Indonesia Travel Guide: Climate, Culture and Indonesian Food!

 Ulun Danu Beratan Temple on the Indonesian Islands

While most travellers are familiar with Bali as a tourist hot spot, Indonesia as a whole has much more to offer. With over 17,000 Indonesian islands spanning 1.905 million km2, and more than 300 languages spoken by the locals, who knows what you might find?

Indonesia shares land borders with Papua New Guinea, Malaysia and East Timor, and is a hop, skip and a jump away from Singapore, Thailand and the north of Australia. The archipelago also spans three time zones!

Being near the equator, though, the temperature is consistent all year round. For Indonesia's climate, what you need to watch out of is the wet season, which takes place between October and March, as most tourist activities will be best enjoyed in the intervening dry season.

From the friendly people to the tropical beaches, vivid green rice fields to batik workshops, delicious street food to bustling markets and party spots, you’ll never run out of things to do.

Practical tips for travelling in Indonesia

Visas in Indonesia
All travellers will need a passport and a visa. However, you can buy your visa on arrival for around $45. Your visa will then be valid for 30 days.

Indonesian currency
The Indonesian Rupiah. On average, one Australian dollar can be exchanged for 9,150 rupiahs.

Payment methods
Most venues, retailers and restaurants in major cities will accept credit cards and ATMs are widely available. Just be wary of card skimming and always protect your pin numbers!

Tipping in Indonesia
While tipping isn’t generally expected in Indonesia, a small tip is always appreciated. In tourist hot spots, some service providers may expect a tip from tourists.

Field in topical Indonesian climate

Getting around Indonesia

Getting around Indonesia might sound like a daunting task, with 18,000 islands to navigate. Never fear, though – there is an extensive ferry system with which you can cross the entire archipelago.

Government run chains are the best, along with larger boats with visible safety equipment. Just keep in mind that delays and mechanical issues are a frequent occurrence, so it’s a good idea to bring something to do.

Not a fan of boats? In that case there are plenty of discount and reasonably priced airlines regularly flying between the Indonesian islands.

If you are staying within an island, the best way to travel between major cities is with local trains and buses. Trains serve Java and Sumatra, while other areas are served by buses.

For travelling within cities and villages, you have a range of options, including:

  • Dokar: Horse-drawn carriage
  • Becak: Pedal-powered cab
  • Ojek: Motorcycle taxi

Indonesian culture and communication

Indonesians are known for being a friendly people, and will make you feel right at home. However, this also means that Indonesians will expect you to return that respect, so remember to be courteous at all times.

One way to show your respect to the local is by taking note of some cultural body language considerations. For instance, pointing something out with a single finger is seen as rude, so make sure you use your thumb or entire hand instead.

Also beware if you’re left handed – in Indonesian culture, the left hand is considered to be impure, so use your right hand when eating and shaking hands.

Some stances can make you seem hostile, particularly crossing your arms or putting your hands on your hips, so keep this in mind. Keeping your hands at your sides is usually a safe bet if you don’t naturally gesture when talking.

And smile! Smiling is very common in Indonesia, even among strangers, and returning a smile will make a good impression.

Finally, remember to respect cultural events in Indonesia, such as Silent Day on New Year's Day in Bali.

Buddist temple in Indonesian culture

Top experiences

Thousands of islands means thousands of things to do and see, so where do you start?

Here are our top suggestions, based on what interests you:

