Draped languidly across the equator, Indonesia is a series of emerald jewels scattered across a broad expanse of tropical sea. This is one of the world’s great adventures in waiting – hidden away in dense jungles on secret islands are tribes almost untouched by the outside world and animals hardly known to science.
The third most populous nation on earth has an incredible legacy of peoples, cultures and geography just waiting to be explored. The archipelago boasts more than 18,000 islands, from tiny islets not much bigger than a palm tree to the mighty expanse of Borneo, shared with the Malaysian provinces of Sabah and Sarawak and the kingdom of Brunei.
Many come specifically to discover their own island paradise, complete with white-sand beaches, swaying palms and emerald waters. Offshore are some of the world’s best dive sites, swarming with huge sunfish, giant rays, sharks, porpoises, turtles and a blindingly colourful array of tropical fish.
For others, the attraction is cultural. A fascinating range of civilisations have grown up on these tropical islands, from animist tribes in remote jungle villages to the elaborate Hindu kingdoms of Bali and Java. In Indonesia, timeless temples jostle for space with golden-domed mosques and beach resorts crowded with sun-seekers and surfers. The surf resort of Kuta has become one of the world’s favourite tropical escapes, and the beach party raves through till dawn every day of the week.
For some, Kuta is the very vision of Asia. For others, the true escapes lie elsewhere, on the volcanic islands that drift eastwards towards Australia. Here are towering volcanoes to be climbed, national parks to be explored and tropical rainforests to be trekked. You might even get lucky and meet an orang-utan on Sumatra or the world’s largest living reptile on the island of Komodo, home to the eponymous Komodo dragon.
Best of all, flights and ferries link all of the islands, so you can island-hop right across the archipelago, stopping only when you find your own perfect piece of Southeast Asia.
1,922,570 million sq km (742,308 sq miles).
260,581,100 (UN estimate 2016).
133.2 per sq km.
President Joko Widodo since 2014.
President Joko Widodo since 2014.
230 volts AC, 50Hz but 127 volts is still used in some areas. Plugs used are European-style with two circular metal pins.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Be aware of the risk of street crime and pick-pocketing, particularly in busy tourist areas in Bali, where there have been reports of bag-snatching. Take sensible measures to protect yourself and your belongings. Avoid having bags obviously on show and carry only essential items. Take particular care of your passport and bank cards and avoid travelling around alone.
Credit card fraud is common. Don’t lose sight of your card during transactions. Criminals sometimes place a fake telephone number on ATMs advising customers to report problems. Customers dialling the number are asked for their PIN and their card is then retained within the machine.
Beware of thieves on public transport. If you’re travelling by car keep doors locked at all times. Only book taxis with a reputable firm. You can ask your hotel to book one for you, or use taxis from Bluebird, Silverbird or Express groups. These are widely available at hotels and shopping malls in central Jakarta and at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. Take care to distinguish Bluebird and Silverbird vehicles from ‘lookalike’ competitors. Don’t use unlicensed taxi drivers at the airport or anywhere else. Their vehicles are usually in poor condition, unmetered and don’t have a dashboard identity licence. They have been known to charge extortionate fares and to rob passengers.
Alcohol and Drugs
Drinks served in bars can be stronger than those in the UK. In some cases, over drinking and taking drugs has resulted in accidents, injuries, robbery, assaults and lost travel documents and some British nationals have suffered psychiatric problems caused by alcohol, drugs and a lack of sleep. You should drink responsibly and be aware of your limits.
There have been reports of sexual assaults and drink spiking in Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands. Make sure drinks are prepared in your sight and be careful about accepting drinks from strangers at clubs and parties, or leaving drinks unattended. Tourists have also been robbed after taking visitors to their hotel rooms, and in some cases have found that their drinks were drugged.
There have been a number of deaths and cases of serious illness of locals and foreigners in Indonesia caused by drinking alcoholic drinks contaminated with methanol. These cases have occurred in bars, shops and hotels in popular tourist areas like Bali, Lombok, the Gili Islands and Sumatra. Criminal gangs have been reported to manufacture counterfeit replicas of well-known brands of alcohol containing high amounts of methanol. Take extreme care when buying spirit-based drinks, as bottles may appear to be genuine when they’re not.
