Jakarta travel guide
Jakarta is not a city that appeals to everyone but many find it an unavoidable stop on the way to more tranquil Indonesian destinations. Jakarta is a decentralized sprawl of low slung buildings and occasional high rise towers; the lack of any real city centre makes it difficult to experience the city's highlights, which are scattered about the enormous districts. Jakarta has a reputation as a rich person's playground and although it is a city of grungy streets and some conspicuous poverty, travellers will also find modern shopping complexes and examples of ostentatious wealth. Visitors can enjoy a bit of this glamour in the garish nightclubs and elegant restaurants.
Travelling far in the city is laborious and adding to the difficulty is heavy traffic and haywire street grids throughout dense and stretching sprawl. Yet despite, or possibly because of, Jakarta's reputation as a difficult city, little visited areas and unique attractions feel like personal discoveries. Jakarta is a melting pot of everything Indonesian, giving visitors a quick introduction or synopsis of the country's various and incredibly diverse cultures, architectures, foods, languages, religions, and combined histories.
Although it can be a dirty and frustrating city to visit, Jakarta has some hidden gems and confronts tourists with the realities of urban Indonesia, providing an interesting contrast to the peaceful rural villages and glorious coastal areas.
Most South East Asian capitals have a backpacker area, and
Jakarta's Jalan Jaksa district is grubbier than most. Plopped in an
unremarkable part of downtown, it is thick with travel agencies,
laundromats, currency exchange offices and guesthouses. A few bars
and live music venues cater to the travel crowd. The cheapest
guesthouses are bare to say the least and it is worth extra money
to rent a nicer room. Jalan Jaksa is a good place to stay if you
want to spend as little as possible on accommodation in Jakarta,
but don't expect to get much real local flavour.
Jalan Jaksa is actually the name of a single street but a wider area around the road has started catering to budget travellers; the street was once frequented by students studying at the Jakarta Law Academy, which is perhaps the origin of the areas youthful vibe. It is a friendly and cheap area good for those travelling on a shoestring who want to save their money for attractions and activities and don't mind simple sleeping arrangements.
Jalan Jaksa hosts a street festival annually to encourage tourism and showcase local traditions, cuisine, dancing and music.
Indonesia Miniature Park/Taman Mini
Indonesia is a vast place and it would take many holidays to
explore the whole archipelago; a trip around Indonesia Miniature
Park is useful and interesting because it offers up samples of the
different cultures and architecture to be found on some of the
islands, including replicas of famous landmarks. Contrary to its
name, the park itself is not small and covers 100 hectares of land;
it includes examples of traditional buildings and cultural
artefacts from all of the 27 provinces that make up Indonesia. The
best examples of these are the architectural structures that are
true to their region's traditional designs.
The park also regularly hosts food sampling, dancing and other cultural performances from each province. For those who like even more exhibit variety the park has a great orchid garden, fauna museum, and bird aviary - useful for those interested in seeing some of the wildlife found around the archipelago. Visitors can get a bird's eye view of the exhibits on the cable car, and there is even an IMAX movie theatre in the grounds.
Attached to Taman Mini is the Museum Indonesia which exhibits both historic and contemporary art collections. Visiting the museum and the park together gives tourists a great overview of the country and it isn't a bad place to start your Indonesian travels if you have some time to spare in Jakarta.
Address: Taman Mini Indonesia Indah Complex
Opening time: 8am to 5pm daily
National Monument of Indonesia
Visitors will inevitably be pulled to the National Monument
(MONAS) to inspect the enormous obelisk that can be seen from much
of the city. The first president, Sukarno, began to build the
structure as a symbol of nationalism complete with an impressive
weight of gold shaped into the tip's flames. For visitors it serves
as a great landmark in an otherwise confusing city centre. Elevator
rides to the top are available, providing a bird's eye view of the
city. The monument and surrounding park are open to the public and
there is a museum to visit which documents the Indonesian fight for
freedom and independence; there is also a hall of mediation at the
People often gather in the monument grounds at night and it is a popular meeting place for locals and tourists. The grounds are big and there is plenty of room for picnics and social gatherings - on weekends the park can get quite full. Although it is the city's main landmark, and a pleasant place for a stroll, the National Monument has little to offer except the views from the top and the small museum; however, it is still true that a visit to Jakarta would seem incomplete without seeing MONAS, and as it is situated near many other attractions you are unlikely to get through the city without stumbling across it.
Address: Lapangan Merdeka, Monas, Gambir
Opening time: 8.30am to 5pm daily, closed last Monday of every month
Kota, also called Old Batavia or Old Town Jakarta, is the only
surviving piece of the Dutch colonial district. The Dutch had their
Indonesian heyday in the 16th century and at this stage Jakarta was
at the centre of Asia's trade with the West. Today many of the
area's colonial buildings are falling into disrepair but the
central cobblestone square, Taman Fatahillah, still invites
visitors to imagine life in the 16th century, when there was little
outside the colonial fortifications of Kota except orchards and
rice fields. The area is open to roam about in and there is no
admission charge or distinct boundary to delineate the old
district. Although information on what you are seeing is
non-existent and landmark attractions are lacking, exploring Kota
still allows a rare glimpse into the city's history which is mostly
swallowed by new development elsewhere.
A few somewhat dilapidated but still interesting landmarks in the area include the Luar Batang Mosque, the Maritime Museum, the Jakarta History Museum (housed in the former City Hall building), the Jin De Yuan Temple, and Sunda Kelapa Harbour. The area is set pleasantly on the waterfront and gives a quiet and cool reprieve from the bustle of Jakarta's inner city. There are plans to rejuvenate this historic area and some of the roads around the square have been pedestrianised as a first step in this process.
