Indonesia


Indonesia destinations

about This beguiling nation of over 17,000 islands has massive potential for adventures. It's hard to beat Indonesia for the sheer range of experiences on offer.

Rich Diversity

The world’s fourth most populous country is like 100 countries melded into one: a kaleidoscope of a nation that sprawls along the equator for 5000km. Indonesia is a land of so many cultures, peoples, animals, customs, plants, sights, art and foods that it defies homogenisation.The people are as radically different from each other as the variety of landscapes you'll see, with every island a unique blend. Over time, deep and rich cultures have evolved, from the mysteries of the spiritual Balinese to the ancient animist belief system of the Asmat people of Papua.

Beaches & Volcanoes

Venturing across Indonesia you’ll see a wonderfully dramatic landscape as diverse as anywhere on the planet. Sulawesi's wildly multi-limbed coastline embraces white-sand beaches and diving haunts, while Sumatra is contoured by a legion of nearly 100 volcanoes marching off into the distance, several capable of erupting at any time.Bali's beaches are the stuff of legend, but you don't have to travel far to find even more beautiful and less touristed stretches of sand in Nusa Tenggara. The Banda islands in Maluku, Derawan in Kalimantan and Pulau Weh off Sumatra all offer superb beaches too.

Amazing Spectacle

Dramatic sights are the norm. There’s the sublime: an orang-utan lounging in a tree. The artful: a Balinese dancer executing precise moves that would make a robot seem ungainly. The idyllic: a deserted stretch of blinding white sand on Sumbawa. The astonishing: crowds in a glitzy Jakarta mall. The intriguing: tales of the beautiful Banda Islands' twisted history. The heart-stopping: the ominous menace of a Komodo dragon. The humbling: a woman bent double with a load of firewood on Sumatra. The delicious: a south Bali restaurant. The shocking: the funeral ceremonies of Tana Toraja. The solemn: Borobudur's serene magnificence.

Great Adventure

This intoxicating land offers some of the last great adventures on earth. Sitting in the open door of a train whizzing across Java, gazing out at an empty sea while on a ship bound for the Kei Islands, hanging on to the back of a scooter on Flores, rounding the mystifying corner of an ancient West Timor village or simply trekking through wilderness you’re sure no one has seen before.The great thing about adventure in Indonesia is that it happens when you least expect it. An orang-utan swinging through the trees? Surfing breaks on remote islands? Yes and yes.

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One of the world’s greatest megalopolises, Jakarta is a dynamic and vibrant city. Its chaotic charm and juxtapositions can be found on every street.

Constant Transformation

An organism unto itself, Jakarta is a town in the midst of a very public metamorphosis and, despite the maddening traffic, life here is lived at speed, driven by an industriousness and optimism that's palpable. With this fast developing pace come challenges. It's no oil painting, yet beneath the new high-rises, relentless concrete, gridlocked streets, smattering of slums and a persistent blanket of smog, Jakarta has plenty of pleasant surprises, including a world-class food and coffee scene. Its citizens – even the poorest among them – remain good-natured and positive, and compared to many world capitals, crime levels are low.

City of Contrasts

From the steamy, potent streets of Chinatown and Glodok to Kota’s vestiges of a colonial past, the old city is the prequel to Jakarta's development. The newer Merdeka Square is where Indonesia presents the face it wants the world to see: bold and confident. Further south, luxurious mega-developments are plopped next to humble neighbourhoods, with pockets of emerging art scenes and bohemian coffee shops. Across the city it’s possible to rub shoulders with Indonesia’s future leaders and thinkers in sleek restaurants and roof-top bars. Hedonists can go clubbing and drinking 'till dawn, much to the dismay of the current administration.

Diversity

In Jakarta, you can find all of Indonesia. It’s not just that people pour in from all corners looking for a better life (as they’ve done for centuries), it’s that they bring along their wonderful melange of cultures, beliefs and desires from the nation’s 17,000 islands. Walk down an alley with food stalls and you’ll find a huge diversity of flavours, while the glitzy malls and hotels offer fine dining from around the archipelago and the world. Meanwhile, goods come in from all over and are sold at shops and on street corners around the clock.

