Backpacking Jakarta – Guide to Indonesia’s Capital City

Jakarta city, Indonesia  

Updated August 14th, 2018.

Jakarta may not be a tourist hotspot exactly, but it offers its own unique experience to be appreciated by the travel connoisseur. If your Southeast Asia itinerary means that you’ll end up spending a day or two (or three) backpacking in Jakarta, then don’t spend your days in the hostel waiting for that next flight to whisk you to more naturally beautiful (and less polluted) landscapes – get out there and explore!

If you take some time to get to know Jakarta, you’ll encounter a city alive with political and cultural vibrancy, you’ll taste excellent versions of cuisine from Indonesia’s various regions, you’ll explore crumbling Dutch colonial buildings, you’ll discover a lively modern arts scene, you’ll find out what the car-free Sunday craze is all about and, you’ll hear the haunting call to prayer from mosques across the city.

Even the overwhelming gridlock at rush hour is a sight to behold. Between exploring the sights and eating all the food you can handle, you can easily spend 3 to 5 days in this city without getting bored.

Kota Tua, Jakarta Indonesia
Old Dutch colonial buildings of Kota Tua (Old Town), Jakarta, Indonesia.

Note on Indonesia Visas:

Indonesia has expanded its 30-day visa waiver program to include nearly all nationalities. This cannot be extended. Visa on arrival (VOA) is also for 30 days but can be extended once for another 30 days by visiting the immigration office. [35 USD for VOA and 350k IDR to extend] More info on visas here.

Getting to Jakarta City from the Airport:

DAMRI Bus – Takes around 45 minutes and up to 2 hours depending on traffic conditions. The bus to Gambir is the most useful route. [Fare is 40k IDR]

Rail Link – Takes around 30 minutes and drops you off near Bunderan HI. [Fare is 70k IDR]

Grabcar – There is a booth at the airport, but it’s not open 24 hours. Fares are higher than ordering Grabcar from the app. [Fare to Central Jakarta around 200k if not on high-demand.] You will need cash to pay for the toll roads.

Regular Taxi – These are safe and not much more costly than taking Grabcar from the booth. [Fares around 250k]

Also note: there is free rail transit provided between terminals.

Where to stay in Jakarta?

Jakarta Backpackers Hostels

Homiestay: Quite far from the centre of town but a quick arrival from the airport with many upmarket restaurants within walking distance. The surrounding area is more relaxed and quiet. This hostel only has dorm beds, including some large enough for couples. [Rates ~110k IDR per person]

Konko Hostel Jakarta: Centrally located (10min walk from Gambir station) with some extra amenities (Nintendo, fitness equipment). Dorm beds only. [Rates ~140k IDR per person] *TOP PICK*

Wonderloft Hostel: This friendly place seems to be Jakarta’s most popular hostel, so it’s a good choice if you’re travelling alone and looking for a place with a social environment. Located at Kota Tua. [115k IDR for dorm beds, 265k for twin room]

Sleepy Racoon Hostel: A new, modern hostel that’s super clean and cosy. They have a free simple breakfast and other tasty meals available. Has a terrace and a shared lounge and is a sociable option for solo travellers. Also located at Kota Tua. [Rates ~110k IDR per person for 10-bed mixed dorm]

Nomad Hostel: Located in the busy Kemang district of the city, but tucked away down a quiet street, this super trendy hostel is a big hit with digital nomads and long-term travellers. The hostel is modern, clean, stylish and even has a swimming pool, table football tables and a pool table. 10/10 for hipster points and perfect great Instagramgram addicts. [Rates ~130k IDR per person for 10-bed mixed dorm]

Jakarta Budget Hotels

If you’re tired of staying in backpacker dorm rooms, Jakarta has an abundance of good-value hotels. There are too many to list here, but the Ibis Budget Jakarta Tanah Abang, for example, starts at 21 USD per night. The rooms are clean and comfortable, and in the evening, you can find some delicious satay in front of the hotel! Other ones that get good reviews include:

YELLO Hotel Harmoni: Guests love the quirky (yellow) interior design of this hostel with its crazy murals and trendy mod cons. Located right in the heart of the city near to the main train station, it’s good for getting in and out of the city easily and you’ll enjoy great city views from their high-level rooms. Rooms start at 41 USD per night.

Bed and Breakfast Tomang: If you’re looking for somewhere a bit more homely, this B&B is a great choice with a friendly and helpful owner, good breakfast, shared kitchen and a quiet location in a local neighbourhood. It’s not in the centre of Jakarta, but it’s only walking distance from the Central Park and several shopping malls and you can catch local transport to other areas of the city. Standard rooms from $22 USD per night.

For more accommodation in Jakarta, search here.

Things to do in Jakarta

Walk around Kota Tua (Old Town) – A historically interesting area with many old Dutch colonial buildings, quite busy with locals on Sunday evenings. In the evenings there’s usually a market selling various trinkets. There are also people playing music, riding bikes, and even getting tattoos on the sidewalk!

