Transport in Indonesia takes many forms.
Boat Slow and fast boats link the many islands, but beware of rogue operators with dodgy safety standards.
Bus Buses of all sizes travel almost everywhere cheaply and slowly.
Car Rent a small car for US$30 a day (Bali), get a car and driver from US$60 a day.
Motorbike Rent one for as little as 70,000Rp a day.
Becak Motorbike with sidecar; Indonesia's version of a tuk tuk.
Ojek Get a cheap ride on the back of a motorbike. Used everywhere.
Taxi Fairly cheap in cities, can be pricey in tourist areas.
Air travel is the quickest and most convenient way of getting around Indonesia, and sometimes the only way to reach certain parts of the archipelago. There is an ever-changing number of domestic airlines, and flights are generally inexpensive. Bear in mind that flights to remote destinations are prone to cancellation, as well as delays, especially in periods of bad weather.
Airlines in Indonesia
Getting reliable information on Indonesian domestic flights can be a challenge – a few airlines on minor routes don't show up on travel websites, although www.traveloka.com and www.skyscanner.com are fairly complete. You can also check with local airline offices and travel agents; local hotel and tour operators are often the best sources of info.
- The domestic flight network continues to grow; schedules and rates are in a constant state of flux.
- Small carriers servicing remote routes often operate cramped and dated aircraft.
- With tiny regional airlines, reconfirm your ticket and hang around the check-in desk if the flight is full. Sometimes reservations are 'lost' when another passenger with more clout shows up.
Almost a dozen major airlines fly domestically.
Batik Air (www.batikair.com) Full-service subsidiary of Lion Air.
Citilink (www.citilink.co.id) Budget subsidiary to Garuda Indonesia that links major cities.
Dimonim Air (www.dimonimair.com) Flights in Papua.
Garuda Indonesia (www.garuda-indonesia.com) Serves major destinations across the archipelago. Tickets are easily bought online.
Indonesia AirAsia (www.airasia.com) Fast-growing budget carrier that is a subsidiary of its Malaysian-based parent.
Lion Air/Wings Air (www.lionair.co.id) Fast-growing Indonesian budget carrier (Wings Air operates prop planes to small destinations) with myriad flights.
Sriwijaya Air/NAM Air (www.sriwijayaair.co.id) Services across Indonesia.
Susi Air (www.susiair.com) Routes across Indonesia.
Transnusa (www.transnusa.co.id) Good for flights within Nusa Tenggara and for flights from Denpasar to places like Labuan Bajo.
The larger Indonesian-based carriers have websites listing fares; however, it can be difficult to purchase tickets over the internet using non-Indonesian credit cards. Consider the following methods.
Travel Agencies A good way to buy domestic tickets once you're in Indonesia. This is often the best way to get the lowest fares.
Travel websites Many general sites accept international cards.
Friends Get an Indonesian friend or guesthouse owner to buy you a ticket using their credit card, then pay them back.
Airport Some airlines will sell you a ticket at the airport, although travel agents and airline city offices are more reliable.
Large international booking websites may only show Garuda Indonesia flights and then only offer very expensive airfares. Try the following to purchase tickets online.
Airline Websites Some carriers, notably Garuda Indonesia and Indonesia AirAsia, have websites that accept foreign credit cards. Lion Air is a notable exception.
www.nusatrip.com Most foreign cards work; OK for booking domestic flights.
www.skyscanner.com Accepts foreign cards but doesn't show all airlines.
www.tiket.com Not all foreign cards work but shows most domestic airlines.
www.traveloka.com Lists many domestic airlines, although foreign cards don't always work. A good source for schedule info.
Domestic Departure Tax
Domestic departure-tax fees are now included in ticket prices.
With reasonable fitness, a bit of preparation and a ton of common sense, a cyclist will enjoy an incomparable travel experience almost anywhere in the archipelago. The well-maintained roads of Bali, Lombok, East Java and South Sulawesi are suitable for cyclists of all ability levels, while the adventurous can head for the hills along the length of Sumatra or Nusa Tenggara. Practical tips:
- Rest during the hottest hours of the day to avoid the tropical heat.
- Avoid most traffic problems by keeping to back roads or even jumping on a truck or bus to cover dangerous sections.
- Expect to be a constant focus of attention.
- You can rent bikes fairly easily in tourist centres; just ask at your accommodation. Rates range from 30,000Rp and up per day.
