Balinese woman
Balinese woman

Beautiful Indonesia!

Indonesia is a country of incredible natural diversity and beauty rivaled only by its cultural diversity and wonder.

The Republic of Indonesia encompasses more than 17,000 islands that stretch 3,400 miles along the equator between Southeast Asia and Australia. Tropical rain forests cover a lot of Indonesia's terrain up to 3,000 feet. The tropical climate varies with season and altitude. A wet season begins in November and lasts until March, followed by a dry season from April to October.

Indonesia has long been a developing nation in the lowest 25% of the world's economies, but nowadays Indonesia's economy is the fastest growing in Southeast Asia. Tourist services are plentiful in the major tourist sites.

This portal site will help you find any information on Indonesia. Check out some Indonesian culinary delicacies on our extensive section on Indonesian recipes.

History of Indonesia

The first settlers in the Indonesian Archipelago were believed to be the "Java Man", found in east Java. The "Malays" from southern China and Indochina later began populating the archipelago around 3000BC.

Influences on Indonesia

Indonesia is very much influenced by the cultures it encountered throughout its history. Powerful groups such as the Buddhist Srivijaya empire and the Hindu Mataram kingdom had arisen in Java and Sumatra towards the end of the 7th century. The last great Hindu kingdom was the Majapahit, which was founded in the 13th century. The subsequent spread of Islam into the archipelago in the 14th century forced the Majapahit's to retreat to Bali, which is one of the few islands which remained Hindu and preserved to this day. By the 15th century, a strong Muslim empire had developed and most people in Indonesia today practice Islam.

The Portuguese came in the 16th century and brought Europeans into the region in search of spices. However, the Dutch displaced the Portuguese and dominated the spice trade while taking control of the entire archipelago by the early 20th century.

In 1942, the Dutch were overcome by invading Japanese during WWII. On 17 August 1945, two days after Japan's surrender, leaders of the people in the archipelago, Sukarno and Hatta proclaimed the independence of the Republic of Indonesia and were selected as its president and vice president. However, in July 1947, the Dutch violated an earlier agreement with the British to accept the authority of the new republic and launched attacks against the republic. For four years, Indonesians fought to regain their land and finally, with help from the United Nations, the Dutch surrendered the sovereign rights to the new Republic of Indonesia on 27 December 1949.

Batak woman at Ajibata, Sumatra, Indonesia
Batak woman at Ajibata, near Parapat, Lake Toba

Culture of Indonesia

Indonesia is rich in art and culture, integrated with religion and age-old traditions. Although the legal system is based on the old Dutch penal code, social and religious duty has, over time, been refined to form a code of behaviour called "adat" or traditional law which differs from area to area. Religious influences on the community are variously evident from island to island.

Indonesian dance

In general, Indonesian dance is slow, with controlled, reserved motions. The famous dance dramas of Java and Bali are derived from Hindu mythology and often feature fragments from the Ramayana and Mahabharata Hindu epics. Their influence is evident in the use of the legs, neck, head, and hands. Like most of Indonesia's arts, the elegant, intricate music and dance of the region is rooted in religion and ritual. Dances and dramas are accompanied by a full "gamelan" orchestra comprising xylophones, drums, gongs, and in some cases string instruments and flutes.

Wayang - Indonesian puppet show

There are also various forms of puppet shows. The "wayang kulit" of Java is performed with leather puppets skillfully wielded by a puppeteer to tell famous tales of Hindu culture. It is performed against a white screen while a lantern in the background casts the shadows of the characters on the screen, visible from the other side where the spectators are seated. There is also the "Batik", the most famous Indonesian printing method, in which wax is applied to cloth to form a pattern and the cloth is then dyed.

