Java is much more incredible and adventure-filled than hardly any other Indonesian island. It houses several active volcanoes and at one you can see the rare blue fire by night (there are only two of these worldwide). It’s also home to two amazing millennia old temples, which are both part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Additionally, off the coast of Central Java sit the paradise islands of Karimunjawa, which are remote, very quaint and authentically Indonesian.
I’ll cover these and other awesome experiences you can have in Java as well as some helpful information for travel planning. Check out, what to see in Java!
What to see in Java: 5 amazing adventures to experience!
How to get there
Many larger airlines such as Emirates fly from several European airports with stopovers to Jakarta, the capital of Java. It’s best to have a look through Skyscanner for cheap flights to Java. Since the city itself, unfortunately, has very few highlights and is pretty noisy and dirty, you can basically completely skip Jakarta. You’d be better off focusing on Eastern and Central Java, because this is where the true adventure, and unspoiled nature, of Java awaits you!
Alternatively, you can also head directly to Yogyakarta (to see the temples), or start your journey through Java in Surabaya (for the Bromo volcano). Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific both fly to these areas with only one stopover. At the end of the day, Java is awesome, and together with Bali the safest island in Indonesia.
To really soak up the Java highlights, you should schedule for at least two weeks. Depending on how you plan to go from point A to B, you should adjust your schedule to work in public transport times if you want to go that route. Within Java, the flights can be super cheap. For only 20 euros, you can save yourself a lot of travel time. The best airlines include Sriwijawa (where you can even get a snack and some water included), Lion Air, and Air Asia.
There are also adequate train and bus routes, but they mostly only run twice a day and are not quite as comfortable. Something important to note is that trains can often be booked quickly, so you end up having to sit in a class that costs close to the same amount as a flight anyways.
1. Sunrise at Mt. Bromo
Mt. Bromo is located on the east side of the island, and outstanding to view, especially at sunrise. The active volcano stands out together with the rest of the mountains within the foggy valley, and you get to see the stars disappear as the first rays of sunlight drift down onto the mountain.
You can make the trip to Mt. Bromo from different locations. The fastest and most convenient is out of Surabaya; you can have a private driver pick you up at the airport. Your first stop is at your Mt. Bromo accommodation where you can have a rest for a few hours.
For example, I slept in Tosari in Wulan Ayu homestay which was perfectly fine, and nice and clean for the night. There are also a few more accommodations including the Savanah Indah Homestay, and Angela Inn. The only hotel in the area Bromo Cottages is another place you can check out, but I wouldn’t really recommend it.
Getting up & the excitement of anticipation!
Your tour to the volcano starts at 3:30 am, and you’ll be taken in a jeep to the viewpoint in time for sunrise. The ride takes only half an hour. On the way you ride past some local women who are already on their feet and harvesting kale at this early time in the morning.
From the parking area there are only a few steps to the viewing platform Probbolingo. While you’re waiting out here, it’s still pitch dark and you can only guess where Mt. Bromo is. The best thing to do is reserve a spot near the front of the fence, because the seats in the first row quickly fill the closer you get to sunrise!
After about an hour, the time has come and the sun colors the horizon orange; a unique spectacle! The darkness will disappear and you’ll finally get a view of Mt Bromo, and the volcanoes around that protrude out of the mist. Slowly, they are bathed in a soft light until you can see the furrows of the volcanoes and the full volcanic landscape.
When I was there in June, the volcano was very active. In addition, a thick orange cloud of ash had been blown out of the crater. It was an indescribable sight and definitely the highlight of the tour!
Tip: Put on all the clothes you have here, because up on top of the viewing platform it’s really cold! Sitting and waiting for an hour and a half can make the experience really negative if you’re half an hour into it and shivering cold as you pray for the sun to come up!
More tour stops
After about an hour you start to head back down to the foot of the volcano. At that point you’ll reach a hillly slope called the “Teletubby Land”: mystical fog, hazy mountain scenery, and glittering dew-filled meadows spread out before you. The atmosphere is indescribable, because this place is completely surreal. Following that, you head back to Bromo as the sun rises and the fog begins to lift.
The last stop is the Hindu temple at the foot of the volcano. There are countless locals with their horses here to bring you up to the rim of the crater. Although many travelers take horses to complete the hike, I preferred to walk the route to spare the horses. Also, make sure you wear a mask to protect your face from the dust.
Your tour ends at this point, and you get taken back to your hotel for breakfast. Then you go back out to Surabaya. This tour is definitely an unforgettable experience, and something you definitely shouldn’t miss during your trip through Java!
I did the tour with a guide from Bali, but you have a wide range of tour operators to choose from. If you’re traveling alone, the trip can get a bit pricey. For example, I spent almost 200 euros – but the tour was worth every penny!
2. Blue fire and sulfur mining at Mt. Ijen
Mt. Ijen is located further to the east of Java, and the tour is significantly more adventurous and exhausting! On one hand you climb to the crater’s rim in the middle of the night, and on the other you explore the interior of the volcano and get pretty close to some sulfurous vapors. Mt. Ijen is very special as it is only one of two volcanoes in the world – the other one is in Iceland – where you can observe the fascinating and rare “blue fire”!
To get to Mt. Ijen you have several options: you can combine your Mt. Ijen tour with a Mt. Bromo tour from Surabaya – which makes the most sense if you set off in Java, or you can start from Bali. That being said, the latter is pretty extreme since you won’t get a whole ton of sleep.
I opted for the night tour from Bali. We were picked up at 19:00 in Canggu, drove about four hours east, and from there took a ferry to Java. Don’t forget to set your clock one hour back because in Java you enter a new time zone!
