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Weekacura waterfalls in Sumba, Indonesia (Shutterstock)

The world’s largest archipelago with over 17,000 islands, Indonesia is wild. Scattered like pearls along the line of the equator, it is made up of active volcanoes, dramatic mountain ranges sheltering untouched tribes, and vast swathes of rainforest. It is also beautiful, with neatly-terraced hillsides, pristine beaches and some of the best diving in the world. 

Best of all, it is available at a bargain-basement price – one of the world’s least expensive destinations, where your travel money travels furthest and buys more.

The only problem is where to go. The island Java has the capital city, Jakarta, but also the beguiling royal centres of touristy Yogyakarta and more authentic Solo. This is where you’ll find the headline sights of the Borobudur temple and intricate carvings of the Prambanan temple, the blown-out cone of world-famous Krakatoa and the still-active Mount Bromo, smoking gently through the mists of dawn. It is also where you’ll find the factories producing many of the handicrafts later sold in Bali and beyond.

Being one of the world’s most populated countries, finding a balance between a quiet life and population pressures can indeed be challenging in Indonesia. However, if you head west to Sumatra, the largest Indonesian island, you will discover a place where population pressures fade away. In the mountainous interior of Sumatra, numerous tribal groups reside, with the most accessible ones found on Toba Island, firmly encamped on their volcanic cone in a beautiful inland lake.

Indonesia’s tourist heavyweight is to the east of the capital. Though the rest of the archipelago is Islamic, Bali is a Hindu enclave: a devout little gem of religious deference and tradition, feted by surfers, beach-lovers and cultural tourists alike. 

But leaving touristy Bali behind, impenetrable Kalimantan to the north is a Dayak delight. This is the place where the headhunting tribes of yore used to live – and probably still do, hiding out in the unexplored and inaccessible jungle interior. 

K-shaped Sulawesi shelters Toroja cliff tombs, where carved funerary figures commemorate bodies tucked into limestone cliffs. Offshore lie some of the country’s finest dive sites.

Formed by a line of dramatic volcanoes, Nusa Tenggara’s islands bridge a marine barrier between Asian and Australian waters, a natural watershed of the underwater world. This means little to the indigenous people, who farm amidst ancient megaliths, worship ancient deities and relax in their stilted homes.

The Maluku Islands, also known as the South Moluccas, offer advert-image perfect palm-fringed island idylls. There are a couple of cathedrals and a few major mosques, but generally this is a place to enjoy the beach and some notable dive sites.

Finally there is West Papua, a place to mount a true expedition. Closer to Australia than the central government in Java, the tribal people here have been equally ignored by both. There are fine beaches and great surf breaks here, but you will largely have to find your own way in this terra incognita.

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Latest Indonesia articles

Indonesian (official language); English are not commonly-used outside major cities
279 million
Int. dial code
Apply for an e-visa before arrival; Alternatively, a visa on arrival at a cost of 500,000 Indonesian rupiah allows a 30-day visit
Time zone
UTC+7 in western Indonesia; UTC+8 in central Indonesia; UTC+9 in eastern Indonesia
Plug type
Type F
Indonesian Rupiah IDR

When to go to Indonesia

Indonesia has a tropical climate, but it is such a vast country that the best time to visit strongly depends on where you want to go.

Generally, it is dry in Bali and Nusa Tenggara from April/May to October, in Java from January to August, in Sumatra in June and July, in Sulawesi in August and September and in Southeast Maluku from December to March.

Travelling during the wet season can have the advantage of getting bargain prices for accommodation, but bear in mind that parts of West Papua, Nusa Tenggara, Sulawesi and Sumatra have often been cut off after storms.

International airports

Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (CGK) is 20km west of Jakarta. Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS) is 13km south of Denpasar, which is the main city in Bali.

Getting around in Indonesia

Domestic flights offer a convenient and time-efficient way to travel long distances between islands or across the country.

A train system links Java’s main cities, and a few trains run in Sumatra.

Buses are common for short and long-distance travel. Minibuses, or bemos in Balinese, are a common way of travelling shorter distances. More expensive, but comfortable shuttle buses are available in tourist areas. Taxis are readily available in major cities. Cycle rickshaws, becak, is a traditional and affordable mode of transportation on the roads. Three-wheeled bajaj is common in Jakarta and Surabaya. Traffic conditions can be congested in city centres, so ojek, the motorcycle taxis can be a good choice.

Public ferries and tourist boat services connect neighbouring islands such as Bali and Lombok.

Health & safety

Depending on where you go and how you travel, several vaccinations are recommended, as is dengue, rabies, avian influenza and polio virus – consult your GP or travel health clinic.

Drink only boiled or bottled water.

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