People of Indonesia

Indonesia, with more than 200 million people, has the fourth largest population in the world. More than 60 percent of the population lives on the "inner" islands of Java, Madura, and Bali, which together account for less than one-tenth of Indonesia's land area.
Indonesia can be considered a spectrum of all the Asian cultures, races and religions. There are over 300 ethnic groups, who speak an estimated 583 different languages and dialects, living in this archipelago with a total area of 1,919,413 square kilometers.
Traces of Chinese, Indochinese, Arab, European, Polynesian and other Southeast Asian peoples can be found. In the interior of Indonesia, a lot of peoples have been isolated for centuries. Because of the vast area that is covered by Indonesia and the fact that most islands and highlands have been isolated for such a long time, you can find an astonishing and unparalleled diversity of customs, textiles, languages and architecture. Some tribal people still live in the Neolithic age, although this is changing rapidly.
Some well known peoples include the Batak, the Acehnese, the Minangkabau and the Kubu from Sumatra, the Malays who can be found almost anywhere in Indonesia, the Dayak of Kalimantan, the Toraja of Sulawesi and the Papua of Papua (formerly known as Irian Jaya).

Geography of Indonesia

Indonesia, the largest archipelago and the fifth most populous nation in the world, has a total of 17,508 islands, of which about 6,000 are inhabited. The islands extend 3,198 miles (5,150km) and are nestled between two continents, Asia and Australia, and two oceans, the Indian and the Pacific.

The main islands are Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Bali, Nusa Tenggara, Maluku and Irian Jaya. Stretching like a backbone down the western coast of Sumatra is a line of active and extinct volcanoes. Much of Indonesia is rain forest, woodland and mangrove swamps. Only a fraction of the land is suitable for farming.

Indonesia's beautiful nature

A vast archipelago with a total of over 17,000 islands has made Indonesia the home of a large variety of plant and animal life, both terrestrial and aquatic. As the land mass is divided into islands, often mountainous, many terrestrial species are endemic, originating and living in one particular island or part of a larger island. Zoologists divide Indonesia into three zones. Zone 1, nearest the Asian continent, was defined by British Naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace in the 19th century.

The climate of Indonesia did not appear to be the deciding factor. In his theory Wallace postulated that because the islands of Sumatra, Java and Kalimantan were joined to Asia by the now submerged Sunda Shelf, the Indo Malayan fauna had not spread beyond the shelves eastern boundary which came to be known as the Wallace Line. Zone II, is the intermediate zone between the Indo-Malayan zone and Zone III where Australian animal and plant-life predominate. Sulawesi, in particular has an unusually high proportion of endemic species and there is even a marked difference between the flora and avifauna of Zone I and Zone III.

In Zone III, both the fauna and flora are predominantly Australian in character and affinity, as these islands share the same continental shelves, the Sahul Shelves with Australia.

Fauna of Indonesia

Most famous of the rare fauna of Indonesia are the Komodo dragons, the giant lizards which are found only on Komodo and neighboring islands, and believed to be the only one of their kind in the world. The one horned Java rhinoceros is found only on the western tip of Java and under the threat of extinction, but has now grown in number at the Ujung Kulon nature reserve. The Java Tiger is a very rare species, of which only five remain in eastern most Java. Sumatra too has species of rhinoceros and tiger and also elephants can be found, especially at Way Kambas in South Sumatra. One other species that is under the threat of extinction, is the Bali myna of which only seven are left in the wild at Bali Barat national park. This splendid bird has severely suffered from habitat destruction as well as poachers selling the myna's for large sums of money. Efforts to bring Bali myna's from captivity back to the wild are unsuccesful until now.

There are also the orangutan (man of the forest) apes which are found in Kalimantan and Sumatra, the banteng wild ox of Java, the rusa deer, the anoa (dwarf buffalo), babi-rusa (small wild pig with curved tusks) and distinctive civets found in Sulawesi.

In an effort to preserve rare species of the Indonesian fauna and flora, numerous reserves and parks have been established in all the provinces of Indonesia under the administration of the Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation, or better known as PHPA.

