To enjoy Jakarta, you must come with a certain level of acceptance and incredibly open mind, and probably open schedule too. As one of the most underrated cities in the world; countless people that had never been in the city told us that ‘it’s much more than I expected!’ or the more common ‘this city is crazy!’ which can swing both negative or positively.
In any case, before you set food to the massive 12 million plus inhabited city of contrast, traffic, a wild cacophony of sounds, and a sea of different people, we have a list of things that can come handy to prepare you for Jakarta!
Know where to stay!
Although all areas have a balanced selection of budget to premium hotels, the first thing you need to know is where in Jakarta you will be staying. As Jakarta City is administratively divided into 5 areas, South, West, Center, North, and East, with most hotels located in South and Center, along with most business, government, and entertainment districts.
Read more here: Where to Stay in Jakarta
How to Get Around
Bus—The only bus system that we recommend is the Transjakarta bus. Although it still can be insanely packed during rush hour, and waiting time could be as long as an hour, it does have quite an extensive network. During weekends, it is a great and cheap way to get around and sightsee, as it covers central Jakarta area where a lot of the tourist destinations are located.
Taxi—Especially from the airport, only take trusted brands like Blue Bird, Silver Bird, and Express Taxi. Around the city, these taxis litter the city but always make sure you have the meter turned on.
Ridesharing App – As with other big cities around the world, Jakarta finally has ridesharing app like Uber and Grabtaxi operating and it truly is a blessing. Only during rush hour or peak hours is the price same or more expensive than the regular taxi, most of the time, it is cheaper.
Ojek 2.0 – Ojek, or the city’s unofficial motorcycle taxi, has been around forever, but the drivers tend to overcharge even locals; and especially foreigners. But with apps like Gojek, Blujek, and Grabbike, you can hail a motor ride just a touch of a button away with a fair and predetermined price.
On foot? Watch where you step! A lot of times this is not an option, because of sometimes dangerously broken sidewalks, or the complete lack of it. When there is a sidewalk, more often than not they are permanently occupied by street vendors. In some area, however, like around the city centers, it is definitely possible and a great way to explore the city.
Read Also: 9 Ways to Make Your Life Easier in Jakarta
Always have some cash with you – Most big stores, supermarkets, and shops accept debit and credit cards, and ATMs are also readily available in most shopping centers, office, to convenient stores, but bear in mind that Indonesia is not a cashless society and even on the said stores, they apply a “minimum Rp. 50,000 purchase” before you can swipe, so always have cash on hand.
Money changer – Exchanging money in the bank or international chains is the safest, but rates can be steep. Some of the trusted money changers are VIP, Dua Sisi, and Ayu Mas.
Tips on Traffic (Jakarta’s most favorite topic)
Especially during the rush hours, going a few miles away can set you back at least an hour or more, so plan carefully. Don’t schedule too many appointments or places to visit in one day, unless they are within walking distance from each other!
The toll roads, are indeed free of bikes, bajajs, and traffic lights, but they are not by all means are a ‘free’ way. Worse, a lot of times it means you can’t exit and gets stuck in it for miles before an exit.
Remember to always position yourself on the good side of the street when you try to get a taxi. If you want to go to a building that is on the right side of the road, you should always take the taxi on the right side of the road. In other cities with a less problematic traffic jam, it may not be that important, but in Jakarta it is essential because of what we call the “putar balik” (U-turn).
Cars can rarely just turn on the right to go to a building. They frequently have to make a u-turn far away down the road to go on the other side of the road. This is the “putar balik” and it explains why you have to position yourself correctly when taking a taxi. You’ll never know how long a small “putar balik” can be, which can be a few kilometres long. In a rush hour traffic, this could add up to an hour of your travel time.
Have your gadget ready with reliable apps like Google Maps, Waze or the locally sourced lewatmana.com for live traffic updates.
Jakarta is a food capital of Indonesia. You can get almost any food from around Indonesia, and even the world, in the city. There are countless premium restaurants offering great food from different regions of the world, but for a real Jakarta experience, spend a meal on the streets and savour the real culinary treasures of the city.
Only tip if you feel like it – tipping is not the culture, and most restaurants charge 5 to 10 percent service charge in your bill, although obviously servers would not find it offensive!
You will always find something to eat – some street foods are only open at night, with some stretching to the wee hours, and we personally think this is the best way to try the street food too when it is not piping hot outside. In addition to those in the streets, some 24 hours restaurants can also be found around the city.
Essential Street Food – Nasi Goreng, Sate Ayam, the many kinds of Soto (soup), Bubur Ayam (available in the morning, popular for breakfast), Nasi Padang, Jakarta staples such as Soto Betawi and Kerak Telor or the Warteg or Warung Tegal, a Jakarta style ‘fast food’ which you can find on any roadside of Jakarta. Imagine a small stall with a display of pre-cooked homey food, which you point and add to your plate of nasi or rice. For a more light snack, do try the selection of Jakarta sweet cakes and snacks like Kue Ape, a Jakarta style pancake made from rice flour and coconut’s milk, or Kue Cubit, which translates as ‘Pinch Cake’ and the one thing that we think is closest to a western style pancake, and many many more.
Malls Galore – It is safe to say that there will be no shortage of malls for everyone in Jakarta. There is no way of escaping it, as it has become the Jakarta people’s lifestyle. From the super chic and high-end exclusive brand boutiques to the elbow bumping flea market type malls, Jakarta has it all. It can be dreadful to visit on the weekend (especially on Saturday nights!), but your visit to the hedonistic city won’t be complete without a visit to one.
For things to do around Jakarta, check out our list of 105 Things To Do in Jakarta