Indonesia Travel Guide

Here the most important Indonesia travel tips compiled by our destination experts.

Body language

Most Indonesian people are indirect when they communicate, so as not to offend others. The same is expected when you communicate, as even loud voices can be misconstrued as shouting, which can be a real cause of malu (shame), so it is better to highlight any issues privately and softly during your tour of Indonesia. Much of the language is communicated non-verbally, so pay attention to body language. This is an important part of the culture.

Did you know? In the nation’s official language of Bahasa Indonesia, there are 12 ways of saying No, and several ways of saying Yes (when the actual meaning is no)!

Gift giving

If you are given a gift, it is expected that you verbally refuse it before taking it, as a means of politeness. If you wish to give gifts to new friends you meet during your private tour of Indonesia with us, try to wrap the present in gold and red paper, and always give from the right hand.

Avoid sharp items (which can indicate that you wish to sever the friendship), alcohol (as it is often prohibited in Islam), non-Halal foodstuffs, or leather (as it is often prohibited in Hinduism). Note that gifts are never opened in front of the gift bearer.

Indonesia Travel Tips
The people of Indonesia are warm and welcoming.

What to wear during your Indonesia tour

Indonesia has a warm climate, so it is best to wear cotton and light clothing and layer up rather than bring heavy clothing. A light rain jacket during the rainy season is a good idea.

As Indonesia is a predominantly conservative culture, particularly in the rural regions, it is best to dress conservatively. Ideally, particularly outside of cosmopolitan areas, women should cover up their legs and chest areas so as not to attract undesirable looks or offend the local people. Even in the cities, halter tops and miniskirts or skimpy shorts are frowned upon and can welcome unwanted attention. Carrying a shawl or scarf around is a good idea.

Culture

Mythology and religion form a major part of the culture of Indonesia

The culture of Indonesia is varied, with its melting pot of colonial and immigrant influences as well as its indigenous traditions, from the Portuguese traders to the Dutch colonialists to Chinese, Indian and Malay settlers. Most people in Indonesia define themselves by their local culture, rather than their national culture.

This island state has been a major hub for trading since ancient times, as it is centrally located among history’s superpowers, which is why you can expect to witness all the world’s major religions living harmoniously side by side. Indonesian culture is focused around the community, with a hierarchical structure. Indonesians believe in the concept of gotong royong (mutual assistance) and mufakat (consensus), and the national motto is Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in diversity). Jam Karet (rubber time) highlights the cultural attitude: that life should not be rushed – everything has its time and place.

Language of Indonesia

Indonesia has a standardised dialect of the Malay language, known as Bahasa Indonesian, which was declared as the official language of Indonesia during the nation’s independence in 1945. However, due to the numerous islands, most people tend to speak the regional dialects of their island or community, such as Javanese (from Java), Balinese (from Bali) and Minangkabau (from western Sumatra).

Religion in Indonesia

Indonesia is the largest nation with people following the Islamic faith in the world, with 88% of the population being Muslim. In addition, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity are all practised and prevalent within Indonesia.

Generally, all the religions get on and follow the mottos of ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged’ and ‘Do unto others as you would do to yourself’. There are also still many ethnic peoples who practice their indigenous customs, wear traditional dress, and often believe in animism. Animists believe that the gods inhabit the mountains, especially Bali’s tallest mountain, the stratovolcano Mount Agung.

Due to the diversity, you can see religions that have been fused with different influences, and you can witness this during the many colorful religious festivals, which play a major part in the culture of Indonesia.

Arts in Indonesia

Indonesia is rich in the arts, with something for everyone. One of the most unique events you can enjoy as a visitor to Indonesia is Wayang, the shadow puppet theater or dance shows, which intricately crafts together mythological legends with traditional performing arts.

Dance in Indonesia

Dance in Indonesia plays a major role in the culture, and many performers have usually been practicing under the guidance of an expert since childhood. The dance style is very expressive, precise, and often somewhat surprising.