Flora of Indonesia

Indonesia lies within the botanical region of Melanesia, covering the Malay peninsula south of the Insthmus of Kra, the Indonesian archipelago, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya, with the exception of the Solomon islands. For the most part, this region is covered with the luxuriant growth of the characteristic rain forest vegetation, a type of ever-wet vegetation containing a large number of timber species and harboring various kinds of epiphytes, saprophytes and lianas. These characteristic features and the high number of species endemic to this region make the flora of Indonesia different from that of neighboring continental Asia and Australia, as well as from the flora of other tropical areas in the world. The richness of the Melanesian region, of which Indonesia represents a major portion, is reflected in the accommodation of close to 40,000 species of plants, or about 10 to 12 % of the estimated number of plant species of the whole world. Moreover, the flora making up the Indonesian vegetation abounds in timber species.

Approximately 6,000 species of Indonesian plants are used by the people as a source of raw material for the making of traditional herbal medicines or as an indispensable part of traditional rituals and ceremonies.

Natural Reserves of Indonesia

Permits are necessary to visit the nature reserves which can be obtained from the PHPA office in Bogor or local offices. Facilities in the reserves are generally undeveloped and most travel has to be done on foot or horseback.

Parks & Gardens in Indonesia

The most common form of the traditional Indonesian private garden, the so-called "pekarangan", differs considerably from that familiar to the West. Still found in its old form mainly in rural areas, this type of garden usually grows fruit, medical herb and other useful plants such as bamboo. It is often marked off from neighboring lots by low hedges or bamboo fences but seldom entirely enclosed for privacy. Closer to the conventional eastern concept of a garden and of greater interest aesthetically, is the big "pelataran" garden which surrounds the homes of the aristocracy and other members of the social elite in Java. Usually covered with carefully brushed river sand and shaded by tall cinnamon trees, these aristocratic gardens exhume an air of quiet dignity and bear a character all their own. Unlike the small common gardens, which are normally entirely surrounded by high walls to provide complete privacy. Similar in concept to the "pelataran" is the alun-alun, the traditional town square, usually found in front of the ruling royal or princely house, or the highest local government administrator, the Bupati. Western influence has to a certain extent pushed aside the old traditional concept and nowadays most town gardens and all parks apart from the alun-alun are more, or entirely, a realization of the modern western concept. A further development has been the establishment of national and tourist parks for the purpose of conservation, research and recreation in many parts of the country.

Zoos in Indonesia

Jakarta's Ragunan Zoo is the best-landscaped zoo in Indonesia, providing a close-to-native habitat for more than 3,600 animal and bird species, among which are such protected species as the prehistoric giant komodo lizard, the man-like orangutan ape, the babi-rusa and many others. Established in 1965, this zoo occupies an area of 185 hectares (462.5 acres).

The Surabaya zoo in the Wonokromo district is deservedly second in reputation to the Ragunan zoo, and like that of the latter its collection of animals is considered to be among the most complete in Southeast Asia. Of special interest in the Surabaya Zoo is the section on nocturnal animals.

Smaller zoos are found in Yogyakarta, Bukittinggi and Bandung. The first also serves as a botanic garden with species representative of the local flora and those of other parts of Indonesia. The Bukittinggi zoo presents a good sample of the local fauna of the area, although in recent years it has deteriorated and some of the animals aren't looked after like they should.

Volcanoes in Indonesia

Indonesia belongs to one of the most volcanic and seismically active regions in the world, with more than 400 volcanoes in Indonesia, of which 128 are active, with 70 recorded eruptions in historic times. The soil-rejuvenating effect of volcanic eruptions has contributed to the fact that victims of threatened areas have time and again returned to their stricken land. So, the Volcanological Service has drawn hazard maps of volcanic areas so-that early warnings can be issued for the evacuation of the people on time.

Mountaineering clubs have in the past few years sprung up in Jakarta, Bandung and other big cities and university towns.

Among the most popular mountains for mountain climbing are the twin volcanoes Gede and Pangrango in West Java, Semeru and Kelud in East Java, Merapi in Central Java and Rinjani in Lombok. Expeditions have also been made to the perennial snow-covered summit of the Jayawijaya Range Carstensz Top in Irian Jaya.

Indonesia's internationally best-known volcano is perhaps the Krakatau in the Sunda Strait, midway between Java and Sumatera, whose calamitous 1883 eruption was commemorated in 1983.

