Angloinfo Text_Getting Around and Transport in Indonesia


Getting Around and Transport in Indonesia

What makes a Savvy Indonesian Traveler

Travel in Indonesia is simultaneously difficult, exhilarating, dangerous, and satisfying.  Much of the satisfaction comes from the country’s great beauty and the feeling of accomplishment of reaching remote areas that have just recently been made open to outsiders. 

The geography of the country makes travel difficult and time consuming on its own account.  The seas are boundless, the currents strong, the islands often mountainous and densely covered in rainforest.  The high frequency of earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruption, and tsunamis that occur in Indonesia make the country one of the most disaster prone places on earth.  No surprise that the archipelago is called “The Ring of Fire”.

That the country is relatively young with an infrastructure fragile and under-developed compounds things.  It is no secret that Indonesia’s travel sector is not considered safe.  After several years of total blacklist, for example, the European Union just recently lifted the ban on Indonesian airlines serving the EU by allowing Garuda Air to establish some routes direct from Indonesia.  Indonesia’s remaining fifty-plus airlines are still blacklisted.

Adding to the several passenger jet air crashes, a number of train and passenger ship accidents over the past few years continue to reinforce the world’s perception that Indonesia is incapable or unwilling to improve upon their safety record. 

The savvy traveler can move around and see Indonesia with relative safety despite all this.  This breed of traveler does their homework before embarking on any style and class of travel in the archipelago.  Tourists who are coming for the first time are prone to attempt to see too much in a short amount of time.  Due to the time consuming nature of travel and the frequent delays and postponements that come with travel of any kind in the country, it is best to take things slow and easy, and limit one’s itinerary.  Being informed and patient will help maximize the special enjoyment that can be had in traveling the archipelago.

Peak Time Travel

There are certain time of year when traveling in Indonesia is particularly challenging.  Religious holidays in particular make travel difficult due to the high volume of Indonesians who create what can only be called mass migrations across the country.  The beginning and end of Ramadan are two such times.  Christmas holiday which spans mid-December to mid-January is another.  Schools let out in July for two or three weeks, and the ranks of domestic travelers peak accordingly.

Modes of transportation covered are Buses, Trains, Ships, and Planes.

City bus service

Indonesia’s largest cities offer street bus service, but for the most part, they are not user- friendly for first timers.  Foreign residents have the advantage of experience, but tourists passing through will have to brave many unknowns.  Finding printed information as to bus routes, schedules, and addresses of bus terminals is difficult if they exist at all.  Signed bus stops do exist, but don’t expect proper bus stops to have any posted information as to route name or number.  In practice, buses will stop just about anywhere they want.  You can station yourself in a reasonably safe stretch of road along the known route and wave down the driver.   Chances are they will stop.
Bus routes are set, but there is no schedule.  The buses simply circulate around continuously. A bus’ number and destination should be posted on the front and back of the bus. Knowing some basic Bahasa Indonesia is very helpful as most locals will try and answer any question you might have about the bus system.
When boarding a city bus, you don’t pay the driver.  Once seated, a tariff collector circulates and takes your fare.  Fare amounts are set but rarely posted.  Foreigners are often gouged for double or more the going rate, especially if it is a long bus ride.  The best protection is to know the fare ahead of time, and remaining firm in offering only to pay that much.  Always carry small bills, as you won’t be given change for larger denominations.

Public buses in giant metropoles like Jakarta are home to violent crime as well. Robberies and assaults are not uncommon.  Beggars and vendors circulate through at every stop. Given other forms of safer, more private transportation are available, many foreign residents steer clear of public buses and choose other transportation.  City buses are often poorly maintained and commonly break down, too.  Exhaust leaks that pollute the bus interior are common and can make easily cause discomfort and sickness.  

Airport Shuttles

Specialized bus services tend to offer safer, more comfortable, and more reliable transportation.  The government-owned PPD and Damri bus companies, for example, shuttle passengers back and forth from downtown Jakarta to the Soekarno-Hatta airport.  Their quality is on par with bus fleets common to developed countries.

Government owned Damri buses offer comparatively high quality, comfort, and safety.  They can be found in the following locales:


Inter-City Bus Service

General Observations

Absence of Schedules

The absence of scheduled bus departures and arrivals is hard to become accustomed to for travelers new to Indonesia.  As mentioned, routes are set, but schedules aren’t.  For shorter distances traveled between cities or villages, early morning to noon is the best time to arrive at the bus terminal as the frequency of departures is high.  For busy, shorter routes, the wait for departures prior to noon should be less than an hour.  Frequency of available buses for any destination steadily decline in the afternoon, and often fade to nothing by sunset. 

