With a population of nearly 300 million, Indonesia is the biggest country in Southeast Asia and one of the most populous countries in the world. Various ethnic groups live scattered across the Indonesian archipelago. Many of these groups have their own language and culture, making Indonesia a uniquely diverse country.

In recent years, Indonesia is also developing into a popular tourist destination. Islands like Bali and Lombok have been popular for many years, but the bigger islands, including Java and Sumatra, also enjoy a rising number of visitors. Read on for more information about the history, sights and visa requirements for Indonesia.


Facts and figures

Capital Jakarta
Area 1.904.569 km2
Population 276 million (2022)
Official language Indonesian
Currency Indonesian rupiah (IDR)
Religion Islam: 87%, Christianity: 10,5%, Hinduism: 1,7%, Buddhism: 0,7%
Time difference 6 to 9 hours
Flight time 15 to 25 hours (depending on stop-overs)
Power plug Travel adapter required
Tap water Non-potable
Visa Indonesia visa required

Map

Spanning an area of almost 2 million square kilometres, Indonesia is the biggest island nation in the world. The country consists of at least 17,000 islands, although the exact number is unknown. The biggest Indonesian islands are Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and New Guinea. Indonesia shares land borders with a few other island nations. Kalimantan borders Malaysia in the North, while the Indonesian part of New Guinea borders independent Papua New Guinea, and the Indonesian part of Timor borders East Timor. Furthermore, Indonesia shares sea borders with countries such as Australia and the Philippines. The capital of Indonesia is Jakarta, which is situated on Java. Jakarta has more than 10 million inhabitants.


History

Hindu and Buddhist empires in Indonesia
In pre-historic times, Indonesia was inhabited by a wide range of peoples. The first urban societies probably emerged in the fourth century. At that time, the Tarumanagara kingdom emerged in West Java and the Kutai kingdom emerged in the Eastern part of what is nowadays Borneo. These kingdoms were governed according to Hindu principles. In the first few centuries AD, Hindu beliefs had slowly, but steadily spread across the entire Indonesian archipelago.

At the same time, Buddhism had also developed into an important religion in the West of what is now Indonesia. A Buddhist kingdom, known as the Shrivijaya kingdom, emerged in the seventh century and started to control large parts of Southeast Asia. Monks from Southeast Asia and China started visiting this kingdom for study purposes. On Java, the Shailendra dynasty emerged, which is known for building the Borobodur, the biggest Buddhist temple in the world.

Borobudur templeThe Borobodur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world

From the end of the thirteenth century until the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Majapahit empire controlled a large part of what is now Indonesia. The army general Gajah Mada was partly responsible for the expansion of the empire. Under his leadership, the empire reached its peak. Therefore, Gajah Mada is still a popular figure in modern-day Indonesia.

The rise of Islam
During the Middle Ages, increasing numbers of Arabic travellers and merchants started to visit Indonesia. This way, Islam could establish itself in Indonesia. While the Majapahit empire lost influence, various Islamic sultanates were founded on Java, Sumatra and the Malay peninsula.

Islam did not spread across all of present-day Indonesia overnight. Large groups of Hindus and Buddhists still continued to exist. After the sixteenth century, European explorers brought Christianity to Indonesia.

The European colonisation of Indonesia
From the 15th century onwards, the Portuguese started to map the coast of Africa. Their objective was to find a sea route to Asia, which would allow them to gain more control over the international spice trade. In 1512, the Portuguese conquered Malakka on the Malay peninsula. The Portuguese influence slowly spread across the rest of Indonesia. This included catholic missionaries travelling towards Indonesia to spread the Christian religion.

Next to the Portuguese, the English and French also founded various trading posts in Southeast Asia. However, the Dutch were to become the dominant colonial power in present-day Indonesia. In 1619, they founded Batavia (present-day Jakarta), which became the capital of the Dutch East Indies.

Mosque in IndonesiaIslam is the religion with the highest number of followers in Indonesia

The Dutch in Indonesia
The Dutch colonisers first only controlled a small number of coastal locations from where they could manage the spice trade. Many independent Indonesian kingdoms and sultanates still existed. Over the following centuries, these would become increasingly marginalised following the Dutch expansionist drive.

Following the Napoleonic Wars, Indonesia was briefly under French and later British control at the beginning of the 19th century. Once the Dutch gained back control from 1816 onwards, they implemented a strongly authoritarian rule. A major part of this policy was the introduction of the so-called ‘Cultivation System’, which forced indigenous farmers to devote part of their land to the production of crops for the European markets.