Quaint streets of Kota Tua (Old Town), Jakarta, Indonesia.
Unexpected quaint streets of Kota Tua (Old Town), Jakarta, Indonesia.

Visit the National Monument – Not incredibly impressive to be honest, but worth a visit.

Taman Mini Indonesia Indah – Although it is a considerable distance from the centre of Jakarta, this massive park has displays showing the culture from all of Indonesia’s 26 provinces.

Sunda Kelapa Harbour – When you’re around Kota Tua, it’s definitely worth visiting this harbour to see the beautiful old boats. [Entry fee 5k IDR]

Old Boats at Sunda Kelapa Harbour, Jakarta
Old Boats at Sunda Kelapa Harbour, Jakarta.

MACAN Modern Art Museum – Indonesia’s very first modern contemporary art museum opened in West Jakarta on 4 November 2017. It was a big deal for the city and important for the country’s cultural heritage. Best to visit on a weekday, especially in the morning. If visiting on the weekend, arriving before 10AM is highly recommended since it will be overcrowded in the afternoon. [Entry costs 50k per person] Read more about MACAN here.

Car Free Day – Every Sunday Traffic is blocked from Bunderan HI (the big roundabout in front of Grand Indonesia mall) and down along Jl. Sudirman from 6 am until 11 am. There are always many people participating in this, and it is quite a spectacle. There will be food, music, people running, people biking, and possibly even some political demonstrations. Next car-free day is 22nd September 2018.

Bunderan HI Jakarta, also known as Selamat Datang Monument.
Bunderan HI Jakarta, also known as Selamat Datang Monument.

Waterparks – These are a fun way to cope with Jakarta’s hot weather. One of the nicest is called Waterbom and is located in the Pantai Indah Kapuk area of North Jakarta. [Entry 250k IDR] See reviews on TripAdvisor.

See a movie – Indonesia has some of the lowest cinema rates, starting at 25k IDR. Even the IMAX cinema at Gandaria City is only 50k IDR on weekdays. [50k IDR = $3.50 USD at current rates]

Ancol – A large entertainment area that contains several separate attractions. There an amusement ride park called Dunia Fantasi (Fantasy World), Seaworld, a small beach, and a water park. There’s also an art market every Friday at 8:30 PM. [Ancol entrance 25k IDR, Dunia Fantasi 290k, Seaworld 100k]

Pasar Baru – Jakarta’s oldest market street. There are also some big low-end shopping malls here. It’s often recommended for shopping, but don’t expect to find anything worth buying here.

Mangrove Forest – Skip this place due to its ridiculous pricing scheme. Huge difference in price for foreigners to enter and the cost to bring in a camera is prohibitively expensive. Not worth it. [25k entrance for locals, 250k for foreigners, 1,500k (!) to take pictures]

We The Fest – An annual summer music festival that attracts some big-name local and international acts, as well as 50,000 festival goers. We The Fest is worth attending if you happen to be in the city during the month of July. Read more about We The Fest here.

We The Fest, Jakarta
We The Fest, Jakarta’s annual summer festival.

Getting Around Jakarta

Taxi – Bluebird is most often recommended, but the drivers of most major taxi companies tend to be just as honest. It is more likely the road network requires a convoluted route than your driver is trying to cheat you. This includes lower-priced taxi companies such as Taxiku, Gamya, and Express.

Gojek/Grabcar – You can order both cars and motorcycle taxis with these apps. Absolutely necessary when you want to take a motorcycle, to avoid negotiating fares. For taxis, it’s a trade-off between getting a quick ride or a slightly cheaper one, since it can take a long time for the app to find a driver and for the driver to arrive at your pickup location.

Busway – You will need to purchase an e-money card and maintain a balance on it to use these buses. Indomaret is one of the places you can buy a card, where it will cost 75k IDR. 25k of that is for the card itself, and the rest goes towards your card balance. Riding the bus costs a flat-rate of 3,500 IDR, including any transfers.

Bajaj/Motor Rickshaw – If you want to try one of these for the novelty of it, you have to negotiate a rate before you accept the ride. You could use the fare on the Grabcar app as a basis for comparison but expect a price a bit higher than that.

Rickshaws lined up in Jakarta, Indonesia
Rickshaws lined up in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Where to Eat in Jakarta

You will undoubtedly encounter standard Indonesian foods such as Nasi/Mie Goreng and Satay, so these are suggestions for more stand-out options that you may not otherwise know about. Click the link to read the TripAdvisor reviews for yourself…

Wiro Sableng 212 A local favourite (even the President of Indonesia has eaten here) seafood restaurant whose signature vegetable dish ‘Tumis Daun Dewa’ is delicious and can’t be found anywhere else in Indonesia or abroad. [100k IDR or more per person] *MUST TRY* 

Tongseng Sri Rejeki Serving up Jakarta’s rich and spicy version of a soup called tongseng which originates from Central Java. It’s best to come outside of peak hours since the small shop gets overcrowded easily. They also have Nasi Goreng and satay, all of which you can choose from beef, chicken, or goat meat. [~30k IDR per person]

Tongseng, Indonesian Soup
Tongseng, a rich and spicy Indonesian Soup originating from Central Java.