- Many tourist areas, particularly Bali, Lombok and Yogyakarta, offer organised, vehicle-supported bicycle tours.
- At major sights you can usually find a parking attendant to keep an eye on your bicycle for 5000Rp.
Cycling is gaining popularity among Indonesians, and bicycle clubs will be delighted to aid a foreign guest. Bike to Work (www.b2w-indonesia.or.id) has an extensive national network.
Sumatra, Java, Bali, Nusa Tenggara and Sulawesi are all connected by regular car ferries, and you can use them to island-hop all the way from Sumatra to West Timor. Local ferries run several times a week or daily (or even hourly on the busy Java–Bali–Lombok–Sumbawa routes). Check with shipping companies, the harbour office, travel agents or hotels for current schedules and fares.
Going to and between Kalimantan, Maluku and Papua, the main connections are provided by Pelni, the government-run passenger line.
Pelni (www.pelni.co.id) has a fleet of large vessels linking all of Indonesia’s major ports and the majority of the archipelago’s outlying areas. Pelni’s website is a good resource, showing arrivals and departures about a month in advance.
Its ships operate set routes around the islands, either on a fortnightly or monthly schedule. The ships usually stop for a few hours in each port, so there's time for a quick look around. Note that sailing times can be in flux until the last moment.
Economy fares can be quite cheap, but at higher levels of shipboard accommodation budget airlines are competitive if not cheaper.
Pelni ships range from modern, clean and well run to less modern, chaotic and dirty. Consider the following.
Booking Towns served by Pelni usually have a ticket office or agent. Book your ticket a few days in advance.
Classes Pelni ships have two to six classes. Economy class, which is the modern version of deck class, is a bare-bones experience. As you move up the price ladder, you exchange a seat on the deck for small accommodations until you reach a level that may give you your own private cabin with two beds (this is some variation of 1st class). These are functional at best and far from lavish.
Security There are no lockers, so you have to keep an eye on your gear if you are in any kind of group class. Beware of pickpockets when embarking and disembarking.
Crowding At busy times such as Idul Fitri, boats seem to have passengers crammed into every available space, including decks, passages and stairwells. Conditions can get grim.
Food Bring your own food and drink. Boats offer basic meals, or have shops offering instant noodles and snacks.
Boarding Getting aboard a Pelni ship can leave you bruised as it is truly every man, woman and child for him or herself as people try to get to scarce space first.
There's a whole range of boats you can use to hop between islands, down rivers and across lakes. Just about any sort of vessel can be rented in Indonesia.
Fast Ferries When available, these are a great alternative to the slow car ferries that link many islands.
Fishing boats Small boats can be chartered to take you to small offshore islands.
Longbot The longbot is a long, narrow boat powered by a couple of outboard motors, with bench seats on either side of the hull for passengers to sit on. They are mainly used in Kalimantan where they are also called klotok.
Outrigger boats Used for some short interisland hops, such as the trip from Manado in North Sulawesi to the coral reefs surrounding nearby Pulau Bunaken. On Lombok they serve the Gilis while Komodo National Park is served from Labuan Bajo. On Bali they are called jukung.
River ferries Commonly found on Kalimantan, where the rivers are the roads. They're large, bulky vessels that carry passengers and cargo up and down the water network.
Tourist boats Often very fast speedboats outfitted to carry 40 or more passengers, most commonly used for quick trips between Bali, Nusa Lembongan, Lombok and the Gilis.
Travelling Safely by Boat
Boat safety is an important consideration across Indonesia, where boats that barely seem seaworthy may be your only option to travel between islands. In many cases these services are accidents waiting to happen, as safety regulation is lax at best.
This is especially true on the busy routes linking Bali, Nusa Lembongan, Lombok and the Gilis, where both the fast tourist boats and the public car ferries have had accidents. Given Indonesia's poor record, it is essential that you take responsibility for your own safety, as no one else will.
Consider the following points for any boat travel in Indonesia.
Bigger is better It may take you 30 minutes or more longer, but a larger boat will simply deal with the open ocean better than the over-powered small speedboats.
Check for safety equipment Make certain your boat has life jackets and that you know how to locate and use them. In an emergency, don’t expect a panicked crew to hand them out. Also, check for life rafts.
Avoid overcrowding Travellers report boats leaving with more people than seats and with aisles jammed with stacked luggage.
Look for exits Cabins may only have one narrow entrance making them death traps in an accident.