Longer, cross-island routes such as travel from Denpasar, Bali to Yogyakarta are different.  Higher quality buses are often used for longer trips, and are operated by companies which sometimes require passengers make prior reservations and purchase tickets at their offices a day or two before departure.  The offices are sometimes located in out-of-the-way places, and can be difficult to locate. Other times you can simply buy the tickets at the terminal with no reservations.


For inter-city or village travel, if you are carrying a small backpack or knap sack that you can carry on your lap or stuff under the seat, you can bring on-board carry-ons.  But you may be coerced into having larger baggage stowed outside of the bus.  Many Indonesian bus travelers carry large and bulky baggage with them on bus trips.  Stowage under the passenger compartment fills up quickly.  Because of this, baggage is routinely tied to the top of the bus. Your baggage can get mixed into a sundry group and can be hard to visually locate.  Baggage sometimes falls off during transit or is stolen while you sit inside and the bus is stationery at the station or rest stop.  This is not a common occurrence, but you need to be vigilant about your baggage, and make your presence known to the baggage handlers.
Catching a Bus Out of Town
Inter-city buses almost always use a terminal for departures and arrivals.  Terminals in Indonesia often serve not only bus lines, but local transport as well, so many are swarming with vehicles, people, and activity.  For overland travel, a large portion of the population use buses, so terminals are found in almost every population center, including small villages.  Some terminals are easy to locate and reach as they are close to downtown, while others are located on the peripheries.   Each terminal serves as departure points for different outlying destinations.  You have to find out which terminal serves your need, and if you take public transport to reach that terminal, which route to take.
Questioning locals is helpful, but if there is a language barrier, updated travel guides are most reliable.  Individual country guides usually provide complete outlines of inter-city bus terminals and the destinations served. 
Longer Trips
Travelers have the option to make long, multi-day bus trips across islands such as Sumatera, Java, and Sulawesi.   The trips are very long and often uncomfortable.  The advantage is one can see the countryside and stop-over in just about any place they’d like for however long they’d like. Travelers can also take bus trips that span two islands or more, and include one or more ferry crossings. Bus fares are relatively cheap, and for comfort’s sake it is worth paying more for a better class of bus travel if it is available. 
Inter-city bus travel, especially for long overnight travel, is usually served by larger, more modern buses.  There are three classes: economy, executive, and VIP.   Sometimes only the top two classes are available. The difference between executive and VIP is primarily leg room.  Both have air conditioning, but VIP provides seats that recline into makeshift beds.  Sometimes the AC is frigid, and though you’re traveling in the tropics, having a sweat shirt handy makes the difference between getting some sleep or none. Don’t expect these buses to have an onboard toilet.  These buses will stop regularly every few hours for food and rest.  Otherwise if there is an emergency, you will have to ask the driver to stop alongside the road.  
Shorter Trips
Routes of eight hours or less are usually plied by smaller buses that hold 20 to 30 passengers in cramped conditions.  These buses are designed for the average Indonesian who is substantially shorter and lighter than most of the country’s foreign visitors.  The legroom can be a very tight squeeze, and for people who reach heights of 200 cm, such travel could not be recommended.  Though Indonesia recently put a ban on smoking in public transportation, it is rarely enforced.  These buses have no toilets either, but like the longer runs, make regular food and rest stops at predetermined places along the route.
There might be two, three, or even ten routes a day a small bus will run, but they don’t follow a schedule.  You show up at the terminal, board the bus, and once the bus is full to the satisfaction of the driver, it will finally depart.
If you are desperate to get somewhere and can’t bear the wait, your option is to buy the bus’ empty seats.  This is commonly done by tourists in remote areas where the wait can be hours, and if a quota of seats doesn’t fill, the bus driver will cancel the trip.
Taxis are ubiquitous and relatively cheap in Jakarta.  Many foreign travelers rely exclusively on taxi service while in the city.  Be sure to choose a taxi that carries a meter.  Blue Bird taxi service is reputable as found all over Indonesia.
Miscellaneous Street Transportation
Following is a list of two, three, and four wheeled transport found specifically in Jakarta in and variation across Indonesia:


Trains & Railways

During colonial times in the late 19th century, the Dutch started railway construction across Java followed by specific lines linking a couple of major cities in Sumatera.  Since the completion of those projects, the Indonesians have not expanded the system.  There exists no passenger rail service in Indonesia outside of these two islands.