Address: Kota Fatahillah Square
Opening time: Daily
Like everything else in this sprawling city, eating out in Jakarta can be chaotic but rewarding. The city is a melting pot for the various distinct cuisines of the Indonesian archipelago and a great place to sample the country's many traditional dishes. In addition to this disorientating surplus of local flavour, Jakarta has international cuisines aplenty, with particularly excellent Chinese and Japanese food on offer. There are many restaurants in Jakarta serving international staples and although the city struggles with poverty it is also known to be a playground for the wealthy, with many upmarket restaurants and hotels to enjoy.
If you are looking for quality international cuisine then the posh residential areas of Kemang and Menteng are a good place to start. The Golden Triangle area is frequented by business people and also has some wonderful restaurants catering to expats and tourists.
If you're eating on a budget then Jakarta's thousands of inescapable food stalls will be a treat: the city is known to have tasty street food. The food stalls (warung) come in many different shapes and sizes and it is easy to pick out the vendors with better quality. Be sure to eat food which has been thoroughly cooked and is still hot to reduce your chances of ingesting something harmful. If you aren't adventurous enough to sample the street vendor's grub then check out the enormous food courts in Jakarta's malls to find plentiful and inexpensive food.
Note that alcohol in Jakarta can be expensive as alcohol is heavily taxed in Indonesia; you may find that your drinks become more expensive than your food!
For those that want to know what it tasted like in the Dutch colonial days of Jakarta, head to Kembang Goela. This top rated restaurant blends the unlikely but surprisingly great culinary tastes of traditional Dutch cooking and Indonesian ingredients. The decoration and unique service complete the colonial feel. This can be a great introduction to Indonesian food for visitors hesitant to eat local cuisine.
Address: Plaza Sentral Jl. Jend. Sudirman Kav. 47-48;
Huize Trivelli Heritage Resto & Patisserie
Huize Trivelli Heritage Resto & Patisserie gives visitors a feeling of being an invited dinner guest of wealthy colonial era Javanese. This cosy restaurant is decorated in classic and ornate detail and the food is equally devoted to specifics. This family-run restaurant serves up traditional cuisine inspired by recipes handed down through its generations.
Address: Jalan Tanah Abang Dua108; Website: www.huize-trivelli.com
Located in the historic Fatahillah square, Cafe Batavia serves a clientèle of celebrities, royalty and the curious. Adding to its historic theme, the restaurant is drenched in old photographs of past dignitaries, movie stars and royalty. The cafe is well suited for events from weddings to business meetings although anyone is welcome to enjoy its cocktail bar and dining menu. It has been rated as one of the top bars in the world in international magazines.
Address: Fatahillah Square; Website: www.cafebatavia.com
Soekarno-Hatta Jakarta International Airport
Location: The airport is situated 12 miles (20km) northwest of Jakarta.
Time: Local time is GMT +7.
Contacts: +62 (0)21 550 5079
Transfer between terminals: A free bus connects the terminals.
Getting to the city: Shuttle buses run hourly to the city centre and various other destinations in and around Jakarta until about 11pm. The bus that terminates at Gambir Station passes through the city centre. Taxis are metered and will be more expensive as a single traveller, but about the same price if you are sharing with three or four people; note that road tolls may be added to the fare.
Car rental: Avis, Hertz and Europcar are represented at the airport, along with a number of local car rental companies.
Airport Taxis: Official taxi booths are located in the arrival terminal, where a host of unofficial taxi drivers also vie for business with varying prices. Depending on traffic, the 12-mile (20km) trip to the city centre will take between 30 and 45 minutes, but can be as long as an hour and a half if traffic is bad.
Facilities: Facilities are limited but the airport is clean and the staff are friendly and efficient. There are shops, banks, bars and restaurants, and tourist information and hotel reservations at the airport. There are facilities for disabled travellers; passengers with special needs are advised to inform their airline in advance.
Parking: There are more than 2,000 parking bays at the airport, all within easy access of the terminals. Short and long stays available.
Departure tax: IDR 150,000 (international), IDR 40,000 (domestic)
Travel across Jakarta often requires a combination of many forms of transport. Commonly used is the Transjakarta, a modern bus system that is allocated special street lanes to circumnavigate the often hectic traffic in the city centre. These buses are cheap and plentiful although going long distances can become confusing when transferring. Other bus lines are more crowded and less safe and do not run on a fixed schedule.
Taxis are abundant but can be expensive for longer rides. Blue Bird taxis are the most trusted, although there are many impostors with questionable reputations. Many narrow street lanes are better suited for ojeks, also known as motorbike taxis. Also popular for shorter trips are three-wheeled vehicles known as bajaj. Be sure to bargain with both ojek and bajaj drivers before accepting rides.
Jakarta is a difficult city to navigate through and unfortunately, as it lacks a coherent city centre, attractions are spread quite far apart. For this reason walking is not really an option when sightseeing. Crime is also a problem and if you are walking from place to place you should be conscious of your possessions and ensure that they are difficult to access for pickpockets. It is best to leave valuables in hotel safes when possible.
The climate in Jakarta is a tropical monsoon climate, which is hot and humid with year-round rainfall. There is little fluctuation in temperature throughout the year: in summer (June to September) temperatures average around 82°F (28°C), while winter (December to February) has an average of 80°F (26°C). The wet season officially runs from November to June, while July to September is the driest and is considered the best time to visit Jakarta.
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