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Your Indonesia Travel Itinerary: Everything You Need to Know Before You Go

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1 month ago

I’ve been traveling to and within Indonesia for over 10 years so I’m used to the questions that family and friends throw at me before visiting: Do I need to wear a headscarf? Do people speak English? In short, there’s no question about visiting Indonesia that I haven’t heard before.

Beyond Bali, I often describe Indonesia as the last great travel frontier for Western tourists. In this comprehensive FAQ guide we’ll be sharing some of the little local tricks and tips to help make your visit a little easier. In short, our goal is to ensure that whether you are on a quick visit to Bali or enjoying the ultimate two-week Indonesia itinerary, your trip is as smooth and enjoyable as possible. Less time for stress and more time for the beach.

If we missed a burning question you have about planning your Indonesia travel itinerary, either comment below or join our exclusive WhatsApp community – you can find out how at the end of the article.

Before you go

Do I need a visa to visit Indonesia?

Most Western nationals (USA, Canada, EU, Australia, New Zealand) require a visa to visit Indonesia. For all other nationalities, I’d recommend checking with your closest Indonesian embassy.

The good news is that visas can be purchased on arrival at most major airports (Bali, Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Makassar, Medan) for 500,000 IDR (US$35) in cash. If you don’t have any Indonesian rupees handy, the staff will usually offer an average rate for USD or EUR. You can also pre-arrange an e-visa, although it’s generally very straightforward to do on arrival.

When is the best time of year to visit Indonesia?

The best time of year to visit Indonesia is during the dry season, which normally runs between April and October. The peak tourism season (especially in Bali) lasts from May to July.

Don’t worry too much if you are planning your Indonesia travel itinerary during the rainy season. While you can often experience days of rain, other times you can be lucky with just one or two hours in the afternoon. However, we should warn, if the weather isn’t in your favor, expect flight delays and cancellations.

Bali in particular is extremely busy around December with Australian sun-seekers.

Is Indonesia worth visiting?

Absolutely, yes!

Indonesia truly has something for everyone: ancient royal capitals, countless volcanos, white sand beaches, world-class diving, a unique and extremely delicious cuisine. For a ‘complete’ Indonesia travel itinerary, you would truly need years.

My favorite part about all of this is that, apart from Bali, Indonesia is almost completely off the Southeast Asia backpacker trail. On most islands, you’ll more or less have the place to yourself.

Getting to Indonesia

By plane

Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar (Bali) and Soekarno–Hatta International Airport in Jakarta are the major air gateways to Indonesia. You can also fly directly to most major cities in Asia, Australia and the Middle East. There are also a handful of direct flights from European cities including Amsterdam and Istanbul. In short, you’ll have no trouble finding a flight to Indonesia.

For travelers already in Southeast Asia, from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur you can usually find direct (and extremely cheap) flights to many regional cities in Indonesia including Surabaya, Yogyakata, Medan, Makassar (check out one day in Makassar) and Lombok (which has amazing food). This means you have a lot more flexibility in how you plan your Indonesia travel itinerary.

By land

From Malaysia

You can find public transport between major cities in Kalimatan to Malaysian Borneo (Sabah and Sarawak). Most travelers cross between Pontiniak (Indonesia) and Kuching (Malaysia). If you are planning to include Kalimatan on your Indonesia travel itinerary, it can often be cheaper to fly in or out of Kuching, Malaysia. For more, don’t miss our guide to planning the ultimate Kuching itinerary.

From Timor-Leste

There are daily buses between Kupang (West Timor) and Dili (Timor-Leste). Most nationals, with the notable exception of USA and Portuguese passport holders, require a Timor-Leste visa in advance. You can enquire on current requirements with the Timor-Leste consulate in Kupang.

From Papua New Guinea

Jayapura (West Papua, Indonesia) is connected by regular public transport with Vanimo (Papua New Guinea). This is an extremely isolated and remote corner of Papua New Guinea and we recommend having advanced travel plans before crossing.

By sea

The most significant of Indonesia’s sea connections are between Singapore and the islands of Bintan and Batam. Regular ferries connect to Singapore, making Indonesia an accessible day trip from the Lion City.

Getting around Indonesia

Ride-sharing

In recent years, Grab has emerged as the king of ride-sharing apps in Indonesia. You’ll find dedicated Grab teams at most major airports. More or less similar to Uber, and both extremely intuitive and cheap, you’ll soon consider Grab the savior of your Indonesia travel itinerary.

Travel tip: When you see a dedicated Grab team member at an Indonesia airport, it generally pays to ask them for a discount code.

Flights

Indonesia’s domestic flight network is extensive, taking you to every tiny corner of the archipelago. Flights are often cheapest when booked in advance.

Boat

As a series of islands, it’s no surprise that boats continuously ply Indonesia’s waterways. For travelers, this affords both an opportunity to take things slow (often very slow) and immerse yourself deeper in local populations.

For more major companies, such as the Pelni network, you can usually book tickets online. However, for the most up to date information on schedules and ticket prices, I generally recommend visiting the port of whatever city you are planning to depart from.

While you’re in Indonesia

Can I drink the tap water in Indonesia?

No. My advice is to always drink bottled water  in Indonesia. We all know how stomach problems can ruin a trip (“Bali belly” is a real thing).

Do I need to carry cash in Indonesia?

In short, yes. Despite being increasingly cash-free, you will be required to have cash on hand daily. Whether you’re picking up some fresh street-side nasi goreng or bargaining for souvenirs at a volcano lookout, you’ll likely need cash.

How are the toilets in Indonesia?

Outside of major hotels, expect to find squat toilets across most of the country. If you are looking for a clean toilet, the local mosque will generally be your best option.

Do women need to wear a headscarf in Indonesia?

Indonesia is home to the largest Muslim population in the world. However, you’ll find that what is expected of foreign travelers differ greatly between islands. As a general rule, unless you are visiting Aceh province, women do not need to cover their hair.

Outside of Bali and Lombok, you’ll find foreign travelers tend to dress more conservatively (no singlets or shorts). If you are planning to visit any major mosques (such as Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta), the mosque authorities will usually have a scarf you can borrow.

Can I visit Indonesia during Ramadan?

Yes. However, Ramadan in Indonesia is often a quiet and family affair and the streets can sometimes seem particularly sleepy.

Generally speaking, there are no restrictions on travelers eating or drinking during Ramadan. In the major Muslim islands (Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi, Kalimatan), you’ll often see street food stalls and restaurants have put sheets up to cover from street view. If you are concerned about a particular restaurant being closed, I generally advise seeking Chinese restaurants or communities.

There are some pros to visiting Indonesia during Ramadan. During this period, many Muslim cities and towns will have little dessert stalls set up in the late afternoon selling pandan and coconut-flavored sweets for people to break their fast on. After dark, you’ll usually find Ramadan markets or other unique evening activities. Best to check with your local hotel for the most up-to-date information. 

It’s worth noting that some of the more tourist-friendly islands, like Bali and Flores, are either Hindu or Christian and you probably won’t be able to tell anything is different. In Lombok, the tourist town of Kuta is used to Western visitors and its vibrant dining scene operates as normal.


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