Tropical climate of Indonesia

Situated over the equator, Indonesia tends to have a fairly uniform climate - hot. It is equatorial, but cooler in the highlands. Temperatures generally range from 68 to 89 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 32 degrees Celsius). Humidity ranges from 60 to 90 percent. Indonesia's "wet season" lasts from November through April and its "dry season" from May through October, with slight variations in Indonesia's regional sub-climatic zones.

Indonesia is predominantly mountainous with some 400 volcanoes, of which 100 are active. The highest mountain is Puncak Jaya (16,024 feet - 4,884 m) in the Sudirman mountain range of Irian Jaya. Many rivers flow throughout Indonesia. They serve as useful transportation routes on certain islands, for example, the Musi, Batanghari, Indragiri and Kampar rivers in Sumatra; the Kapuas, Barito, Mahakam and Rejang rivers in Kalimantan; and the Memberamo and Digul rivers in Irian Jaya.


Indonesia has been under the influence of all great religions of the world over the centuries.

Nowadays Islam is the predominant religion, but it is also influenced by elements of Hindu-Buddhism, "adat" and animism. About 10% are Christians while the minority believe in Hinduism, Buddhism or Animism. Atheism is not prevalent in Indonesia. To obtain an identity card Indonesians have to specify their religion first.

While in the past the several religions coexisted in peace and friendliness, the last few years terrible religious violence has occurred. The first victims where the mostly Christian ethnic Chinese. A lot of them were killed and Chinese women were raped and molested. On Maluku also there has been religious turmoil and the centuries old "pela" family ties (where members of a clan - pela - help each other, regardless of religion) has been largely destroyed by the violence.

Indonesia - country facts

The Dutch began to colonize Indonesia in the early 17th century; Japan occupied the islands from 1942 to 1945. Indonesia declared its independence after Japan's surrender, but it required four years of intermittent negotiations, recurring hostilities, and UN mediation before the Netherlands agreed to transfer sovereignty in 1949. Indonesia's first free parliamentary election after decades of repressive rule took place in 1999. Indonesia is now the world's third-largest democracy, the world's largest archipelagic state, and home to the world's largest Muslim population. Current issues include: alleviating poverty, improving education, preventing terrorism, consolidating democracy after four decades of authoritarianism, implementing economic and financial reforms, stemming corruption, holding the military and police accountable for past human rights violations, addressing climate change, and controlling avian influenza. In 2005, Indonesia reached a historic peace agreement with armed separatists in Aceh, which led to democratic elections in December 2006. Indonesia continues to face a low intensity separatist movement in Papua.

(Courtesy: Central Intelligence Agency - CIA)

Quick facts

Country Name:


Geographical Area:

1,904,569 sq km


240,271,522 (July 2009 est.)

Capital City:



Acehnese, Bataks, Minangkabaus, Javanese, Sundanese, Balinese, Sasaks, & Dani


Bahasa Indonesia, English, Dutch, & local dialects


Muslim, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, other



Head of Gov.:

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono


60-day stay without visa

Health Risks:

Dengue fever, malaria, giardiasis, hepatitis, Japanese encephalitis.

Time Zones:

Section   Area Covered Zone Name
West UTC+7 Sumatera, Java, Western Borneo Asia/Jakarta
Central UTC+8 Sulawesi, Lesser Sunda Islands, Bali, Eastern Borneo Asia/Ujung_Pandang
East UTC+9 Irian Jaya, Maluku Asia/Jayapura


Indonesian rupiah (Rp)

Weights & measures:


National Airport:

Soekarno-Hatta Intl. (CGK), Jakarta, Java

Language - Bahasa Indonesia

Bahasa Indonesia is the official language, actually most of the Indonesians are united by this common national language. Many regional languages and dialects are spoken. On Sulawesi alone for instance, 62 different languages have been identified.

Bahasa Indonesia started a long time ago as a language for traders througout the archipelago. After becoming independent from the Dutch this Malay like language was quickly developed to become the national language. A lot of foreign words (especially Dutch) have been adopted and modified to fit the Indonesian phonetic rules. Words like "doktor", "polisi", "foto", "paspor" and "musik" must sound familiar.

