Indonesia travel guide, including map of Indonesia, places to see in Indonesia, key facts, travel tips, culture, wildlife, and health and safety for Indonesia
The world's largest archipelago with somewhere between 13,000 and 18,000 islands, Indonesia is wild. Scattered like pearls along the line of the equator, it is made up of active volcanoes, dramatic mountain ranges sheltering untouched tribes, and vast swathes of rainforest. It’s also beautiful, with neatly-terraced hillsides, pristine beaches and some of the best diving in the world.
Best of all, it’s all available at a bargain-basement price. It’s one of the world’s least expensive destinations, where your travel money travels furthest and buys more.
The only problem is where to go. The main island, Java, has the capital city, Jakarta, but also the beguiling royal centres of touristy Yogjakarta and more authentic Solojakarta. This is where you’ll find the headline sights of Borobudur and intricate carvings of Prambanan, the blown-out cone of world-famous Krakatoa and the still-active Mount Bromo, smoking gently through the mists of dawn. It’s also where you’ll find the factories producing many of the handicrafts later sold in Bali and beyond.
What you may not find is peace and quiet. Indonesia's population is currently estimated at 230 million, an achievement celebrated by the locals but somewhat daunting on this, the most populous island, manicured into picture-perfect terraced paddies by armies of industrious rice farmers.
For a quieter experience, head west to Sumatra. This is the largest Indonesian Island and population pressures fade. The mountainous interior is home to countless tribal groups but the most accessible are on Toba Island, firmly encamped on their volcanic cone in a beautiful inland lake.
Indonesia’s tourist heavyweight is to the east of the capital. Though the rest of the archipelago is Islamic (in a relaxed sort of way), Bali is a Hindu enclave: a devout little gem of religious deference and tradition, feted by surfers, beach-lovers and cultural tourists alike. Fed by honeymooners and tourists from all over the Western World, Bali absorbs 90% of all visitors to Indonesia. Good. That means fewer elsewhere.
Impenetrable Kalimantan, to the north, is a Dayak delight: This is the place where the headhunting tribes of yore used to live – and probably still do, hiding out in the unexplored and inaccessible jungle interior.
K-shaped Sulawesi shelters Toroja cliff tombs, where carved funerary figures commemorate bodies tucked into limestone cliffs. Offshore lie some of the country's finest dive sites.
Formed by a line of dramatic volcanoes, Nusa Tenggara’s islands bridge a marine barrier between Asian and Australian waters, a natural watershed of the underwater world. This means little to the indigenous people, who farm amidst ancient megaliths, worship ancient deities and relax in their stilted homes.
The Maluku Islands, also known as the South Moluccas, offer advert-image perfect palm-fringed island idylls. There are a couple of cathedrals and a few major mosques, but generally this is a place to enjoy the beach and some notable dive sites.
Finally there’s West Papua, a place to mount a true expedition. Closer to Australia than the central government in Java, the tribal people here have been equally ignored by both. There are fine beaches and great surf breaks here, but you’ll largely have to find your own way in this terra incognita.
Book a sailing trip to Komodo to see the giant Komodo dragon, a formidable lizard that could make a good attempt at eating your leg. Pick a safe distance to go trekking, swimming or snorkelling on the island. Many operators include scuba diving stops as part of a day-trip visit.
When to go to Indonesia
Indonesia has a tropical climate, but it is such a vast country that the best time to visit strongly depends on where you want to go.
Generally, it is dry in Bali and Nusa Tenggara from April/May to October, in Java from January to August, in Sumatra in June and July, in Sulawesi in August and September and in Southeast Maluku from December to March.
Travelling during the wet season can have the advantage of getting bargain prices for accommodation, but bear in mind that parts of West Papua, Nusa Tenggara, Sulawesi and Sumatra have often been cut off after storms.
Jakarta (CGK) 20km from the city; Denpasar/Bali (DPS) 13km from the city; Medan/Sumatra (MES) 9km from the city; Manado/Sulawesi (MDC) 15km from the city; and Balikpapan/Kalimantan (BPN) 10km from the city
A train system links Java’s main cities, and a few trains run in Sumatra.
Buses are cheap, but slow and often packed. Minibuses, or bemos in Balinese, are a common way of travelling shorter distances. Perama is an established operator on Bali and Lombok. More expensive, but comfortable shuttle buses are available in tourist areas. Roads are narrow and driving standards erratic: take care.
The state shipping line Pelni runs more than 20 passenger lines, most of which are long distance ferries. Public ferries and tourist boat services connect neighbouring islands such as Bali and Lombok.
Flying may sometimes be the most reasonable option if you want to travel longer distances.
You will find the cheapest rooms in hostels or family-run homestays (losmen). In tourist centres, in Bali in particular, tasteful design hotels cater for those willing to pay a bit more.