  • Love cities? Make sure you visit Jakarta while you’re in Indonesia. This city is truly a cultural melting pot, with Malay, Chinese, Arab, Indian and European influences across the city’s architecture, entertainment and cuisine.
  • Love history? Surabaya, or the City of Heroes, has an array of historical monuments, while the city itself was key to establishing Indonesia’s independence. Or, for insight into historical culture, organise a tour to Baduy village in the jungles west of Java. This ancient tribe has been isolated since the mid-1500s, which will give you insight into a traditional culture unaffected by modern developments.
  • Love food? Medan is the perfect place for foodies! Enjoy satay sticks and plates of nasi padang available for bargain prices, but be warned – Indonesian cuisine is notoriously spicy.
  • Love beaches? Kuta is part of the Bali party scene, and is a popular destination for Australian tourists. Lounge in the sun by day then dance the night away! Or if lounging away isn’t your style, take a look at Manado, which is a gorgeous diving, snorkelling and kayaking spot. Or, if you’re a surfer, check out the waves in the Mentawai islands, Bali and Lombak.
  • Love forests? The Tropical Sumatran Rainforest is the perfect destination for you, with days of trekking available to the adventurous. The rainforest is a World Heritage Site and home to 10% of the world’s flowering plants. You might also encounter elephants, rhinos orang-utans and even tigers.
  • Love adventure? Krakatoa is a volcanic island, the volcano of which erupted violently back in 1883. The force of the explosion and the destruction of the subsequent tsunamis left two-thirds of the island devastated and more than 36,000 people dead. Yet, when the dust settled, a new volcanic island emerged, called Anak Krakata, meaning “Krakatoa’s child.” This lush new island now features a marine park and tourists enjoy fantastic snorkelling, diving and beaches.
  • Love nature? Then make sure you look for a Komodo dragon! The dragon is endangered and only found on a few Indonesian islands, but you can arrange a dragon-viewing tour with a trained guide. Just don’t go dragon searching alone –  the Komodo dragon is the largest living species of lizard, reaching weights of up to 70kg, and its bites can cause blood poisoning.
  • Love art? Experience the Indonesian artwork of batik – an artistic practice spanning centuries, batik is a wax-resist dyeing technique and plays a central role in many Indonesian traditions. You can admire the vibrant patterns or try to create your own in Yogyakarta.
  • Love pampering? Relax and recharge at local spas, yoga centres and meditation retreats, which can be found throughout Indonesia. You can also connect with your spiritual side by visiting the abundance of striking temples set against tropical backdrops.

Finally, don’t forget that Indonesia straddles the equator! In Pontianak, you can put one foot in each hemisphere and visit the nearby equator monument.

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Staying safe in Indonesia

Indonesia is a welcoming holiday destination, with opportunities for both relaxation and adventure. But, like any other travel spot, it’s important to be careful and stay safe, which makes travel insurance an essential companion for any journey. Remember to organise before you go, and that terms, limits and conditions apply so make sure you know what you are covered for. Keep your policy details on you at all times as well, as some hospitals won’t treat you without proof of insurance.

Here are some areas where preparation is key to a safe and enjoyable break.

Mozzies!

Indonesia has a tropical climate, and with the tropics come mosquitos. Ensure your vaccinations are up to date to protect you against mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever. And, when you arrive in Indonesia, use a strong insect repellent and check that fly-wire screens in hotels don’t have holes.

Indonesian food and drink

Avoid buying food from street vendors, and always be careful when eating unusual foods. When eating out, check that your food is properly cooked and that any fresh produce is clean. Finally, drink bottled water (and make sure bottles are sealed!) rather than tap water.

Alcohol consumption

Indonesia, especially Bali, is known as a party destination, and is a great place to have some fun. Just be smart about it – know your limits when it comes to alcohol and only buy drinks at reputable bars where you can see them being prepared. Note that the legal drinking age in Indonesia is 21, so any younger travellers should avoid drinking. And, of course, don’t even think about drinking and driving (or drinking and swimming!).

Driving in Indonesia

One fun way to explore the islands is renting a motorbike – just make sure you have the necessary motorbike skills before you get on the roads and have the right travel insurance policy in place. In their eagerness to make a sale, some companies can cut corners when it comes to safety, so check your bike carefully and remember to wear a helmet.

Pickpockets

While Indonesians are known for being friendly, unfortunately pickpocketing is common. Leave your valuables at home or locked in the hotel safe. If you must take valuables with you, be careful in crowds, cafes and internet hotspots, and don’t ever walk away from your bag or leave your personal belongings unattended in a public place.

Terrorism

In recent years, a number of high-profile terror attacks have targeted Indonesia’s tourist hotspots. To learn more about Indonesia’s current geo-political situation, visit www.smartraveller.gov.au

Think carefully before visiting countries with "Do Not Travel" status, as RACV Travel Insurance won't cover you for these destinations.

Natural disasters

Indonesia is a land of volcanoes and earthquakes, so it’s important to keep a clear head should an earthquake occur. Stay indoors or move to an area clear of overhead hazards. If you’re struggling to maintain your balance, get on to your hands and knees to move somewhere safe. If you can, seek cover under something sturdy, like a table.

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RACV Club Reciprocal Club Indonesia

International Sports Club of Indonesia

Jl.Ciputat Raya No.2, South Tangerang, 15419

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