The Dutch also fought regularly with indigenous rulers. One of the most famous conflicts was the Aceh War. The Aceh sultanate ruled over Northern Sumatra. The war between the sultanate and the Dutch colonisers broke out in 1873. The conflict lasted until 1904, after which all parts of the sultanate fell into Dutch hands. At this point, almost the entirety of present day Indonesia was under Dutch control.

The fight for independence
At the beginning of the 20th century, nationalist movements started to gain momentum in Indonesia, which were seeking more power for the local population. The Dutch tried to suppress any form of resistance by imprisoning thousands of insurgents. The Dutch colonial rule was briefly interrupted during World War II when Japan occupied Indonesia. The Japanese supported the Indonesian nationalist movement. This led to the emergence of the Indonesian leader Sukarno, who declared the independence of Indonesia at the end of the Japanese occupation in 1945.

The Dutch did not accept Indonesian independence and sent the army to defeat the insurgents. After four years of fighting, the Dutch were forced by the United States to end the war, which meant that Indonesia was truly independent.

Sukarno’s presidency
The Indonesian people celebrated Sukarno as the liberator of the country, and he was quickly proclaimed president of the new Republic of Indonesia. The first years of the independent republic were characterised by political turmoil, which was partly caused by the diversity of Indonesia. It proved difficult to define national policies in the context of vast differences between the islands and their peoples. Rebels were gaining power on the islands of Sumatra and Sulawesi who sought to overthrow the government in Jakarta. Sukarno was able to defeat the rebels, implementing a strongly authoritarian regime, which was based on socialist economic principles.

In 1962, Indonesia almost got into a military conflict with its former coloniser. The Netherlands still controlled the Western part of New Guinea. The United Nations had to step in as a mediator, leading to Western New Guinea becoming a part of Indonesia. However, the majority of the local population were striving for an independent state. The Indonesian army put an end to these thoughts by violently suppressing the independence movement.

Skyline of JakartaJakarta has gone through half a century of rapid growth

Development of the modern Indonesian state
Communist influences were growing in Indonesia throughout the 1960s. The 30 September Movement, including several prominent members of the communist party, attempted a coup d’état, which failed. The opponents of the communists saw the events as an excuse to rid themselves of the communist sympathisers once and for all. The Indonesian army, supported by militias, mass-murdered at least half a million communists. Sukarno was deposed, and general Suharto was sworn in as president of Indonesia in 1968.

Under Suhartos rule, Indonesia became a strongly centralised police state. Nevertheless, many Western countries, among which the United States, continued to support Indonesia, as Suharto was a reliable ally in the fight against communism. Claiming to fight communism in the country, the Indonesian army attacked East Timor in 1975. The Indonesian regime tried to integrate East Timor into the Indonesian Republic, but the local population continued to resist the annexation, which led to East Timor becoming independent again in 2002.

In the second half of the 20th century, Indonesia went through a period of rapid economic growth. This ended in a great economic crisis in 1997, which eventually led to Suharto’s resignation. The economy slowly recovered in the following years, until a big tsunami caused enormous damage to vast parts of the archipelago in 2004. Indonesia is still prone to natural disasters, and climate change only worsens the risks.


Culture

The Indonesian archipelago has an enormous cultural diversity. This is reflected in Indonesia’s national motto, called ‘Unity in Diversity’. Many islands developed a unique culture because they had barely any contact to the outside world. Although Islam is the dominant religion in present day Indonesia, Hinduism and Buddhism have left many tracks throughout the country. Many Indonesian monuments date from the periods of Hindu and Buddhist rule.

The diversity of languages spoken in Indonesia is one of the greatest in the world. The official language is Indonesian, which is a variant of Malay, but there are around 700 other local languages that are spoken in Indonesia. Indonesian is used in official communications and most media outlets, while many people use other languages in their daily lives. After Indonesian, Javanese and Sundanese are the most spoken languages in the country, both of which are spoken mostly on Java. Western New Guinea has a particularly great variety of local languages.

Furthermore, Indonesia is known for its unique clothing styles. Almost every island has its own traditions and every ethnic group has their own clothing. The batik-procedure has become world-renowned. People all around Indonesia wear clothes made through batik, especially during celebratory events. Another typically Indonesian piece of clothing is the songkok. A songkok is a round, black cap which is usually worn by Muslim men during official events. The Indonesian president wears a songkok almost every time he appears in public.