Bahasa Indonesia is grammatically simple with no conjugations, no tenses, and no declensions. Unlike the other major languages of Asia, it is not written with ideographic characters or complex syllabic scripts, but with the same alphabet as European languages.

English is the most widely understood foreign language. Some elderly people still speak Dutch.

Tip: Check out the "Useful phrases" section to learn some basic bahasa Indonesia.

Indonesia health

Adequate medical care is available in Jakarta and some other large cities, but is not up to the standards of industrialized countries. Medical care is substandard outside major cities. Adequate evacuation coverage for all travelers is a high priority. In the event of serious medical conditions every effort should be made to go to Singapore. Adequate medical care is available in Jakarta and Kuta (Bali) at one or more internationally staffed outpatient clinics.

Indonesia health risks

Health risks include malaria (especially malaria tropica, the most dangerous), dengue fever, giardiasis, hepatitis, Japanese encephalitis. Vaccinations definitely seem like a good idea, especially for hepatitis and typhoid fever. Also bring your malaria tablets! Although in the highlands the risk of running into malaria mosquitoes is very slim, in the hot and humid lowlands of Indonesia you definitely are at risk. If you have symptoms (fever attacks) don't wait, but go see a doctor. Even if you use malaria tablets, you can still catch the disease, because more and more mosquitoes are resistant to the medicine. Also rabies is still present in Indonesia. Especially pay attention when you are feeding monkeys.

Fakinah hospital, Aceh, Indonesia
Fakinah Hospital, Aceh


All water can be a potential health risk. Don't drink it, use it to brush your teeth or put it in your drink as ice if you are unsure it wasn't boiled first.

Passport and visa

Visa applicants may need to meet specific requirements. Review the application and contact Indonesia's embassy if you have questions. A physician's prescription may be required for travelers carrying certain drugs.

DO NOT OVERSTAY YOUR VISA. Heavy fines and possible prison sentences result if you exceed the length of stay specified on your visa.


The Indonesian currency is is called Rupiah. Automatic teller machines (ATM's) are available in the bigger cities throughout Indonesia. A credit card from Master Card or Visa can be used for paying almost everything. If you want to change money bring US dollars or euro's. Traveler cheques are rarely accepted nowadays.


If you want to buy something, never forget to bargain ("tawar" - it's one of Indonesia's national traditions). This is even true when you want to exchange your dollars for rupiahs at a bank! Even in shops with a fixed price ("harga pas") you can have success. Don't overdo it however and never loose your temper. Bargaining is always done with a smile. What always is a nice thing to do is to bargain your pisangs (bananas) down from the original 10 cents to 8 (this is often what you are talking about) and just pay the 10 cents. This is always good for a friendly conversation.

Post your holiday cards

When sending your cards from Indonesia to your relatives and friends oversees, it's best to bring them to the post office yourself and ask the man (or woman) behind the desk to actually stamp the cards. A lot of stories are known of post cards never to reach the destination, because somebody at the post office had other things in mind for your stamps. You could also check your hotel reception. They don't want their name ruined, so they will make sure nothing happens to your cards.

International travel to Indonesia

Get to Indonesia by air

A number of international airlines fly into Indonesia's main international airports at Jakarta, Denpasar, Medan, and Kupang. Other airports, such as those in Sulawesi, Kalimantan, and Irian Jaya, have flights to the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, and Papua New Guinea, respectively.

Garuda Indonesia, the national airline, flies to destinations throughout Asia/Australia, as well as to Europe and North America.

Garuda Indonesia
Garuda Indonesia

Should you wish to avoid Garuda, there are a good number of other options for flying to Indonesia, among them: Air Asia, Air France, Cathay Pacific, Continental, Emirates, EVA Air, Japan Airlines, KLM, Korean Air, Lufthansa, Malaysian, Qantas, SAS, Singapore, Thai and Turkish.