Padang Merdeka A stylish and youthful restaurant serving Padang cuisine. They will set many dishes in front of you, and you will pay for each dish that you consume. [~100k IDR per person]

Mie Aceh Bang Iwan One of the best places to try Mie Aceh (a noodle dish from Aceh). Stays open until 2 am. [~40k IDR per person]

Lapo Marpadotbe Get your pork on here, as this is regarded as some of the best Bataknese food in town. You can try Babi Panggang (roast pork) with Tumis Daun Singkong (sauteed cassava leaves). [~75k IDR per person]

Bakmi Tan With its crispy fishcake topping, this noodle shop is unlike any other in Jakarta. Open 6:30 am to 2 pm. [~40k IDR per person]

If you have the time, there are many other foods to try such as Sotomie Bogor, Soto Betawi, Pempek, Sop Konro, Nasi Pecel, and Ayam Taliwang.

Vegetarian Food in Jakarta

Jakarta is not great for vegetarian/vegan food, but you can walk into any ‘Warung Tegal’ (aka warteg) and just point at the veggie dishes you want. These small, informal restaurants can be found almost everywhere in Jakarta and are very cheap.

In particular, Warteg Gang Mangga is popular among both travellers and locals, since the food quality and the number of options are higher than average and it’s also open 24 hours.

For specific vegetarian food try the following:

Burgreens Healthy, vegetarian/vegan food, from burgers to smoothie bowls. Began with a small location in one of Jakarta’s suburbs but has expanded to several locations within the city. [~80k IDR per person]

Gokul Vegetarian Indian and Indonesian food. Located at Pasar Baru, so you can also take a look around before or after eating. [50k to 100k IDR per person]

Holidays in Jakarta

Ramadan – The Islamic holy month. It can be hard to find places to eat during the day and the nightlife, while not wholly on-pause, is somewhat dampened during this month. Eid al-Fitr (called Lebaran in Indonesia) is celebrated the day after Ramadan ends. Most Muslims will return to their hometown to spend Lebaran with their families. Dates vary from year to year.

Eid al-Adha – In this “Festival of Sacrifice,” you may witness the slaughtering of cows and goats, the meat of which is distributed to the poor. Date varies from year to year.

Indonesian Independence day – There will be many neighbour street markets set up on this date as well as some activities for kids. It is celebrated on August 17th.

Suggested 4-Day Itinerary for Jakarta

Day 1:

  • Car-free day (if it’s Sunday)
  • Lunch at Tongseng Sri Rejeki or Bakmi Tan
  • Visit Sunda Kelapa + Kota Tua
  • Dinner at Padang Merdeka
  • Visit the National Monument (Monas) when it’s lit up at night

Day 2:

  • Brunch at Hang Tuah Kopitiam
  • Ancol: Seaworld + Dunia Fantasi
  • Dinner at Wiro Sableng 212 (try tumis daun dewa)

Day 3:

  • Brunch at Jumbo Kupi (try ayam tangkap)
  • Visit TMII (easily takes three hours or more)
  • Rest your feet and see a movie at the IMAX in Gandaria City mall
  • Eat at the nearby Bubur Ayam Barito (rice porridge with chicken)

Day 4:

  • MACAN – If it’s a weekend, arrive at 10 am or a bit earlier!
  • Afterwards, try Manadonese cuisine at the nearby Sarang Oci, or perhaps a burger at Flip Burger
  • Swim at Waterbom PIK
  • Have dinner outside of the waterpark (better value and there’s lots to choose from nearby)

Places to visit near Jakarta

Bandung – One of Indonesia’s highest altitude cities, you can seek out cooler weather, mountain views, and hot springs here. With its many universities and parks, this city has a more quaint, friendly, and youthful vibe compared to Jakarta’s urban-industrial grind. It can be reached in around 3.5 hours by train from Gambir station. It’s also possible to take the bus, but the traffic is unpredictable, and you would miss out on amazing views. [Executive class tickets can be booked online for 120k IDR]

Bogor – This city is mainly visited for its botanical gardens at its centre. It can be reached in around 2 hours by train or bus from Jakarta. Since Bogor station can be reached by the local commuter line, you don’t need to book a ticket in advance, and it will be very cheap. The botanical gardens are an easy walk from the train station. [Entrance costs 25k for foreigners]

Bogor Botanical Gardens, Indonesia.
Bogor Botanical Gardens, Indonesia.

Beaches – If your overall Indonesian itinerary somehow doesn’t include visiting Bali or Lombok, you could visit the beach at Kepulauan Seribu (Thousand Islands) by taking a boat to one of the islands (usually Pulau Pramuka) from Ancol Marina. The further the island is from Jakarta, the more likely it is to be clean. These islands are relatively undeveloped and don’t tend to have many choices for accommodation, and thus the quality may not match the price. [Return tickets from 270k IDR for Pulau Pramuka up to 700k IDR for Pulau Pantara]

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Jakarta Indonesia Backpackers Guide

Written by John Beene.

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