Indonesia has become famous for its diverse and dramatic landscape. Best known for its volcanoes, beaches, and jungles, this island country boasts astonishing beauty.
It isn’t just one island that makes up Indonesia, rather, the country is an archipelago of over 17,000 islands providing visitors with endless opportunities for adventures or explorations. The five main islands of Indonesia are Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Sulawesi, and New Guinea.
Other major islands in the area include the Nusa Tenggara and Maluku islands, where you can reconnect with nature and transcend into its tranquility.
Selamat Datang – Welcome to Indonesia!
Beauty goes beyond the epic landscape of this country and integrates itself into the people, culture, cuisine, and cities. With stunning islands, the cities are equally beautiful with a mix of modern architecture and ancient temples. While Indonesia’s popularity has skyrocketed with tourism, there are still plenty of hidden gems to discover in this ornate country.
Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia, and it is located on the island of Java. Many travelers would call it a city of contrasts because of the disparity between economic classes, the loud streets, packed alleyways, food stalls, and traffic.
The capital is not the image of peacefulness that most would associate with the country; however, that doesn’t mean that it should be skipped. In Jakarta, you can experience exotic flavors, explore the arts, and chill in the bohemian vibes of coffee shops.
- Culture and Language
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Cities to Visit
- Points of Interest
Culture and Language
Indonesia has a rich culture that starts all the way back with Pithecanthropus erectus or more commonly known as the Java Man. This fossil which was discovered in 1891 was our first knowledge of fossils of Homo erectus. For humanity, this discovery was important because it helped us map early human migration.
While Indonesia started out as many countries do with a pre-human history, the country also developed its own unique country as the formation of kingdoms occurred during the 7th century AD. By the 1500s, the Portuguese landed in Indonesia and were soon followed by the Dutch, who developed the East India Trading Company.
Since the Dutch and Portuguese, the British, Japanese, and President Sukarno held power over the region. Under Sukarno’s rule, the country struggled with corruption and nepotism though it overcame its old President to rebuild into a democratic and constitutional republic.
With a difficult history, Indonesia has blossomed into a stunning country. The people have overcome hardship and are still kindhearted. It is important for travelers to understand that there isn’t one single culture that can be labeled as Indonesian.
Every island has its own culture, and the culture between people can vary because of its diversity. While diverse, there are still elements of Indonesian culture that are similar and customary in the region.
As with most Asian households, family always comes first, and relationships with your kin are tightly knit. Multiple generations will often live in the same house or within the same neighborhood. Along with family, religion is an important part of the country’s identity.
There are 6 major religions in Indonesia, including a large Muslim population, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and a few branches of Christianity. Indonesian people are also bound to traditions and spirituality. Legends often tell of how things like a mountain or temples came into being.
Celebrations are also integral to the culture, and you’ll find that in Indonesia, there is a celebration for everything. Whether it is family customs or communal, people will come together to celebrate life’s little victories and milestones.
Indonesian is the official language of Indonesia and is also known locally as Bahasa Indonesia. The language is central to the government, business, education, and media, with about 43 million native speakers and a further 156 million people speaking it as a second language. In large cities, you find that Bahasa Indonesia is dominant but outside of the bustling crowds, regional languages dominate.
In the countryside, languages like Javanese and Sudanese are spoken and are listed as official regional languages. Both are spoken on the island of Java, though Sudanese is more common in West Java and Banten.
With the rise of tourism and foreigners, Indonesia also has a fairly large English-speaking population with an estimated 23 million speakers, out of the country’s 273.5 million (as of 2020) citizens. While you may not find English common outside the cities, it should be fairly easy to encounter in the streets of destination resorts and islands.
It’s important for you to plan your trip and think about your spending budget while you are in Indonesia. The good news is that Indonesia can be traveled on an affordable budget, which makes it a top destination for backpackers budgets.
The biggest portions of your budget will include airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
The only downside is that Asia is far away, which makes most plane tickets very expensive. Most flights leaving from the United States West Coast will take 17 hours to fly directly to Indonesia. If you live in other parts of the United States, travel time and cost will likely increase.
A flight from Los Angeles to Indonesia will cost over a thousand dollars roundtrip, however, the range of flight prices is pretty vast. Indonesia is unique because it’s a country that attracts travelers year-round. While May to September are the most popular months because it is the dry season, the wet season is also enjoyed by many because of the influx of waterfalls.