There are over 3,000 Indonesian original dances, sometimes with tribal roots. Bali is the ideal location if you wish to witness cultural dances first-hand when you travel in Indonesia. The dance dramas of Bali are intertwined with Buddhist and Hindu mythology from the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

The Barong & Rangda’s dance of good over evil is probably the most famous of the Balinese Hindu dances, depicting demon queens and child eaters, while the Legong dance is considered the most graceful. A masked dance, known as Topeng, brings to life the Balinese language, while chronicling the island’s history or social issues in a comical way.

Martial arts are also popular in Indonesia:

  • Silat, is a self-defense martial arts that was developed in the islands of Java and Sumatra, which has been shaped by the tribal wars of Indonesia’s ancient history, and also by proponents of independence during the Dutch colonial rule.
  • Tarung Derajat is a modern street fighter style of combat.
  • The martial art form of Pencak Silat interweaves traditional art, music and sport.

Music in Indonesia

The music of Indonesia is also varied and it is well worth taking time out to enjoy a performance or two during your tour of Indonesia. When visiting Java in 1580, Sir Frances Drake was mesmerized by the exotic music with its metallic timbre.

Gamelan, used in East Java and Bali, is a popular traditional instrument ensemble, that includes bronze percussion instruments, such as metal pots, gongs and drums. Kroncong music dates back to the 16th century when Portuguese sailors brought their native instruments to Indonesia, and is a melodic ensemble of string instruments, (including the kroncong, which is similar to a ukulele), a flute and a female vocalist. Songs tend to be melancholic and of love and natural beauty. Sasando music from West Timor is a soft style of music, which uses a lead that provides a timbre similar to a harp. Native to West Java, angklung music has become known globally due to its traditional bamboo angklung instrument, receiving UNESCO status.

In modern times, the Bollywood culture of India has also had an influence on the nation’s music.

Traditional sports in Indonesia

Indonesia is home to an array of traditional sports, from Balinese cockfighting to the annual bull races in Madura, to stone jumping that was used to train warriors, and sepak takraw, a game similar to volleyball.

Arts & crafts of Indonesia

Indonesia has always had a history of arts, with influence from as far back as the stone age. You can see some of the best examples in the many temples of its islands, and its architecture,including traditional timber structures that are built on stilts. You can find a presence of animist traditions and tribal art in most of the nation’s crafts, as well as styles with strong Hindu and Buddhist roots.

In Java, you can experience many types of craft – from canvas art to wood carving, handmade, intricate silverwork, clay and stone sculpture. The island also is a major center for batik, ikat and songket cloth, all of which originate from Indonesia.

In Sumatra, you can witness excellent examples of Islamic art and architecture. In Bali and Java, you can see the wayang kulit, the shadow puppets, made of buffalo hide and then painted.

Cuisine

Taste the flavorful cuisine of Indonesia

The cuisine of Indonesia is simply delicious and well worth exploring during your private tour of Indonesia, especially if you like exotic, fragrant flavors!

There are about 30 dishes considered most important to the cuisine culture of Indonesia, however it is thought there are over 5,000 traditional dishes. The regional variation of food is wide, but most meals consist of two main dishes, often meat or fish (known as lauk) of some variety and vegetables (known as sayur), and often a broth or soup, The main dishes are often served in a traditional way, such as banana wrapped, or with a vegetable salad. Meals are usually served with noodles or steamed rice, however starchy tubers (like yam, taro, cassava, potato and sweet potato), sago and grains (maize) are also served.

Did you know?

The cuisine capital of Indonesia is Jakarta, which has unique flavors from across all the nation’s islands.

