules. If you will be arriving overland or in a small airport from another point in Southeast Asia, your safest bet is to apply for a tourist visa at an Indonesian consulate before entering Indonesia.
You'll encounter friendly people and a lot of ethnic diversity throughout the Indonesian archipelago.
Because of the emphasis on religion in Indonesia, don't be surprised if someone just met asks your religion early in a conversation! Talking about religion with a stranger isn't as risque or pushy at it would probably come across in the West.
As a foreign traveler, you'll often receive extra attention while roaming in remote parts of Indonesia. Even in major tourist hubs such as Bali, you'll probably be asked to pose with strangers for photos. Many of these Indonesians are traveling domestically from places where they don't see many tourists. Some of them will want to become Facebook friends on the spot!
Money in Indonesia
The currency used in Indonesia is the Indonesian rupiah (IDR). The abbreviation "Rp" is typically placed before a price (e.g., "Rp 5000"). One U.S. dollar is equal to around 13,000 rupiahs, so amounts can get quite large. For this reason, you may see bigger prices written as "Rp 300K" and someone quoting you a price may simple say "300" when they mean Rp. 300,000.
As a traveler, you'll end up with a wad of worn, faded Rp 1000, Rp 2000, and Rp 5000 denomination notes. These come in handy for small tips or street snacks, but most often you'll be dealing with Rp 10,000, Rp 20,000, and Rp 50,000 notes. Each rupiah is further divided into 100 sen. Coins are in circulation, but you rarely encounter them. Prices often get rounded to avoid the use of coins, or sometimes shops will even give you back a few pieces of candy instead of coins!
Western-networked ATMs of varying reliability can be found in all tourist areas. For a better experience, try to find ATMs that dispense Rp 50,000 notes. Many only give Rp 100,000 notes which can be harder to break in small shops and restaurants.
Credit cards are rarely accepted outside of large hotels, malls, and scuba diving centers. Vendors may add a commission when you pay with plastic. Visa and Mastercard are the most accepted cards.
Tipping usually isn't expected in Indonesia; however, it's common to round up fares when paying drivers.
The official language in Indonesia is Bahasa Indonesia, or simply "Indonesian."
With so many ethnic groups separated by water and distance, more than 700 languages and dialects are spoken throughout the archipelago. Although the language barrier is rarely an issue in traveler hubs, English and even Bahasa Indonesia are hard to find in remote places that have their own dialects. Older people in remote places most likely speak their own dialect and won't understand your attempts at Bahasa Indonesia.
Bahasa Indonesia is considered a variety of Malay and shares a lot of commonalities with Bahasa Malaysia spoken in neighboring Malaysia. Indonesian, unlike Thai, is a non-tonal language. It's comparatively easy to learn and follows consistent rules of pronunciation. Many Dutch words, adopted during the colonization, are used for everyday objects.
Saying "hello" in Indonesian is based on the time of day.
Places to See in Indonesia
Despite plenty of other beautiful islands in the area, Bali is the undisputed hub for tourism in Indonesia.
Other exciting places to visit in Indonesia include but are not limited to:
- Java: The world's most populous island is busy! Some popular places to visit in Java include Mount Bromo, Jakarta, and the Buddhist temple ruins at Yogyakarta.
- Sumatra: Sumatra in Indonesia is the only other place in the world to see wild orangutans outside of Borneo. Gunung Leuser National Park is a popular place for trekking and orangutan spotting. Lake Toba in Northern Sumatra is the world's largest volcanic lake. Pulau Samosir, an island formed in the center of the lake, is a unique place to visit.
- Flores: The long, narrow region of Flores is home to Komodo dragons, Kelimutu, and places less visited.
- Lombok: Bali's neighbor is slowly getting more and more of the attention it deserves. The three Gili Islands there are each unique pieces of paradise.
- The Nusa Islands: Just a short boat hop away from Bali, Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida, and Nusa Ceningan are quieter and have great snorkeling.
- Adventurous Places: Some other adventurous places to enjoy diving, wildlife, and travel off the usual circuit include Sulawesi, Kalamantan, Sumba, and Papua.
Big Holidays and Festivals
Because the many different religions and ethnic groups celebrate their own traditions, you'll often find a festival or event taking place somewhere. Some big public holidays such as Indonesian Independence Day could affect transportation.
- Ramadan: The Islamic holy month of Ramadan is observed throughout much of Indonesia; dates change annually.
- Hari Merdeka: Indonesian Independence Day is celebrated on August 17.
- Nyepi: The Balinese Day of Silence shuts down Bali for one day every year. Tourists are expected to remain quietly inside their hotels. Dates change, but the event usually takes place in March.
- Chinese New Year: is celebrated in parts of Indonesia. Many of the Chinese people traveling for the holiday come to Bali and other top destinations.
Flying Into Indonesia
Although Jakarta (airport code: CGK) is the busiest airport in the country, most international tourists enter through Denpasar International Airport in Bali, officially known as Ngurah Rai International Airport (airport code: DPS).
There are no direct flights from the United States to Bali. Instead, you'll probably connect through a major hub in East Asia or Southeast Asia. Flights to Bali from other points in Southeast Asia are relatively inexpensive.