From May to September, you should expect the ticket prices to be higher and even more so around holidays. In the off-season, you may find that airline tickets are slightly less expensive. Travelers can also save money by planning ahead and booking their plane tickets earlier.
While the plane tickets likely won’t budge much in price, you can save money by choosing more affordable accommodation options. Indonesia is a country where you will find a large contrast between prices, and it attracts both backpackers and luxury tourists.
The price of accommodation will also increase or decrease based on your location. Popular destinations like Bali will be the most expensive areas, while other islands may have lodging options for a few dollars.
Most accommodations throughout Indonesia are offered in the form of guesthouses. Guesthouses are normally set up with double beds, and it is rare to find a single-bed setup. Some will have communal bathrooms, and some may be private. If staying in guesthouses isn’t your style, and you would like to stay in a hostel, you should expect to pay more.
Many hostels will have dorm beds, however, be more spacious or have more amenities available than a guesthouse. As well, you can meet more travelers and be more social in a hostel.
For travelers who wish to have private accommodations in a hotel, you will have to raise your budget. Nice hotels will cost moderately more per night based on your location. With hotels, many will serve a complimentary breakfast, and you will have a private bathroom, alongside other amenities.
Airbnb is another option for you to find amazing accommodation on the islands, though it can be rather pricey. Most Airbnbs in Indonesia are private homes located on the island, which means that you should expect to pay a moderate to a high rate per night, depending on what you book.
If you happen to be traveling in a group, Airbnb can be a great way to split the cost and make the accommodation more affordable during your trip.
Finally, luxury accommodations are always available throughout the island of Indonesia. There are many popular resorts that have become increasingly popular as tourism continues to flourish.
Resorts are also the most expensive places to stay, so you should expect to pay hundreds of dollars or more per night, if not several thousand dollars.
Once you’ve decided on your flight and accommodation budget, you’ll have to also consider the cost of food and drink. Indonesian food is famous for being flavorful with spices, having wonderful colors, and having exotic tastes. Steamed rice is a staple for many dishes, but the spicy zest livens it up and makes the dishes more unique.
Spice is found everywhere, and many people will tell you that Sumatran food is much milder than the spicy Javan dishes. Similar in tune with individual island culture, you may find that food is served slightly differently in each location that you visit.
A few of the most famous dishes included Indonesian satay, which are meat skewers served with peanut sauce. Fried rice, called nasi goreng, is widely popular due to the thicker soy sauce, seafood, egg, and garnishes.
Sop buntut is a dish for more adventurous eaters and is called oxtail soup in English. The soup originated in London and was brought to Indonesia in colonial days, where it remains massively popular.
A sweet dish is martabak, which is like Indonesia’s version of a pancake and is filled with chocolate, cheese, or peanuts. Finally, sambal is a condiment that is widespread throughout the country and can be served alongside a variety of dishes.
The best part of Indonesia’s food is that it comes at an affordable price. Many dishes can be bought for a few dollars if you’re eating at a street stall. If you’re especially hungry, larger portions should still remain easily within your budget.
If eating at a restaurant is more your style, you should expect to spend a few dollars at a non-touristy location, while those in hotspots will cost more. Fancier restaurants that are located in the resorts would likely have high prices similar to what you would see in the United States.
For party-going travelers, drinking is also important to consider in your budget, and when compared to the price of food, drinks are expensive. Local drinks will be the most affordable option, with a beer costing a few dollars.
Drinks out at bars, restaurants, or clubs will still be well-priced, depending on where you are. Many locations will also charge tourists a cover fee to enter the establishment. Luxury bars and restaurants are also an option, just be prepared to pay for the experience.
How to Get Around
While exploring Indonesia, there are a few options when it comes to getting around. For those with less time, flights may be the best option. When you’re traveling on one island or sticking to one area, the best ways to get around is by bus, train, tuk-tuks, rickshaws, or renting a vehicle.
Indonesia is a difficult place to travel domestically because there are so many islands that you can explore. For most inter-island travel, your choice would be to take a domestic flight or ferry.
For travelers who are tight on time and can’t waste it by traveling slowly, domestic flights are the best way to go. There are a variety of airlines, like Air Asia, that have domestic flights that a relatively well-priced.
Ferries are more affordable ways to travel, though they can take longer to reach your destination. If you are willing to take a little more time to save money, ferries are a great way to see the country’s gorgeous views.
Buses and Trains
Ideal for specific areas, like Java, trains are a great way to see the island and will cost a few dollars for a ticket.