The country’s only complete trans-island railway system is found on Java, and spans the full length of the island, from Jakarta in the west to port town of Banyuwangi located on the eastern coastal straight between Java and Bali.  

Unlike the bus system, the trains do attempt keeping to a schedule.  Train stations are usually centrally located in the towns where they exist, are easily accessed, and have ticket offices which allow travelers to research schedules, fares, destinations, classes of travel, and pay for tickets after making reservations.  Reservations can be made up to a month in advance and are held in computer data bases.

The Benefits of Traveling Across Java by Train

There are many branches to the railway system as it crosses Java, and sometimes several ways to get from point A to point B.   As routing is flexible, train travel will suit the traveler who wants to stop over in many parts of Java while moving east-to-west or conversely.  Usually ticket offices can help sort out the best route structure if several connections are needed.  The major train stations in places like Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta, and Surabaya will have all the information needed, and much of it is posted on large billboards.

Classes of Train Travel
There are three classes to Indonesian train travel.  The cheapest is economi, and no reservations are required.  Economi (economy) is often oversold.  During holiday seasons, passengers are crammed into until people hanging onto exterior hand rails while standing outside of the train on the stairs of the entrance.  Those who can’t find a seat or don’t have the money simply climb on top of the economy cars.  Vendors and beggars manage to find their way onboard.
Business (bisnis) and executive (eksecutif) classes are comparable, the main difference being the latter has air conditioning.  Seats must be reserved and purchased ahead of time at a railway office. 
Names instead of numbers are usually used to identify trains.  For example, the executive trains include Argo in their name.
The six major Jakarta train stations are:  Gambir, Jakarta Kota, Jatinegara, Stasiun Sudirman, Pasar Senen, and Stasiun Kramat.  Like bus terminals, each serves distinct routes and destinations, though there may be some overlap. Gambir and Jarakta Kota are the biggest stations.  Gambir offers express trains with west-to-east destinations Bogor, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Solo, Semarang, and Surabaya.


The only cities linked by rail in Sumatera are:

Inter-Island Ship Passage
An alternative, more poetic name for Indonesia is Tanah Air, or simply Land & Water.  If any country on earth can make the geographical claim of being a maritime nation, it would be Indonesia.  With over 17,000 islands, Indonesian creates the world’s largest archipelago.  The political, religious, cultural, and economic connections between its diverse regions and peoples have been maintained for centuries primarily by ships and shipping.  Still, today, some fifty years after the advent of jet travel, ships provide the vital transportation links for most Indonesians.
Privately owned passenger ships
Indonesia has countless port towns, and a seemingly limitless numbers of harbors.  Some ports even have multiple harbors.  Each harbor that offers passage to other islands is served by an array of maritime vessels.  Most are either traditional wooden boats made by local boat builders or second hand iron vessels bought from overseas companies unloading their old fleet.
Almost all of these vessels are privately owned.  Owners often don’t keep maintenance schedules. Enforcing safety regulations is the responsibility of the harbor, with oversight given to government inspectors.  Despite the laws and enforcement personnel, the reality is that safety rarely comes first.  Ships routinely overbook passage, especially during national and religious holidays.  Periodic checks of a passenger ship’s seaworthiness are often overlooked. Many of these ships are old, rusted, and are in need of repair.
The seas of Indonesia are comparatively tame as compared to places like the North Atlantic. Because of this, ships in ill-repair are often able to slide through passage without a problem. When storms strike, though, many such ships are far less than safe.
Despite the safety alert, it must be said that ship travel can be the most enjoyable way of travel Indonesia has to offer.  Much of this is due to the great beauty of Tanah Air.
For longer voyages, iron vessels make up the bulk of Indonesia’s larger-sized passenger boat fleet. They usually have three decks and can legally carry somewhere around seven hundred people. The top deck offers semi-private cabins.  The lower decks are barracks-style; long rows of non-partitioned, double-tier bunks that hold hundreds of people and their baggage.
Boarding and disembarking a typical passenger ship can require good balance and agility.  Commonly the long, steep wooden gangplanks are very narrow and carry two-way traffic.  Many gang planks have no hand rails and bounce with the weight of scores of people trammeling across them. Porters crowd and push in efforts to carry passenger’s baggage or bundles of consigned cargo.  Add to this the crowds of passengers simultaneously embarking and disembarking.
Small portions of food will usually be served three times a day if the voyage is twenty-four hours in length.  Some food consignments sell snacks on board, but it is usually best to buy food and water before boarding.  Another option is to patronize the vendors who crowd the decks peddling food before departure.
Tickets customarily must be booked in advance through a ticket office often located in or nearby the harbor.  Unless it is a peak travel time, tickets are usually available up to and including the day of departure.  But cabin accommodations sell out quickly, and should be booked in advance if possible.
It is important to remember that these shipping companies are privately owned and all conduct business slightly differently.  
If you have health problems that might require quick hospital access, travel by ship in Indonesia might not be appropriate for you.  Once out at sea, these show moving vessels are far from any emergency response.  Cell phones are usually out of range within an hour out of any port.
Pelni- Indonesia’s National Shipping Company
Pelni lines are state owned and operated.  As is their mandate, their extensive sea routes cover the entire archipelago- east-to-west; north-to-south.  Each ship completes a circuit of several ports of call over a two week period.  At the end of the two weeks the Pelni makes port at their original port of departure, and the circuit starts all over again. The ships are massive German made vessels, and routinely carry five thousand passengers.  Animals and cargo are added to the load. Accommodations come in six classes, and in order to book a higher class cabin, reservations usually must be made considerably ahead of time. 
Ticket prices dictate the quality of your accommodations. The best accommodations feature a private room for two with its own bathroom and shower. If you buy a ticket at the last minute, you most likely will end up in one of the two or three lower economy decks.  Sanitation is often poor as the communal bathrooms often flood.  The food is also low quality. If the boat is oversold, you might find yourself allowed on board, but without access to a bunk or bed.  Many passengers end up sleeping on deck.
All this can be avoided by making sure to book passage well ahead of time.  There are scores of Pelni offices across Indonesia.  Reservations should be made only through an authorized Pelni office, and in person.  See their website for more information including a complete list of Pelni ticket offices.
Pelni offers services that are rarely found in Indonesian ship travel.  They have a resident doctor on board for one, and also have a cinema.
Pelni ships are extremely slow moving.  Many passengers booking long voyages spend several days on board.  Make sure you double check the length of time involved in your passage.