Temptation & Allure

Jakarta is where Indonesia puts on its best face. It has the country’s top museums, the greatest diversity of restaurants and public spaces in countless shopping malls that rival anything in Singapore or Bangkok. You can stroll the grand boulevard of Jl Thamrin when it's closed to vehicles on Sunday mornings and marvel at all that’s been built. Although religious pressure has slightly dimmed Jakarta’s reputation as a place to party beyond bounds, it is still a city where people can enjoy long nights in lounges and clubs or linger with gatherings of friends.

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Sleeping

Jakarta is a great place to stay in a hotel. There are excellent choices and hotels are seldom full. Even better, prices are low compared to other world cities, so you may be able to give yourself an upgrade and stay in a luxury place. Budget travellers will find beds in new hostels for less than US$10, while long-term visitors have many apartment-style hotels to choose from.

Eating

Jakarta is a world-class eating destination. You'll find an amazing choice from oh-so-refined Javanese imperial cuisine to cooked-on-the-spot dishes from street vendors. Other cuisines (especially Asian) are well-represented and prices are lower than you'd expect. Many lounges and bars also serve creative menus from top chefs.

Drinking & Nightlife

If you’re expecting the capital of the world’s largest Muslim country to be a sober city with little in the way of drinking culture, think again. Bars are spread throughout the city. You’ll find rooftop lounge bars, pubs serving excellent meals and clubs partying through the night. And cafe culture has really taken off in the last few years.

Entertainment

Compared to other large cities, Jakarta has fewer opportunities to enjoy live music and cultural performances. For jazz and classical music, watch for listings at top-end restaurants, hotel lounges or special events. However, the cinema experience is quite something: VIP multiscreen venues show Hollywood blockbusters in English (with Indonesian subtitles) and tickets are very cheap.

Shopping

Jakarta is a shopper's dream, with around 100 malls and markets selling goods from around the world at all budgets. There are many flashy malls filled with international brands and luxury labels, but Jakarta's real shopping appeal may be in the venues selling excellent arts and crafts from across the nation.

Activities

Swimming, yoga, massage and walking tours are the main activities in Jakarta. However, Jakarta adventure companies also offer day trips further afield. It's possible to go diving and snorkelling at the Thousand Islands, off Jakarta's north shore, or go rafting and hiking four hours' south of Jakarta, if you're desperate to escape the city smog.

Travel with Children

There are no special concerns for travelling with children in Jakarta – the heat, crowds and traffic are the same for all ages. Otherwise, the city does not have a wealth of diversions for children aside from big hotels and malls with play areas.

LGBT Travellers

Gay travellers in Indonesia should follow the same precautions as straight travellers: avoid public displays of affection. However, as the nation becomes more conservative, any form of closeness between people of the same sex may be unwise.

- Gay men in Indonesia are referred to as homo or gay; lesbians are lesbi.
- Indonesia’s community of transgender/transsexual waria – from the words wanita (woman) and pria (man) – has always had a very public profile; it's also known by the less polite term banci.
- Islamic groups proscribe homosexuality, but queer-bashing is uncommon.
- GAYa Nusantara (www.gayanusantara.or.id) has a very useful website that covers local LGBT issues.

What to do in Jakarta

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Ubud is one of those places where a holiday of a few days can easily turn into a stay of weeks, months or even years. The size of the town's expat community attests to this, and so do the many novels and films that have been set here, creative responses to the seductive nature of this most cultured of all Balinese towns. This is a place where traditional Balinese culture imbues every waking moment, where colourful offerings adorn the streets and where the hypnotic strains of gamelan are an ever-present soundtrack to everyday life. It's also somewhere that is relentlessly on trend – a showcase of sustainable design, mindfulness, culinary inventiveness and the very best that global tourism has to offer. Come here for relaxation, for rejuvenation and to have what may well be the most magical holiday of your life.

Sights

Central Ubud

Temples, art galleries, museums and markets dot the middle of Ubud. Some of the most important sit close to the main intersection at Jl Raya Ubud and Monkey Forest Rd.

West Ubud

Strolling Jl Raya Campuan down to the bridge (note the older historic wooden bridge just south) over the Sungai Wos (Wos River) and then up the busy and interesting Jl Raya Sanggingan takes you past a range of interesting sights. Venture up the steep steps to Penestanan for walks among small guesthouses and rice fields coursing with water.