Buses are another affordable option but are the slowest way to travel. A ticket won’t cost too much but you should expect to spend up to 12 hours on the bus to reach your destination.
You can always pay a little money for tuk-tuks or rickshaws if you are traveling around a city. These will likely cost a few dollars, depending on how far you are going. They are a great way to see the streets and can eliminate the stress of you having to navigate the streets yourself.
If you are up to the challenge of driving and sitting in traffic, you can rent your own motorcycle or car. On smaller islands, where traffic is almost non-existent, it can be great to rent your own vehicle. In busy cities like Jakarta or Java, the stress of renting may not be worth it. While motorbikes, with gas included, cost only a few dollars a day, a car will be more expensive.
As with any destination, walking is the best way to see the local life and travel for free. In many tourist areas, walking is perfectly safe, but you should always be aware of your surroundings and keep your belongings close.
Top Cities to Visit
While most people don’t realize that Indonesia includes over 17,000 islands within its borders, there are plenty of cities that you can visit. While some locations are home to skyscrapers, others offer visitors the chance to step into the past. Here is a brief overview of the top city destinations in Indonesia.
As the capital, Jakarta is busy, noisy, and chaotic. It is fast-paced and does not have the slow island feel like the rest of the islands. With diversity and a constantly changing backdrop, the city is known for its cuisine and customs.
Mostly used as a transportation hub, Surabaya has stunning architecture with old colonial buildings still standing amongst the busy streets. Chinatown and the Old Arab Quarter are also top destinations if you are looking to stay longer and aren’t just passing through.
Bandung is uniquely placed because tourists can stay in the hustle and bustle of an energetic city but escape to nature just outside its boundaries. The nearby mountains provide plenty of locations where you can view volcanoes, relax in hot springs, or visit the tea plantations.
Medan is on the island of Sumatra, and it is a modern city but manages to avoid being overrun with chaos like Jakarta. The city is filled with shopping, dining, and sightseeing but is mainly used as a transportation destination to other areas like Lake Toba or countries like Malaysia.
Located on the island of Java, Yogyakarta shines with art and culture. The Javanese heritage is on full display, and there are plenty of historical sites to visit. Modernity has also come to the city, so you can explore popular dining and shopping locations.
Ubud is nestled in the upper highlands of Bali and is known for being a place where tourists can experience Indonesian tradition and view their crafts. The landscape is surrounded by stunning rice paddies and features a few Hindu temples.
Now, it’s a popular tourist destination where people flock to see its beauty.
Also located in Bali, Kuta is a white beach resort that is known for having some of the best beaches on the island. You can catch a wave in the surf, or you can dive under and view the colorful coral reefs. With plenty of dining, shopping, and drinking options, Kuta is one of the most popular places in Bali.
Points of Interest
While cities are often the main attraction when traveling, you may find that there is a specific point of interest that excites your curiosity. With plenty of islands to explore as well as beaches, national parks, and historic sites, there’s plenty to see and do while visiting. Here are some of the top destinations in Indonesia.
Discover the best of Indonesia’s thermal springs to add to your itinerary, on our sister site, Top Hot Springs.
Raja Ampat is famous for being a paradise for divers who want to explore coral reefs and aquatic wildlife. The islands are scattered throughout clear blue water and are an unforgettable destination.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Borobudur is a 9th-century Buddhist temple complex that is significant in Indonesia’s culture, history, and heritage. The large complex is in a beautiful location where you can look out onto the sprawling green landscape.
For travelers who want to experience Indonesia’s traditional ways, Tana Toraja in South Sulawesi is the place to go. The local people live amongst the mountains and are known for drawing in dark tourists who wish to see their tradition of walking the dead.
Tanjung Putting National Park
Located in Borneo, this national park is the place to go if you want to witness orangutans in their natural habitat. With a large spread, Tanjung Putting National Park encompasses drylands, forests, swamps, and coastal beach areas.
A hidden gem of Indonesia, Ora Beach is located on Maluku and has crystal clear water filled with coral reefs and tropical fish. There are dramatic mountains in the backdrop, and you can stay in the water houses for an unforgettable experience.
“The Emerald of the Equator”
Indonesia is an absolute gem with its gorgeous landscape and islands. With modern cities, ancient temples, and diverse natural landscapes, this country will draw you in for an adventure. The endless adventures offered throughout the islands make Indonesia a must-see travel destination.