Everything you need to know about exploring Indonesia
From smoking volcanoes to pristine beaches, our Indonesia travel guide has your trip sorted
The world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia is spread over 17,000 islands stretching from Australia to the Asian mainland. In between lies a vast expanse of pristine beaches, thriving coral reefs, lush scalloped rice terraces, dense cities and smouldering volcanoes.
Culturally, ethnically and linguistically rich, it’s a land of myriad languages, ancient arts and diverse religions, ensuring a year-round calendar of festivals, ceremonies and events. A favourite amongst Australian travelers, Indonesia promises plenty no matter what your idea of a holiday is. Adventurer or sun-worshipper, luxe nomad or spiritual wanderer, explore some of the world’s best dive spots, hide away in remote mountain retreats, lose yourself in bustling cities or simply unwind on untouched beaches.
Where to go
A perennial crowd pleaser, there’s something for everyone in Bali. It has a rap as a crowded, over-commercialised island, but there’s still plenty of untamed Bali to explore.
While some travellers make a beeline for the luxury resort pocket of Nusa Dua, others hang out in the secluded surf hotspot of Uluwatu or the glitzy villas around Seminyak. Those down for a little soul-searching will find plenty of inspiration in the lush mountains of Ubud and the cheap local shops and people-watching of Kuta provide oodles of entertainment.
After lying for so long in Bali’s shadow, the white sandy shores of Lombok now see a steady stream of travellers searching for a lesser-known but no less idyllic island destination.
The Gunung Rinjani volcano blankets its north, making for excellent mountain trekking, with a three day trek the most popular for tourists, while the glorious Gilli Islands to the northwest promise calm, warm waters, perfect for snorkelling with turtles and tropical fish.
Indonesia’s sprawling capital lies on the island of Java and is one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
Chaotic and cosmopolitan with absolute extremes of poverty and wealth, Jakarta throws up a multitude of contrasts in a city marrying the old and new. Explore the historic Dutch area of Kota, visit the bustling old port of Sunda Kelapa and fast forward to the gleaming steel and glass of glitzy Ciputra World mall.
The spiritual heart of the country, travellers to Yogyakarta on the island of Java are rewarded with a rich insight into the ancient arts, culture and rituals of Java. From shadow-puppet shows to learning the art of batik, exploring Yogyakarta is a journey through a beautifully preserved culture brought to life in the everyday.
Many travellers journey from the city to the nearby temples of Prambanan, soaring thousand-year-old structures wonderfully exemplifying Hindu temple architecture. With this impressive backdrop, time your visit to catch a ballet performance telling the famous Hindu tale of the Ramayana.
A welcome break from the fast pace of Java, the island of Sumatra is still a relatively untamed wilderness. Most of Sumatra’s attractions lie in its north, where you can get up close to orangutans in the Butik Lawang feeding centre, watch the magic of a sunset over a volcano and soak in rich thermal springs.
The island of Sulawesi is a geographical wonderland to explore. Cloaked in thick jungles and mountains, an almost impenetrable wilderness has helped protect it over the centuries.
Most of its inhabitants are clustered in its south, making the area a great jumping-off point to begin your explorations in the bustling capital and port city of Makassar, before venturing out to the impressive mountains of Tanah Toraja.
Arts & Culture
With Dutch, Indian, Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese among its influences, Indonesian food is a blend of sweet and sour, with plenty of fiery flavours.
The national fried rice dish, ‘nasi goreng’ is eaten all over Indonesia, and a must-try when visiting. Don’t leave Indonesia without experiencing one of it’s quintessential markets -- pile your basket high with the bundles of tropical fruit, pungent spices and seafood so fresh it’s still flapping.
A blessing or a curse, Indonesia is a land of volcanoes. While these bubbling, steaming peaks can, and sometimes do, erupt at a moment’s notice, they make for a awesome landscape that draws travellers all year round.
Magnificent at sunrise and sunset, these steaming craters take on an otherworldly glow and remind us of our own insignificance. From spectacular Mt Bromo in East Java to the smoking time-bomb of Krakatoa situated between Java and Sumatra, try and factor in some volcano viewing on your travels.
Home to over 17,000 islands, Indonesia has more than enough beaches to spare and its pristine white-sand shores are the reason many travellers visit.
While the more developed beaches heave with tourists, there are still plenty of hush-hush hotspots of untouched paradise including Belitung Island, off the east coast of Sumatra, the blushing pink sand of Padar Island, Flores and Peucang Beach, Banten, Java.
