Made up by more than 17,500 islands, this country is one of the most visited destinations of the past few years. The exact number of islands is not known, there are days that appear new ones and others that some sink because of the rise in sea level. In this backpacking guide and tips for traveling to Indonesia you will discover everything you need to know to visit this wonderful destination without being overwhelmed.
Each of its islands is a different world, although there is no doubt that Bali today is the one that rings more bells because of the awesome tourism develop it has achieved; it is undoubtedly the most visited island in all Indonesia.
- 1 A little about Indonesia:
- 2 Tips for traveling to Indonesia
- 2.1 Best time to travel to Indonesia
- 2.2 Vaccines needed to travel to Indonesia
- 2.3 Malaria and Dengue
- 2.4 Visa for Indonesia
- 2.5 Currency, prices and payment methods in Indonesia
- 2.6 Festivals and important dates in Indonesia
- 2.7 Gastronomy in Indonesia and what to eat in Indonesia
- 2.8 How to move around Indonesia
- 2.9 Scams and dangers in Indonesia
- 2.10 Responsible tourism
A little about Indonesia:
Indonesia is the fourth most populated country in the world, and 86% of the population is Muslim. Being made up of so many islands, it is to be expected that the cultural differences between one and the others are extreme. Even the language is not so official and, among 580 different dialects, 13 are the most spoken.
Until 1945 they were a Dutch colony (Netherlands), year in which they became independent. Until today they continue facing problems such as the high birth rate and the extremely crowded population of some islands compared to others that are empty. People have been resettled, educational laws instituted to help with illiteracy and much more in favor of organizing such a dispersed country.
Bali is the most visited island within Indonesia and the one that has a more “western” culture at least in tourist areas, however, others like Lombok, Java, Sumatra and Labuan Bajo have started to stand out in recent years for their beauty and natural attractions. Volcanoes, Komodo dragons, Orangutans and Giant Mantas are just some of the attractive things you can find in Indonesia.
17,500 islands are 17,500 options of different cultures and lifestyles, some more similar to others. If you visit more than one get ready to notice a big difference between people, architecture and the whole places. From the relaxed Gili Islands to the frenetic Jakarta, the options are just infinite.
Tips for traveling to Indonesia
Best time to travel to Indonesia
The climate in this country is tropical, with dry and rainy seasons quite marked. The best time to visit Indonesia is one of the best tips to travel to Indonesia that we can give you because if you choose the wrong time you can spend all your holidays locked up in your accommodation because of the rains.
- October to April: Monsoon season. It rains constantly on most of the islands. It is also low season and prices may be lower, except in the last weeks of December when many arrive to spend the holidays.
- May to September: Dry season and the best time to visit Indonesia. Within these months, July and August are the highest seasons, where prices rise and the tourists flood the beaches and temples.
To enjoy quietly the best months are May and June. Always avoid the monsoon season if you do not want to take the risk of staying locked in the hotel.
The climate is always mild and quite hot. But, if you will do expeditions to volcanoes, better to have technical and warm clothing because it can get very cold in the high. Also, read this altitude sickness tips.
Vaccines needed to travel to Indonesia
- Yellow fever: You will only be asked the have it if you come from an area of risk. As Chileans, we were never asked for it. There is no disease in there, it is only as a precaution so that others do not bring yellow fever to Indonesia.
- Hepatitis A and B: We recommend it, you may eat in places that are not as healthy as they look.
- Typhoid fever: Recommended.
- Tetanus: It never hurts to have it.
Malaria and Dengue
Regarding other diseases, such as malaria and dengue, there is a lot of fear and rumors around. To take care of these diseases use a lot of repellents, and if you travel to uninhabited areas or less touristy islands always take your pills against malaria. Enter here for more information on how to repel mosquitoes and take care of these diseases.
Visa for Indonesia
One of the tips to travel to Indonesia more asked is about the visa policies to enter Indonesia. The requirements are different for each country:
- Free visa for 30 days for a list of 169 countries (law applies since 2016). Practically all of Latin America are included but you can still check on this website.
- For the rest of the countries, they must obtain a visa before arriving in Indonesia. Find out in your own country what is the simplest way to obtain it, in general, the procedure must be made through embassies.
Can I extend my stay in Indonesia?
If you already know that you will be more than 30, then you can pay a normal 30-day visa with an option to extend it up to 60 days (paying also). Staying more than 60 days is not allowed unless you go on a mission sponsored by an agency in the country.
Your other alternative is to enter and leave the country on the same day or with a couple of hours apart. They do not put any problems if you do that, but you have to leave the country and enter another one in the process. For example, take a flight to Kuala Lumpur or another nearby country just to renew your visa.
And if I already entered with a free visa, can I extend my stay?
You will hear many stories of people who paid for a new illegal stamp to extend their stay without leaving the country. This is not legal at all and put you in a big risk if someone finds out. The rules are quite strict regarding those who stay longer than the granted days:
- For each additional day up to 60 days after arrival in the country, 20 dollars per day is charged.
- If you exceed 60 days in the country without permission, you can face up to 5 years in prison according to the country laws.
Currency, prices and payment methods in Indonesia
The official currency of Indonesia is the RUPIAS. To this date (2018), 1 dollar was equivalent to 13,513 rupees. Here it is easy to be a millionaire… with only $ 74 you will have your first million rupees! Who said you will never be a millionaire?
How to get rupees?