South Ubud

You can reach some of Ubud's best sights via walks along Jl Hanoman and Monkey Forest Rd, which are both lined with interesting shops and cafes. Duck down narrow paths to find hidden rice fields.

North Ubud

Wandering on the many lanes running north from Jl Raya Ubud takes you to gloriously green rice fields and river valleys.

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Sleeping

Ubud has a wonderful array of places to stay, including fabled resorts, boutique hotels and charming, simple homestays. Choices can be bewildering, so give some thought as to where you want to stay, especially if you are renting private accommodation via the web.

In general, Ubud offers good value for money at any price level.

Eating

Ubud's cafes and restaurants are some of the best in Bali. Local and expat chefs produce a bounty of authentic Balinese dishes, plus inventive Asian and other international cuisines. Healthy menus abound. Cafes with good coffee seem as common as frangipani blossoms. Be sure to be seated by 9pm or your options will narrow rapidly. Book dinner tables in high season.

Drinking & Nightlife

No one comes to Ubud for wild nightlife, although that may slowly be changing. A few bars get lively around sunset and later in the night; still, the venues don't aspire to the extremes of boozy debauchery and clubbing found in Kuta and Seminyak. Most bars close early in Ubud, often by 11pm.

The quality of the coffee served in Ubud's growing number of cafes is good, with many places roasting their own beans and employing expert baristas.

Entertainment

Few travel experiences are more magical than watching Balinese dance, especially in Ubud. It's the perfect base for nightly cultural entertainment and for events in surrounding villages.

In Ubud you can see Kecak, Legong and Barong dances, Mahabharata and Ramayana ballets, wayang kulit (shadow-puppet plays) and gamelan (traditional Javanese and Balinese orchestras). There are eight or more performances each night.

Shopping

Ubud is home to art shops, boutiques and galleries. Many offer items that have been made locally. There's also an enormous number of craft galleries, studios and workshops in villages north and south.

The area's main shopping strip has moved to Jl Peliatan in Tebesaya and Peliatan. Here you'll find all the stores and shops that supply locals with their daily needs.

Getting Around

Car & Motorcycle

With numerous attractions nearby and no public transport, renting a car or motorcycle is sensible. Ask at your accommodation or hire a car and driver.

Expect to pay around 50,000Rp per day for a late model motorbike in good condition, considerably more for a car.

Most drivers are very fair; a few – often from out of the area – not so much. If you find a driver you like, get their number and call to organise rides during your stay. From central Ubud to, say, Sanggingan should cost about 40,000Rp. A ride from the palace to the end of Jl Hanoman should cost about 20,000Rp.

It's easy to get a ride on an ojek (motorbike taxi); rates are half those of cars.

Taxi

There are no metered taxis based in Ubud – those that honk their horns at you have usually dropped off passengers from southern Bali and are hoping for a fare back. There are plenty of drivers with private vehicles on the streets hectoring passers-by, in contrast some quietly hold up 'transport' signs.

Travel with Children

Ubud is an excellent destination for children. There are often resident children at homestays, providing play companions, and many of the resorts have kids clubs or activity programmes.

If bribery is necessary to ensure good behaviour, the multiple branches of Gelato Secrets and Gaya Gelato can oblige, as can the many eateries serving pizza. On Sundays, Uma Cucina offers a popular brunch with family-friendly food and entertainment.

LGBT Travellers

Ubud is a very tolerant place for all people.

What to do in Ubud

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If Jakarta is Java’s financial and industrial powerhouse, Yogyakarta is its soul. Central to the island’s artistic and intellectual heritage, Yogyakarta (pronounced ‘Jogjakarta’ and called Yogya, 'Jogja', for short) is where the Javanese language is at its purest, the arts at their brightest and its traditions at their most visible. Fiercely independent and protective of its customs – and still headed by a sultan, whose kraton (walled city palace) remains the hub of traditional life – contemporary Yogya is nevertheless a huge urban centre (the entire metropolitan area is home to over 3.3 million) complete with malls, fast-food chains and traffic jams, even as it remains a stronghold of batik, gamelan and ritual.

Put it all together and you have Indonesia's coolest, most liveable and lovable city, with street art, galleries, coffee shops and abundant cultural attractions. It's also a perfect base for visiting Indonesia’s most important archaeological sites, Borobudur and Prambanan.

