Indonesia’s enormous capital, the densely populated urban jungle of Jakarta is not your typical tourist hotspot. But somehow this sprawling city still manages to draw hoards of visitors every year who come for the rich culture, alluring nightlife, intoxicating atmosphere and the most agreeable citizens you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting.
Located on the northwest coast of the island of Java, Jakarta is the epicentre of Indonesian politics and commerce, not to mention an engaging cultural melting pot. A city that’s developing at an astonishing rate, Jakarta boasts dynamism, diversity and ambiance in abundance.
Once the bustling hub of Dutch colonial Indonesia, the opulence of the old town of Batavia has all but disappeared. The area, which is now known as Kota, is home to the traditional cobblestoned square of Taman Fatahillah. Some of the ancient buildings have been restored, but many have been left to crumble away, giving the square an air of raw authenticity. The square plays host to several of the city’s largest museums, the most notable being the Jakarta History Museum.
After you’ve explored, head south to Merdeka Square, which is home to the National Monument. Standing 132 metres tall and intended to rival the Eiffel Tower, the monument represents the Indonesian struggle for independence and the spirit of its people.
To experience Jakarta’s rich culture and heritage in one space, head to the far southeast of the city to Taman Mini Indonesia Indah. Set across 250 acres and dubbed a ‘whole country in one park’, Taman Mini Indonesia Indah is home to full-scale traditional houses, which represent each of Indonesia’s provinces. Immerse yourself in the country’s diverse culture and catch a rewarding glimpse into Indonesian tradition and heritage.
Eat and Drink
Indonesian food is fast emerging on the international culinary scene as a popular alternative to its traditional Southeast Asian rivals: Thai and Vietnamese. Head to the district of Mangga Besar for authentic street food served up in spades, or make a beeline for the nightly food market in Menteng. Considered the city’s modern national dish, fragrant peanut satay is widely available in Jakarta from restaurants and street vendors alike.
Be sure to try bebek goreng (fried duck), a popular Indonesian dish traditionally served with rice and eaten with the hands. Choose from a range of gorengan (deep fried bites) from the vast array of street vendors for an on-the-go snack. For bars and nightlife, the Senayan area in South Jakarta offers energetic Western-style clubs, while Jalan Jaksa is a popular backpacker hangout.
Where to Stay
Central Jakarta, especially the area around Jalan Sabang, is the most popular area for first-time visitors to the city owing to its proximity to restaurants, bars and tourist attractions. Economic growth and the rise of the Indonesian millionaire have seen a spike in high-end hotels, perfect for a spot of rest and relaxation.
The historic colonial suburb of Menteng is rapidly becoming one of the most desirable and exclusive spots to stay. Alternatively, the district of Kemang offers great nightlife and a busy café culture.
There’s an abundance of shopping malls in Jakarta that cover all bases, from high-end items to handcrafted souvenirs. Plaza Indonesia and Grand Indonesia in Central Jakarta both cater to international brand hunters, with their glossy designer boutiques and luxury fashion stores.
Jakarta’s flea market, centrally located in Menteng, is a famous tourist attraction. Get ready to haggle over textiles, jewellery and woodcarvings.
Jakarta Like a Local
If you’re looking for a change of pace, take your cue from the locals and retreat to nearby Thousand Islands. Directly off the Jakarta coast, this gorgeous string of more than 100 tiny islands is the place to find soft white sand, beautiful reefs and world-class diving and snorkeling. An understandably popular weekend destination for city-dwellers, Thousand Islands offers escapism in its finest form.