To change dollars to rupees, it is best to do it in established places that also looks reliable. One of the most important tips to travel to Indonesia is that you must never trust very good businesses or people who give you bigger changes than the real one, it will always be a scam and they will give you fake bills or less money (they are like magicians… count the money everything in front of your eyes and when they give it to you will be much less).
This happens a lot in Bali in the exchange houses located on the street. They take you to the back of the shops and do their money disappearing magic out of the police and other tourists eyes. Sure, you do not realize that they cheated you until you get home!
Airports always have the most expensive exchange rate, so wait until you are in the city center to do it.
There are ATMs in the main cities of the country. Always try to use those that are inside shopping centers or banks.
Travel costs are really low in Indonesia. In terms of accommodation prices, you can find double rooms between 5 to 25 dollars, depending on the island and type of accommodation you are looking for. Street food costs 1 to 2 dollars per person; while in a restaurant on the beach, you could spend between 5 to 10 dollars. A bottle of water costs 1 dollar and a beer 3 dollars.
Festivals and important dates in Indonesia
In general, the festivities will be different between islands. Indonesia is so big that it is difficult to talk about the country as a whole. However, here we leave some relevant dates that are celebrated in the most part of it, so you can plan your trip to Indonesia knowing them.
National Day of Indonesia: May 20.
Different parties and celebrations are held throughout the country; especially in schools. The tourist areas are not affected.
With the exception of Bali, the rest of the islands are Muslim. Each year, for 30 days, Muslims should eat only at night and fast for the rest of the day, among other rules. The exact date depends on the lunar calendar but is usually near June.
Independence Day. 17 of August
The streets are covered with flags and garlands to commemorate the independence of the country, which happened in 1945.
Gastronomy in Indonesia and what to eat in Indonesia
Indonesian food is very tasty, follow these tips to travel to Indonesia related to food and you will not regret it:
The meats and chickens are very spicy and are almost always accompanied by rice. Among the most traditional dishes, which almost everyone like, are:
- Nasi Goreng: Fried vegetable rice.
- Mee Goreng: Fried noodles with vegetables.
- Nasi Campur: White rice accompanied by a piece of meat (usually chicken), egg and vegetables.
If you feel creative, you will find many more flavors and preparations. You just have to dare to try. They use a lot of spicy condiments, but you can order the preparations without these.
If you don’t like to try new things, will always find pizzas and pastas in the most tourist areas. And if you’re a vegetarian, there are always vegetable options on the menu; but for some reason, in the southeast, they think that vegetarians do eat chicken and fish so be specific about what you don’t eat each time you order.
How to move around Indonesia
It is not as simple as other Southeast countries but can be done. If you have doubts and do not want to be so reckless; there will always be a tourist agency willing to accept your money in exchange for help in buying tickets and reservations to wherever you want to go.
Low-cost flights abound and may cost only $ 20. If you go to islands that are very far from each other, you will have no alternative but to take a plane if you want to save time.
Ferries and boats:
Many public ferries connect one island with others. However, the boats are very old and with little or no comfort. The trip between two neighboring islands may take up to 4 hours, or even more; if you go for example from Bali to Lombok there are much shorter alternatives like fast boats, which of course cost more but are much more efficient too.
For very long trips there may be first class cabins with bed and television.
A popular company is Pelni to travel by ferry around Indonesia.
Within the islands:
There are some bus companies, for example in Bali the most popular one its called Perama, a tourist company that may be more expenthan that local buses but for sure more safe and efficient.
Van or Minibus:
In general, they are full of tourist and hired in the agencies as they sell the trips as a package from one place to another, including hotel pick up.
Most of the locals use motorcycles to go to one place to another, so the streets are full of them. You can rent a motorbike for 3 to 5 dollars a day and use it freely on the islands. We really loved doing it and it is one of the tips to travel to Indonesia that you can not leave out of your experience. You will love moving with the air crashing against you as you pass through beautiful rice fields and beaches.
Scams and dangers in Indonesia
One of the most typical scams of Indonesia and Southeast Asia happens in the unofficial exchange houses. They offer you a wonderful exchange rate and count the bills on the table over and over again in from of your eyes… but they are like magicians and you will certainly leave the place with less money than the correct one. Change only in official places and count the money again in your own hands once it is delivered to you.
Broke or scratched the scooter:
Renting a scooter or motorbike (water or land) is a very good way to have freedom when traveling. However, many times when you return them, the owners will try to charge you for a scratch or problem in it that was supposedly not there, when it always was…
How to avoid it? Take pictures of the bike from every angle and every scratch and problem it may have before you first leave the shop. But not only that! Worry that the person who rented it to you appear in those photos and that the rental place can be seen, so there is no doubt that the photos were taken when you took it the first time.
It’s typical … you get stopped by a policeman on your rented motorcycle and he asks you for every possible document that doesn’t even exist. Then they start treating you with sending you to prison and ask for money (100 dollars or more) for turning a blind eye and let you go. Here you have two options:
- Before getting on the bike, hide the big bills and keep 50,000 rupees in your pocket (just over 3 dollars). Tell them that it is the only money you have and they will let you go.
- Talk to them in any language they do not understand to confuse them, play dumb, act like you just don’t understand and look at them with a weirdo face. Most likely, they will get bored and let you go to find an easier prey to scam.
It is important to always be responsible with the environment and the people when we travel. What you do today will influence many generations forward, and it is everyone’s job to take care of our planet. Please be a responsible tourist and follow this tip to travel to Indonesia. We invite you to read our responsible tourism content here.