Jakarta, the capital and largest city of Indonesia, is like the ubiquitous durian fruit from the region; you either love it or can’t stand it! If you take a closer look past the thorns then you’ll find something special and unique like nothing else you’ve ever experienced! I first tried durian in Jakarta and both the city and the fruit keep me coming back for more!
Jakarta has been an active settlement since as far back as 400 BC, although Dutch colonialism played a major part in the city you see today — particularly in the Old Town. When the Dutch took control of Java in the late 16th century, they rebuilt the town in the Dutch style under the name of ‘Batavia’.
Jakarta is the gateway to the incredible country of Indonesia. This country is full of beauty and contrast. Indonesia holds the sublime island of Bali as well as Komodo Island which is inhabited by huge lizards that occasionally catch and eat humans! This country of lush islands, including the large landmasses of Java and Sumatra is the fourth most populace country behind China, India and the USA and yet holds uninhabited smouldering new islands created by erupting volcanoes. There is so much to explore in Indonesia and your trip usually begins with a stop or transfer in Jakarta.
Serving international and domestic flights, Soekarno Hatta International Airport is the gateway to Jakarta. Although the distance between the airport and city centre is around 30 km (18.6 miles), heavy traffic means that a taxi could take you over two hours. Reduce your travel time to 50 minutes by taking the modern and clean train service, the Airport Rail Link, that departs frequently. For travelling around the city, I suggest you download the GoJek and Grab apps (Indonesia’s equivalent to Uber). These ride-share services offer a fleet of both cars and motorbikes. For the latter, you will be provided with a helmet.
Here’s a pro-tip: The currency in Jakarta is the Indonesian Rupiah. GB£1 is around 195 rupiah although this is subject to fluctuation.
As the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta is teeming with sights and activities. These are my top picks for what to see:
- Kota Tua – Also known as Old Town Batavia, Kota Tua is the cultural centre of Jakarta. Take a stroll through the pretty cobblestone streets which are flanked with Dutch colonial architecture. The neighbourhood is studded with cafes and museums where you can wind down and brush up on Indonesian history. Be sure to check out Fatahillah Square and dip into the Jakarta History Museum.
- Museum Wayang – One of the quirkiest museums in Kota Tua, this place is dedicated to the traditional Indonesian puppets, “wayang”. Visiting encourages you to learn about how they are made and understand why they form a big major part of the culture.
- Monas Tower – Located in Merdeka Square, this iconic landmark represents independence in Indonesia which was declared in 1945 after years of Dutch colonial rule and recent Japanese occupation. Learn more about Indonesia’s tumultuous history at the gallery and see a panorama of the city from the observation deck.
- Istiqlal Mosque – A short walk from Monas Tower brings you to the largest mosque in Southeast Asia, with capacity of 120,000 worshippers. Famous visitors include Barack Obama and King Salman of Saudi Arabia.
- Shopping – One of the most popular pastimes in Jakarta is shopping. Here are my usual haunts:
- – Visit the district of Menteng which is famed for its flea markets. The main attraction, Jalan Surabaya Flea Market, opened in the 1970s and is known for its antiques, textiles, and ornate wood carvings.
- – For a completely different shopping experience head to Taman Anggrek Mall. As the largest mall in the city, this is the place to shop. Boutiques cater to all budgets and there’s plenty of restaurants for a break.
- Taman Mini Indonesia Indah – This sprawling park gives you the opportunity to experience a whistle stop tour of the whole 17,000 islands that form Indonesia. Arranged by province, you will see models of traditional homes that are packed with cultural information, costumes and much more
- If you’re seeking inspiration for a day trip then only a few hours north of the city you will find Pulau Seribu (Thousand Islands). Although there aren’t quite 1,000 islands, you will find beautiful bays and beaches. The best way to enjoy the islands is with a boat tour that hops from one island to another.
Jakarta is a destination in its own right but it is also a place from which you can explore the incredibly diverse country of Indonesia. This country offers all kinds of diversity including cultural, ethnic, religious and every other type imaginable.
In keeping with neighbouring Southeast Asian countries, you can expect mounds of rice meticulously prepared with meat, fish and vegetables. Remember though that Indonesia was once the centre of the spice trade so expect exotic and refined recipes, aromas and flavours. Here are my favourite places to eat in Jakarta:
- Tugu Kunstkring Paleis – This lavishly decorated restaurant is housed in a beautiful colonial building. Its interiors are a mix of beautiful artworks and furniture reflecting different cultural influences. The menu fuses traditional Indonesian cuisine with Dutch and wider Asian influences.
- Seribu Rasa – Meaning ‘a thousand tastes’, this restaurant is one of the most popular in the city. Set within a beautiful colonial mansion you will find classic dishes with a spicy luxury twist which will tantalise your taste buds.
- Sate Padang Ajo Ramon – This nondescript venue may look humble but it’s where you’ll find the best satay dishes in town. Meat skewers covered in delicious peanut sauce and served with fried onions and rice cakes to provide you with authentic street food at its best.
Here’s another pro-tip: Avoid drinking the tap water in Jakarta, even in luxury hotels. Your hotel will provide plenty of bottled water and use it even to brush your teeth.
This city has plenty to offer when you’re in the mood for relaxation. Here are my favourite spots to visit:
- Awan Lounge – Leave the busy city below and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and twinkling lights at the top of the Kosenda Hotel. Decorated with foliage and trees, you’ll forget you’re in the heart of a huge city as you enjoy a cocktail or two at this rooftop venue.
- X2 Club Jakarta – Located on the 4th and 5th level of Plaza Senayan, this is one of Jakarta’s classiest club venues. There are three different clubbing sections offering different types of music to suit your taste.
- Empirica – If you want a more relaxed evening then this plush venue with beautiful interiors, soft lighting and cosy seating is for you.
You’ll want somewhere quiet to rest after long days of exploring. Fortunately, Jakarta presents an array of luxury options at affordable prices. These are my top accommodation recommendations:
- The Dharmawangsa Jakarta – Located in a quiet residential area in South Jakarta, this slice of paradise offers you a peaceful stay. It features a beautifully designed outdoor swimming pool and gardens, an indoor wellness centre and additional pool, fine dining, and much more.
- Somerset Berlian Jakarta – These spacious, self-catered apartments have all the facilities you will want during your stay. The complex even boasts a large outdoor pool, hot tub, and a fantastic gym.
- Ayana Midplaza Jakarta – Strategically located in the heart of the business district, this 5-star hotel features a full-service spa, an outdoor pool, tennis and squash courts, and five dining options.
Without the Gama Tower, there would be no point to Jakarta’s skyline!
Jakarta is less organised than Singapore, louder than Kuala Lumpur and has worse traffic than Bangkok, but it is none the less one of the coolest and most exciting metropolis’ in the world. Like durian fruit, you owe it to yourself to try Jakarta at least once. You might find that it is a place to which you must return again and again!