Indonesia is my most visited country, I’ve been to Indonesia 8 times in the past 4 years and come March 2019 I will be moving to Bali for 4 months. As a result, I have gained some valuable information for first time travellers and key things to know before visiting Indonesia.
Indonesia is full of culture, heritage and outstanding natural beauty, it never fails to impress me no matter how many times I visit, even if its to the same area. However, first time travellers commonly have no idea what to expect when landing in one of the major cities such as Denpasar (Bali), Jakarta or Yogjakarta. So I want to make sure you don’t make any common rookie mistakes whilst there.
For those people traveling to Indonesia soon, I wrote this Indonesia travel guide about all the things you should know when you travel to Indonesia. Everything you can imagine, from places to see, things to do, food, accommodation options, itineraries, weather, safety issues, travel guides and many more things.
Things To Know Before Visiting Indonesia
In 2016, Indonesia recently loosened the visa requirements for 169 countries around the world, meaning you can travel up to 30 days in Indonesia without needing a visa. Until this time, it was necessary for most tourists from all around the world to purchase visas on arrival. However, most nationalities are now allowed to enter the country without a visa for no longer than 30 days.
Do make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months upon entry to Indonesia. Overstaying your visa is not recommended, but if it is only a couple days you have to pay a 300,000 IDR (US$25) fine per day. This does add up and instead if you want to stay longer than 30 days here are my suggestions:
- 60 day visa on arrival. A critical step is needed to make sure you are eligible for a in country visa extension. What is it? You must pay $35 (entry fee) at the airport when you arrive if you want to stay/or thinking of staying longer than 30 days and up to 60 days. The Free VOA cannot be extended or changed in any form once you have been stamped into the country. If you don’t pay the $35, you will need to leave Indonesia once 30 days is up.
- Visa Run. This is basically as it sounds. Book a flight to another destination, outside of Indonesia, usually Kuala Lumpur or Singapore and spend a few days there and fly back into Indonesia where you are then eligible for another free 30 days. Some people even fly back the same day, however be careful with this as I’ve heard some people have been denied entry back into Indonesia. Be safe and explore a new place for a few days!
- 60 day visa before arrival. This is the visa I would suggest if you know you are staying for longer than 30 days and you’re in your home country. You’ll need to submit an application online, and then travel to your nearest Indonesian Embassy to give you passport and details in. After a few days, viola you’ll have a 60 day visa in your passport! So much less hassle and it costs £40 using a debit card.
Best Time Of Year To Visit Indonesia?
Please don’t be put off by this, but be aware that Indonesia is subject to almost anything there is. The four elements (earth, water, air, and fire) are perfectly represented by earthquakes, tsunamis, tropical storms and volcano eruptions. Even during my rather short visit to the Gili Islands, I already experienced an earthquake caused by a nearby volcano as well as some torrential downpour with moderate flooding and a power outage. All in all nothing to worry about though, and something can happen to you anywhere in the world. Indonesia is a very exciting country!
Weather in Indonesia is split into two seasons: wet and dry. With warm tropical temperatures averaging 28°C during the day, throughout the year. In most regions, the dry season spans from May to September, with the rains falling between October and April. There are some regional exceptions. On Sumatra it rains from October to January in the north, and November to February in the south. Sulawesi, with its unusual shape, also experiences slightly different weather patterns and rainfall can be expected in the northern regions of the island during June and July.
Don’t Be Fooled By The Currency
The Indonesian Rupiah is a currency with one of the lowest values in the entire world. One Dollar equals about 14,000 Indonesian Rupiah, so just be sure not to be fooled by an added 0 on the bill, which can easily happen if you’re not sured to such large numbers. Especially after having a few drinks, you might not really care about whether there are five or six 0’s to be found on your bill. Paying in cash you might notice, but a credit card reader might just deduct 2000000 instead of 200000 Rupiah (150 instead of 15 Dollars), if you don’t pay attention.
