We have visited Indonesia twice in the past two years, and both visits have been unique and wonderful. As a result, we have gained some valuable information for first time travellers when visiting the country. Indonesia is full of culture, heritage and outstanding natural beauty, it never fails to impress us no matter how many times we visit, even if its to the same area. However, first time travellers commonly have no idea what to expect when landing in either Denpasar, Jakarta or other major cities. So we want to make sure you don’t make any common rookie mistakes whilst there. As a result we have produced 10 things to know before visiting Indonesia:
1. 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.
2. 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!
3. 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, we couldn’t book a flight on Lion Air that we wanted, so we had to book Garuda Indonesia. To be fair, when we got to the airport, we saw the Lion Air flight we were originally gonna get on to be cancelled – so we were actually very lucky here!
If you encounter problems, either try multiple different airlines, book via phone, or through an online travel agency like Expedia.
4. 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 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. You also have to expect hearing prayer calls several times a day, depending on where you stay.
6. 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 13,000 Rupiah, so just be sure not to be fooled by an added 0 on the bill. 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.
7. Entry Requirements
Indonesia has recently loosened the visa requirements for most countries in the world. Until 2015 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 pay attention though, if you’re not entering the country through one of the main airports. The rule is only being put into place step by step, so if you do enter at a rural land border or a small airport, be prepared to pay for a tourist visa. It should be free at all airports / seaports soon. You can find information on the Indonesian government / embassy website.
8. Weather / Nature
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 our rather short visit, we already experienced an earthquake caused by a nearby volcano as well as some torrential downpour with moderate flooding and 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!
For any advice on when to travel, Indonesia is too large. However, most places have the least rain between June and October. It generally does stay warm and humid all year round though.
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.
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.
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