Avoid fly-by-nighters Taking a fishing boat and jamming too many engines on the rear in order to cash in on booming tourism is a recipe for disaster.
Buses are the mainstay of Indonesian transport (excepting Papua and Maluku). At any time of day, thousands of buses in all shapes and sizes move thousands of people throughout Indonesia. The 'leave-when-full' school of scheduling applies to almost every service, and 'full' sometimes means the aisles are occupied too. Consider the following.
- On major runs across Indonesia, air-con buses are at least tolerable.
- Crowded roads mean that buses are often stuck in traffic.
- On major routes, such as the 24-hour run from Bali to Jakarta, budget airlines are competitive price-wise.
- Buses on non-major routes are usually not air-conditioned.
- Bring as little luggage as possible – there is rarely any room for storage. Large bags will ride on your lap.
- Take precautions with your personal belongings and keep your passport, money and any other valuables secure and concealed.
- Economy-class (ekonomi) buses run set routes between towns. They can be hot, slow and crowded, but they're also ridiculously cheap and provide a never-ending parade of Indonesian life.
- Express (patas) buses look much the same as the economy buses, but stop only at selected bus terminals en route and (officially) don't pick up from the side of the road. Air-con patas buses are more comfortable and seating is often guaranteed.
- Air-con buses (or 'executive' buses) come in a variety of price categories, depending on whether facilities include reclining seats, toilets, TV, karaoke (usually very bad) or snacks. These buses should be booked in advance; ticket agents often have pictures of the buses and seating plans; check to see what you are paying for when you choose your seat.
Bus tickets are cheap. For long-distance buses, you can buy your ticket from a travel agent or visit the bus terminal where you may find several companies competing for your business. Book longer trips in advance, especially on air-con buses.
Often, hotels will act as agents or buy a ticket for you and will arrange for the bus to pick you up at the hotel – they sometimes charge a few thousand rupiah for this service, but it's worth it.
Car & Motorcycle
To drive in Indonesia, you officially need an International Driving Permit (IDP) from your local automobile association. This permit is rarely required as identification when hiring/driving a car in Indonesia, but police may ask to see it. Bring your home licence as well – it's supposed to be carried in conjunction with the IDP. If you also have a motorcycle licence at home, get your IDP endorsed for motorcycles too.
Fuel prices are kept cheap by government subsidies. Unleaded petrol costs around 10,000Rp per litre. The opening of the domestic fuel market to foreign operators has spurred national oil company Pertamina to build petrol/gas stations (pompa bensin) throughout the archipelago.
Small self-drive cars can be hired for as little as 300,000Rp a day with limited insurance in tourist areas.
It is very common for tourists to hire a car with a driver, and this can usually be arranged from 600,000Rp per day.
With a small group, a van and driver is not only economical but also allows maximum travel and touring freedom. Hotels can always arrange drivers.
Motorcycles are readily available for hire throughout Indonesia.
- Motorcycles and scooters can be hired for 50,000Rp to 100,000Rp per day.
- Wearing a helmet is required by law and essential given road conditions.
- In popular surfing areas, many motorbike rentals come with a surfboard rack.
- A licence is required by law, though you'll rarely need to show it unless stopped by the police, who may be looking for a 'tip'.
- Some travel-insurance policies do not cover you if you are involved in an accident while on a motorcycle and/or don't have a licence. Check the small print.
Rental agencies and owners usually insist that the vehicle itself is insured, and minimal insurance should be included in the basic rental deal – often with an excess of as much as US$100 for a motorcycle and US$500 for a car (ie the customer pays the first US$100/500 of any claim). You can usually pay extra to reduce the excess.
Your travel insurance may provide some additional protection, although liability for motor accidents is specifically excluded from many policies.
A private owner renting out a motorcycle may not offer any insurance at all. Ensure that your personal travel insurance covers injuries incurred while motorcycling.
- Relentless traffic congestion across many parts of Indonesia – including Bali – makes driving an exhausting activity.
- Delays due to roadworks, poor conditions and congestion are common.
- Finding your way around can be a challenge, as roads are only sometimes signposted and maps are often out of date.
- In much of the country, count on averaging only 35km per hour.
Indonesians drive on the left side of the road, as in Australia, Japan, the UK and most of Southeast Asia.
