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They say you either love Jakarta or hate it. But in our opinion, the only word that accurately describes the Indonesian capital is “disappointing”.

To be honest, if direct flights from Singapore to Yogyakarta were cheaper we probably would’ve bypassed Jakarta altogether, but since we are traveling on a budget, a stop in Jakarta was the most sensible option.

Jakarta didn’t welcome me with opened arms. I was still waiting for Max to catch up with me after his fiasco of a flight from the U.S., so I had to make my way to the hotel alone. I negotiated what I thought was a fair taxi rate (150,000 IRP) to get to the hotel only to be told that I owed double that amount upon arrival. I didn’t back down and after a 30 min argument with the driver paid what I agreed, but the experience didn’t leave a pleasant aftertaste in my mouth. From that moment onwards, I was constantly on edge, waiting for the next “friendly local” to try and scam me into some other tourist trap.

Jakarta, Java, Indonesia
Always on guard in Jakarta…

Just for the record, they didn’t.

Once Max arrived we put together a list of places to check out in Jakarta and took off on a day of exploring.

National Monument (Monas)

Located at Lapangan Merdeka (Freedom Square), the National Monument is Jakarta’s best known landmark. The 137 metre monument stands proud in the centre of Merdeka Square and offers great views of the entire city. Or so they say…

See, what everyone failed to mention was that the National Monument was only opened until 3pm. So disappointing it was when we showed up at the gates at 14:50 just to find out that we weren’t going to make it up.

National Monument, Jakarta. Java. Indonesia
National Monument, Jakarta

Without getting up to the top, the monument was just average.

Istiqlal Mosque

Istiqlal Mosque, located near the Monas Square is meant to be the biggest mosque in Southeast Asia. And while its  sheer size was impressive, it didn’t quite live up to our expectations. Maybe we were hoping to see a bigger version of the Istanbul’s Hagya Sofia or maybe we simply arrived at the wrong time or on the wrong day, but we left almost as quickly as we arrived.

Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta, Java, INdonesia
Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta

Jakarta Cathedral

Across the street from the Istiqlal Mosque sat the Jakarta Cathedral, a neo-gothic-style Roman Catholic place of worship, founded in 1901. It’s close proximity to the Istiqlal Mosque symbolises a close relationship and peace between the two religions in Jakarta. It’s old colonial gothic architecture was reminiscent of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, although as with the other attractions it left a lot more to be desired.

Jakarta Cahtedral, Jakarta, Java, Indonesia
Jakarta Cahtedral, Jakarta

Underwhelmed by the main sights we headed for what we thought would be a more cultural experience in Old Jakarta.

Old Jakarta

“The area collides modern Jakarta with its old Dutch colonial charm” the travel guides promised. If there was one word we would use to describe Jakarta’s Old Town, it is bizarre.

The road leading up to the main square was lined with street food vendors and crowded with heavy traffic on this busy Wednesday evening. What was meant to be a charming part of the town seemed no different than any other area in Jakarta. Maybe it was our lack of understanding of the nuances of colonial architecture or our genuine disinterest  in museums in the area, but it seemed like Jakarta was once again delivering far below our expectations.

Taman Fatahilah - main square in Old Jakarta. Java, Indonesia
Taman Fatahilah – main square in Old Jakarta

Taman Fatahilah, in the heart of old Jakarta, is known as a popular gathering place for local families and out of town visitors. And while we simply couldn’t understand its appeal, we found it fascinatingly strange!

Locals riding a bike in matching hats in Taman Fatahilah, Old Jakarta. Java, Indonesia
Locals riding a bike in matching hats in Taman Fatahilah, Old Jakarta

Here, fluorescent bikes with teenagers wearing matching fluoreascent hats dotted the square, buskers were showing off their levitation skills, a group of Rastafarians were smoking pot and making bracelets, and a dozen of teenage boys were dressed in old cartoon costumes posing for photos with children. The square was littered with make shift stalls selling trinkets and trash, budding musicians, and stray cats.

A group of rastafarians making bracelets in Taman Fatahilah, Old Jakarta
A group of rastafarians making bracelets in Taman Fatahilah, Old Jakarta
Woman selling snacks in Taman Fatahilah, Old Jakarta
Woman selling snacks in Taman Fatahilah, Old Jakarta
Winnie the Pooh chatting away with the locals in Taman Fatahilah, Old Jakarta
Winnie the Pooh chatting away with the locals in Taman Fatahilah, Old Jakarta
Family enjoying an evening in Taman Fatahilah, Old Jakarta
Family enjoying an evening in Taman Fatahilah, Old Jakarta
A boy watching a man paint in Taman Fatahilah, Old Jakarta
Little boy watches a man paint in Taman Fatahilah, Old Jakarta

There was so much going in Taman Fatahilah, there was nothing going on at all. Was this a taste of local culture or yet another tourist trap?

