Indonesia is made up of over 17,000 islands, but over half of it’s population live on Java island, which makes it the heart and the economic centre of Indonesia. However it is often overlooked by visitors heading straight for islands like Bali, yet Java is filled with many interesting places to explore and spectacular natural scenery.
If you’re looking for somewhere a little more off the beaten path, Java is a perfect mix of adventures. It is an island dotted with volcano’s, many of which are considered to be active. Not only that, we found the local people of Java to be some of the friendliest of anywhere we have been so far, with a contagious giggle that follows you everywhere.
Java also has a fantastic railway network which makes it easy and fun to get around. We spent just under 3 weeks in Java and had an absolute blast. So here are 9 awesome things to do there!
Please note, prices below are stated in Indonesian Rupiah. At the time of writing £1 is equal to $19,353 IDR.
1. Hike Mount Penanjakan for stunning views overlooking Mount Bromo
Mount Bromo; probably the most famous volcano in all of Indonesia – you can either make a trip here on a tour from one of the nearby cities, or do it yourself like we did:
First you need to get to Cemoro Lawang, a village located in the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park right by Mount Bromo, where we based ourselves for our trek to the summit of Mount Penanjakan. It’s a really beautiful area with amazing countryside and located at over 2200 meters altitude, it’s also a nice break from the intense heat of Indonesia.
To get to Cemoro Lawang, just take a minibus from Probolinggo bus station. These minibuses cost $35,000 IDR per person and they leave when full (so be prepared that you may have to wait a few hours for it to fill up, or fork out the money for the other seats). Also there are not many guesthouses available to book online in Cemoro Lawang, so either call ahead in advance to make a reservation or just find one when you arrive. We stayed in a guesthouse called ‘Budi Jaya’ as it was one of the closest to the start of the trail and it cost just $200,000 IDR per night. We had our own private room but shared the bathroom with the family – very basic, squat toilet, no sink, but a hot shower which was appreciated as it gets soo cold in Cemoro Lawang!
Most people set their alarm mega early at like 3.30am and hike up Mount Penanjakan for sunrise views over Mount Bromo. This is also what all the tour groups do. So we set our alarm for 6am and then hiked up, we didn’t see the sunrise but we only saw 5 other tourists the whole morning and we had the view to ourselves at the top. Plus we like our sleep and the view was still fantastic!
2. Walk on the edge of an active volcano crater
On the same day as doing the previous hike, you can also fit in the hike to the actual volcano crater of Mount Bromo. And it was such a cool experience, I would definitely reccomend not to miss this!
You either need to hike along the sea of sand from Cemoro Lawang village, or take a scooter for $40,000 IDR. You then need to hike up the stairway to the volcano crater. Once at the top, you’re free to walk around the whole active crater yourself! Or if you’re a wimp like us, you can stay firmly by the very low hand rail….
Top Tip: End your day with a lovely sunset, catch this from the viewpoint outside ‘Cemara Indah’ hotel & restaurant in town. No hiking involved!!
3. Visit the largest Buddhist temple in the world!
Before I went to Indonesia, a mainly Muslim country, I would never have guessed the largest Buddhist temple in the world is situated here in Indonesia. It’s called Borobudur Temple and it’s breathtaking, no matter what time of the day you visit. Although sunrise is meant to be the most beautiful. To get here, take a bus from Yogyakarta ($25,000 IDR) which takes 1 -1.5 hours depending on traffic.
4. Stroll through the Water Castle of Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta is the heart of Java’s artistic heritage and full of culture and traditions. Whilst you are here, pay a visit to the beautiful Taman Sari Water Castle. The water castle was once a place for princesses to bathe and the Sultan’s of the region to find their wives, these days it’s one of Yogyakarta’s top tourist attractions. It can get very crowded with people taking photos, but it was so pretty it’s worth the patience.
5. Head to Banyuwangi and go on an overnight hike to the Ijen Crater
Banyuwangi is located on the very east side of Java. It is not really much of a tourist destination in itself, but is mostly used as the jumping off point for travellers to hop on the ferry over to Bali. The town itself however is nice to wander around for a day, we tried some really amazing food and the locals were very welcoming here and seemed excited to meet us.
But another main reason to spend the night in Banyuwangi is actually not to sleep here at all – it’s to take an overnight hike to the Ijen crater to gaze at the electric-blue flames. Either hire a scooter and make the trip yourself, or book yourself onto a tour which usually leave around midnight and return the next morning at breakfast time. Unfortunately I was too sick to take the trip, but many people at our hostel did and came back and told us all about it.
6. Visit Jakarta’s Chinatown
Jakarta has a very lively Chinatown, in an area called ‘Glodok’. The area is full of temples (Jin De Yuan temple was particularly nice), old Chinese style houses and a big market selling all sorts of weird and wonderful things. It is considered to be the largest Chinatown in all of Indonesia, as the majority of the traders and residents of Glodok are Chinese descent.
7. Sing Karaoke in a food court
We stumbled across a few of these in Jakarta, particularly in Chinatown and around the old town. Food courts full of locals eating, smoking, drinking, dancing and singing Karaoke! Some of the food courts had a bit of a seedy feel to them, but we sat down and ordered a beer anyway and it wasn’t long until I was dragged up to dance and Shaun was forced up on stage to sing!
8. Eat dinner whilst watching a show (plus get all your gift shopping done!) at Hamzah Batik
Also located in Yogyakarta – this is a multi- floor shop selling traditional clothing, ornaments and souvenirs (perfect to get all your gift shopping done) with a restaurant and weekend cabaret show on the top floor. We were recommended to eat here by our hostel and it was such a fantastic meal I had to include it in this list, plus the setting is really cool with the decor being very quirky and traditional, the cabaret show is every Friday and Saturday night from 7pm. The show gets very busy so you might need a reservation!
9. Take the trains and meet the locals
Finally, one of my favourite parts of travelling in Java is that you can get trains around! No need for long bus journeys or to fly – the trains are extremely cheap, reliable and fairly comfortable.
But the best bit is the local people you meet on the journeys. We met countless friendly people, had our photos taken numerous times, we were video recorded, added on Instagrams and had more laughs than we ever imagined on 7-13 hour train journeys! If you are travelling around Java don’t be put off by the lengthy journeys, take the train!
Java island surprised me with it’s friendliness and incredible natural scenery. I’m so glad we gave it a place on our Indonesia itinerary and didn’t skip it in search of Bali.