Here are some typical Indonesian dishes to whet your appetite:

  • Tumpeng: The official national dish, this is a cone-shaped dish made of rice, made using a bamboo container and served at all special occasions.
  • Nasi goreng: The unofficial national dish, this is fried rice made with kecap (or ketchup), a sweet and thick soy sauce, and garnished with pickles. Sambal: a condiment made from chilli, fermented shrimp paste, lime, sugar and salt and an accompaniment of most meals.
  • Satay or sate: Chicken, goat, mutton and even rabbit meat skewers that have been marinated in turmeric, cooked over hot coals and served with yummy peanut sauce. You can find sate madura, in the boat-shaped street carts, which comes served with ketupat (rice cakes), onion and cucumber.
  • Rendang: Spicy meat curry with Malay influence
  • Tempeh: A Javanese invention, made of fermented soybean
  • Gado-gado: Translates as mix-mix, this is a tofu/tempeh vegetable salad, dripping with tasty peanut sauce
  • Bakso: Traditional Indonesian meatball soup that is served with fried shallots, boiled egg and wontons. (It’s apparently a favorite of Barack Obama’s!)
  • Nasi uduk: A cheap lunchtime favorite from Betawi, made with coconut milk cooked rice, which includes fried chicken, boiled eggs, tempeh, anchovies and topped with emping (an Indonesian cracker snack)
  • Nasi padang: A curry that often includes floating fish heads or cow’s feet – this is not for the faint hearted!
  • Rawon: Eastern Javanese beef stew
  • Pecel lele: Fried catfish
  • Ayam goreng: Fried chicken
  • Opor ayam: A traditional braised chicken dish cooked in coconut milk and spice, and served with ketupat (rice cakes), found mostly in warungs (small diners)
  • Martabak: A spongy, fatty and thick crepe, filled with chocolate, peanuts or cheese, and often served with a pickle!
  • Daun pepaya: Sauteed bitter greens, made with papaya leaves.
  • Gorengan: Fried snack food that is popular in streets across the archipelago, from vegetable fritters and fermented soybean cakes to fried bananas!
  • Bakmie goreng: A carb-friendly noodle dish of varying types. The contemporary healthy version is to make vegetable noodles from beetroot or spinach!
  • Gudeg: The signature dish of regal Yogyakarta, this is a jackfruit stew that has been boiled for hours in coconut milk and served with spice and savory items like rice, egg, and chicken.
  • Bumbu Bali: Bumbu means seasoning and this is a popular dish in Bali for serving fish, particularly mackerel.

Top Indonesia Travel Tips – Cuisine

Eating in Indonesia is usually a fairly casual affair. Naturally, the more formal the setting or occasion, the more formal your behavior should be. Here are few top tips for dining in Indonesia:

  • Always allow your hosts or the restaurant to seat you – as hierarchy is an important part of the culture and you have guest status!
  • It is not unusual for food to be shared from one main dish in the middle of the table. Allow your hosts or waiters to serve you first, as it is considered rude to help yourself to the first helping.
  • It is normal for men to be served before women – don’t insist otherwise.
  • If in a buffet style of eating you are invited to eat first, insist your hosts eat first as this is considered polite practice, but know that you will receive the first bite!
  • Food should only be passed with your right hand.
  • Cutlery vs hands? Depending on the establishment, you may be expected to eat with your hands or with cutlery. If in doubt, wait to see what other diners do.

If you like:

  • Curried flavors: Tour Sumatra, which has many Middle Eastern and Indian influences in its cuisine
  • Indigenous dishes: Take a trip to Java
  • Spice: Head to Maluku Islands, which boast dishes with native local spices of cloves and nutmeg
  • Variety: Visit Jakarta, a magnet for Indonesians from all over the archipelago, who naturally brought their cuisine with them

History

Taste the flavorful cuisine of Indonesia

The cuisine of Indonesia is simply delicious and well worth exploring during your private tour of Indonesia, especially if you like exotic, fragrant flavors!

There are about 30 dishes considered most important to the cuisine culture of Indonesia, however it is thought there are over 5,000 traditional dishes. The regional variation of food is wide, but most meals consist of two main dishes, often meat or fish (known as lauk) of some variety and vegetables (known as sayur), and often a broth or soup, The main dishes are often served in a traditional way, such as banana wrapped, or with a vegetable salad. Meals are usually served with noodles or steamed rice, however starchy tubers (like yam, taro, cassava, potato and sweet potato), sago and grains (maize) are also served.

Did you know?

