With Indonesia now well-established as a leading powerhouse economy of SE Asia, it comes as no surprise that its capital, Jakarta, is one of the fastest-growing cities in all of Asia.
A true melting pot of Indonesian culture, the city has a reputation for being friendly and welcoming, with excellent shopping and a hip nightlife scene, while also being one of the most congested and challenging to travel around.
Located on the Northwest of the island of Java, Jakarta is the commercial, political and cultural centre of this, the fourth largest populated country in the world.
Jakarta’s rapid growth has made it now the largest city in SE Asia, with a total city population of just over 10 million, and the wider metropolitan area, a staggering 28 million people.
Same-sex sexual activity is officially legal in Indonesia (the age of consent is 18), but there is no equality legislation for LGBT citizens, no legal protection for same-sex couples and no discrimination protection. This reflects widely held traditional local customs and is unlikely to change anytime soon. Despite this, the LGBT community in Indonesia has become increasingly visible and politically active.
The provinces of Aceh and South Sumatra were allowed by the Indonesian government to introduce Sharia Law in 2002, though only applicable to Muslim residents. This criminalises being gay in these provinces… so best avoid going there.
Even in Jakarta, the official classification for all LGBT communities is ‘mentally handicapped”. There have been some cases of discrimination and harassment, directed at transgender people in particular. There are no legal guidelines regarding HIV/AIDS and there is a possibility of being refused entry a visitor is considered to be HIV+ (i.e. travelling with meds).
On a more positive note, Lambda Indonesia is the oldest and most well-established gay and lesbian movement in SE Asia, and the many LGBT groups now active throughout the country are able to provide HIV/AIDS counselling at least.
Since early 2016, public discourse and debates on LGBT issues has intensified. A number of events organised by LGBT activists have been disrupted by police.
Gay Indonesians face challenges in their day-to-day lives. However, gay travellers to Indonesia should not encounter any specific issues but should exercise caution in gay saunas and spas. Public displays of affection between same sex couples (such as kissing or holding hands in public) should be avoided.
New male Saunas and massage spas for men have opened in recent years to cater to the demands of both gay locals and travellers, although they struggle to remain in business due to problems with local authorities.
Whist the Indonesian economy continues to grow and the gay community becomes slightly more visible, the Jakarta LGBT scene still has a lot more room to expand.
On Sunday 21st May 2017, Police raided Atlantis Sauna, detaining 140 men for questioning. Of these, a number where arrested for alleged offenses relating to pornography.
Police allegedly took photos of some of those detained either naked or partially clothed and then distributed the images online and to the media.
Soekamo-Hatta International Airport delivers all international and most of the domestic flight traffic to Jakarta, and is located 20 km to the northwest of the city. The airport has three terminals with a basic shuttle service connecting them (take a taxi if you are in a rush).
Hotel shuttle buses are a good option to get from the airport to your final destination, especially as many hotels offer this as a free service. Failing this, you can take either the airport shuttle bus or a taxi.
The frequent DAMRI shuttle bus will get you to the city centre in around 30 minutes for a fare of Rp 25,000. The service is reliable and the buses are air conditioned, and connect to numerous city destinations including the Golden Triangle (the city centre).
Booking a taxi from inside the terminal will ensure a premium service with minimal queuing and a quality vehicle to take you directly to the city centre – for around Rp 175,000.
A standard taxi will cost from around Rp 70,000 to 120,000 to the city centre – the price differential simply reflecting the quality of the taxi company you choose. SilverBird, Bluebird and Ekspress have the most reliable service. Ensure to avoid the many taxi touts and baggage carriers, and head straight to the official taxi company ranks.
This will no doubt be the most challenging aspect of your stay in Jakarta. The city has an unenviable reputation for the worst traffic by far in SE Asia (and that means more traffic than you knew existed clogging up the streets of this one city!). Worse still, the layout of the city is quite incomprehensible when you first arrive.
The traffic congestion has encouraged many commuters onto the trains, and a rapid bus transit system is expanding gradually. Also, after years of delay, a monorail system for the Golden Triangle has begun construction (October 2013) will be operational in 2017.
Most visitors opt for taxis to get around which are at least cheap. The most reliable taxi companies in the city are Blue Bird and Express. Whichever taxi you use, insist that the meter is on. If not, take another taxi or risk being majorly ripped off.
Another option is a ‘Bajaj’ (bright orange tuk-tuk) which are great for speed, as they get through the traffic more quickly, though not so great for comfort. They operate without metres so make sure to haggle and agree a price before you set off. There are also many motorcycle taxis called Ojek, best for quick hops from A to B and when you have to be someplace fast. Insist on a helmet to minimise risk and agree the price upfront.
For a list of recommended hotels, visit our Gay Jakarta Hotels page.
Merdeka Square (the world’s largest city square) and the National Monument (MONAS) – built to commemorate Indonesian independence, is a good place to start (pictured above).
National Museum – an excellent museum for an overview of Indonesian history.
Istiqal Mosque – Southeast Asia’s largest mosque and one of the most impressive.
Jakarta Cathedral – Jakarta’s one example of Gothic architecture.
Bunderan HI – a place to sample Jakarta’s high end malls Grand Indonesia and Plaza Indonesia.
Jalan Jaksa – the main backpacker street with many budget hotels and restaurants.
Jakarta Batavia (Kota Tua) – the one surviving old town area of the city with Dutch colonial buildings. Good street food, arts and crafts, local museums and cafés.
Glodok – Jakarta’s China town with old Chinese temples and a great range of Chinese food.
Orchard Garden Mall – the city’s largest shopping mall, also located in this part of town.
An affluent residential and business district, with many upscale hotels, restaurants and malls.
Kemang – a famous street filled with restaurants and boutiques
Art 1 New Museum – a cool new arts complex in Kemayoran, with permanent collections of established Indonesian artists and exhibitions of contemporary and emerging Indonesian and international artists.
Ancol Bayfront City – Asia’s largest tourist area featuring the Dreamland theme park, Sea World, art markets and eco park and beaches.
Harbour area and gateway to Thousand Islands – at least several hundred, attracting many tourists for its marine parks and resort hotels.
The climate here is tropical and humid throughout the year, with minimal temperature changes, so constantly hot, being so close to the equator. The best time to avoid is the rainy season, from December to March, when many lower parts of the city flood (mainly in the northern district) in the heavy monsoon rains.
Most Western travellers can obtain a visa on arrival for a fee of $35, or you can obtain a visa in advance from any Indonesian embassy. Proof of return to point of origin is required and often checked. Visitors from Brunei Darusaalam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam , Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, Chile, Morocco, Ecuador and Peru are able to get 30 days visa free entry.
If you are intending to get a visa on arrival it is very important to check that your passport has at least 6 months validity and have one blank page and that you have a return air ticket.
The Indonesian currency is the Rupiah. ATM’s are widely available throughout Jakarta. Debit and credit cards are also widely accepted, although do be aware that card cloning and fraud are big issues in the country.
Gambling is illegal everywhere in Indonesia.
Don’t get involved with illegal drugs. Authorities have a zero tolerance policy and those caught face long prison terms or the death penalty. Police raid venues frequented by foreigners, particularly in Bali.
It’s important to respect local traditions, laws and religions and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend, especially during the holy month of Ramadan.
First published: Oct 2013
Latest updated: May 2017