Indonesia, a Southeast Asian nation made up of thousands of volcanic islands, is home to hundreds of ethnic groups speaking many different languages. It’s known for beaches, volcanoes, Komodo dragons and jungles sheltering elephants, orangutans and tigers. On the island of Java lies Indonesia’s vibrant, sprawling capital, Jakarta, and the city of Yogyakarta, known for gamelan music and traditional puppetry.
Indonesia At a Glance
Indonesia Quick Information
Visa: In Indonesia, 169 countries can now obtain a visa on arrival. This is valid for 30 days but cannot be renewed or extended. If you wish to stay in Indonesia for longer, you can pay for a tourist visa (there is a special line in the immigration customs for it). This gives you 30 days plus a chance to extend it for another 30 days through any immigration office. If you want to stay for longer, it is also possible to get a social visa which gives you around 6 months.
Safety: Although violent crime is fairly rare, there is a lot of petty theft, especially in touristy areas like Bali. With that being said, as long as you are sensible with your belongings (always put your bag strap across your body), never leaving your things unattended, you will be fine. ATM skimming is also pretty common so whatever you do, make sure you only go to ATM machines that are directly connected to a bank or to go to machines which have surveillance systems pointing at the machines at all times.
Apart from petty theft, alcohol poisoning is another serious issue that Bali and the popular Gili Islands is facing. Due to heavy alcohol import tax, some local vendors opt to stretch out their supply with other chemicals so it’s best to stay away from the local arak and only buy drinks from reputable bars and restaurants. Chances are, if you find a beach bar offering ridiculously low cocktails, the local alcohol might be mixed with extenders. Indonesia also has a zero tolerance for drugs, with the death penalty being imposed on a few convicted criminals so never put yourself at risk by carrying packages for people or even going to parties where you know drugs would be present.
Language: Everywhere you go in Bali, you will easily be able to find people who speak English, especially in touristy areas like Canggu, Ubud, and Seminyak. However, the further you decide to go, the level of English lowers. With that being said, no matter where you go, the people who work in the tourism and hospitality industry always has a good understanding of the language. The local language is called Bahasa and is spoken and understood widely despite the fact that they have about 300 native dialects.
As mentioned, although English is widely spoken, it doesn’t hurt to learn a few words to help you out.
Good Morning: Selamat Pagi
Thank you: Terimah Kasih
To eat: Makan
No Spicy: Tidak pedas
Vegetables only (for vegetarians): Sayur saja
Festivals and Celebrations: When traveling around Indonesia, watch out for the end Ramadan (July) as a lot of stores and restaurants are closed during these periods. During this time, making bookings for both accommodation and transportation is recommended. Other big celebrations worth seeing are Nyepi, which is the Balinese New Year celebrated in March.
Indonesia Trip Planning
When is the best time to go to Indonesia you ask? Generally speaking, Indonesia has a hot tropical climate all year round. However, the monsoon season can be a real bummer. April to October makes up the Dry Season while November to March is usually rainy. However, as it is such a large country, it is best to check specifically for where you are planning to go. The best time to go in a nutshell is April to October as there is usually minimal rainfall.
What to Pack for Traveling Indonesia
What to Pack for Indonesia depends entirely on where you are going and what you are planning to do. If you are heading solely to Bali with the intention to soak up some sun and surf some waves, you won’t need to bring any outdoor or trekking gear. Similarly, if you’re heading to Java or Sumatra, a sarong to cover your shoulders in temples and light quick fry pieces of clothing is recommended.
Best Things to Do in Indonesia
As mentioned, Indonesia is a country that has a little bit of everything for everyone. Despite being frequented by millions and millions of tourists every day, there is still a large portion of Indonesia, mainly in Java and Sumatra that remains largely unexplored. Here are a few of the best places things to do in Indonesia.
Get Healthy in Bali
One of the best things about Indonesia, Bali, in particular, has an overwhelming amount of healthy food choices. Everything from meditation retreats, yoga seminars, to super healthy organic restaurants and cafes. As I write this Indonesia travel guide, I am currently in Canggu Bali, relishing in the many restaurants and cafes that make it easy to eat healthily.
