Delays are common to all forms of transport in Indonesia – including major flights – caused by weather, mechanical failure, or simply not enough passengers turning up, so you’ll save yourself a good deal of stress if you keep your schedule as flexible as possible.
Buses are inexpensive, easy to book and leave roughly on time. However, they’re also slow, cramped and often plain terrifying. Tickets are sold a day or more in advance from the point of departure or bus company offices; buy them as early as possible where services are infrequent. Tell the driver your exact destination, as it may be possible to get delivered right to the door.
In cities, colour-coded or numbered minibuses known as angkots (also called bemos, oplets or microlets) run fixed circuits, although routes are often adaptable according to their customers. Once on their way, they’re faster than buses and cheaper; fares are handed over on board.
A more pleasant alternative to big buses and angkots is tourist shuttle buses. Though far more expensive than local services, these air-conditioned vehicles will take you between points as quickly as possible. The longest-established firm on Bali and Lombok is Perama.
In Java, trains are often more comfortable and reliable than buses, and train stations are generally far more centrally situated. Some convenience stores, such as Indomaret or Alfamart, have self-service ticket machines, or you can book tickets on the railway’s official website or the more user-friendly agent Tiket. Get to the station at least one hour early to exchange booking receipts for boarding passes.
Public ferries run regularly between neighbouring islands, such as between Sumatra and Java, Java and Bali, and Bali and Lombok. In more visited areas you’ll find tourist boat services, and combined long-distance bus and boat options.
Check up-to-date route information and buy tickets, available two or three days before departure, at the local Pelni office. Alternatively, pay an agent to reserve tickets as early as possible.
On-board accommodation is usually divided into two or four classes, the most expensive of which come with double bed, washroom, air-conditioning and large luggage lockers. If full, the only option is to sleep in the corridors, stairwells or on deck.
Flights can be a quicker and cheaper way to travel between the Indonesian islands, especially if you take into account en-route costs aboard long-haul buses and boats. As airlines have competed fiercely for booming business, safety standards have lagged behind. However, in August 2016, foreign air safety regulators upgraded the country’s rating, ending a nine-year ban on entering Europe and the United States. State-operated Garuda is the most reputable, handling a range of international and domestic flights, as does Air Asia. Airlines providing domestic services include Lion, Merpati and Sriwijaya.
Car-rental agencies abound in tourist hot spots such as Bali, with rates from around Rp250,000–400,000/day. You’ll need to produce an international drivers’ licence before you rent (in some cases these can be purchased for around Rp200,000). Rental motorbikes start at around Rp50,000 per day without insurance.
Conditions are not suitable for inexperienced drivers, with heavy traffic on major routes. Drivers must always carry an international driving licence and the vehicle registration documents.
In cities, colour-coded or numbered minibuses known as angkots (also called bemos, oplets or microlets) run fixed circuits, although routes are often adaptable according to their customers.
Other standbys include ojek, single-passenger motorbikes, and becak, cycle-rickshaws capable of squeezing in two or three passengers. Jakarta also has motorized becak, called bajaj. Negotiating fares for these vehicles requires a balance of firmness and tact. Taxis are generally cheaper than a bajaj, and in most cities use a meter (argo), though bajaj can prove useful when in a hurry during the peak-hour mess.