Most accommodation includes breakfast. Single rooms are generally rare, and lone travellers will often find they have to pay the full price for a double.
Chillies, ginger, peanuts, coconut milk and soybeans are common ingredients throughout Indonesia. Rice goes with pretty much every meal of the day.
Popular dishes are Nasi Goreng (fried rice with shrimps, meat, onion and cucumber), Gado Gado (steamed vegetables with peanuts, hard-boiled egg, tempe and krupuk), Cap Cai (mixed vegetables on offer with meat or shrimps, served with rice) and Satay (grilled skewers of meat).
Try these at a warung – a small eatery or food stall – where you will find the cheapest and most authentic food.
Depending on where you go and how you travel, several vaccinations are recommended, as is malaria prophylaxis – consult your GP or travel health clinic.
Drink only sterilised, boiled or bottled water. Make sure the bottles are sealed and bear in mind that ice is not always made from sterilised water.
Jakarta and the Balinese resort of Kuta have been targets of terrorist attacks. Check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website for travel advice and information on security issues.
National parks house and protect many of the world’s natural wonders, from the peaks of Torres del Paine to the dragons of Komodo. We've put together 14 of the best... More
From saving whales in Portugal to tracking rhinos in Zimbabwe, these top conservation tours are all about volunteering your time, getting stuck in and importantly, giving back to our planet's wildlife... More
Whether you’re looking for encounters with sharks and mantas, hoping to escape the crowds or keen to explore underwater wrecks, diving pro Phil North reveals the world's best dives... More
From eye-popping Italian islands and cheery villages to landscapes painted by nature, these multi-coloured rainbow destinations are guaranteed to brighten up your day... More
We take a sneak peek inside the companion book to Our Planet by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey. From majestic whales to adorable bears, here's what you have to look forward to... More
Silent and hauntingly beautiful, these wrecks have washed up on some of the loveliest parts of the planet and become an integral part of the landscape - or remain hidden under the sea to this day... More
We reveal the best destinations to travel to in May, for ideal weather, natural wonders, cultural highlights, primetime wildlife watching experiences and longer-term trips... More
All eight episodes of Netflix’s Our Planet – narrated by David Attenborough – will be released on 5 April. We catch up with producer Alastair as his five-year mission becomes TV reality... More
Award-winning chef Petty Elliott unlocks a few secrets of Indonesia’s diverse cuisine and shares her beginner's guide to Indonesian food... More
Indonesia is a country of rich diversity, with numerous religions adding multiple layers to its vibrant culture. Author Agustinus Wibowo reveals the religious celebrations worth seeking out... More
Known as the Island of the Gods, Bali has seduced travellers with its gorgeous beaches, ancient temples and serenity for centuries... More
The islands of Indonesia are jam-packed with adventure and culture, but blissfully few visitors. Encounter fearsome wildlife, ancient monuments... and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world More
From meditation to mindfulness, spiritualism to spa treatments – these tour operator trips combine wellness with intrepid travel experiences... More
The destinations you love, the tour operators you trust, and the guidebooks you won’t leave home without: meet the Travel Awards winners, crowned by the best-journeyed bunch of all – Wanderlust readers... More
The Wanderlust Photo of the Year 2018 results will be revealed tomorrow! Have a look at the final 10 photos from this year's wildlife category to get an idea of how steep the competition is this year... More
Rising above the landscape, these mighty geological formations are imposing and humbling. Often worshipped, they are sites of pilgrimage and wonder. Here are 7 of the most breathtaking More
Escape the stresses of modern life and discover a new, calmer you in some of the most beautiful spots on the planet More
Bounded on three sides by water, peninsulas offer all the benefits of an island, but with more accessibility. Expect remote beaches, abundant wildlife and culture just a little different from the mainland More
Crowd-free crescents, UNESCO-listed dots, the map's hardest-to-reach corners... We've scoured the globe to find the most enchanting islands you've (probably) never heard of but really should visit More
Wanderlust subscribers now receive a free £50 voucher valid on trips from a great selection of top tour operators
And the best bit is, this isn't a one-off offer, you get one every time you renew as well!
The £50 discount can be redeemed against one trip booking with one of our tour operator partners, by the expiry date printed on the voucher. The £50 can even be redeemed on top of any discounts our partners are already offering, ensuring Wanderlust subscribers get the best deal possible.
Simply quote your unique voucher code when booking to claim the discount. This offer is only available to Wanderlust subscribers.
UK subscribers automatically receive the voucher each year. Overseas subscribers receive it upon request.
From: £3269.00More …
From: £1759.20More …
Sign up today for free and be the first to get notified of new articles, new competitions, new events and more!