We couldn’t quite figure it out.

Our train awaits. Jakarta, Java Indonesia
Our train awaits…

An hour later, we were back on the train towards our hostel, feeling like we tried so hard to give Jakarta a chance, yet despite our efforts it never quite delivered.

That night we visited the local street food night market on Jalan Mangga Besar (St. Mangga Besar) in the south of Old Jakarta. After roaming the stalls with cobra, lizard, and eel on the menu, we settled for a much less exotic meal of chicken satay with rice a delightful peanut sauce, followed by some overly sweet bubble tea shake for dessert.

Menu at the stall on Jalan Mangga Besar, Jakarta. Indonesia
Menu at the stall on Jalan Mangga Besar
Chicken satay on Jalan Mangga Besar, Jakarta. Indonesia
Chicken satay on Jalan Mangga Besar, Jakarta

That night we were the only bule (foreigners) at the night market. Had we finally done it right?
Was this the gem of Jakarta we were searching for this whole time?

Perhaps. But it wasn’t enough for us to fall in love with Jakarta. To be honest, I’m not sure anything could’ve been.

There are a ton of places in Jakarta we never got to see, but considering that museums, shopping malls and theme parks don’t really strike us fancy, we never really felt like we missed out on experiencing Indonesian capital.

Stray cat enjoying the warm sun rays n Taman Fatahilah, Old Jakarta
Stray cat enjoying the warm sun rays in Taman Fatahilah, Old Jakarta

Would we ever come back? No, probably not.

Is it worth your visit? Well, it depends.

If you are on a tight schedule then Jakarta is a city you can probably skip. But if you have the luxury to linger and explore, we are confident that Jakarta, just like any large metropolis, will eventually invite you into its pockets of culture and vibrant life that many expats and locals have grown found of in the city. 

BEFORE YOU GO: Don’t forget travel insurance!

We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance, especially in a country like the Indonesia. Whether you plan to explore the cities or stay a while and get to know the local way of life, being protected on your travels is an irreplaceable peace of mind. We learned about the importance of travel insurance the hard way and now we never travel without coverage.

Get a quote through our recommended insurance provider, World Nomads.

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They say you either love Jakarta or hate it. But in our opinion, the only word that accurately describes the Indonesian capital is "disappointing".

Do you think Jakarta is worth a visit? What are some of your recommendations for things to do in the city?

16 thoughts on “Is Jakarta Worth A Visit?”

  1. I spent quite a bit of time in Jakarta, since my boyfriends parents currently live there, and I came away disappointed as well. I’m glad I’m not the only one who was less than thrilled by the city. There were a few parts I enjoyed, but far more that were just meh. I don’t plan on going back.

    1. Hi Alisa. Interesting to hear that your perspective on the city didnt change even after spending some time in Jakarta. Do you mind sharing a few tips on the parts fo the city that you did enjoy? Perhaps others woudl like to check them out as well.

  2. One of my colleagues was planning a trip around South East Asia and mentioned she was going to go to Jakarta… And our manager was definitely on the ‘hate’ side of the opinion! She flat out said it wasn’t worth going at all and she really regretted choosing to go there – so there you go! It seems to be a fairly common opinion!

    1. Interesting to hear that, Rebecca. I have to admit I didn’t expect this many people to agree with me. Was kind of hoping there were really great bits about Jakarta that we just missed, but so far based on the comments that doesn’t look to be the case.

  3. The same kind of taxi incident happened to us in Indonesia. We were really upset because the driver actually became quite aggressive. After that, we would only get in cabs that our guesthouse arranged after someone at the desk spoke with the driver and set a price. I know it’s part of travel, and I know not every cab driver does things like this, but it is hard to just shake it off.

    1. Sorry to hear this happened to your as well, Jacqueline. I guess it’s not that uncommon afterall. Stories like ours, while unfortunate and certainly unplesant will hopefully serve as warning signs to other travelers who will be more wary when taking taxis in Jakarta… or anywhere in Indonesia for that matter.