Car and Passenger Ferries
Some ports offer ferry service for cars, trucks, and buses.  They will also take on passengers, but sleeping accommodations are rarely available.  Those who board with a vehicle sleep in their vehicle.  Otherwise you simply have to stretch out on what deck space is provided.   Passengers should make sure to buy their own food and water before boarding.  What food and water is available depends on whether there is a concession onboard.  Rarely will it be provided as part of passage.
For those ports who do provide ferry service, tickets can usually be purchased at one of the offices in the harbor complex. 

Air Travel
For traveling both short and long distances, air travel in Indonesia is by far the safest, easiest, and quickest mode of travel the country has to offer.  Airports are often easy to access, small, and the check-in process is on balance more hassle-free than most of their western or eastern counterparts.

Purchasing domestic tickets can be done either at the airport, at private travel agencies, or from airline offices located outside the airport.  As is common worldwide, purchasing international flights in and out of Indonesia can conveniently and safely be done online and paid for electronically. 

On the other hand, domestic flights should be purchased in Indonesia directly, and paid for in cash.  Purchasing domestic tickets can be done either at the airport, at private travel agencies, or from airline offices located outside the airport.  If you are doing so from outside the country, ordering tickets from an Indonesian ticket agency can be problematic.  Most Indonesian travel agencies don’t take credit cards and usually require an electronic bank transfer for payment.  Tickets are faxed and sometimes give the appearance of not being official.  The process often requires the ability to read, write, and speak Indonesian, too.  If you wish to cancel a flight, processing a reimbursement can also be very difficult if done from outside the country. 

Until very recently, no Indonesian airline offered online, electronic ticketing. There are a handful of new online, third party ticketing outlets that broker tickets for several Indonesian airlines.  Transactions may or may not be secure, but reimbursement policies are a liability for consumers.  Until further notice, it is simply a good rule of thumb to reserve and purchase any domestic flight while in Indonesia itself.

The big exception to these caveats is Garuda Airlines, which now has an excellent website where tickets can be purchased with assurance and ease.

Flights are often cancelled or delayed in Indonesia, especially those serving remote areas.  In some cases, there are no other flight alternatives, and you will be forced to find another mode of transport.  This can upset your traveling itinerary, so if you plan on visiting a remote place, have a contingent travel plan in place.  Make generous allowance of time for any kind of remote travel, whatever the mode of transport.