Considering the relatively small cost of a driver in relation to the total rental, it makes little sense to take the wheel yourself. Driving requires enormous amounts of concentration, and the legal implications of accidents can be a nightmare; as a foreigner, it's your fault.
Hitching is not part of Indonesian culture, but if you put out your thumb, someone may give you a lift. On the back roads where no public transport exists, hitching may be the only alternative to walking, and passing motorists or trucks are often willing to help. You will increase your chances of a ride if you offer to pay.
Bear in mind that hitching is never entirely safe in any country, so we do not recommend it. Travellers who decide to hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk.
These are three-wheeled carts, either pedal- or motor-powered. The becak is banned from the main streets of some large cities, but you'll still see them swarming the backstreets, moving anyone and anything.
Negotiate your fare before you get in; and if there are two passengers, make sure that it covers both people, otherwise you'll be in for an argument when you get to your destination. Becak drivers are hard bargainers, but they will usually settle on a reasonable fare, around 5000Rp per kilometre.
Large buses aren't used much as a means of city transport except on Java. There's an extensive system of buses in Jakarta, and these are universally cheap; beware of pickpockets.
A dokar is the jingling, horse-drawn, two-wheeled cart found throughout the archipelago, including tourist areas. A typical dokar (known as cidomo in some areas such as the Gilis, or bendi in West Sumatra) has bench seating on either side, which can comfortably fit three or four people.
Given that many horses and ponies are mistreated, we can't recommend dokars.
Public minibuses are used for local transport around cities and towns, short intercity runs and the furthest reaches of the transport network.
Minibuses are known as bemos or angkot, although they are called taksi in many parts of Papua, Kalimantan and East Java. Other names include opelet, mikrolet, mobil, angkudes and pete-pete.
- Most minibuses operate a standard route, picking up and dropping off people and goods anywhere along the way.
- Minibus drivers may try to overcharge foreigners and ask you for triple the normal fare. It's best to ask somebody, such as your hotel staff, about the harga biasa (normal price); otherwise, see what the other passengers are paying and offer the correct fare.
- Drivers wait until their vehicles are crammed to capacity before moving, or they may go keliling – driving endlessly around town looking for a full complement of passengers.
- Conditions can be extremely cramped, especially if you have luggage.
- On Bali, motorbikes are nearly universal and the bemo system is almost non-existent.
Ojeks (or ojegs) are motorcycle riders who take pillion passengers for a bargainable price. They are found at bus terminals and markets, or just hanging around at crossroads. They will take you around town and go where no other public transport exists, or along roads that are impassable in any other vehicle. They are the preferred method for navigating Jakarta traffic. They can also be rented by the hour for sightseeing.
Go-jek (www.go-jek.com) is an Uber-style service where you can order an ojek using a smartphone app at a fair price. It operates in major cities.
Small air-con minivans carrying paying passengers (known in some areas as Taksi Gelap) are common in some areas. They typically link major towns on main highways; the cost is more than a bus but they offer greater speed and door-to-door service. Hotels usually have info on these services and can arrange pickups.
However, these vehicles are unregulated and safety standards vary widely, if they exist at all.
Metered taxis are readily available in major cities. If a taxi has a meter (argo), make sure it is used. Where meters don't exist, you will have to bargain for the fare in advance. Offers of 'transport' are almost always more costly than using a metered taxi.
With services in major cities and tourist areas including south Bali, Bluebird Taxis (www.bluebirdgroup.com) is a good choice as drivers use the meter, speak some English and are honest. The smartphone app makes ordering a taxi a breeze.
The Southeast Asian ridesharing app Grab (www.grab.com/id) has bought Uber's Indonesian operation and is active in larger cities and towns and tourist areas.
At airports, taxis sometimes operate on a prepaid system, payable at the relevant booth.
Train travel in Indonesia is restricted to Java and a small network in Sumatra.
In Java, trains are among the most comfortable, fastest and easiest ways to travel. In the east, the railway service connects with the ferry to Bali, and in the west with the ferry to Sumatra. Sumatra's limited rail network runs in the south from Bandarlampung to Lubuklinggau, and in the north from Medan to Tanjung Balai and Rantau Prapat.
There are three classes; smoking is not allowed in any.
- Executive (eksecutif) – air-con with mandatory reservations.
- Business (bisnis) – no air-con but mandatory seat reservations.
- Economy (ekonomi) – no air-con, crowded and unreserved.
The railway's website (www.kai.id) has information on train schedules from individual stations.