  4. As a local i couldn’t really understand why the oldtown is that charming either, but i suppose it represent what Jakarta lack. a public space where people can just enjoy their day. Its also the core of Jakarta’s history as a city, it is the foundation of the city itself. I think it is that sense that attract various sort of people. Not a lot of places in Jakarta you can actually enjoy a compact historic buildings. The place became even more alive at night.

    Also please note that majority of Jakartans is poor, and the north is the downtrodden part of the city. The poor folk simply came to enjoy free attraction or make a living. It kept the area alive and distinctively Indonesians.

    The Dutch didn’t seem to build eye-inspiring architecture like its many European peer, mainly because practicality is favored over prestigious display. Art Deco is especially popular in the 20th century. What is fascinating about Dutch Indies architecture is its well-adapted tropical design, which is incomparable to other European colonist tropical version. Though this reason is though these buildings are historically valuable, they’re not necessarily treasured.. its lack of love is well-represented in its decaying structures. I took my time exploring these old structure and hell, even the functioning ones are not properly maintained.

  5. One of the “golden rules” for foreign travellers using taxis in Indonesia (read Jakarta and Bali) is only use Bluebird taxis. Bluebird taxis all have and use their meters, so fare disputes are avoided. Besides, the fares are generally quite reasonable, unless you’re unfortunate enough to get stuck in one of Jakarta’s regular traffic snarls. Also, these days Uber is a viable alternative.

    This is widely publicised on most reputable travel advisory sites and may be the reason that set off Oxana’s negative introduction to Jakarta, a city of many contrasts and many more nice people than unpleasant, especially considering we’re talking about a city with a population of over 35 million (official number)

    So, while some of the above comments may be valid in a particular context, Jakarta has much more to offer than might be discovered during a fleeting stop over en route to somewhere else.

    1. Yes, we learned about the BlueBird taxis after the incident, but we didn’t know Uber existed in Jakarta. Great tips for future travelers! And we absolutely agree that Jakarta has a lot to offer, like we said in the last paragraph, “we are confident that Jakarta, just like any large metropolis, will eventually invite you into its pockets of culture and vibrant life that many expats and locals have grown fond of in the city”. You just have to know where to look 🙂

  6. Okasana, i consider jakarta to be my second home being borned and raised here in the city. It is very unfortunate but i have to concur with you in that there is nothing much going on in the city worth to be proud of as Jakartans. Often time many people outside jakarta asked me if its worth visiting and i gave them a shrug and recommends Bali instead. I told them Jakarta has lots of Malls that could be a city of its own but thats pretty much it. Moving around in Jakarta is also a nightmare for tourist as public transportation in 2016 is currently abysmal.

    As for your airport taxi experience, funnty thing the same thing just happened to me a few days ago. I hailed the “official airport taxi” from the airport and I was shoved exhirbitant rate that is a “brokered rate” rather than metered rate (3x). When i declined the driver turned aggressive and lowered the brokered rate to 2x. I told him to F-off and i would rather get out of the cab. He then unwillingly turned on his meter and drove like a effin maniac, ofen time cutting in and out of lanes at 120-140km/h. Please read again 140km/h in Jakarta!!! Often time with only half car length from the car in front of us. What an asshole. This is why i am done with taxi the rest of my stay and calld Uber instead as I found the driver to be more accountable because it is technically their own business and we can complain to Uber for any unpleasant experience.

    Well in short it is very sad for me not to be able to recommend something that i can be proud of in Jakarta. I hope things will be better in the future.

  7. Your take on Jakarta is not surprising as I’ve heard many tourists don’t find it charming to say the least. I’m an Indonesian and have lived in Jakarta more than a decade and I have yet to fall in love with the city. But I do find more and more of interesting things here , the kind that needs more than just a few days and touristy places to figure out.
    There are walking tours now operating in some parts of Jakarta. I think it would help visitors to sort of see more what’s behind the ugly facades.

  8. We read a lot of stories about Jakarta and it not being so great before we left. But just like you guys we go for the cheap flights. And since we were there we decided to make the best of it. We found a guide who showed us around in the old town, told us about the history. We even visited the ‘slums’ near the train tracks and got to see how people live. And we went to the old harbour. This definetly made our trip to Jakarta! I would recommend this if you do decide to go back!

  9. Jakarta is nicknamed the BIG DURIAN with this reason: some may like it while other are put off even by the odor. I lived in Jakarta for 13 years and understand your impression. I’ve visited Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Ho Chi Minh City and they are much more impressive than Jakarta. Too bad the city is badly organized since it’s the capital of the country, which people might associate it with the rest of the country.

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