When travellers take cheap flights to Indonesia, their final destination is, more often than not, Bali, but there is so much to explore, beyond the beaches.
Diversity is the key word in describing Indonesia – in its landscapes, cultures and cuisines. There are 17,000 islands in this archipelago, however, only about 9,000 are inhabited. Of these, the most populous are Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan (Borneo), Bali, Papua and Maluku. Indonesia’s 491 ethnic groups speak 567 different dialects and while most Indonesians are Muslim, there are Christians, Buddhists and Hindus too, and their major holidays are celebrated country-wide.
Indonesia has one of the longest coastlines in the world. Its beaches are fabled, its dive sites glorious and its swells legendary. Its mountains are smoking, sometimes literally. There are about 130 active volcanoes. The national parks are treasures. There are 50, six of which are World-Heritage listed. Komodo National Park is home to the ancient komodo dragon, Mount Leuser National Park home to the Sumatra Orang-Utan.
Jakarta is the capital, a vibrant, bustling and sprawling city with fantastic shopping and a hip-and-happening nightlife. Here, Mangga Dua, a celebrated shopping district, contrasts with the old-world, old-industry Old Dutch Port, the soaring, gold-topped National Monument with the crumbling Old Town.
Yogyakarta is the second-most visited destination in Indonesia (after Bali). It’s the cultural hub, an university town and the gateway to the World-Heritage-listed temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. It’s also the sultanate of Hamengkubuwono and the No. 1 must-see attraction is the sultan’s palace.
Indonesia has a Tropical climate; there is a dry and west season. Between June and September, the East Monsoon brings dry weather. The West Monsoon sweeps in between December and March, bringing rain (and humidity). Temperatures range from 21 to 33 degrees.
Indonesia is a vast country, but in general, the dry season – June to September – is peak season. Ramadan, Christmas and New Year are also very busy times. During Ramadan (the date is based on a lunar cycle and varies each year) entertainment venues close by midnight and some close altogether. During Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, all of Indonesia, or so it seems, is on the move, as Indonesians travel to spend time with family. April to September is high season as far as surfing goes.
The wet season – mid-January to March – is “low” season but this varies from island to island.
Cars can be rented in Bali and in the larger cities, but visitors will encounter traffic jams and some hair-raising driving. Hiring a car with a driver is a reasonable, and less stressful, option. If you are taking taxis in Indonesia, try to ensure that you fix on the price before you set off.
There are several domestic airlines flying between islands. These include Batavia Air, Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air.
The ferry service, Pelni (PT Pelayaran Nasional Indonesia), plies the waves between Indonesia’s islands. Standards are high, fares and reasonable and it’s a pleasant way of getting around.
As far as train services go, Java has the best in Indonesia. Trains link Jakarta with main cities such as Surabaya, Yogyakarta and Solo.
Bus services are comprehensive and cheap. There are ordinary buses, express buses and luxury coaches.
Other ways of getting around, particularly the larger cities, include becaks (three-wheeled passenger bicycles), bajajs (motorised becaks), dekars (horse-drawn carriages) and ojeks (motorcycle taxis).
(prices quotes are from London)