Geography of Indonesia

Learn About the World's Largest Archipelago Nation

Indonesia Flag
The Indonesia flag has two equal horizontal bands of red (top) and white; similar to the flag of Monaco, which is shorter; also similar to the flag of Poland, which is white (top) and red. Source: CIA World Factbook, 2007

Population: 240,271,522 (July 2009 estimate)
Capital: Jakarta
Major Cities: Surabaya, Bandung, Medan, Semarang
Area: 735,358 square miles (1,904,569 sq km)
Bordering Countries: Timor-Leste, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea
Coastline: 33,998 miles (54,716 km)
Highest Point: Puncak Jaya at 16,502 feet (5,030 m)

Indonesia is the world's largest archipelago with 13,677 islands (6,000 of which are inhabited). Indonesia has a long history of political and economic instability and has only recently begun to grow more secure in those areas. Today Indonesia is a growing tourist hotspot because of its tropical landscape in places such as Bali.

Indonesia's History

Indonesia has a long history that began with organized civilizations on the islands of Java and Sumatra. From the 7th to the 14th century, Srivijaya, a Buddhist Kingdom grew on Sumatra and at its peak it spread from West Java to the Malay Peninsula. By the 14th century, eastern Java saw the rise of the Hindu Kingdom Majapahit and its chief minister from 1331 to 1364, Gadjah Mada, was able to gain control of much of what is present-day Indonesia.

Islam however, arrived in Indonesia in the 12th century and by the end of the 16th century, it replaced Hinduisim as the dominant religion in Java and Sumatra.

In the early 1600s, the Dutch began growing large settlements on Indonesia's islands and by 1602, they were in control of much of the country (except East Timor which belonged to Portugal). The Dutch then ruled Indonesia for 300 years as the Netherlands East Indies.

By the early 20th century, Indonesia began a movement for independence which grew particularly large between World Wars I and II and Japan occupied Indonesia during WWII. Following Japan's surrender to the Allies during the war though, a small group of Indonesians proclaimed independence for Indonesia. On August 17, 1945 this group established the Republic of Indonesia.

In 1949, the new Republic of Indonesia adopted a constitution that established a parliamentary system of government. It was unsuccessful though because the executive branch of Indonesia's government was to be chosen by parliament itself which was divided among various political parties.

In the years following its independence, Indonesia struggled to govern itself and there were several unsuccessful rebellions beginning in 1958. In 1959, President Soekarno re-established a provisional constitution that had been written in 1945 to provide broad presidential powers and take power from the parliament. This act led to an authoritarian government termed "Guided Democracy" from 1959 to 1965.

In the late 1960s, President Soekarno transferred his political power to General Suharto who eventually became Indonesia's president in 1967. The new President Suharto established what he called the "New Order" to rehabilitate Indonesia's economy. President Suharto controlled the country until he resigned in 1998 after years of continued civil unrest.

Indonesia's third president, President Habibie, then took power in 1999 and began rehabilitating Indonesia's economy and restructuring the government. Since then, Indonesia has held several successful elections, its economy is growing and the country is becoming more stable.

Government of Indonesia

Today, Indonesia is a republic with a single legislative body that is made up of the House of Representatives. The House is split into an upper body, called the People's Consultative Assembly, and lower bodies called the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat and the House of Regional Representatives. The executive branch is comprised of the chief of state and the head of government- both of which are filled by the president.

Indonesia is divided into 30 provinces, two special regions and one special capital city.

Economics and Land Use in Indonesia

Indonesia's economy is centered on agriculture and industry. The main agricultural products of Indonesia are rice, cassava, peanuts, cocoa, coffee, palm oil, copra, poultry, beef, pork and eggs. Indonesia's largest industrial products include petroleum and natural gas, plywood, rubber, textiles and cement. Tourism is also a growing sector of Indonesia's economy.

Geography and Climate of Indonesia

The topography of Indonesia's islands varies but it consists mainly of coastal lowlands.

Some of Indonesia's larger islands (Sumatra and Java for example) have large interior mountains. Because the 13,677 islands that make up Indonesia are located on the two continental shelves, many of these mountains are volcanic and there are several crater lakes on the islands. Java for example has 50 active volcanoes.

Because of its location, natural disasters, especially earthquakes, are common in Indonesia. On December 26, 2004 for example, a 9.1 to 9.3 magnitude earthquake struck in the Indian Ocean which triggered a large tsunami that devastated many Indonesian islands (images).

Indonesia's climate is tropical with hot and humid weather in lower elevations. In the highlands of Indonesia's islands, temperatures are more moderate. Indonesia also has a wet season that lasts from December to March.

Indonesia Facts

  • Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country (behind China, India and the United States)
  • Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim country
  • Life expectancy in Indonesia is 69.6 years
  • Bahasa Indonesia is the country's official language but English, Dutch and other native languages are spoken as well

To learn more about Indonesia visit the Geography and maps section of this website.


Central Intelligence Agency. (2010, March 5). CIA - The World Factbook --Indonesia. Retrieved from

Infoplease. (n.d.). Indonesia: History, Geography, Government, and Culture - Retrieved from

United States Department of State. (2010, January). Indonesia (01/10). Retrieved from