Jakarta Travel Guide and Itinerary

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One of Asia’s great megacities, Jakarta pulses with chaotic energy as it surges ahead. We've got tips on where to stay, where to eat and what to see and do in Indonesia's capital.

About Jakarta 

Everywhere you go, it’s easy to spot the signs of Jakarta’s megalopolis status: wide roads choked with vehicles, the ever-present sounds of construction, digitized modes of payment even in the quaintest of stores. But pull off the highway and you might suddenly find yourself in a narrow street lined with streetside eateries called warung, the smell of grilled meat mingling with the smog. Jakarta is a big city, all right, but it’s a big city with soul.   

Located in the world’s most populous island of Java, Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia and is divided into five administrative municipalities: Central Jakarta, West Jakarta, South Jakarta, East Jakarta (where you’ll find the international airport) and North Jakarta. With the notorious traffic, getting from place to place can test your patience — which is a big reason why home deliveries for every conceivable product are widely available  

 

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Playfully nicknamed the Big Durian, Jakarta is a melting pot of 10 million people, with many residents originating from elsewhere. Seeking better fortunes in the capital, they bring with them the distinct culture and traditions from Indonesia’s 17,000 islands, which makes Jakarta a true cross section of the archipelago. (You only need to sample the food to see how different regions are well represented.)   

Despite their diversity, the people are united by an undercurrent of national pride. Indonesians know where their loyalties lie — they’re more likely to choose batik over branded clothes, more inclined to hang out at a local café than at an international coffee chain. This doesn’t mean that they’re unwelcoming to foreigners; on the contrary, they are quite friendly and respectful. The predominantly Muslim capital is also very tolerant of other religions: a “tunnel of friendship” is currently being built in Central Jakarta, a symbol of religious harmony that connects the Istiqlal Grand Mosque to the Saint Mary of the Assumption Cathedral. 

 

Highlights for the Traveler 

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Photos on this page via Shutterstock.com

 

Central Jakarta makes a good home base as that’s where you’ll find the highest concentration of hotels, restaurants, malls and the accompanying traffic. Find respite from the jampacked streets at Merdeka Square, a tree-lined park and the city’s figurative center, marked by the towering National Monument. On Sundays, the main thoroughfare in Central Jakarta is blissfully devoid of traffic as part of a government-mandated car-free day, and is instead filled with families, joggers, cyclists and street vendors. 

Get a picture of what Jakarta was like before the high-rises took over by visiting Kota Tua, or Old Town. Straddling North and West Jakarta, Old Town was the original downtown area and still reverberates with its Dutch colonial past. There are low-slung, wooden-shuttered buildings, a charming if rundown 17th-century drawbridge and a sprawling central square where locals and street vendors with mobile gerobak gather.  

To take refuge from the city’s sticky, unforgiving heat, duck into one of the ubiquitous malls, which can give those in other Asian megacities a run for their rupiah. If you treat shopping as more of a cultural exercise, then head to one of Jakarta’s many markets, selling everything from traditional arts and crafts (the art market Pasar Seni Ancol) to vinyl records and T-shirts (the bohemian Pasar Santa) to electronics and folk medicines (the busy Glodok Chinatown in Old Town).  

It’s easy to find a place to eat, whether it’s a high-end restaurant or — for those with sturdier stomachs — a streetside stall. It’s also just as easy to find a place for a nightcap, no matter what district you’re in, but there is an especially good selection of lounges, bars and speakeasies in Central Jakarta and the expat-heavy south. 


Recommendations list to be updated.

Recommendations list to be updated.

Recommendations list to be updated.

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