How To Get Around Indonesia/Bali
Indonesia is world’s largest island country, with more than seventeen thousand islands, so it’s definitely not one to be underestimated! Having said that, although it’s not as easy to get round than say Thailand, it’s still relatively straight forward with many domestic flights, boats and cheap scooter rentals.
When booking public transport like boats and buses in Indonesia I always use 12Go Asia. I honestly cannot fault this travel planning website. If you want to travel from Bali to Gili Trawangan? Easy! Nusa Penida to Lombok? Sure thing! Jakarta to Jogjakarta? You betcha!
I personally hate dealing with street vendors and local ticket offices, as honestly I never know if they are ripping you off. 12Go Asia is perfect as you know you are getting the best rate out there, and there’s no hassle once you’re in the country. Instead you can focus on the real reason why you are exploring and experiencing the top things to do in Indonesia!
All you do is type in where you want to travel from and to into the search engine and they give you all the options available, so bus tickets, train tickets and even flight tickets. You will find timetables, up to date prices, duration of the trip, different options for companies and everything else you need to know….Try it below!
The Blue Bird Taxis / Taxis in general
The whole taxi thing is a bit weird in Indonesia. That’s why there is an official company called Blue Bird. You should be able to easily recognise them, because the cars are blue and they have a distinctive Blue Bird logo. Unfortunately, since this became popular, every other taxi company now just paints their cars blue as well. They even put fake logos on top of the cars, and you’ll probably end up having no clue which ones are the legit ones at some point. Have a look at the official website here, the real logo is a funny looking diamond-ish shape. Not round, not square, and so on. Even not-so-real ones are usually not that much more expensive though.
In more remote locations you’ll hardly ever find a real Blue Bird taxi. In that case, just go with whoever looks the most reliable. At airports away from the main tourist destinations, there will just be lots of private people coming to the airport offering to take you, and most of them are legit and just want to earn enough money to get their family along. Be aware that they’ll most likely not have any permit / insurance / etc. though.
Don’t opt in if someone offers you a suspiciously low price. They might have agreements with other people to drop you off at their place or something like that.
We did encounter this at Lombok airport. Someone offered us a very good price for the two hour ride from the airport to the ferry pier. Then he went to a different “pier” from which you can only take privately chartered boats. Luckily we had our offline maps with us so we knew what he was doing. At least when we told him to go to the real pier he did so without complaining.
Size / Distances
A drive from one end to the other end of Sumatra, the largest Indonesian island, will take you about 50 hours. That’s longer than from New York to Los Angeles. And that said, Sumatra doesn’t even cover a fourth of the size of Indonesia. Together with the mountainous landscapes and bad roads, that makes for an awful experience if you wanted to travel long distances by car. This is why there are so many flights connecting all the different islands of Indonesia and thus, it’s really cheap as well. Even the state carrier Garuda Indonesia, one of the best airlines in the world, offers flights from about US$20 depending on the length of your trip!
Stay In A Hostel To Meet Friends
This particular point is aimed at Bali. If you’re a solo traveler or you just want to meet like minded people, staying in a hostel is a great way to do so. There are so many options available, depending on where you want to stay, your budget and what type of vibe you’re after.
I’ve written a whole detailed post on the Best Hostels In Bali. However, here are my top pick for hostels in Bali:
- Ubud: Puri Garden Hostel & Hotel. If you’re wanting a luxury hostel that has everything, from a swimming pool to free yoga classes to live music then Puri Garden is perfect. Located right in the centre of Ubud, only a few minutes walk to all the shops, cafes and the famous Yoga Barn it’s fairly premium price tag pays for itself ten fold.
- Canggu: The Farm Hostel. Probably the most famous hostel around Canggu, due to it’s friendly atmosphere and modern living. Perfect for digital nomads and those wanting something a little more up market. All their rooms are air-conditioned and have an ensuite with traditional open air shower.
- Seminyak: Capsule Hostel Bali. Winner of the 2016 and 2017 TripAdvisor Travellers Choice Awards, this hostel is hard to beat. If you like to get your party on; you love socialising from dusk till dawn; you’re looking for an international entourage or you just want to kick back, enjoy yourself and see the sights, Capsule is perfect for your stay in Seminyak.
