Indonesian Tourist Board
3-4 Hanover Street London W1R 9HH
Tel: 0171 493 0030 Fax: 0171 493 1747


Physical geography

Five main islands and 30 smaller archipelagoes are home to the majority of the population. The main islands are Sumatra (473,606, Kalimantan (539,460, Sulawesi (189,216, Irian Jaya (421,981 and finally Java (132,187, which is home to 70 per cent of the country's population. Indonesia shares Irian Jaya with Papua New Guinea and two thirds of the island Kalimantan with Malaysia and Borneo.

The islands and people of Indonesia constitute the fourth most populated nation in the world. As a democratic republic, Indonesia is divided into 27 provinces and special territories. The islands are classified geographically into four groups. First are the Greater Sundas, which are made up of the larger islands of Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan and Sulawesi. Second are the Lesser Sundas, consisting of the smaller islands from Bali eastward to Timor. Third is Maluku, which includes all the islands between Irian Jaya and Sulawesi. The fourth and final group is Irian Jaya in the extreme part of the country.


Indonesia's climate is definitely tropical. There is no autumn or winter, and distinctive 'dry' and 'wet' seasons share the year. From June to September, the east monsoon brings dry weather, while the west monsoon, from December to March, is moisture-laden, bringing rain. The transitional period between these two seasons is interspersed by the occasional heavy rain shower, but even in the midst of the west monsoon season, temperatures range from 21 degrees C (70F) to 33 degrees C (90F), except at higher altitudes, which can be much cooler.

The heaviest rainfalls are usually recorded in December and January, and humidity is generally between 75 and 100 per cent.

Economic geography

The country is rich in natural resources. While 90 per cent of the population is engaged in agriculture, oil and gas contribute 70 per cent of total export earnings and 60 per cent of government revenues.

However, fluctuations in world prices of traditional export commodities have led in recent years to a change in the structure of the economy. As a foreign exchange earner, tourism is becoming a more important sector. For production and growth in the industry, the government has formulated new policies and improved facilities. Significant progress has been made in communications and transportation, and since 1976, Indonesia has had its own communications satellite system which has enabled the rapid expansion of telephone, television and broadcast facilities to all 27 provinces.

Oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG), forestry products, rubber, coffee, tea, tin, nickel, palm products and fish all make important contributions to export earnings. In recent years, a number of steps have been taken to promote handicrafts, textiles, precious metals, tea, tobacco and fertilised goods, as well as manufactured goods.

Bank Indonesia, the Central Bank, maintains the stability of the Indonesian rupiah and reviews the exchange rate in terms of other currencies on a daily basis. The rupiah is linked to a basket of currencies of Indonesia's major trading partners. With the objective of a more equitable distribution of development gains, the government gives high priority to expansion in the less developed regions of the country and the creation of employment opportunities for the country's growing labour force.


The stategic position of Indonesia has had distinctive influences on both the political and economic history of the islands.

Fossils of 'Java Man' which date back some 500,000 years were discovered in East Java by Dr Dubois in 1809. This discovery was followed by other finds in later years which are evidence of Java's earliest inhabitants; the first migrants were of Mongoloid stock from China and Tonkin, and have been credited with introducing new Stone, Bronze and Iron Age cultures as well as the Austronesian language.

Indonesia came under the influence of a mighty Indian civilisation through the gradual influx of Indian traders in the first century AD, when the great Hindu and Buddhist empires were beginning to emerge. By the seventh century, the powerful Buddhist kingdom of Sriwijaya was expanding. The thirteenth century saw the rise of the fabulous Majapahit Hindu empire in East Java, which united the whole of what is now modern day Indonesia and parts of the Malay peninsula. The first recorded attempts to invade Indonesia were by the notorious Mongol Emperor Kubilai Khan, who was driven back in 1293. Arab traders and merchants laid the foundations for the spread of Islam to the region; by the end of the sixteenth century, Islam had replaced Hinduism and Buddhism as the dominant religion. Small Moslem kingdoms developed and grew, but none anticipated the strength and persistence of the European invaders who followed.

