Indonesia has long been near the top of the list of the cheapest places to live in the world, having a starring role in all four editions of The World’s Cheapest Destinations. The visa policy there has always been baffling to me though. You have to buy a visa on arrival, which increased to $35 last year, plus you’ve been limited to a paltry 30 days. It’s as if they were trying to say they didn’t want your money and that they didn’t want you to stick around long enough to see more than a fraction of the country.
This anti-tourism attitude has resulted in several ugly realities. The physically ugly one is that Bali has become a crowded package holiday spot, with the over-development and short-sighted planning policies that are usually a byproduct of that. Few places on Earth have gone from pristine to traffic-choked as fast as that island and the water table is in serious trouble. (This crisis report is from 2012 and the situation has gotten worse since then.) Bali has become the Cancun or Phuket of Indonesia, drawing an inordinate amount of the country’s tourists each year.
And compared to its smaller competitors in the region, Indonesia doesn’t get all that many tourists. “In 2013, 8.8 million foreign visitors came to Indonesia, according to official figures, compared with 25.72 million in Malaysia and 26.55 million in Thailand.” (Source Yahoo Australia)
That many change now as the government just announced it will waive its tourist visa for 30 countries. The big media story is that Australia was snubbed, but the USA, Canada, and several European countries are on the list. So now we’ll be able to just fly in and fly through immigration. No word yet on how long we’ll be able to stay though, even in the local media. It’s odd they’re ignoring that part of the equation in trying to get to 10 million then 12 million visitors. A whole wave of long-term travelers would love to stick around a while without having to fly to Singapore or take a ferry to Malaysia and back just to get another month in the country.
There’s so much to see and do in this long archipelago that it’s a shame to have to rush through and tick off the highlights. It would be a terrific journey to start out in Sulawesi, take a boat from island to island across to Lombok and Bali, visit the prime parts of Java, then spend weeks in Sumatra. I did all that but on two different visits and those are some of my best memories from the backpacking days.
Regardless, this latest news makes for a great convergence of positive reasons for travelers from the USA to head to Indonesia. The country’s economy has been faltering recently and “the economic woes have seen the rupiah sink to a 17-year low against the dollar in recent days.” Start making your island-hopping plans now!