Indonesia Travel Guides

The name Indonesia means ‘Indian islands’, and indeed there are some 17,500 islands here, of which only about 6,000 are inhabited.

Most of Indonesia’s population reside on five main islands and 30 archipelagos: the main islands are Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Irian Jaya, and Java. Indonesia shares New Guinea Island with Papua New Guinea and the island of Kalimantan (Borneo) with Malaysia.

Indonesia’s capital Jakarta is a small port town turned metropolis and is the country’s centre of business and government. Home to about eight million residents, it serves as the main gateway into Indonesia and offers a complementary blend of Western architecture and modern comforts, along with Indonesian cultural values.

Visitors to Jakarta will find an impressive selection of accommodation, ranging from five-star luxury hotels to basic but comfortable lodgings. Restaurants, nightlife and great shopping are all available; and sights include colonial architecture, marine resorts, themed attractions like Beautiful Indonesia in Miniature Park, and a beach recreation complex.

Bali has long been a popular destination in Indonesia, despite some setbacks in the tourism industry over the past decade. The beaches here are stunning and lined with luxurious resorts catering to honeymooners, singles and families alike. The variety of water sports here brings in an active crowd, who come to enjoy scuba diving, kite surfing, wind surfing, swimming, snorkelling and much more.

The inner villages of Bali are home to friendly locals and traditional marketplaces loaded with handicrafts and other specialist items. Trekking among the volcanic peaks is a popular pastime for vistors, while destinations like Ubud are good places to view verdant scenery and peaceful temples.

The accommodation in most parts of Indonesia ranges from basic beach bungalows and huts to upscale resorts and five-star hotels. The larger cities and famous tourist haunts boast a good selection of accommodation.

History

Two of Indonesia’s early dynasties, the Buddhist Sailendra and Hindu Mataram, left behind the Borobudur and Prambanan temples respectively, major attractions to this day. Gradually Arab merchants and traders shifted the majority religion to Islam by the end of the 16th century.

Marco Polo was one of the first Europeans to visit Indonesia in the late 1200s, but it was only in the early 1500s that the Portuguese entered the country and established trading posts and started to control trade routes. At the turn of the 16th century, the Dutch became the dominant European power in Indonesia, establishing the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch-controlled areas, ruled for a short time by the British during the Napoleonic Wars (1811-1816), became known as the Dutch East Indies.

The Japanese occupation of Indonesia during WWII ended Dutch rule, yet the Dutch tried to resume power upon Japanese surrender in 1945. Bloody wars were launched by the locals against the Dutch, kicking off the independence movement. Indonesia proclaimed independence in August 1945 in the face of Dutch opposition, but Indonesia’s sovereignty wasn’t officially recognised by the United Nations until December 1949.

Parliamentary elections in 1955 saw the Indonesian National Party (PNI) elected. Spearheaded by Sukarno, who a year later was criticizing parliamentary democracy and pushing for a mix of nationalism, religion and communism in what he called 'Nas-A-Kom' government, Indonesia became increasingly dependant on the Soviet Union and communist China.

By 1965, the Indonesian Army was split between a left-wing allied with the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) and a right-wing supported by the USA. The attempted coup the same year led to an anti-communist purge that claimed around half a million lives. Eventually Sukarno was forced to give up political and military power to General Suharto, who was head of the armed forces.

In 1968, General Suharto was appointed president; Sukarno stayed under house arrest until his death. The rise of the general coincided with the killing and imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of citizens among other human rights abuses, mostly for political and religious reasons.

General Suharto did open the country to foreign investment, thus increasing economic growth. He was widely known for his corruption however and there were demonstrations against him in 1998 which resulted in him stepping down - the culmination of the Indonesian 1998 Revolution.

The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake had a severe impact on Indonesia, particularly Aceh. Peace talks between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement resulted in a military de-escalation and allowed for Acehnese nationalist forces to form their own party.

Although Indonesia has suffered some setbacks to its tourism industry in the past decade, it still fares well as a major tourist destination with Bali being especially popular among foreign visitors.

Weather

Indonesia’s tropical climate makes it an ideal holiday destination all year round. The two seasons here are distinct: dry and wet. From June through September, the east monsoon ensures dry weather; while from December through March, things are wet from the west monsoon rains. Temperatures during the wet season are comfortable at 21 to 33˚C (cooler at higher altitudes). The rain falls hardest in December and January, when humidity is 75 to 100 per cent.

Average temperatures in some of the most popular resort destinations like Bali hover around 30˚C the whole year. May through August is the best time for a visit to Indonesia as the climate is at its coolest and the rains are light. If you plan on travelling to high altitudes, you’ll want to carry some warm clothing, especially for visits to mountain villages.