A blend of mystique, history and modernisation
The most populated island of Indonesia Java conjures up different images for different people. For many it speaks of the frantic business of the capital city of Jakarta with its modern skyscrapers and crammed road system. For others Java speaks of the ancient civilizations of Central Java with its world-known monuments like the Buddhist temple Borobudur and the Hindu temple Prambanan, its centuries-old art of batik as well the as the intriguing court culture of Yogyakarta and Solo. Others recall Java as the island where for centuries colonial power ruled and left their traces. Java can have al these associations, but also that of so much rural scenery like the numerous rice terraces in shades of green and brownish yellow. Even tropical rainforests can be found on this densely populated island, although they are relatively difficult to access.
Not in the least Java is known for its string of active and non-active volcanoes, with the 2392 m high Bromo as the most climbed volcano of Indonesia. With such a wide range of tourist objects, Java deserves at least several weeks of exploring.
For centuries the harbor of Jakarta, Sunda Kelapa, was known as an important trade center on the route of foreign spice traders. Around this old harbor a city of contrasts has developed. Old and new, tradition and progress, poverty and extreme wealth, skyscrapers and slums all exist next to each other. Jakarta is the most visited tourist destination in the Indonesian archipelago, due to its key role in the national aviation-and shipping network. However most tourists are not very charmed by this overcrowded city, they leave Jakarta as soon as they have visited some of its many historical and cultural highlights. It actually takes time and patience to really get to know and appreciate this energetic city.
Bogor is just a few hours away from Jakarta. Once a fresh and cool holiday resort for the colonials from Jakarta, Bogor is now a fast growing city where pollution is a common phenomenon. However Bogor has maintained an important part of its green and fresh image in the form of the 100 ha large Kebon Raya, or botanical gardens. First laid out in 1817 these wonderful gardens house more than 15.000 exotic plant species and are a delight to explore by foot.
East of Bogor and west of Bandung a chain of volcanoes stretches until the town of Ciamas and encloses the Bandung plateau and the smaller Garut-plateau. This compact highland where mountaintops reach until the clouds is called the Parahyangan, or ‘ the domain of the gods’ and it was this very fertile area that was to become the center of the thriving colonial tea culture in the 19 th and 20 th century. In 1957 all the Dutch and English
companies were nationalized and amalgamated to form large state companies. Until this day the endless extensive tea plantations with its broad hat wearing pickers guarantee amazing scenery. Malabar is one of those tea plantations, once founded and managed by K.A.R. Bosscha. His old planters house is know used as a guesthouse.
The third largest city of Indonesia, Bandung, is the center of the Sudanese people who inhabit the largest part of West-Java. They are known for their light skin, preference for fried fish and raw salads, and rather strict Islamic beliefs. The Sudanese are also known for their three-dimensional wooden wayang golek puppet, the angklung instrument made from bamboo pipes and Sudanese songs and dances accompanied by a kecapi (citer) and a suling (bamboo flute).
See our example tours for inspiration on your Java adventure:
Insight Yogyakarta: Explore the lively neighbourhoods by all means of transportation
Insight Solo: Cycle and cook with royalty in Solo, walk the green surroundings of Sukuh
Insight Malang: Explore the city by becak and visit a quaint town south
Bandung still shows a part of its rich colonial past: big private houses and impressive buildings for in those days progressive architectural styles reflected the glamour and wealth once known to this city.
A 2 hour drive from Bandung takes you to the fertile area of Cipanas. Situated at the slopes of the Gunter mountain, this town offers great scenery, hot springs and gorgeous rice terraces. The oldest Hindu temple, Candi Cangkuang, found in West-Java is located nearby. Cipanas is also the best place from where you can explore the active Papandayan volcano.
In search of a cool sea breeze and some nice sandy beaches you can try the peninsular on the west coast called Pangandaran. This fisher town is popular amongst foreign and local tourists. The sandy beach is wide but the sea can be rather unpredictable; it is believed to be the domain of the worshipped and feared Queen of the South-Sea, Ratu Kidul. Until this day many offerings are brought to her by the local fishermen in return for a safe journey and a big catch.
On the tip of the peninsular there is a national park that is definitely worthwhile visiting. Several animal species are relatively easy to observe here.
Traveling east from Pangandaran an attractive way to reach Central-Java is to take a boat and follow the west coast to the rather unappealing industry city of Cilicap. You pass by mangroves and the prison island of Nusa Kembangan.
Surrounded by rice terraces, impressive mountains and many tobacco fields the town of Wonosobo is worth a visit. Its market is a lively place to find all kinds of tobacco, fruits, vegetables and other interesting local products and its horse carts are an attractive way to move around within town. But above all Wonosobo is on many travel routes because it’s the starting point to visit a mysterious plateau called Dieng. This misty plateau situated on an altitude of more than 2000 meter once formed the ultimate place from where Hindu gods were worshipped. Between the 7 th and 9 th century about 200 temples were built here, still eight, fairly intact temples remain for the visitor to see. Besides this historical interest the Dieng-plateau offers a remarkable colored volcanic lake, fumaroles, interesting people and great opportunities for easy walking.