The cuisine capital of Indonesia is Jakarta, which has unique flavors from across all the nation’s islands.

Here are some typical Indonesian dishes to whet your appetite:

  • Tumpeng: The official national dish, this is a cone-shaped dish made of rice, made using a bamboo container and served at all special occasions.
  • Nasi goreng: The unofficial national dish, this is fried rice made with kecap (or ketchup), a sweet and thick soy sauce, and garnished with pickles. Sambal: a condiment made from chilli, fermented shrimp paste, lime, sugar and salt and an accompaniment of most meals.
  • Satay or sate: Chicken, goat, mutton and even rabbit meat skewers that have been marinated in turmeric, cooked over hot coals and served with yummy peanut sauce. You can find sate madura, in the boat-shaped street carts, which comes served with ketupat (rice cakes), onion and cucumber.
  • Rendang: Spicy meat curry with Malay influence
  • Tempeh: A Javanese invention, made of fermented soybean
  • Gado-gado: Translates as mix-mix, this is a tofu/tempeh vegetable salad, dripping with tasty peanut sauce
  • Bakso: Traditional Indonesian meatball soup that is served with fried shallots, boiled egg and wontons. (It’s apparently a favorite of Barack Obama’s!)
  • Nasi uduk: A cheap lunchtime favorite from Betawi, made with coconut milk cooked rice, which includes fried chicken, boiled eggs, tempeh, anchovies and topped with emping (an Indonesian cracker snack)
  • Nasi padang: A curry that often includes floating fish heads or cow’s feet – this is not for the faint hearted!
  • Rawon: Eastern Javanese beef stew
  • Pecel lele: Fried catfish
  • Ayam goreng: Fried chicken
  • Opor ayam: A traditional braised chicken dish cooked in coconut milk and spice, and served with ketupat (rice cakes), found mostly in warungs (small diners)
  • Martabak: A spongy, fatty and thick crepe, filled with chocolate, peanuts or cheese, and often served with a pickle!
  • Daun pepaya: Sauteed bitter greens, made with papaya leaves.
  • Gorengan: Fried snack food that is popular in streets across the archipelago, from vegetable fritters and fermented soybean cakes to fried bananas!
  • Bakmie goreng: A carb-friendly noodle dish of varying types. The contemporary healthy version is to make vegetable noodles from beetroot or spinach!
  • Gudeg: The signature dish of regal Yogyakarta, this is a jackfruit stew that has been boiled for hours in coconut milk and served with spice and savory items like rice, egg, and chicken.
  • Bumbu Bali: Bumbu means seasoning and this is a popular dish in Bali for serving fish, particularly mackerel.

Top Indonesia Travel Tips – Cuisine

Eating in Indonesia is usually a fairly casual affair. Naturally, the more formal the setting or occasion, the more formal your behavior should be. Here are few top tips for dining in Indonesia:

  • Always allow your hosts or the restaurant to seat you – as hierarchy is an important part of the culture and you have guest status!
  • It is not unusual for food to be shared from one main dish in the middle of the table. Allow your hosts or waiters to serve you first, as it is considered rude to help yourself to the first helping.
  • It is normal for men to be served before women – don’t insist otherwise.
  • If in a buffet style of eating you are invited to eat first, insist your hosts eat first as this is considered polite practice, but know that you will receive the first bite!
  • Food should only be passed with your right hand.
  • Cutlery vs hands? Depending on the establishment, you may be expected to eat with your hands or with cutlery. If in doubt, wait to see what other diners do.

If you like:

  • Curried flavors: Tour Sumatra, which has many Middle Eastern and Indian influences in its cuisine
  • Indigenous dishes: Take a trip to Java
  • Spice: Head to Maluku Islands, which boast dishes with native local spices of cloves and nutmeg
  • Variety: Visit Jakarta, a magnet for Indonesians from all over the archipelago, who naturally brought their cuisine with them

Indonesia travel tips from experts

Our travel consultants are happy to share their personal Indonesia travel tips for your trip. Contact us today to plan your tailor-made Indonesia tour.

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