In 1292, Marco Polo became one of the first recorded Europeans to set foot on the islands, but it was not until much later that the Portuguese arrived in pursuit of spices. In 1509, Portuguese trading posts were established in the strategic commercial centre of Malacca on the Malay peninsula, and it was from here that they began to control trading routes.

The Dutch followed at the turn of the sixteenth century and succeeded in ousting the Portuguese from all but the easternmost islands, where some ports were controlled by another major European power, Spain. The Dutch expanded their control of the entire area into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and retained it for the most part until the outbreak of World War II in 1939. The Dutch East Indies, as it was known at the time, fell under British rule for a short period during the Napoleonic Wars of 1811-1816, when Holland was occupied by France, and Dutch power overseas was limited. While under British control, the Lt Governor for Java and its dependencies was Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who was known for his liberal attitude towards the people under colonial rule and his research on the history of Java. With the return of the Dutch, a relative calm was interrupted by long and bloody wars launched by the local people against the Dutch colonial government. It was from this period that the independence movements of the twentieth contury became stronger and more purposeful.

The surrender of the Japanese in 1945 signalled the end of the Second World War in Asia and also the start of Indonesian independence. In the wake of global perceptions of freedom, Indonesia proclaimed its independence on August 17 that same year. The returning Dutch bitterly resisted the Indonesian nationalist movements and intermittent fighting followed. Under the auspices of the United Nations in the Hague, an agreement was finally reached on December 9 1949. It was from this time that Indonesian sovereignty over the Dutch East Indies was officially recognised.


The majority of the population (85 per cent) follows Islam but freedom of religion is implemented by the Indonesian Constitution. This is defined in 'Pancasila', the 'First Principle of the State Philosophy', which upholds a belief in one supreme God.

Languages spoken by nationals

There are about 583 languages and dialects spoken in the archipelago, normally belonging to the different ethnic groups of the population. Some of the distinct local languages are as follows: Acehnese, Batak, Sundanese, Javanese, Sasak, Dayak, Minhasa, Buginese, Halmahera, Ambonese, Ceramese, and several Irianese languages. To make the picture even more colourful, these languages are also spoken in different dialects.

Bahasa Indonesia is the national language. Akin to Malay, it is written in Roman script based on European orthography. In all tourist destination areas, English is the number one foreign language, written and spoken fairly well. Some Dutch is still spoken and understood in the bigger cities, and French is becoming increasingly popular at the better hotels and restaurants.


The Indonesian archipelago is spread over three time zones. Western Indonesian Standard Time, which covers the islands of Sumatra, Java, Madura, and West and Central Kalimantan, is seven hours ahead of GMT. Central Indonesian Standard Time covers East and South Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Blai and Nusa Tenggara, and is eight hours ahead of GMT. Finally, Indonesian Standard Time, which covers Maluku and Irian Jaya, is nine hours ahead of GMT.


Indonesia maintains a liberal foreign exchange system, has few restrictions on transfers abroad, and in general, freely allows conversions to and from foreign currencies. The rupiah is the national currency and is reviewed against other currencies on a daily basis.

What one should not fail to see

Indonesia abounds with monuments from the past. There are both Hindu and Buddhist temples testifying to the past, along with ruins of ancient fortresses, museums, mosques and churches steeped in folklore. As well as the historical sites, there are numerous national parks with lush vegetation and rare or amazing species from the animal kingdom, like the Orangutang parks in southern Sumatra at Bohorok.

In east Java, a mere three hour drive from Surabaya is Mount Bromo; a chance to take a pony ride at sunset to see the smoke drifting in the wind and the rumbling sounds of the volcano against a backdrop of the Indonesian sunset in its full glory. Continuing in east Java onto Triangulasi and Sukamade, the more adventurous traveller will find themselves on a beach awaiting the arrival of egg-laying turtles in the early hours of the morning.

In Sumatra, heading off to the Mentawai Islands, you can see people living in relative isolation, retaining old customs. Jungle treks abound from towns such as Bukittingi to these islands, trekking through dense jungle by day, living in wooden huts with the locals by night. Not too far from Bukittingi are the gargantuan caves at Ngalau, a must if you are in the area. There is no shortage of sights and places to relax in Indonesia.

