Indonesia: What Travellers Can Expect

Before you set off on a backpacking adventure around Indonesia, it’s a good idea to know a little of what to expect.

Indonesia: What Travellers Can Expect

Here are a few facts and a little background that all travellers should take note of before setting off to explore the world’s largest archipelago:


Indonesia straddles 5,000 kilometres of hot and steamy equator in Southeast Asia and consists of more than 17,000 islands, making it the world’s largest archipelago, the world’s 16th largest country and the largest country in Southeast Asia. Indonesia is almost three times the size of Texas. Indonesia’s total land area is 1,919,317 square kilometres.

Indonesia is Asia’s last stop and the furthest you can go before you reach Australia.

Borneo is the world’s third largest island, and Indonesia’s Kalimantan covers the southern half of it. The rest of this jungle island is shared by Malaysia and with the tiny Kingdom of Brunei.

Tectonically, Indonesia is highly unstable. It lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire where the Indo-Australian Plate and the Pacific Plate are pushed under the Eurasian plate where they melt at about 100 km deep. A string of volcanoes stretches from Sumatra to the Banda Sea. Indonesia has more active volcanoes (129) than any other nation.

Almost two-thirds of Indonesia’s landmass is covered in tropical rainforest, but active volcanoes, swampy mangroves and stretches of coral gardens also feature, as well as cityscapes.

Kanawa 2013


Seasons are divided into wet from November to April and dry from May to October. During the rainy season many islands experience near-continuous rain.

The rainy season tends to be cooler than the dry season but temperatures can still easily reach a smouldering 30 degrees, and except in the mountain areas, rarely drop below 20 degrees.

When the rain comes, it comes out of nowhere and downpours are torrential, easily flooding the streets in a matter of minutes. Generally the rain clears up as fast as it came and the temperature shoots back up allowing the excess water to soon dry up.

History in a Nutshell

Most Indonesians are of Malay origin, descended from migrants who arrived around 4,000BC.

The dominant influences of other countries arrived between the 1st and 15th centuries when Indonesia became a stopover on the India-China trade route.

In the 17th century Indonesia became a Dutch colony until Indonesia declared independence on 17th August 1945.

United and led by Sukarno, one of the leaders of the freedom struggle, the country was later ruled by the military dictator Soeharto.

Democracy was reinstated after the revolution of 1998 and in 2002 East Timor gained independence after years of bloody conflict.

People and Religion

Indonesia’s diverse population comprises some 300 ethnic groups. The largest group are the Javanese (45%), Sudanese (14%), Madurese (7.5%) and Malays (7.5%).

The country is primarily Muslim (88%) but around 8% are Christian. Bali is predominantly Hindu. There is also a small number of Buddhists, Confucianists and Taoists. In fact, Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world.

The Indo-Chinese minority is 3% of the population and the wealthiest ethnic group in the country.

Like in most of Southeast Asia, the people are simple and friendly. They embrace tourism and technology and their inquisitive nature makes them bold to speak to visitors.

Javanese and Balinese cultures dominate the artistic life of the country. Both traditions are rooted in Hinduism and include such distinct traditions as elaborately costumed dances and shadow puppetry. With the adoption of Islam, Indonesia also took up many Arabic traditions and heroic religious stories.

Periodically in more conservative Muslim areas, the sensual aspects of Hindu-based art are censored by religious concerns for modesty.


Indonesia’s varied wildlife delights animal lovers. Must-sees include the endangered orang-utans of Sumatra and Borneo and Nusa-Tenggara’s famed komodo dragons.

Komodo Island

Offshore the sea brims with vivid marine life, particularly the coral gardens around the smaller islands near Flores.

Sulawesi’s Palau Bunaken is home to more than 300 species of fish and coral as well as the inquisitive turtles, rays, sharks and dolphins.

Money and currency exchange

The currency used in Indonesia is the rupiah. Denominations of 25, 50, 100 and 500 rupiah are in circulation in both the old silver-coloured coins and the newer bronze-coloured coins. Notes come in 500, 1000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000 rupiah denominations.

Outside of the big cities, money exchange places are few and far between, especially out of business hours. It is wise to make sure you have enough local currency before leaving the more touristy areas. Credit cards are not always accepted and neither is foreign currency.


Street food Jakarta

The food in Indonesia is diverse, spicy and delicious. The common staple is nasi (rice). Spices, sauces and condiments are also constants, and sambal (fresh chilli sauce) and soy sauce are permanent features of virtually every dining table.

Specialities vary widely from region to region and depend largely on the landscape, from delicious barbecued fish in the coastal areas to satay chicken and nasi goreng in the inland areas.

Whatever the place or speciality, I can guarantee you that the best place to try the local dish is in the street. Street food is an art form in Indonesia, like much of Southeast Asia, and a combination of the freshest ingredients, the skill of repeatedly preparing the same dish day in and day out, and the cheapest prices will awaken even the most jaded of tastebuds.


Well, now we have some background it’s time to begin our adventure in Indonesia.

All that are left to discover are the sights and the experiences. And trust me, there will be plenty of both on this trip…

Filed Under: asiafeaturedIndonesiaJavatravel essentials

About the Author: Based in Mallorca, obsessed with the world and have a lot to say about both... Step into my shoes and join me on a journey...

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  1. susan sykes says:

    Can’t wait to get started, I didn’t realise it was such a big country, very interesting facts, and that Komodo dragon looks very very scary

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