Planning your first trip to Indonesia can be a bit overwhelming. After all, Indonesia is considered the largest archipelago, or chain of islands, in the world. There are 5 main archipelagos and an additional 30 smaller chains, housing a total of over 17,500 separate islands.
Indonesia, despite being mostly Muslim, is an ethnically diverse area, promoting freedom of religion for the more than 300 ethnic groups that live on the islands. The areaâ€™s culture has been influenced by China, Persia, India, and many other ethnic groups.
Indonesians are wonderful people and generally welcome travelers with open arms. Even still, there are a handful of things you should keep in mind as you plan your first trip to the islands.
When to Visit Indonesia
Unlike most other tourist destinations, the Indonesian islands really only experience two main seasons â€“ the dry season and the wet season. The months of June through October are generally dry, while the months of November through March are usually very rainy. Temperatures usually hover between 21C (or 41F) and 33C (or 62F). Though temperatures are moderate, humidity levels are always very high.
Transportation throughout Indonesia
The most common form of transportation throughout the major cities is via metered taxi. They are generally air conditioned and are available at a reasonable rate. Ask to see the meter before you get into a taxi, and make sure it is running at all times. If the meter is not visible, you should consider waiting for another taxi to arrive.
Bajaj transports, becak pedicabs, and small buses are also common, but are not easily regulated. You will have to negotiate your fare with your driver before you begin your trip.
Tipping and Etiquette in Indonesia
Most restaurants located in hotels will automatically add a 10% service fee to your bill. If you are dining in a local restaurant, the standard tip is between 5 and 10%, depending on how you feel about the service you receive.
Tipping your taxi driver isnâ€™t mandatory, but they do appreciate the extra change. Make sure you carry plenty of small bills with you at all times. Many taxi drivers will be (or will claim to be) short of change. If that happens, youâ€™ll end up losing money when you pay your bill.
Dining in Indonesia
The traditional Indonesian diet isnâ€™t one that everyone is used to. Most dishes include either fried or boiled rice, and many are very spicy. Red and green peppers are incredibly popular ingredients in local cuisine. If you arenâ€™t accustomed to eating spicy foods, or if they simply donâ€™t agree with you, be sure to ask about the dishes on the menu before ordering. Many restaurants are accustomed to preparing dishes without spices, and some will offer European, Chinese, or American alternatives.
The food and beverages in Indonesia are generally very safe and the local beers have a great reputation. If you find yourself in a restaurant where the quality of food safety is in question, make sure you order bottled water. Otherwise, you shouldnâ€™t have any problems.
Travel Documents and Customs
Travelers who wish to visit Indonesia from another country must have a passport, visa, and proof of a return airplane ticket upon arrival. Tourist visas can be purchased at an Indonesian embassy or consulate office â€“ preferably in your home country before you leave for your trip. Your passport must have at least 6 months before it expires to be considered valid.
The items you bring into Indonesia may be limited. You may bring alcohol with you, but no more than 1 liter. You may bring up to 200 cigarettes (approximately one traditional carton), up to 50 cigars, and a limited amount of loose tobacco. Recording equipment, including your camera, is permitted â€“but only if you take it with you when you leave. Documents with Chinese lettering, Chinese medicines, firearms, drugs, and cordless phones are prohibited.
The Indonesian islands are gorgeous, relaxing, and waiting for your arrival. Prepare yourself for a series of new adventures, and enjoy your stay!