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Affectionately nicknamed the “Big Durian,” Jakarta is Indonesia’s high-powered capital and the engine driving all things economic, political, and cultural.

There’s nothing subtle about this extraordinary urban jungle, the largest city in Southeast Asia with a population of 30 million and counting. From its interminable traffic to seemingly endless concrete canyons, at first blush Jakarta can at times leave a less than flattering first impression on first-time visitors.

However, make no mistake: this is a dynamic city full of possibility. To the surprise of some, Jakartans are a rather progressive, laid-back bunch looking to their great city’s future with unbridled optimism. The food, nightlife, and shopping scenes compare favourably to any in the region. And in West Jakarta, visitors can explore vestiges of the city’s Dutch colonial past in Kota Tua and, in Glodok, one of the biggest Chinatowns in the world.

First impressions, indeed, aren’t everything, especially in Jakarta.

Getting Around

Patience and time-management skills are essential in Jakarta, which suffers from some of the worst traffic congestion in the world. First-time visitors are often surprised to spend an hour or two traveling short distances; locals, on the other hand, just sit back and ensure they have something to keep themselves occupied.

In that sense, it’s best to follow the locals’ lead—traffic jams are an unavoidable reality in Jakarta, so it’s best to relax and enjoy the scenery from the back of a taxi. Taxis are plentiful, cheap, and far and away the best way to get around town. Given the traffic, travellers should allow ample time for travel to/from the airport, business meetings, and other important events.

Jakarta is not a particularly pedestrian-friendly city, but some areas, like historic Kota Tua, can be explored on foot.

By Buses

Taxis are the recommended and most-common means of transportation in and around Jakarta. However, while there’s no reason for visitors to use the city’s public buses, the Transjakarta bus system is an air-conditioned 24-hour service that can be a useful supplement to taxis. Single-journey fare is at Rp3,500 (US$0.30).

Though more reliable than regular buses, Transjakarta has inconsistent schedules—it’s not uncommon to wait 30 to 60 minutes for the next bus. If you’re in a hurry, taxis are still the best option despite the traffic.

Consult your Ascott concierge for assistance with the most ideal bus routes to your destination. Transjakarta also offers a free route map app for Apple and Android phones.

By Taxi

Taxis are a necessity of everyday life in Jakarta and, appropriately, are everywhere—you should be able to flag one down in less than a minute or two in most areas, except during rush hours and rainy weather. Fares are extremely affordable, starting at Rp7,500 (US$5.70) and slowly ticking up in Rp400 (US$0.03) increments. Blue Bird and Express taxis are by far the safest and most reliable operators—don’t use any others.

Drivers speak English and are generally friendly and helpful (and well-accustomed to the realities of Jakarta traffic jams). The vast majority of Jakarta visitors never experience any issues in taxis, though keep the doors locked and the windows rolled up, particularly in standstill traffic, to be on the safe side.

Though it’s easy to hail metered taxis from the street, many locals prefer to request taxis in advance by using a free downloadable app available for all three of the most trusted taxi services: Blue Bird, Express, and Uber.

There are certainly some advantages to doing so. Once you download the app and sign up for an account, you can see all available cars nearby, request a specific type of car, provide the driver with your destination address in advance, track his pick-up progress, and get a fairly accurate fare estimate. Uber users can pay automatically with a registered credit card tied to the account.

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