Eat, Pray, and Adventure in Ubud
Popularized by the famous film, Eat, Pray, and Love, Ubud has become a popular spot for travelers. Apart from doing the usual rice field and waterfall sightseeing, there are also heaps of adventurous things to do in Ubud. From whitewater rafting to mountain biking to Mt. Batur there are loads of options for those who like to stay active.
Explore the Many Mountains and VolcanosJava, Indonesia is home to some of the most beautiful mountains and volcanos imaginable. To date, one of our favorite travel experiences is seeing the sunrise over Mount Bromo. The way the sun slowly illuminated the valley was truly a magical experience. The fact that we did it without a tour made it even more special. Apart from Mount Bromo, seeing the blue flames in Kawah Ijen is another must-do while in Indonesia.
See the Cultural Wonders of Yogyakarta
If you’re looking to explore the cultural side of Indonesia, head on over to Yogyakarta to see the majestic Prambanan Hindu temples as well as to watch the sunrise by Borobudur which is the largest Buddhist temple built in the 9th century. Although we’ve seen lots of majestic sunrises while traveling Southeast Asia, the one in Borobudur easily makes it to our top 5!
Explore the Exquisite Marine Life
If you’re an avid scuba diver, the diving in Indonesia is some of the best in the world! From the historical dive sites in Bali like the USAT Liberty Wreck in Tulamben to other sites in Tulamben and Nusa Penida and Lembongan. If you’ve never dived before and are considering learning, you can get certified in the Gili Islands or in the Komodo National Park.
In Indonesia, hands down, some of the best diving is in Komodo National Park and Raja Ampat. Every dive we did we saw sharks, tuna as large as tables, and other large pelagics. We honestly felt like a kid in a candy shop! If you are serious about your diving, there are also some liveaboard diving in Komodo as well as in a few long liveaboard diving trips in Raja Ampat where you get to go to a few unexplored dive spots.
Trekking in Sumatra
If you have time, another recommended activity is to go trekking in Sumatra to see the Orangutans. We did a four-day trek and got to see some pretty amazing wildlife along the way. At one point, we woke up in our makeshift campsite with one large Orangutan curiously staring at us from a nearby tree. It was definitely an incredible experience and something I would do again in a heartbeat. Apart from trekking to see the Orangutans, there are a few other things to do in Sumatra that we highly recommend like chilling out in Lake Toba, surfing in untouched reefs, and exploring the many beautiful sights near Berastagi.
Bask by the Beach
Last but not least, the beaches in Indonesia are world renowned, with many people flying in from different parts of the globe. From the beaches in Bali to the untouched islands in Raja Ampat or Aceh, there are heaps of awesome places to visit. If heading to Bali, you can check out our articles on the things to do in Canggu, things to do in Nusa Dua and things to do in Seminyak. Similarly, our things to do in the Gili Islands is a pretty popular post about one of our favorite places in Indonesia.
What to Eat in Indonesia
Compared to other Southeast Asian countries, Indonesian food isn’t that well known. To help you figure out what to try during your visit to Indonesia, here’s a breakdown of a few must-try dishes in Indonesia.
Nasi Goreng: Nasi Goreng is your traditional fried rice made with kecap manis (a thick soy sauce) served with a fried egg, some crispy fish crackers, and a small side salad. Some places serve this with a few skewers of chicken satay or fried chicken.
Mie Goreng: This noodle dish is made up of thin yellow egg noodles stir-fried with a variety of vegetables. You can have it with chicken, pork or tofu-it’s really up to you. Similar to Nasi Goreng, you can get this dish almost everywhere from cheap warungs to big restaurants.
Gado-Gado: A salad made up of boiled potatoes, eggs, carrots, green beans, and tofu served with a hefty serving of peanut sauce. YUM!
Rendang: Rendang is a made from a mixture of coconut milk cooked in with lots of spices, giving it that rich and spicy flavor. It is often made with beef but you also have other variations such as chicken, mutton, or goat.