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
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
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
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
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
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