Java, the most populated island in Indonesia is often overshadowed by its much, much popular next-door neighbor, Bali (which despite its popularity, hidden gems in Bali do exist!)
Growing up on school holidays, my family would take my brother and I on road trips all over the island, discovering Java’s highlights. Java has many nooks and crannies to explore and hide its highlights. There were plenty of times we got lost, stuck on the side of road, and ended up sleeping in the car. My childhood was far from boring.
I grew up on this island and I can assure you, those who take the time and effort to explore Java will find out that it has a lot to offer. Below you’ll find a list of some of my family’s favorite places to visit in Java.
Getting Around Java
Getting around Java is not the easiest, being home to a large population Java’s traffic can be brutal and the road conditions are not the best. You’ll most likely need to rent a car with a driver.
Places to Visit in Java, Indonesia:
1. Borobudur and Prambanan Temple
The remains of what once two great kingdoms of different religions (Buddhism and Hinduism) in Java, these two temples are definitely worth a visit. They make great short day trips from Yogyakarta.
I remember learning about these two temples when growing up in Indonesia. One of the stories is the legend of Loro Jonggrang, and here it is in its abbreviated (and probably slightly inaccurate) version:
“A kingdom was besieged by a neighboring kingdom, but the prince of the attacking kingdom fell in love with the daughter of the enemy king, Loro Jonggrang, and proposed a marriage. She would only agree on the marriage if he built 1000 temples in one night. The lovestruck prince agreed.
Helped by earthly spirits that he conjured up, he started to build one temple after another. At temple no 999, the princess was getting worried. She instructed her maids to imitate dawn by lighting fires around the compound, pounding rice, and waking the roosters up. Thinking that the dawn was upon them, the underground spirits went back to earth leaving the 1000th temple unfinished. Angry at her betrayal, the prince cursed Loro Jonggrang into a statue.”
The Loro Jonggrang statue basically became the 1000th temple that became part of Prambanan temple complex.
Public buses serve these two sites and it costs about Rp. 10000 and Rp. 3000 to go to Borobudur and Prambanan from Yogyakarta respectively.
2. Ujung Genteng
Beautiful, deserted sandy white beach, watching sea turtles bury their eggs, a traditional fish market, and throw in a waterfall or two. What’s not to love about Ujung Genteng?
How about the grueling 8 hour drive from Jakarta to get there? But Ujung Genteng is so, so, so worth it.
Beautiful majestic Bromo. The sandy desert like environment surrounding the crater is out of this world. So is the area surrounding the village itself.
Ride a horse to get to the crater and look down into the belly of a still active volcano (apparently it just recently erupted). Or rent a jeep to catch a sunrise above Bromo to get that classic Bromo picture. This is a place that we’d like to come back to because 3 days that we spent there just simply weren’t enough.
Edited: Unfortunately we felt that Bromo is now simply overrun by tourists. The last time we visited (2016), we didn’t really enjoy the heavy-handed sales pitch and were astonished when our jeep driver threw trash out of the car. “No problem, we already pay a fee to have people clean it up” – he said. Ugh.
My favorite city in Java! Explore the narrow alleys that weave in and out of Malioboro, the main street of the city. See how batiks are made and watch silversmiths and puppet makers at work. Or rent a becak to explore the kraton (Sultan’s palace) and soak in the culture of this still somewhat traditional city.
Don’t forget to try the gudeg – jackfruit curry – a local specialty that happens to be one of my favorite vegetarian Indonesian dishes.
5. The Dieng Plateau
Beautiful scenery of lush greenery and rice paddies is what this area is all about. Dare I say that they’re even more fetching than the rice terraces in Bali? Located high up on the mountain and about 2 hours north of Jogjakarta, the cool weather of the area provides a nice respite from the tropical heat of Java.
The road there is narrow and windy but the view is beautiful. Add to that the ancient ruins that are scattered around the area, the volcanic craters and hot springs, and the rosy cheeked ‘Dieng’ children with their dread-locked hair really make this area our family’s favorite destination.
Added in 2018: The ever-growing list of places to visit in Java:
6. Kawah Ijen in West Java
The last time we went to Kawah Ijen was 10 years ago and I wouldn’t mind paying it another visit. However the latest words on the street is that Ijen has become a victim of its own success and the touts have gotten quite aggressive, especially towards foreigners. Sigh.
7. Krakatoa Island – West Java
Then there’s Ujung Kulon National Park where you can catch a glimpse of what’s left of Krakatoa, the infamous volcano whose eruption was recorded as the loudest sound ever heard in modern history. Only attempt the crossing to Anak Krakatoa (a “baby” volcano that’s growing where Krakatoa used to be) when the weather is calm. Read our harrowing account here. I’d never been more afraid in my life.
8. Karimun Jawa, East Java
One of the best collections of islands and beaches in Java can be found here at Karimun Jawa – a boat ride away from Japura in East Java.
9. Kawah Putih (White Crater) near Bandung
Located about 3 hour drive from Bandung, it’s a weekend destination for a lot of domestic tourists from Bandung or Jakarta. It’s a beautiful crater with milky, blue water with a walking path around the whole crater. Entrance fee is Rp20.000/Rp50.000 (domestic/international).
10. Kampung Naga in Garut (West Java)
Visit traditional “adat” village with thatched roofs and fish ponds located in a lush valley. Relatively unknown for a long time, Kampung Naga became very popular with domestic tourists just within the past 5 years or so. While in the area, you can also go body rafting in Citumang River. Ask locals. (One of these days, I’ll write about it. But it’s fun! Do it!)
Got more time for exploration?
Beyond Java: A sample of 3 week Indonesia itinerary
Sometimes exploration of your own backyard reveals a lot more than what first meets the eyes. That’s definitely the case here with Java.