From Wonosobo, Yogyakarta is at a relative short distance. Before entering this old well-known court-city you have to pass one of world’s eight wonders: the Buddhist temple of Borobudur. This magnificent piece of art and craftsmanship, built in the 8 th and 9 th century is nowadays set in an extensive park. Visited daily by many people, the peaceful cool mornings and late afternoons give you the best opportunity to enjoy the many facets of the temple.
Yogyakarta is a lively and attractive city ruled by sultan Hamengkubuwono who maintains a still very dominant court culture including all its mythical expressions. The city offers a wide range of interesting sights and deserves therefore at least several days of exploring. Some sites include: the court, the vivid markets, museums, dance performances and certainly not in the least the handicraft factories like leather, the wayang kulit (flat leather puppets), silver and batik (a technique of decorating fabric with applying wax to protect parts of the fabric from dyes, the wax is later removed).
A short distance from the city the Merapi volcano presents a challenge for many. Parangtritis to the south is known for its wide black sandy beach but above all as an important ceremonial place for the court and its inhabitants.
From Yogyakarta you can travel in eastern direction or in northern direction towards the busy harbour city of Semarang. On the way to Semarang you will pass two interesting sights: the railway station of Ambarawa, where you find a museum with old locomotives and have the opportunity to travel in old European made wagons pulled by a steam locomotive. Not far from Ambarawa is the site of Gedung Songo, several small Hindu temples scattered in an amazing landscape. When clear weather you can see several of Java’s volcanoes.
The next major city in an eastern direction is Surakarta or perhaps better known as Solo, Java’s other court city. Although Solo also has a rich history and still maintains its court function the city is nowadays less Javanese then Yogyakarta. Where the court of Yogyakarta still has political power, the sultan of Solo only rules within the concrete walls of the court. The main industry is batik, but while traditional batik is still produced the majority of batik is factory made.
From Solo many choose to travel straight to East-Java via the main road. However an interesting alternative is the scenic road to Tawangmangu, a small town settled against the slopes of the mystical Luwu Mountain. Great walks, amazing views, waterfalls and one of Java’s most erotic temples, Candi Sukuh, make it a worthwhile detour.
From Tawangmangu, the border between Central and East-Java is just a short distance. This second most populated province is by far most known to travelers for its volcanoes and natural beauty. However, it is also rich in historical remains, most of which can be found in the fertile Brantas valley. Malang, the largest town in this valley is a good starting point for visits of some of the temples. Situated at an altitude of 450 meter Malang was once a popular city amongst colonial Europeans who cultivated extensive coffee, cacao, rubber, tea, and sugarcane plantations in its fertile surroundings. The city still retains some of its colonial past which together with its strategic location to other tourist destinations make the city worth while visiting. Malang is also frequently used as a starting point to visit the world famous Bromo volcano.
Bromo is one of the most active of three volcanoes that rise from an immense sea of sand enclosed by the old Tengger-crater rim. This unique 8 x 11 km sea of sand is the bottom of the ancient Tengger volcano and was declared a national reserve as early as 1919. It is a once in a lifetime experience to watch the sun rise from either the old crater rim or from the rim of the smoking Bromo volcano. The area is also the homeland of the Tengger people, who continue to practice an old form of Hinduism. As a means of living, the Tengger grow several kinds of vegetables and other agriculture products in patches against the fertile slopes, which make the region look like a patchwork quilt. The Bromo-Tengger National Park is nowadays relatively easy to reach via a steep and winding road and several hotels near and even on the old crater rim, allow visitors to spend the night as close as possible to the Bromo volcano.
Leaving the Tengger area behind many travelers continue their way straight to the island of Bali, however hereby leaving some major high lights of East-Java unvisited. Among them are the Ijen caldera, part of the Ijen-Merapi-Maelang nature reserve, to the east and the national park Meru Betiri in a southeast direction. The small town of Kalibaru is an attractive base to visit both parks. Amidst coffee, rubber and cacao plantations this cool town offers some affordable and attractive accommodation from where trips to both parks mentioned above can be organized. The Ijen area was once the scene of enormous volcanic activities, which left a huge caldera where six new volcanoes arose. Part has been filled with water, which due to its high sulfur content is a beautiful turquoise colored. On the banks of this largest crater lake found in Indonesia are numerous fumaroles. Here some nine to twelve tonnes of sulfur is being extracted each day. These pieces of sulfur are carried by porters to a plant at a distance of almost 20 km down the slopes!
The National Park Meru Betiri is of equal beauty and consists of thousands of undisturbed low- and highland tropical forests, which with relative ease reveal an interesting avifauna and primate species. Surrounded by and even within its borders are extensive plantations of cacao, coffee and rubber. In the south the unpredictable south sea borders the park and its beaches are used by turtles to lay their eggs. Accompanied by park rangers it is possible to visit one of those beaches near the small plantation village of Sukamade and wait patiently at night until an enormous female turtle emerges from the sea and begins her arduous climb to the top of the beach to lay her eggs.