Women working on batikThe batik-procedure is a traditional craft

Holidays in Indonesia

Due to its cultural diversity, Indonesia has numerous holidays. Please note that many government agencies and municipal offices are closed during these holidays.

Date and holiday Festivities and traditions
New Year's Day - 1 January New Year’s Eve is celebrated in different ways throughout Indonesia. The celebrations in and around Yogyakarta are well-known. Thousands of lanterns are lit to celebrate the beginning of the new year. Fireworks are lit in many bigger cities around midnight.
Isra and Mi’raj - date depends on the Islamic calendar Muslims in Indonesia celebrate the Night Journey of prophet Muhammad during this holiday. On this day, Muhammad is said to have travelled to heaven, where god gave him the task to found Islam. Government agencies as well as most stores and banks are closed on this day.
Chinese New Year - in January or February Chinese New Year is a national holiday, even though the Chinese population is a relatively small minority in Indonesia.
Nyepi - March Nyepi is also known as the Balinese New Year, and is mostly celebrated by Balinese Hindus. All of Bali comes to a near stand-still for 24 hours. The people of Bali dim their lights and make as little noise as possible. Most people fast and spend this day in silent reflection at their homes.
Easter - March and/or April There is a large Christian minority in Indonesia. Christians on various islands celebrate Easter in their unique ways.
Lebaran (Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha) - dates depend on the Islamic calendar Lebaran is the Indonesian term for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Fitr is a celebration for the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Eid al-Adha takes place a couple of months later. Many people are free around these holidays. Most governmental agencies are closed for multiple days.
Waisak - May Waisak is one of the most important Buddhist holidays. This day commemorates the life of Buddha. The biggest festivities take place at the Borobudur on Java, which is the biggest Buddhist temple in the world. Buddhists from all around the world come to the Borobudur to participate in rituals and to light lanterns.
Pancasila Day - 1 June Pancasila Day commemorates the five basic principles of the Indonesian state. These are the belief in god, civilised humanity, the unity of the Indonesian people, consensus democracy, and social justice.
Islamic New Year - date depends on the Islamic calendar People celebrate Islamic New Years in different ways. There are parades, as well as sacrificial rituals. Government agencies are closed.
Independence Day - 17 August Multiple official ceremonies are organised on the Indonesian Independence Day. The national flag is hoisted in various places across the countries. There are also parades, traditional games and competitions, and other types of activities.
Mawlid - dates depend on the Islamic calendar Mawlid commemorates the day prophet Muhammad was born. The celebrations differ between the islands. Most people cook a special meal and give presents to their friends and relatives.
Christmas (‘Natal’ in Indonesian) - 25 December The different Christian communities celebrate Christmas in their own ways. Government agencies are closed on this day.

Climate

Indonesia is located around the equator. Thus, the entire archipelago enjoys a tropical climate. The average mean temperature is around 25 degrees Celsius in many places in Indonesia. There is some regional variation, however. For example, the mountainous areas in the country are a couple of degrees cooler on average.

Indonesia’s climate is defined by two seasons, the dry and the wet season. The dry season is from April until September, and the wet season stretches from October to March. At the height of the wet season, monthly average rainfall can amount to more than 30 cm. Therefore, most people choose to travel to Indonesia in the dry season.

As a result of climate change, the wet season is becoming wetter and the dry season is becoming drier. This has led to crop failures and floods, among other things. Since the average temperatures are rising, increasing amounts of mosquitoes are appearing, which can spread deadly diseases. Therefore, Indonesia is one of the countries in the world that is most severely impacted by climate change.


Tourism

Tourism is a major source of income for Indonesia. The country has a lot to offer in that regard. The many thousands of islands offer an unbelievable variation in landscapes and cultures. In the following, you can read about the highlights of some of the most popular Indonesian islands.

Java
Java is the most populous island of Indonesia. More than 50% of the Indonesian population live on Java. Therefore, some of the major cities, like Jakarta and Yogyakarta, are located on this island, but there is also a lot to see outside the cities. The most famous tourist sight on the island is probably the Borobudur. This is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, from where one can enjoy a magnificent view across a lush, green landscape.

Sumatra
Sumatra is around four times the size of Java, but its 60 million inhabitants only amount to about a third of the population of Java. Therefore, Sumatra boasts much more pristine nature. One of the natural highlights is Lake Toba in Central Sumatra. This is the Indonesia’s biggest lake and also the biggest volcanic lake in the world. Lake Toba is especially popular among backpackers who travel there to enjoy its wonderful views, excellent hiking paths, and well-maintained infrastructure.