Bear in mind that you have to pay departure taxes at all airports upon leaving the country as well as for domestic flights. If you have the Indonesian nationality and go on a holiday abroad, you will have to pay "Fiskal" which amounts to Rp. 1.000.000,00 (march 2002).

By rail

There are no international rail services available to spirit you into Indonesia.

Getting to and from Indonesia by road

There is an international bus service which runs from Pontianak on the West coast of Kalimantan to Kuching in Malaysia. Travel agencies in either city can sell you the tickets. Never forget to bargain. The other land border, between Irian Jaya and Papua New Guinea, is closed.

Indonesia by boat

Everything from high speed ferries to slow-boats are available to bring you into Indonesia. From Singapore and Malaysia, these can be very comfortable affairs, with fast ferries running from Singapore, Penang, and Malacca, to various Indonesian ports, most notably Medan and Bintan. Immigration facilities are present at most ports. It's best to consult a recent and detailed travel guide for further info.

Domestic travel in Indonesia

Travel by air in Indonesia

Garuda Indonesia, Bouraq Indonesia, Sempati Air, and Mandala Airlines operate along a staggering array and number of regular and irregular domestic routes with the main hubs located in Jakarta and Denpasar. Fares are generally so low that air travel becomes a viable option for travel within the country, even for budget travellers. Service is another matter, but with such low fares, most people can't complain. Safety measures are not always a big priority, but this is changing, without a doubt. If you don’t want to arrive at the airport and find yourself bumped from the flight you have to take, we recommend reconfirming all your flight times at least three days in advance.

Travel by rail in Indonesia

Only Java and Sumatra, among all of Indonesia's islands, have rail services, and only on Java are they a good alternative to the bus. Rail lines serve all of the major cities on Java, and run the length of the island. Obviously, the faster and more comfortable the train, the more expensive the ticket, but all are generally quite affordable to those on all but the smallest of budgets.

In the more expensive trains, meal cars are available and their offerings fairly inexpensive, whereas on the cheapest trains, hawkers are the best option for meals. Reservations can be difficult to obtain, when the lines serve Java's population of 108 million, and should be made well in advance at any station. For more information, consult a detailed travel guide.

Travel by road in Indonesia

Buses are the dominant form of transportation in Indonesia. They come in various classes starting with economy and heading on up to luxury air-conditioned buses which only tourists can afford. The latter are only present, naturally, in the areas tourists frequent, and on the main highways such as those which link Jakarta to Surabaya and Yogyakarta. These are reserved in advance, through travel agents, and often come with meals and TV.

Economy class buses are very affordable, though the trips can take a long time, as these buses stop at every small cluster of houses along the road. Similarly cheap, but a little faster, are the express buses which make stops only at larger establishments. Seats on these two classes do not need to, and often cannot, be booked. A small matter since they leave stations very frequently.

"Bemos", small trucks much like Thai songthaews, are to be found everywhere and can be hired to take you short or long distances as a comparably priced, and often more fun, alternative to the bus.

Car rental is more or less not an option. Rental agencies are scarce and even if one is found, driving in most parts of Indonesia, especially in the cities, could be the experience which sends one to a mental institution. It is quite feasible to drive yourself in Bali, however. You must have a valid international driver's license and be ready to pay small 'tokens' to police who routinely stop you but, otherwise, it is a good way to traverse the island independently.

Motorcycles are one option for travelling around the cities, although a potentially dangerous one. They can be rented at numerous places, most notably at tourist information centres.

Travel by boat in Indonesia

Major routes around the country are serviced by the government owned Pelni line. These routes are only run every two weeks to a month, but are more or less the only option for sea travel to and from the less populated areas of the country. They are, however, quite efficient and comfortable. Five classes are offered, from the ubiquitous "economy" through to first class. The classes are determined mostly by quality of food and number of beds per cabin.

The Pelni Indonesia Site provides information and illustrations on the ships, the fares and the routes.

Regular ferry service, both government and private, runs between all of the islands from Sumatra to the Lesser Sundas and Timor. Outside of this area ferries other than Pelnis are nonexistent.

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