The world’s largest archipelago, numbering more than 17,000 islands, stretches from the Malay Peninsula most of the way to Australia, with large islands such as Sumatra, Java and the southern half of Borneo and smaller idylls such as Bali and Lombok. Dramatic natural events such as earthquakes and volcanoes constantly rearrange the landscape, breaking and remaking the surface of the earth so the place feels raw and unfinished. A variety of people and cultures live here, including Hindus, Muslims and animist tribes.
What to see
Climb Gunung Bromo to watch the sun rise, wander about the strange lunar landscape of Tengger Caldera and marvel at Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple complex anywhere.
Longstanding popular destination and Indonesia’s tourist heart, whose culturally rich heritage, exotic landscape, celebrated architecture and spectacular religious events have attracted people for centuries.
Less developed than some of the islands and all the better for it. Excellent sandy stretches and wild interiors make these ideal destinations for more adventurous travellers, divers and hikers looking for Komodo Dragons.
Less-visited island that offers superb wilderness and opportunities to get up close to orang-utans in their natural habitats. Look out too for Sumatran rhinos and tigers.
Head here for wildlife encounters and adventure; trek or raft in Loksado or Tanjung Putting National Park, where you can also see orang-utans.
Top experiences / sites of particular interest
Look out for sublime snorkelling and some good diving along pristine coral reefs in the fabled Spice Islands.
Mountainous region of Sulawesi with spectacular scenery and some elaborate traditions still enacted to this day.
When to go
Weather & Seasons: Straggled across the equator, Indonesia tends to have a fairly consistent climate, with just two different seasons, dry and wet. In general the rainy season runs from October to April, although the islands further north tend to be wet year round. High season is May to September.
Getting there / around
Flights: There is an international airport in Jakarta (CGK) on Java. For Bali fly to Denpasar (DPS); for Sumatra fly to Medan (MES); for Sulawesi fly to Manado (MDC).There are a number of internal flights connecting the islands.
Boat: Sea ferries also connect the islands but operate rather more slowly.
Rail: There are rail networks on Java and Sumatra.
Road: In general, main roads are decent and bus and coach services efficient. Local buses will carry you to the more remote and smaller towns. In urban areas look out for opelet minibuses , bajaja auto-rickshaws ,becak cycle-rickshaws and dokar horse-drawn carts , as a means of getting about.
Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world and to travel throughout it would take a long time. You could easily restrict yourself to just a single island and happily spend a fortnight exploring.
Adventure Seekers: Travel throughout Sumatra to explore volcanic lakes, peaks and some good wildlife spotting opportunities, or journey the length of Java, starting in Jakarta and taking in Borobudur and Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park.
Relaxing Escapes: For an indulgent two-week escape that takes in a couple of islands fly into Bali, acclimatise on the beaches and explore the nearby sites and scenery before hopping to Lombok to amble around rice plantations and explore Hindu temples.
Overall Indonesia: To really do justice to the diverse collection of islands and everything that they have to offer, you’ll need around four to six weeks to graze the surface, and a couple of months to really get to know them.
Overall Country Guides: For a comprehensive guidebook to the whole of Indonesia, pick up Lonely Planet’s guide, Indonesia.
Bali Guides: If you are travelling to Bali, look for individual guidebooks to Bali from Rough Guides, Eyewitness and Insight as well as pocket-sized guides from Insight, Lonely Planet and Thomas Cook.
Borneo Guides: Visitors to Borneo should take either Borneo guidebook published by Bradt or Lonely Planet. Birdwatchers would do well to consider also having a copy of Birds of Borneo published by New Holland.
Country Maps: There are whole country maps of Indonesia available from Nelles, ITMB and Periplus. Geocenter combine Indonesia and Malaysia.
Country Maps: There are decent maps of Bali available from Reise Know-How,Freytag & Berndt and Periplus.
Borneo Maps: There are also individual maps of Borneo from Reise Know-How and ITMB.Java Maps: Maps of Java are published by ITMB and Periplus.
Sulawesi Maps: A map of Sulawesi is available from Reise Know-How.
Sumantre Maps:There are Sumatra maps available from Reise Know-Howand ITMB.
Street Maps: There are also street maps of Jakarta available from Freytag & Berndt and Periplus.
For a good overview and introduction to the country, look out Indonesia: Peoples and Histories by Jean Taylor, which sheds light on the country from both Indonesian and outsider perspectives.
Alternatively pick up The Indonesia Reader, Duke University Press, for a collection of diverse writings on the country.
Into the Heart of Borneo is Redmond O’Hanlon’s classic account of his journey to Indonesia in search of the lost rhinoceros of Borneo. Amusing, informative and packed with incident, it’s a great insight into the region.
In Hunting the Gugu, Benedict Allen goes in search of mythological ape-men in Sumatra, bringing the jungle to life as he ventures forth to find the truth behind the folktales.
You’ll find nasi goring, fried rice, available everywhere alongside spicy rendang, beef with coconut and lemongrass. Local kopi, coffee, is rich and tasty.
Sight & Sound
Across such a wide area there are bound to be a myriad of distinctive sounds. Listen out though for the unmistakable music of gamelan though, the traditional orchestra of Java, Bali and Lombok.
Language Books: Pick up Lonely Planet’s Indonesian Phrasebook in order to help you get by.
Rupiah made up of 100 sen.
If you enter the country via one of the main airports or channels then you can pick up a 30 day visa upon arrival.
Inoculations for hep A, hep B, polio, rabies, typhoid and yellow fever are recommended. Malaria is also present in parts of the country.
Safety, FO travel advice
Generally safe, although there are areas that have experienced unrest and violence. Also a threat of terrorism in the wake of bombings in Bali. There is also the threat of natural disaster in the form of earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis.
Useful Telephone Numbers
Indonesian country representatives can be found
in the UK at38 Grosvenor Square, London. W1K 2HW. Tel: 020 7499 7661
and in the US at2020 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20036. Tel: 202 775 5200.
There are no tourist boards in either country.
For more information visit: www.indonesia-tourism.com, www.insideindonesia.org or www.indonesiatraveling.com.
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