- Kuta: The Island Hotel Bali. With over 1100 reviews and an average score of over 8.5 on Hostelworld, it’s the most popular and loved hostel in the Kuta area. It’s designed in a way to create a place that will help you meet new friends, refresh both your body and soul, and most importantly get the most out of your Bali travel experience.
- Gili Trawangan: My Mate’s Place Hostel. With over 1100 reviews and a score of 9.5 on Hostelworld, My Mate’s Place Hostel is THE place to be in Gili T. It boasts a huge, buzzing social area where by day you can chill on one of their cozy beanbags before hitting up their bar by night to socialise with the other guests.
Airline Credit Card Problem
When you try to book your domestic flights online, it’s usually the cheapest and best to book right on the airlines website. However, there are often problems with foreign credit cards. These problems are widely known but simply not addressed. For example, I couldn’t book a flight on Lion Air that I wanted, so I had to book Garuda Indonesia. To be fair, when I got to the airport, I saw the Lion Air flight I was originally going to get on, to be cancelled – so I was actually very lucky here!
If you encounter problems, either try multiple different airlines, book via phone, or through an online travel agency like Expedia.
Don’t Drink The Water
This probably goes without saying as it’s all much of the same in Asia, but please don’t drink the tap water in Indonesia. I know that constantly buying bottled water may well break your heart due to the huge use of plastic (it certainly did mine!), but water from the tap will make you very sick – and that’s the last thing you want on holiday!
If you can plan ahead, I’d absolutely recommend travelling with a water bottle that has an in-built filter, carrying a water bottle that you can fill up with free filtered water at your accommodation or using a water purification filter.
Indonesia and specifically Bali, is home to some of the best value luxury hotels in the world.
There is a huge array of affordable 5 star luxury hotels in Bali. Whether you’re wanting one in Ubud, Seminyak, Nusa Dua or the neighbouring islands, you’ll find the perfect hotel for you. A luxury Indonesia holiday does not have to be expensive!
There Is More Than Just Bali
By far the most popular place in Indonesia is the island of Bali. You can find anything you can imagine on this island, from white beaches to black beaches, from luxurious resorts (check out our post: most amazing hotels in Indonesia) to basic wooden shacks, from nightlife and beach parties to jungle trekking and volcano climbing, and from a bustling south to a very quiet north. But it’s all about 100 miles long and 50 miles wide.
So while Bali is a fantastic place to be, it’s only a tiny tiny part of Indonesia, it’s like going to Australia and flying back home after seeing Sydney. Just east of Bali, you’ll find Lombok, home to Indonesia’s second highest volcano, and the beautiful Gili Islands just off the coast of Lombok. West of Bali lies the most populated island Java, home to the capital city Jakarta and the culturally rich area around Yogyakarta with many beautiful temples. A real gem is the Raja Ampat region towards the far east of the country, near Papua. But even that is only a small choice of places to go to.
Indonesia Has Some Of The Best Diving In The World
Whether you’ve never dived before or you’re an avid diver, Indonesia has some of the best diving in the world for beginners all the way to expert level divers. The diving community is huge, and there are so many places to dive. From Bali itself and the famous Liberty Wreck to the remote islands around Raja Ampat. It has something for every diver.
I was actually lucky enough to be chosen by the Indonesian Tourism Board in October 2018 to promote ‘Wonderful Indonesia’ on their Trip of Wonders Adventure Tourism Board Press Trip. We visited some of the best dive sites in the country including: Derawan Island off Borneo, Raja Ampat, Komodo Island and Tulamben in Bali.
Tipping Is Not Expected
This ones for you America! Although, it the United States tipping is very much expected, do not feel that you need to tip here in Indonesia, as thankfully it is completely up to you. If you think the service is outstanding or you do personally want to tip the service, then you can. However, you won’t be considered a complete arse if one is not provided.
