A sprawling archipelago with five main islands and 17,000+ other smaller ones, many times the most effective and time-efficient way to travel within the country is via domestic flight. Most bigger cities like Bali, Lombok, Jakarta, Surabaya, Yogyakarta, and more, have their own international airports while smaller towns may only operate domestic flights. Either way, you can conveniently navigate through most of Indonesia’s many islands and cities by plane.
Most cities in Indonesia have inter-city bus operators that employ short and long-distance travel buses daily. If you want to take your time traveling through cities and islands in Indonesia, getting around by bus may be more cost-effective depending on the destination. The journey can be long and tedious depending on your travel plans and the distance of your destination, but you can enjoy the marvelous views of nature and towns along the way.
Local tip: There may be more than one bus operator running a similar route, and usually they come with different quality and prices. Make sure to understand your options before choosing one.
Indonesia runs a pretty reliable railway service that goes across Java and Sumatra. You can count on the train line to travel short trips like Jakarta-Bandung and longer distances such as Jakarta-Yogyakarta. There are several options for class of travel, from economy to executive class. If you don’t mind paying more, the executive class offers a much more convenient travel especially for longer distances, although even the economy class is now air-conditioned, only with less personal space for seating.
Local tip: It’s always best to book your tickets online beforehand as seats can be sold out pretty quickly way before the date of travel, especially during the holidays, where people are moving around and the train operators often offer various promotion programs.
Ferry and boats
Being the planet’s largest archipelago, sea travel is a real necessity when traveling or living in Indonesia. People move around from one island to another, big or small, with the help of boat operators. The state-run ferry operator is quite reliable, although sadly many companies still employ old and dingy boats.
Local tip: Don’t rely on the food and service in ferries. If you’re embarking on a longer trip, you may want to bring your own food or snacks, as the small food corner in most ferries may not serve decent food or overcharge you for mediocre meals.
Minivan bus or angkot run through most Indonesian cities and towns, big or small. These are non-air conditioned minivans crafted to fit up to 12 people per vehicle. And while these may not be the most comfortable way to travel the town, fares are cheap and you can conveniently hail or tell the driver to stop anywhere you want within the route, as there are no designated stops for this transportation. Just yell ‘kiri’ (kee-ree) or simply say ‘stop’ wherever and the driver will drop you off.
Local tip: Drivers may wait for the entire car to be filled, and this can take a while. If you hate to wait, board the car that is already filled instead of the empty ones.
Online ride-hailing services can only get you so far but it’s still one of the most hassle-free ways to go places, especially when you don’t know your way around. Go-Jek, the local ride-hailing app, and Grab, which had acquired Uber operations throughout Southeast Asia, are two of the most used and reliable travel apps to use while traveling in Indonesia.
Local tips: If you’re in a bit of a hurry and don’t mind the tropical heat, or if you’re down to new local experiences, try riding the motorbike taxi (ojek), also available via said travel apps. This option is often more popular among locals as it gets you around faster, especially through busy traffic, and it’s definitely cheaper.