Kalimantan
Kalimantan is known for its extensive rainforests. There are a number of national parks, such as the Danau Sentarum National Park and the Kutai National Park. These may be the most beautiful rainforests of Indonesia. The most famous animal that lives on Kalimantan is the Orangutan.

Bali
Bali is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Indonesia. Most Balinese people are Hindus. Therefore, the Balinese culture differs strongly from the predominantly Islamic culture of the other Indonesian islands. On Bali, you can visit a multitude of Hindu temples as well as engage in various activities. There are many beautiful beaches where you can surf, and the rich underwater life guarantees spectacular snorkelling and diving experiences. The water temperature is around 30 degrees Celsius all year around. If you prefer to go into nature, there are many beautiful hiking paths in the mountainous inner parts of the island. Bali even has three volcanoes which you can hike.

Temple on BaliBali is known for its temples

Lombok
Lombok is situated East of Bali and is a lot less touristy, but this should not hold you back from visiting the island. Lombok is known for its many beautiful beaches. Also, the landscapes of the island are incredibly diverse and highly spectacular. The island hosts the active volcano Rinjani, which has a 30-metre tall waterfall at its base.

Flores
The island of Flores is located East of Lombok. The beautiful coastline is highly popular among divers. You can also join a boat tour in the waters around the island. West of Flores is the island Komodo, known for the Komodo dragon, the largest lizard in the world.


Economy and currency

Indonesia is the largest economy in Southeast Asia and belongs to the fastest-growing economies in the world. Although the service sector is growing in importance, agriculture and mining remain important economic sectors in Indonesia. Indonesia is one of the biggest producers of palm oil in the world, which has caused major deforestation.

The official currency in Indonesia is the Indonesian rupiah (IDR). It is available in coins worth 100, 200, 500 and 1000 rupiah. Also, there are banknotes worth 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000 rupiah. In 2024, 1 GBP corresponds with approximately 21,000 rupiah, and 1 EUR corresponds with around 17,000 rupiah.

It is very common to give tips in Indonesia. Many people give tips to local guides, taxi drivers, and the personnel of hotels and restaurants. The only time you are not expected to give a tip is if the bill already includes service costs. ATM’s can be scarce outside big cities and tourist attractions, so it is recommended to carry sufficient cash.


Safety and health

Indonesia is generally considered a safe country for travellers. However, you are not advised to travel to West Papua, as there is an active independence movement which has been involved in violent conflicts with the government in the past. Tourists may also become victims of this violence.

The province of Aceh in Northern Sumatra has implemented the strict Islamic laws of the Sharia. If you travel to this area, you should wear clothes that cover most of your body, and you should abstain from drinking any alcohol. Disregarding the law can lead to fines or even a prison sentence.

Criminals may target tourists. Therefore, you are not advised to wear any flashy jewellery or other accessories. Also, store your travel documents and other valuables in a safe place.

You can consult this page with travel advice for Indonesia for further information.

Health in Indonesia
The medical facilities in the Indonesian cities are generally well-equipped. You are advised to take out a good travel insurance. Be aware that the emergency services might not be able to reach you easily, in case you travel to remote areas.

Inform yourself about the required vaccinations for your trip to Indonesia. Please consult your doctor about vaccinations and the use of any medication during your trip.


Visa

You need a visa to be allowed to enter Indonesia. An e-visa suffices in most cases. You can apply for the e-visa easily in English with the application form on this website. The visa costs € 64,95 and is usually issued 7 days after the application is submitted. Do you need your visa urgently? Then you can submit an urgent application. Urgent applications are processed in 24 hours on average.

e-Visa.ie is a commercial and professional visa agency, and supports travellers in obtaining, among others, the Indonesia visa. e-Visa.ie acts as an intermediary and is in no way part of any government. You can also apply for a visa directly with the immigration service (519.500 IDR per visa, via molina.imigrasi.go.id). However, not with our level of support. If you submit your application via e-Visa.ie, our support centre is available to you 24/7. In addition, we manually check your application and all the documents you provide before submitting it to the immigration authorities on your behalf. If we suspect any errors or omissions while doing so, we will personally contact you to ensure that your application can still be processed quickly and correctly. To use our services, you pay us 519.500 IDR in consular fees, which we pay to the immigration service on your behalf, as well as € 35,42 in service fees as compensation for our services, including VAT. Our services have saved many travellers from major problems during their trip. Should an application be rejected despite our support and verification, we will refund the full purchase price (unless an application for a previous Indonesia visa was rejected for the same traveller). Read more about our services here.