Sights

The Kraton & Around

The historic kraton area harbours most of Yogya’s most important buildings and tourist attractions. The area is best explored on foot. While it springs from historic roots, the neighbourhood is no sleepy relic, making it a fascinating part of town to wander through.

Eastern Yogyakarta

The east of the city encompasses the silver village of Kota Gede and is the location of several museums.

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Sleeping

Yogya has Java’s best range of hostels, guesthouses and hotels, many offering excellent value for money. During the high season – July, August and Christmas and New Year – it's necessary to book ahead.

Eating

Yogya is a great place to eat out, with street food and local restaurants offering the city's distinctive jackfruit and chicken dishes. For excellent restaurants catering to a Western palate, two streets, Jl Prawirotaman and adjacent Jl Tirtodipuran, offer the world on a plate.

Drinking & Nightlife

There are lots of attractive bars and cafes in Yogya, particularly in the Prawirotaman and Sosrowijayan districts. Many of these have live music and offer good opportunities to mix with locals and meet like-minded travellers.

Entertainment

Yogya is a key centre for traditional Javanese performing arts. Dance, wayang (shadow-puppet performance) or gamelan is performed every morning at the railway station or the kraton. Check with the tourist office for current listings and any ongoing special events (such as the Ramayana ballet in town or, even more spectacularly, at Prambanan).

Shopping

Yogyakarta is famed for its crafts. These range from the cheap and cheerful souvenirs of Jl Malioboro to exquisite hand-waxed batik, available from outlets in Jl Prawirotaman and Jl Tirtodipuran. Meticulous silverwork is produced in Kota Gede.

Travel with Children

Want a great way to improve your Indonesia trip? Bring the kids! Parents say that they see more because children are so quickly whisked into everyday life across this child-loving archipelago. Natural barriers break right down as locals open their arms – and lives – to children.

Best Regions for Kids

Bali

The island at the heart of Indonesian tourism is ideal for kids. There are beautiful beaches, many with gentle surf, plus great spots for first-time snorkelers and surfers. Cool temples of Indiana Jones ilk dot the island, and there are dozens of child-friendly hotels and resorts.

Nusa Tenggara

Lombok is a slightly more adventurous version of Bali but is still easy for families and has gorgeous beaches in the south. Of the Gilis (where no one ever got lost), Air combines a relaxed vibe with activities, hotels and restaurants that are great for kids. Flores offers amazing wildlife at Komodo National Park.

Java

Batu Karas is a wonderful and safe beach. The easy hiking around Gunung Bromo is a good choice for families. More remote, the beaches and offshore islands in Karimunjawa delight families, while kids lap up the mysteries of Borobudur and Prambanan.

Indonesia for Kids

Travel outside cities requires patience, hardiness and experience – for both parents and kids. Most Indonesians adore children, especially ones touring their country; however, children may find the constant attention overwhelming. In the experience of some visitors, travelling in Indonesia is, in fact, easier with kids because locals are more helpful than they would be if you were travelling alone as an adult.

You will need to learn your child’s age and sex in Bahasa Indonesia – bulau (month), tahun (year), laki-laki (boy) and perempuan (girl). In conversations with locals, you should make polite enquiries about the other person’s children, present or absent.

LGBT Travellers

LGBT+ travellers in Indonesia should follow the same precautions as straight travellers: avoid public displays of affection. This is especially important in conservative areas such as Aceh, where locals of the same sex seen hugging have been sent for 'reeducation' by religious police.

- Gay men in Indonesia are referred to as homo or gay; lesbians are lesbi.
- Indonesia's community of transvestite/transsexual waria – from the words wanita (woman) and pria (man) – has always had a very public profile; it's also known by the less polite term banci.
- Islamic groups proscribe homosexuality, but violence against LGBT+ people is rare.
- Bali is especially friendly destination for LGBT+ travellers, with a large community of expats and people from elsewhere in Indonesia.

Indonesian LGBT+ organisations include the following:

- GAYa Nusantara (www.gayanusantara.or.id) Website for the Indonesian LGBT+ community.
- Gaya Dewata (YGD; www.gayadewata.com) Bali's oldest and only community-run LGBT+ organisation.

What to do in Yogyakarta

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