Jakarta, Indonesia

Like its namesake, ‘the Big Durian’, Jakarta is larger than you’d think, pungently aromatic, and, once you’ve got used to its dramatic flavour, unexpectedly addictive. Known as Batavia under Dutch colonial rule, Indonesia’s capital retains architectural traces of its history as the administrative centre of the East Indies and culinary relics abound in its cafés and restaurants. Today, however, Jakarta is vigorously modern outpost with a thrumming nightlife, a robust shopping scene and an eye for art and design. Located on the north coast of Java, this non-stop traffic-clogged city makes a striking contrast to the rugged tropicana of the rest of the island.

When to go

Thanks to the Indonesian archipelago’s equatorial position, Jakarta is hot and humid all year round, although the November to April is the wettest period (January especially). For a drier visit, go between June and September.

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Getting there

  • Planes

    International and domestic flights, including Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and Emirates touch down in Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. Metered taxis readily available for the 12-mile drive to the city, with an additional Rp 3, 000 airport surcharge and Rp 8, 000 road toll. On the subject of charges, it’s worth remembering that the departure tax (Rp 30, 000 for domestic and Rp 100, 000 international) has to be paid in cash.
  • Trains

    While the city doesn’t have an internal subway system, Kota, Gambir and Jatinegara train stations, located within Central Jakarta, provide connections within Java to destinations such as Yogyakarta and Semarang.
  • Automobiles

    Indonesia’s drivers often play fast and loose with the rules of the (frequently treacherous) roads, so hiring a chauffeured car is often the safest bet. The Blue Bird group, which runs the city’s most reliable and extensive network of taxis, offers limo rentals on an hourly or daily rate, with or without a driver (www.bluebirdgroup.com). Jakarta is notoriously congested, and there’s a three-person minimum requirement for cars on certain roads at peak times to minimise this.
  • Taxis

    Stick to the Blue Bird taxis, distinguishable by the blue paintwork and bird logo. Major shopping centres and buildings all have ranks, and flagging one down on a main road rarely poses a problem. They’re surprisingly affordable too – it’s the traffic that’s the turn-off.

Indonesian paradise stays

Indonesian paradise stays

Hidden in the heart of beachside Seminyak, The Amala’s a holistic retreat of sleek thatched-roof pads, plunge pools and herb-infused showers. Balis’ finest wellness gurus are at hand to soothe and restore with yoga and water Pilates.

Ubud Hanging Gardens’ villas, spectacular infinity pool and Balinese spa hug the steep hillsides of the Ayung River. Thankfully, there’s a funicular for those after a truly languid retreat.

Ringed by eight cloud-shrouded volcanoes and lush jungle foliage, MesaStila’s antique-filled villas are set in hectares of lovingly tended gardens. Watch the sunrise at Borobudur before indulging in an authentic hammam and coffee-infused spa therapies.

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Eat in Indonesia

Eat in Indonesia

Fried, grilled, boiled or steamed: Indonesia’s food is rich, subtly spiced and delicately fragranced. Food carts gather at street corners, peddling moreish crispy chicken, hearty bakso meatball soup and all manners of nasi (rice) and mie (noodles). Bali’s a tempeh-and-tofu haven for detox junkies, but also offers star-worthy dining and masterful fusion dishes. Métis’ foie gras and sweet soufflé menus bookend memorable meals; call ahead for a paddy-field perch and a taste of Bebek Bengil’s smoked duck (+62 (0)361 975489). Don’t leave the island without sampling its two meatiest finger-licking roadside eats: Ibu Oka’s lemongrass-stuffed suckling pig (+62 (0)361 976435) and Naughty Nuri’s coal-grilled ribs, washed down with as many dirty martinis as required (+62 (0)361 977547).

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Asian diversions

Asian diversions

Borrow a sarong and sash to gawp at sea-perched temple Pura Tanah Lot, or climb Borobudur’s nine platforms to its majestic crown of stupas. Uluwatu’s clifftop temple is an atmospheric sunset setting for the percussive kecak monkey dance; for a closer encounter with scrabbly-pawed macaques, stroll through Ubud’s Monkey Forest and keep a sharp eye on your belongings. The islands are peppered with active volcanoes, surfing waves, trekking jungles and diving sites teeming with everything from whale sharks to pygmy seahorses. When you tire of all the adrenalin-seeking, surrender to the siren call of Indonesia’s divine spas, where you’ll be poulticed and pampered to a blissful state.

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Indonesian inspiration

Indonesian inspiration

Mount Agung’s lunar landscape, the white waters of the Ayung river, Lovina’s black-sand beaches, rugged Ahmed’s snorkelling hostpots: there’s more to Bali than endless paddy fields, surfing beaches and designer boutiques, and much much more to sprawling Indonesia than this breeze-blessed island of gods. Dizzying Jakarta is the vigorously modern hub for committed shoppers and dyed-in-the-silk party people, and the jumping-off point for the archipelago’s true wonders: untamed Sumatra, mystic Yogykarta and the deep, clear diving waters from Komodo to Sulawesi.

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