The animal appreciators among us will delight in Indonesia, where the opportunities to get up close with wildlife abound. Every region contains its own local wildlife, and highlights include the komodo dragons, found in the Komodo National Park on the islands of Komodo and Rinca, the impressive orangutan sanctuary in Tanjung Puting National Park and the chance to glimpse elephants, tigers and leopards in the wilds of Sumatra.
An enduring favourite, Pulau Nias has long been a magnet for surfers, an island off the west coast of Sumatra, where the surf phrase ‘All time Nias’ relates to its ability to deliver great surf year round. Classic Kuta beach still offers some super convenient and reasonably good surfing and Nemberala, home of the classic T-Land wave that fronts the Nemberala Beach Resort on Rote Island.
Set in a tropical climate, Indonesia doesn’t have four distinct seasons, instead the year is divided into a wet and dry period. Typically, wet season runs from October to April, and travellers can expect high humidity, overcast skies and sudden downpours of rain. The best travel time, and the peak tourist season, is the dry season between May and September.
Temperatures year-round generally remain between 21˚C and 33˚C in Indonesia, cooling as you get higher into the mountains.
Health and safety
At least four weeks prior to travel to Indonesia, ensure all routine vaccinations are up to date, including diphtheria and tetanus, whooping cough, polio, measles, mumps and rubella and chickenpox.
Consult your doctor on whether vaccinations for hepatitis A and B, typhoid, meningitis, rabies and Japanese encephalitis are recommended depending on your travel plans.
Malaria is a medium risk in Indonesia, ensure adequate clothing and repellent is carried and discuss best treatment methods with your doctor prior to travel.
It is recommended to speak with your doctor when planning your trip to find out which vaccinations you may need. Keep in mind that some vaccinations require more than one dose, so it is best to chat to your doctor well in advance of travel.
Following the devastating Bali bombings of 2002 and Jakarta bombings of 2009, Indonesian tourism has suffered badly and efforts to revive it are ongoing. Keep abreast of government travel advisories and local news updates if planning travel to Indonesia.
Scams, pickpockets and petty theft can be a problem, especially in the touristy areas. Always keep your belongings in sight, be mindful of over-friendly locals or being invited into homes, lock hotel rooms and windows and ensure valuables are kept in a safe place.
Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, and some areas adhere more strictly to modest religious dress codes than others. Try to adhere to local standards, especially in temples or places of worship.
The emergency number for telephoning an ambulance is 118, police is 110 and fire department is 113.
Always be on the safe side when you travel by taking out comprehensive travel insurance. Medibank Travel Insurance gives you overseas leading hospital, accident and medical evacuation cover while you’re travelling. And with our comprehensive plans, you'll have cover for a host of other surprises like lost luggage, unforeseen cancellations and rental car insurance excess.*
The Indonesian currency is the rupiah, with notes in denominations of Rp500, Rp1000, Rp5000, Rp10,000, Rp20,000, Rp50,000 and Rp100,000 and coins to the value of Rp25, Rp50, Rp100, Rp500 and Rp1000.
Indonesia ranks as one of Asia’s cheapest travel destinations promising affordability for travellers on the leanest of budgets. Street food is excellent value and dirt cheap at just a couple of dollars, while western-style, sit down restaurants are dearer, but even then you don’t often spend much more than $15 on food each day.
Accommodation and transport are where you’ll spend most of your money. The most touristy areas in peak season are where you pay the highest prices, with midrange accommodation around $50 - $100 per night. A top-tier travel scene is booming in Indonesia and while it’s still an affordable escape, those with cash to splash can find rooms and villas running into the thousands per night to luxuriate in.
Foreign exchange is available in provincial capitals and cities of Indonesia, and ATMs are increasingly common throughout the country. As ATMs can sometimes be down or have low withdrawal limits, ensure you have a back up plan to access funds.
MasterCard and Visa are the most widely accepted credit cards, however if you are travelling on a low budget, ensure you have cash on you for payment as credit cards are only readily accepted in major hotels, shops and high end restaurants.
* Important things you should know: Limits, sub-limits, exclusions and conditions apply. This is general advice only. Medibank Private Limited, ABN 47 080 890 259, an Authorised Representative, AR 286089, of Travel Insurance Partners Pty Limited, ABN 73 144 049 230 AFSL 360138, issues the insurance on behalf of the insurer. The insurer is Zurich Australian Insurance Limited ABN 13 000 296 640, AFSL 232507. Please consider your own needs and the Combined FSG/PDS available from Medibank stores or medibank.com.au/travel to decide if this product is right for you.