Indonesia is home to the world’s largest muslim population. Most people are actually pretty liberal, but just in case you go near mosques or other religious places, be sure to remember to dress conservatively. You also have to expect hearing prayer calls several times a day, depending on where you stay. This is particular on the smaller islands like Gili Trawangan which can be heard all over the island.
Having said that, Bali is very much a Hindu island. In Bali you can see offerings and temples everywhere; something that you might not found in any other areas in Indonesia. Every aspect of Balinese life is infused with Hindu faith. Unlike any other island in largely Muslim Indonesia, Bali is a pocket of Hindu religion and culture.
Travel Adaptors For Indonesia
Indonesia uses the Central European 2 pin plugs, like for example in Germany. If you’re unsure, click here for the full information on plugs.
I always travel with this travel adaptor, it includes all major country pins and it works a charm!
Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia) is spoken by most people in the country and is the official language. There are over 700 indigenous languages spoken throughout the country, but Bahasa Indonesia is the only one used in education and media. Quite a few Indonesian people in touristy areas do speak English, seen as Bahasa Indonesia uses the latin alphabet as well.
Renting a Scooter In Bali
One of the things to know before visiting Indonesia is that transport is dominated by scooters, although not quite as crazy and hectic as Vietnam it still has a much higher percentage of scooters than cars. Renting a scooter in Bali is very simple and most hostels/hotels have a scooter company associated with them usually charging between 60,000-90,000 IDR (US$4 – 6) per day.
However, if you’ve never driven a scooter before do consider taking taxis or hiring a driver for the day as traffic is intense in Bali, especially around Ubud, Denpasar and Seminyak. Always wear a helmet!
Fuel is usually sold per litre in an Absolut bottle (yeah I’m not joking) and costs 20,000 IDR per litre. These can be found on the site of the road in little stands.
Do Not Ride Elephants
In Bali there are several elephants parks promoting elephant rides and tours. I’m sure you’re already aware but riding elephants is is a big no no and not cool. You may think, oh just one more person is not going to make a difference, I just want it for the gram. But no pleaseeee don’t think like that, this just encourages the trade. So please, help stop animal cruelty and refuse to take pictures with elephants, but instead do some research and visit a reputable sanctuary.
Buy A SIM Card For The Duration Of Your Trip
All bars, restaurants, shops and hotels have free wifi and internet is fast in Indonesia. But if you want to stay online during your Indonesia trip I recommend you to buy a sim card.
There are a number of SIM card’s to choose from, however I recommend using Telkomsel as they have the widest range and the most reliable 4G network in Indonesia.
Do Not Leave Without Travel Insurance
One of the most important things to know before visiting Indonesia is getting travel insurance! In the past I’ve jumped between many travel insurance companies, trying to figure out which is the best overall. Last year I went with World Nomads, and haven’t looked back since. I personally love how quick and easy it is to get a quote. You can even purchase a plan with little advanced notice. Extend coverage online from anywhere too, or if you decide to extend your month long trip into a six month long one, it will be no problem with World Nomads.
Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from over 140 countries and is designed for adventurous travellers.
Get your FREE quote here!
So there you have it! 20 things to know before visiting Indonesia. I hope this guide has helped you in your planning to Indonesia, you’re sure to have an incredible time to this island nation.
If you have any questions regarding travel do let me know in the comments below and I’ll reply to you as quick as I can 🙂
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These are great tips – I wish I’d known some of these before my first trip to Bali!
thanks so much, glad you enjoyed reading my post 🙂
Thank you! I’ll be sure to remember these tips before visiting Indonesia.
Awesome, and happy travels!
So glad iI’ve found this before my trip in a few months! So informative, thank you so much!,,
No worries, so glad you’ve found it 🙂
Happy Travels to Indonesia!
Indonesia is one of the best countries to visit as a traveler as there are a lot of things to do there and all of the tips you have mentioned are very useful for first-time visitors in this country.
It sure is, definitely one of my favourite countries for sure 🙂