Everything you Need to Know About Renting a Car and Self-Driving Across Java
Who doesn’t love road trips? There is nothing better than sitting behind the wheel with wind in your hair, good music on and compartment full of snacks. Embarking on a road trip across Java, Indonesia’s vibrant and diverse island, definitely offers an unforgettable adventure. Whether you’re exploring ancient temples or hiking majestic volcanoes, having the freedom to navigate the island at your own pace can enhance your travel experience. Or turn it into a nightmare. Because self-driving in Java is like nothing else you have ever experienced. If you are considering renting a car and self-driving across Java, read on to find out everything you need to know before you make that decision.
Can tourists drive in Indonesia?
Renting a car in Java as a tourist is not as straightforward as one might think. There are numerous rental agencies that will try to convince you that it is not legal or allowed to self-drive in Indonesia. They will try to tell you that your only option is to rent a car with a driver for a ridiculous fee. It is a lie. Tourists can legally rent a car and legally drive in Indonesia, as long as they hold a valid driving license AND an International Drive Permit (the little blue book).
↬ NOTE: In Indonesia, you drive on the LEFT side of the road, just like in Great Britain or Australia.
Choosing the right car
Before you hit the road, it’s essential to choose the right vehicle for your journey. Consider the size of your group and the duration of your trip. We chose a small Toyota Agya, as it was just the two of us and we had a small luggage. I would say that it was a very comfortable car to travel with on our week-long adventure in Java. It was small thus easy to navigate in traffic and in cities. It wasn’t the fastest or most energetic car for sure, but steadily drove 100 km/h on the highways. And it was also the cheapest. The only downside was that we couldn’t drive across the sea of sand in Bromo. We had to rent a separate jeep for that adventure.
Renting a car or Self-Driving in Java
Even if there are many car rental agencies available in major cities and tourist destinations in Java, many of them refuse to rent self-drive cars to tourists. However, after contacting dozen agencies, we finally found Jayamahe Easy Ride. They have a clear website with cars and rates available in different locations. After reviewing our options for a car rent in Surabaya on their website, we contacted them via WhatsApp. The conversation was very easy and straight to the point. 20 min later they sent me a link with a form to fill with my informations.
We agreed on the price, I was informed that we will pay everything in CASH on the day of the rental. I sent pictures of my passport, driving license and IDP, a selfie, a screenshot of my Instagram account and a picture of my credit card (I covered half of the digits). And it was confirmed.
You should try to book your rental vehicle in advance, especially during peak travel seasons, to ensure availability and secure the best rates. That being said, we booked 2 weeks in advance and had no problem.
The cost of renting a car in Java
For our small Toyota Agya we payed 300k IDR per day. There was additional fee of 100k IDR for the airport pick up and a 100k IDR for drop off. This means that someone brings your car to the airport, where you sign all the documents and then start your journey immediately. Same for the return.
With Jayamahe Easy Ride there was also an additional fee of 150k IDR per day of driving in Banuwangi province and 200k IDR per day for driving in Prambanan province.
There was 3,500,000 IDR deposit fee which we left in cash and got back after we returned the car.
The total cost of our rental was 2,650,000 IDR which is apx 150 EUR for 7 days of rental.
Car pick up & Insurance
We payed 100k IDR to have the car delivered to the airport for us. Make sure to send a message the night before and reconfirm the time of the pick up – they do tend to forget, especially if you book a while in advance.
We waited about 30 min extra from our requested time before our car finally arrived. Jayamahe Easy Ride employee, which brought our small Toyota Aygo, spoke no English. We used Google Translate to communicate with him. He wrote down my details on a rental sheet and we payed him the agreed price plus deposit.
We encountered a big hick up, when he gave me to sign a contract (in Indonesian) that I noticed was a bit different from the once I previously saw on the website. The cost of damages was higher. There was a clause which said that I am responsible for all and any damages done to the vehicle by either me or a 3rd party. Which basically meant that if someone hit the car, even if of no fault of my own, and in normal circumstances the insurance would cover that damage, the cost of the damaged was solely my responsibility. And it talked about damages in ‘blocks’, not as single. Basically a dent in the cars doors would result in me paying for a whole new door.
The company never heard of something like ‘insurance’ that you can pay at the beginning of the rental. At the end I signed the papers and we hoped for the best. Luckily we didn’t encountered any problems during our rental. We got our full deposit back when we returned the car. However if we were to rent in Java from them again, I would purchas additional insurance that would cover a local car rental.
Java’s diverse landscapes and terrain can present varying road conditions, from smooth highways to bumpy rural roads and mountainous terrain. Overall we found the quality of roads in Java was very high. We rarely drove off the main roads and even then our driving went smoothly. We took the highway 4 times and even if pricey (apx 40 EUR for 200 km), it saved us a lot of time.
Driving in Java
With all our travels, we drove in some crazy places around the world. We drove a rental car in Cebu in the Philippines, in Zanzibar, Tanzania or Morocco just to name a few. I’ve had my driving license for 16 years, consider myself a good and experienced driver. But driving in Java was like nothing like I have ever experienced before. It can be an exhilarating experience, but also an extremely stressful one.
It’s essential that you are prepared for the unique challenges of navigating Indonesia’s roads. And make sure that you are up for for it. Driving in Java is not for everyone. The traffic is INSANE everywhere- not only in the big cities. Indonesian drivers do not follow any internationally recognised driving rules (red light? what is a red light?). You must be an experienced, very good, very confident, very daring and very patient driver. And have great reflexes. There will be cars and scooters coming at you from every direction. You have to be able to disregard the rules you’ve known till now and learn the rules of Indonesian driving. And a drive of 200 km will take 9-10h without anything you can’t do to speed it up.
Here are the few rules I learned while self-driving in Java:
- Buses have an absolute priority over everything and everyone on the road. They will not make space for you, they will not slow down for you.
- You do NOT pass busses. Busses will pass you.
- In the traffic never drive fast, so even in the most insane circumstances, you can adapt to the situation on the road.
- Concentrate on what is in front of you. The traffic behind you will adapt to what’s in front.
- Passing from the left is often safer than passing from the right (even if technically not legal).
- It’s fine to pass a car in front of you if the only vehicle coming from the opposite side is a scooter. And sometimes it’s the only option (even if technically not legal)
- Take a deep breath. It will take as long as it will and there is no point stressing about time (driving is already stressful enough).
All this being said in one week of driving in Java we have not seen even one accident. We were also never stopped by police, nor faced any problems whatsoever (except 2 times we nearly had an accident…).
Navigation and GPS
Major highways and tourist routes in Java are generally well-marked. However, we used Google Maps on our phone (we bought a local sim card before the road trip) and it got us everywhere without misleading. Even in the smaller roads and rural areas.
↬ READ: Best Apps for Travellers
Exploring Java by Car
Renting a car and self-driving across Java opens you up a world of possibilities. It allows you to explore the island’s hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path destinations at your own pace. From the ancient temples of Borobudur and Prambanan to the lush landscapes of Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park. Take advantage of the freedom and flexibility of self-driving to create your own unique itinerary and experience the best that Java has to offer. With careful planning, preparation, and a spirit of adventure, your road trip in Java is sure to be an unforgettable journey of creating memories that will last a lifetime.