Introduction During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers (HCWs) faced unprecedented challenges, increased workload, and often struggled to provide healthcare services. We explored the experiences faced by HCWs working at primary healthcare centers (PHCs) and hospitals across urban and rural settings in Indonesia. Methods As part of a larger multi-country study, we conducted semi-structured in-depth interviews with a purposive sample of Indonesian HCWs. We used thematic analysis to identify the main challenges described by the participants. Results We interviewed 40 HCWs between December 2020 and March 2021. We identified that challenges varied depending on their role. i) For those in clinical roles, challenges included maintaining trust with communities, and patient referral issues; ii) for those in non-clinical roles, sub-optimal laboratory capacity and logistics, and lack of training were the main challenges; iii) for managerial roles, challenges included access to budget and supplies, and staff shortages due to isolation and overwork. There were also several cross-cutting challenges across all the roles including limited or rapidly changing information (in urban settings), and culture and communication (in rural settings). All of these challenges contributed to mental health issues among all HCW cadres. Conclusions HCWs across roles and settings were confronted with unprecedented challenges. Understanding the various challenges across different healthcare cadres and within different settings is crucial for supporting HCWs during pandemic times. In rural areas, in particular, HCWs should be more sensitive to cultural and linguistic differences to enhance the effectiveness and awareness of public health messages.