Most favourable seasons for sojourns and touring

The 'dry' season lasts from June-September, with the west monsoon creeping in from December-March which initiates the start of the 'wet' season, with the heaviest rainfalls usually being recorded in December and January.

How to dress

Indonesians are very clothes conscious, and it is particularly important to be propertly dressed when visiting government offices such as the immigration offices.

However, dress is normally informal in Indonesia, due to the warm, humid climate. In general, light fabrics are recommended. Travelling in highland areas is noticeably cooler, and carrying a light sweater may prove useful. Accepted attire for men is a shirt and long trousers. A jacket and tie is required for official calls or for more formal occasions.

Long sleeved batik or handwoven shirts are acceptable for evening functions. In deference to local customs, scanty clothing is not advisable in public places. Shorts are not permitted in mosques, and waist sashes should be worn when visiting temples in Bali.

For women, dresses, blouses and long trousers are appropriate; shorts, halters or tank tops should only be worn at sports facilities or on the beach.

Main holiday sports

The most popular holiday sports in Indonesia are soccer, badminton and table tennis. Golf is becoming more and more popular and a number of excellent golf courses can be found across the archipelago.

Most major hotels have their own tennis and squash courts, swimming pools, health clubs and those at sea side resorts provide equipment for sailing, surfing, scuba diving and windsurfing. There are also a growing number of dive shops which provide the necessary equipment and professional services.

What to eat and drink

The staple food in most of Indonesia is rice. From the surrouding seas as well as from fresh water fisheries, a wide variety of fish and sea food is available, such as lobsters, oysters, prawns, shrimps, squid, crab etc. Fish features prominantly in the diet, whether fresh, salted, dried, smoked or in a paste. Coconuts are found everywhere, and their milk is used as an ingredient in many dishes.

Spices and hot chilli peppers are the essence of most Indonesian cooking, and in some areas, such as west Sumatra and north Sulawesi, they are used generously. Each province or area has its own cuisine, which varies in both cooking methods and ingredients.

There is a wide variety of tropical and sub-tropical vegetables and fruit available all year round. Coffee and tea plantations are abundant and there are several breweries which produce local beer.

There is a rich variety of cuisine with specialities in each area, but 'sate' (skewered grilled meat), 'nasi goreng' (fried rice) and 'bakmi goreng' (fried noodles) may be found nationwide. As well as local food, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Continental cuisine can also be found all over the country.

What to buy

The best buys in Indonesia have to be the wide variety of beautifully hand-woven batik material, bamboo decorations, stone statues, basketry, paintings and ceramics.


Being aware of local customs and taboos is very important when travelling in any foreign land. In Indonesia you will always be ensured of having a pleasant time if you act with decorum and dress appropriately.

On greeting someone it is customary for both men and women to shake hands. This should only be done with the right hand, because to shake hands, give, receive or eat with the left hand is considered impolite.

Pointing or summonsing someone with your index finger is also considered impolite, and care should be taken not to climb over places of worship or local monuments.

Frontier formalities

All visitors travelling to Indonesia must be in possession of a passport valid for at least six months from the date of arrival and have proof of onward passage. Visas are not required from nationals of Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Greece, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Morocco, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, USA, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.

Visa-free entry is also allowed for registered delegates attending a conference which has received official approval. For those not belonging to the above categories, tourist visas can be obtained from any Indonesian Embassy or Consulate. Holders of a Certificate of Identity from Hong Kong can obtain visas for group travel, with a minimum of five persons, from the Consulate General of Indonesia in Hong Kong, for visits not exceeding 30 days. Travel and accommodation should be arranged by a tour operator. Entry and exit must be in groups and through Soekarno-Hatta International airport of Jakarta, Ngurah Rai in Bali or Polonia-Medan.

Entry and exit must be made through certain specified gateways: by air through Jakarta, Bali, Medan, Manado, Biak, Ambon, Surabaya and Batam; by sea through Semarang, Jakarta, Bali, Pontlanak, Balikpapan, Tanjung Pinang and Kupang. For other ports of entry and exit, special visas are required. The maximum stay permitted is two months and is not extensible.