Enticing Indonesia

TIME 2005 showcases the best and newest in travel to Indonesia

By: Roger Allnutt

Unlike other Asian countries like China, Japan and Thailand the vast archipelago of over 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia doesn’t usually top the travel plans of many American tourists.

Along with many other countries in the region, Indonesia has recently suffered through a succession of problems such as ethnic and religious unrest, SARS and bird flu which all seem to conspire to thwart ongoing tourist development. Indonesia was again in the news when the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami occurred, but this only affected the province of Aceh on the northwestern tip of Sumatra the rest of the vast country was totally untouched.

Many people have heard of the island paradise of Bali if only since the bomb blasts around the popular tourist haunts at Kuta Beach yet Indonesia has many tourist draws, and officials say is no more dangerous than most cities around the globe.

A small number of U.S. travel professionals were in the old capital Yogyakarta recently for TIME (Tourism Indonesia Mart and Expo) 2005, an annual event held in different cities to showcase the best and newest in Indonesian travel products to local and overseas buyers. In addition, TIME 2005 was an opportunity to discuss and learn about recent developments affecting domestic and international tourism to Indonesia.

For the American traveler, there are two major hurdles knowledge and accessibility. Bali may be a recognizable destination, but the rest of the country is virtually unknown. There are no direct flights from the U.S. to Indonesia, and clients must connect through the likes Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taipei, Bangkok, Singapore and even Australia. International flights into the country are invariably to the capital, Jakarta, or Denpasar, Bali. Other locales, including Yogyakarta and Surabaya, are starting to offer direct flights from certain Asian cities.

In 2004, about 151,000 U.S. tourists visited Indonesia (the seventh largest source of visitors), and the vast majority of those headed to Bali without exploring other parts of the country. Even in Bali, beach-bound tourists tended to stay around the popular Kuta and Legian areas, skipping other places and activities like the busy arts and crafts village of Ubud.

Indonesia is making every effort to simplify the entry of tourists to the country. Most visitors require a visa for a visit of up to 30 days. However, for a number of countries, including the U.S. and Canada, visas can be obtained on arrival (VOA). A single visa is fixed at $10 for a maximum period of seven days and $25 for a maximum period of 30 days. Payment is made in U.S. dollars upon arrival in the country.

What to Expect

Indonesia is divided into 32 provinces and stretches over 3,500 miles from the island of Sumatra across the province of Papua (ex-Iranian Jaya) and to New Guinea. With nearly 500 different ethnic groups speaking over 560 dialects, Indonesia has a population of 235 million 87 percent of which follow the principles of Islam.

Indonesia was ruled by a number of colonial powers over the centuries, most notably by the Dutch for more than 350 years when the country produced vast quantities of rice, tobacco, coffee and tea and was known as the “spice islands.”

Indonesia is marketing itself under the new banner Ultimate in Diversity, highlighting the rich cultural heritage of cities like the capital Jakarta, Bandung and Yogyakarta on Java.

Ancient temples can be found throughout the country, although none more impressive than the UNESCO World Heritage listed Borobudur (Buddhist) and Prambanan (Hindu) complexes both a short distance from Yogyakarta in central Java.

Krakatoa, near Jakarta, is one of the best-known volcanoes in the world, but the archipelago contains many more some of which are still rumbling and erupting. Visits can trek many of the mountains, including Mount Bromo near Malang in east Java and Mount Agung in eastern Bali.

With the amount of coastline around its 17,000 plus islands, water activities are a major attraction. And Indonesia has some of the best surf breaks and dive sites in the world. Sulawesi (Celebes) is very popular for dive enthusiasts as is the remoter island of Flores.

A popular way to visit the more isolated islands is by live-aboard sailing cruises. One operator, ex-New Yorker Chris Sperduto, operates sailing and diving expeditions from both Makassar (South Sulawesi) and Flores (www.tidakapapa.com).

Nature lovers will be astounded at the rich variety of flora and fauna. Over 40,000 species of flowering plants (including 5,000 orchids) can be found as well as a rich diversity of animals, including the Javan hawk-eagle (the official symbol of Indonesia), Java rhinoceros, orangutans and the black gibbons of Sumatra.

The inexpensive and delicious Indonesian food offers another major tourist draw and goes great with the local beer. Accommodations range from basic home-stays and rural cottages to a several top hotels boasting high service and low prices.

Single- and double-occupancy rates in major cities like Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Bali at name-brand hotels such as Sheraton, Novotel, Marriott, Quality and Hilton are a fraction of what clients often expect to pay back home.

With more than great bargains, Indonesia reward travelers prepared to seek out and experience the diversity of this vibrant country.