There have also been cases of methanol poisoning from drinking adulterated arak/arrack, a local rice or palm liquor.
If you or someone you’re travelling with show signs of alcohol induced methanol poisoning or drink-spiking, seek immediate medical attention.
Use a reliable and reputable guide for any adventure trips, otherwise you may have difficulties with local authorities if you need their help. For longer journeys, notify friends of your travel plans, contact them on arrival and where possible travel in convoy/with others. Always carry a reliable means of communication with you.
Central Sulawesi Province
The political situation in Central Sulawesi Province is unsettled. Take particular care in Palu, Poso and Tentena and be alert to the potential for politically-motivated violence.
Maluku Province has experienced unrest and violence between different religious and tribal groups. Take particular care in Ambon, including Haruku Island (Pulau Haruku).
Aceh has emerged from a long period of internal conflict. Although violence against foreigners is rare, a British national was abducted in June 2013 and there were three separate incidents in November 2009 targeting foreigners. There have been reports of Shari’a (religious) police harassing foreigners.
Be alert to the risk of politically-motivated violence and take particular care in remote areas. Sharia law is in force, visitors should be particularly careful not to offend local religious sensitivities (eg not drinking alcohol, not gambling, avoid wearing tight fitting or revealing clothing). Keep up to date with local developments and avoid large crowds, especially political rallies.
Papua and West Papua
Political tensions in Papua province have given rise to occasional violence and armed attacks between Free Papua Movement (OPM) and the Indonesian authorities, particularly in the Central Highlands area around Puncak Jaya (including Wamena), but also including in Jayapura, Abepura, and Sentani on the north coast, and Timika town on the south coast.
Clashes in previous years have at times resulted in civilian deaths. If you’re travelling in the region, you should exercise extreme caution. Papuan separatists have kidnapped foreigners in the past. There is a heavy security presence in some areas, especially along the border with Papua New Guinea.
Political tensions have also given rise to occasional mass demonstrations in cities in Papua.
Should you need medical attention, there are limited hospital facilities in Papua and West Papua provinces and the likely destination for a medical emergency is Darwin, Australia.
The situation in West Papua province is calmer although there remains the possibility of unrest. Monitor the situation and be alert to changing circumstances.
You can’t drive in Indonesia using a UK driving licence. You can drive using an International Driving Permit issued in Indonesia. International Driving Permits issued in the UK may need to be endorsed by the Indonesian licensing office in Jakarta. Before driving, riding or hiring any type of vehicle, ensure that you have the appropriate licence to do so, and check with your travel insurance company to confirm that you’re covered.
Traffic discipline is very poor. Foreigners involved in even minor traffic violations or accidents may be vulnerable to exploitation. Consider employing a private driver or hiring a car with a driver. Some multinational companies don’t allow their expatriate staff to drive in Indonesia. Make sure you wear a helmet if you’re riding a motorbike or moped.
If you’re involved in an accident or breakdown, make sure someone remains with your vehicle. If you have any concerns for your security, move to another location safely. You should make yourself available for questioning by the police if requested to do so.
A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
With the exception of Garuda Indonesia, Mandala Airlines (not currently operating), Airfast Indonesia, Ekspres Transportasi Antarbenua (operating as PremiAir), Indonesia Air Asia, Batik Air, Citilink and Lion Air, all other Indonesian passenger airlines are refused permission to operate services to the EU due to safety concerns.
British government employees are advised to use carriers which are not subject to an operating ban or restrictions within the EU unless this is unavoidable.
Inter-island travel by boat or ferry can be dangerous as storms can appear quickly, vessels can be crowded and safety standards vary between providers. In 2015, the Indonesian Search and Rescue Agency recorded 633 boat accidents (of which 24 were in Bali and Lombok), resulting in injuries and deaths. Make sure you are satisfied with safety standards before travelling, including safety equipment and life-jackets. Life-jackets suitable for children aren’t always available and you should consider bringing your own.
There have been attacks against ships in and around the waters of Indonesia. Mariners should be vigilant, reduce opportunities for theft, establish secure areas on board and report all incidents to the coastal and flag state authorities.
The overall political situation is stable, but external as well as internal developments, including the Middle East, can trigger public protests or unrest. You should avoid all protests, demonstrations and political rallies as they could turn violent with little notice.