One of the biggest islands in Indonesia, Java can claim to be the most diverse as well. The island has amazing nature, devastatingly beautiful volcanoes, monumental temples, and cities bursting with creativity.
Start your trip from Bandung, where your Bandung tour guide will be able to fill you in on all the local history. This was a former Dutch town, built in the mountains for the colonialists to escape the lowland heat. Be sure to have your guide take you to some of the great nature spots in the area. The local volcano Gunung Tangkuban Perahu and the hot springs of Sari Ater nearby make for a nature-filled day trip, and you can push on to the local tea plantations and crater lake if you’re looking for a busy day.
Bogor is another quaint town outside of Jakarta to get you away from the smog into scenery. This is a favourite getaway destination for Jakartans, so try and avoid weekends and holidays. Your Bogor tour guide will show you around the botanical gardens and take you on leisurely strolls around the old buildings and monuments. Make a request in advance to join a tour of the old presidential palace that nestles in the botanical gardens.
To really get off the beaten path in West Java, find your way to the beachside village of Ujung Genteng. The beach buts up against the Indian Ocean and is the nesting place for Giant Green Sea Turtles; spend the day spotting hatchlings heading to the water.
The surf is also great for those experienced on a board. There are a couple of surf shops around the coastline for you to hire board, but be careful since the breaks are definitely not recommended for beginners out on the waves. There are plenty of swimmable beaches along the coast as well, and they’re generally very quiet – you may be lucky enough to have them all to yourself!
Moving eastwards, Java only gets more stunning. The ancient capital of Yogyakarta is full of history and creativity. Along with two significant temples, there is a major art university here which gives the city a cool vibe, with art galleries and street musicians providing entertainment on Malioboro Street.
Arrange with your Borobodur tour guide to go out to the mountains early to watch the daybreak over the temple. Surrounding you are the steaming volcanoes and below the sunlight splices the stone pyramid awake. Head down to the Buddhist temple early to beat the crowds and soak in the peace.
Not to be outdone, Prambanan is a Hindu temple which is similarly awe-inspiring. This temple should really be another early morning start, the people that built it knew well the tranquillity of daybreak. Here your Yogyakarta tour guide can explain about the repairs being undertaken after damage caused by Gunung Merapi’s major eruption in 2010.
A hike up Gunung Merapi for sunrise is spectacular yet not always possible, depending on whether it’s currently erupting. A trip out the national park at its base is interesting to see the difference in the tree line following the last major eruption.
Round off Yogya (as the locals call it) with a day around the palaces with your tour guide. The royal palace will teach you all about the old Java empire and the sultans who dominated the area, the water palaces offer a relaxing stroll as you dream of the life of the ladies of the harem.
A trip to Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park is an absolute must when you’re on this end of the island. You can arrange a day trip or camping expedition with your Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park tour guide, who will also be able to protect you from the many scams you might come across for the entrance tickets and transport.
Sunrise is particularly stunning at Mount Bromo, but any time of day will do. Bromo and its sister volcano Semeru are very active, make sure you check whether they are safe and accessible before you head out there.
Bondowoso is an area development has forgotten, and you wlll be glad for it. Take your time to visit plenty of local, family-run farms and factories producing tofu and tempeh, amongst many other local delights.
Alun – alun is the main town and the place to go for food, coffee, or Bintang in the evening with the locals. For the daytime, you can arrange a tour around tobacco factories, silversmiths, batik workshops, and pottery villages. This is a different side of Indonesia that you won’t find in the cities.
Once you’ve soaked up the culture, nature, and history of the mainland, paradise awaits. One of South East Asia’s best-kept secrets is the isolated island community of Karimunjawa. Be sure to book your boat tickets in advance and be ready for limited electricity and an island pace of life.
The main island is scattered with home-stays, some of them even have wifi when the electricity runs! Motorbike rentals are plentiful and it’s a great way to explore the secluded beaches of this idyllic island. Watch the sunset at the jetty and head to the village square for some delicious seafood barbecued on the green.
The reefs around the island are pristine and a Karimunjawa tour guide will take you out on a boat to the best spots to see tropical fish abound. The water is impossibly clear and there are some scuba diving centres around, if you haven’t donned the air tanks yet, there are few places more perfect to start.
Around the main island are a few private islands with 10 or so guests allowed on at any one time. Steal away for a couple of nights, the accommodation may be rustic, but the food is fresh and the views will have you ready to make island life your own.
Jo has been through many incarnations since first arriving in Asia ten years ago. From backpacker to English teacher, then tour guide and travel writer, she loves the adventure and diversity of Asia.
Image details and licenses: Ujung Genteng: https://flic.kr/p/saWaNu (HSX 125 Community, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), Alun alun: https://flic.kr/p/DN7t37 (Ya, saya inBaliTimur, CC BY-SA 2.0)