There are many international gateway airports into Indonesia.  The three biggest are Jakarta’s CGK (Soekarno-Hatta); Bali’s DPS (Ngurah Rai in Denpasar); and Makassar’s UPG (Sultan Hasanuddin).  CGK & DPS are served by the most international connections. See a complete airport list below.

Indonesia has over fifty airlines, most of them small carriers that service limited areas.  The major domestic airlines that serve the greatest part of the archipelago with headquarters in Jakarta are:

Batavia Air (3840888;, in Indonesian only; Jl Ir H Juanda 15)
Garuda  (2311801, 1807807;; Garuda Bldg, Jl Merdeka Selatan 13)
Lion Air (6326039;; Jl Gajah Mada 7)
Mandala (3144838;; Jl Wahid Hasyim 84-88)
Merpati Nusantara Airlines (6548888;; Jl Angkasa Blok B/15 Kav 2-3, Kemayoran)
Sriwijaya Airlines (6405566;;Jl Gunung Sahari)
NOTE:  to all phone numbers given above, add Jakarta’s prefix: 021.
Of these, Garuda is considered the country’s flagship carrier.  You pay a premium, and in return fly on Indonesia’s safest airline, enjoy the best food, and have the most comfortable seating.  Lion Air might well be Indonesia’s busiest airline.  It offers the most flights to the most places for the most reasonable cost.  They make their money on volume.
Domestic Flights
Check-in for domestic flights is recommended to be two hours before departure. In larger airports, passengers usually must produce their ticket before being allowed into the terminal.  After a security check, you proceed to the check-in counter.  Along with your ticket be prepared to show your passport, but often times agents don’t ask for it. You can request a specific kind of seating and if available, airlines will almost always oblige your wishes.  Baggage for domestic flights is usually limited to two pieces weighing no more than twenty kilos.  If baggage is over the limit you will have to pay extra. Two carry-ons are usually allowed.  After check-in, you must pay an airport tax that amounts to a couple of Euros.  Boarding sometimes takes place on the tarmac, so be prepared to climb the old-fashioned mobile boarding staircases.
International Flights
Be aware that airport tax for international flights is Rph. 100,000-150,000.  Make sure you are carrying enough extra rupiah in order to pay this tax or a possible overstay of your VISA.  VISA overstay fees are Rph. 200,000 per day, up to 60 days in duration. You will not be able to leave the country until all airport taxes and immigration fines are made good.
Transportation Connections
Jakarta’s international airport (CGK/Soekarno-Hatta) has three main terminals.  Free airport shuttles connect the terminals.  Shuttle buses traveling into downtown Jakarta, a trip of nearly one hour, leave regularly.  Taxis are in great abundance.  If you take a taxi, make sure it has a meter.  Fares do not include the three expressway tolls that must be paid separately.
Bali’s Ngurah Rai (DPS) is located within ten minutes taxi ride of famous tourist destination, Kuta Beach.  The best form of transportation to and from the airport is by taxi.  (Public transportation is poorly developed and organized in Bali)  After collecting baggage, exit the terminal and find the taxi concession along the walkway outside.  Request a destination and pay the fixed fee.
Lost or Damaged Luggage
In Indonesia’s larger airports, all the major airlines have lost luggage claim offices.  Lost and misplaced baggage is a fact of life and some airlines are more culpable than others in this regard.  It is not uncommon to have to wait a few days for luggage to be returned.  File a claim in the office and make sure you get a signed claim receipt and office phone number.  If you are in a smaller airport, there should be an agent or office representing your airline.  Agents make be located in the airport complex or in the airline’s office in the neighboring town.

Further Information
Passenger Trains
Trans-Java Railway System: 

List of Indonesian Airports

Airport Guides
Ngurah Rai International Airport, Denpasar, Bali
Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, Jakarta
Hassanuddin International Airport, Makassar, South Sulawesi

List of Indonesian Airlines

Pelni Shipping Schedules



PELNI:  Denpasar (Benoa Harbor).  Service once every fortnight

Other Ferries:  Benoa Harbor
Destinations: Bima, Sumbawa; Gili Meno, Lombok; Kupang, Timor; Lembar, Lombok; Maumere, Flores; Surabaya, Jawa; Senggigi, Lombok; Waingapu, Sumba)
Other Harbors in Bali: Gilimanuk (harbor with ferry to East Java); Jungutbatu (Nusa Lembongan), Kusamba, Padang Bai, Sampalan (Nusa Penida), Sanur, Toyapakeh (Nusa Penida)

ASDP Ferries