Once we reached the new island, we drove for another hour and a half by jeep to My. Ijen. When the door opens after the ride is done, you have to wonder if you arrived in the middle of a Finnish winter since the temperature change is so extreme! Again, pack well for this trip and dress in layers.
After a cup of warm tea and a couple of mini-bananas to strengthen up, it’s finally time to go up the mountain where the real adventure begins! Equipped with a gas mask and headlamp, expect to climb 500 meters in the middle of the night at 2am. Don’t be surprised by the pressure on your head and ears, because you’ll find yourself already almost 2.000 meters above sea level!
In this area there have been spotted wild tigers in the recent years, so at any moment one could jump out at you. This makes the climb way more exciting and adventurous!
The sulfur mine & the sunrise
Once you arrive at the crater’s rim, it drops down for a bit. Step by step, you put one foot in front of another and try to keep your balance on the uneven ground and stones. As you travel in single file with the other travelers – mainly from Indonesia – you can look down into the sulfur hole and already see the nasty sulfurous smoke ascending. Every now and then the minors pass by on their way up, carrying pieces of sulfur in simple baskets.
Once you reach the floor of the crater, your gas mask proves very useful. The sulfuric gases immediately bite in your throat and nose. Then you finally get to see it – the blue fire! Don’t expect too much, because it only burns at certain points, but it snakes and meanders through other areas like lava streams on the ground and looks amazing!
The guide takes you onwards to the crater lake which is boiling hot, and is the most acidic lake in the world. But be careful when you’re here! Some people have been known to even die up here, so watch out!
When you get up and out again, you’re greeted by brilliant views of the sunrise. You get a chance to sit down and get some rest at this point.
After an exhausting descent back down the mountain, it’s time for some breakfast and your trip back home. When you finally reach your accommodation around 4 pm you’ll be completely tired out, but certainly happy – as I was!
3. The cultural center Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta is the cultural center of Java where the art scene has been booming for years. Galleries, graffiti, and a prestigious annual art fair – The Art Jog – bring a creative and artistic feeling to the town. In addition Yogyakarta is very well known for its batik art that takes hours of handwork.
Live like a sultan
The Sultan’s Palace is not very exciting since – architecturally – it doesn’t have much to offer. The water castle instead is way more interesting. You’ll definitely want a guide here, though since it’s quite hidden. Most likely a local will ask you on the street to show you the way and will then tell you a little bit about the story of the water castle and the under water mosque.
The castle itself was designed by a Portuguese architect. 300 years ago the sultan and his 12 wifes had a great time living in there. As there are no information boards, it definitely makes sense to have a guide so you can learn more about the palace’s history. At the end, I gave my guide 20,000 rupiah (about 1.40 euros) since there are no fixed prices for tour guides.
The people who live around the palace and water castle are allowed to live there for free. They don’t pay rent or taxes, but all work for one of the Sultan’s companies.
Coffee specials and Javanese car scooters
Just around the corner from the castle is a cafe called Heiho Loewak Coffee where you can taste the famous, most expensive coffee in the world: Kopi Luwak. The raw coffee beans are eaten by civets and excreted undigested. This gives the coffee a bit of an earthy, but very tasty note. In addition to the one from Java you are allowed to try the one from Bali and a version with spices.
The animals used for the coffee are kept on the cafe’s plantation in a large area and not in cages – though, unfortunately, caging animals is more common on most farms. The best thing is you can drink it here with a clear conscience. Costing 125,000 rupiah, which is around 8.70 euros, this certainly isn’t a cheap drink. But it’s definitely worth it since it can get up to 50 euros in western countries!
At night, life in Yogya happens in the Sultan Square. You can taste local snacks here, travel around in bright pedal cars, or try to walk blindfolded through a gate – all of it’s a bit crazy, but it’s the typical Indonesian culture! The idea for the blindfolded walk comes from the historical practice of the Sultan sending his soldiers through the gate first. You might like to try it out, but it’s harder than you think!
4. UNESCO World Heritage temples
In addition to the art scene in Yogyakarta, the city is especially known as the most ideal starting point for a trip to two gigantic temples. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and should definitely be on your what to see in Java itinerary.
A driver for a day, who will bring you to both temples, can cost upwards of 650,000 IDR (45 euros). In addition there is an entrance fee of 416,000 IDR (29 euros) for both temples. This temple excursion is definitely not a cheap pleasure, but absolutely worth the money!
The Borobudur is one of the largest Buddhist temples and is located about 1.5 hours from Yogyakarta. Many go for the sunrise, but any time is a great time to see it! Since the sky is often cloudy you can avoid getting up early and the crowds you will be surrounded by. In addition, the entry to see the sunrise costs more.
To arrive at the top, you first have to climb a few steps. The scenery from above is truly breathtaking: mountains and jungles surround the place, and the huge bells and sculptures fill the temple! Depending on the time of day it can be quite busy here. It’s usually a little quieter during lunchtime.
After you’ve reached the ground again you can go up the Bukit, a little mountain just a few meters from the temple. It’s totally quiet here and you have a nice view of the temple. When I was there there was absolutely noone!
Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple in Java. It is located approximately 1.5 hours from Borobudur and 45 minutes from Yogyakarta. It’s also popular, especially at sunset, but you have to be lucky if you want to see it without any clouds in the sky.
The attraction consists of various temples you can climb. The individual temples are really impressive and show what everyday life was like in the 700 and 800 centuries.
In addition to the main area, there are three smaller temples you can reach via a kind of trolley – or you can easily walk. Because of a major earthquake a few years ago, they’re partially fenced off with scaffolding and not that impressive compared to Prambanan.
Eating in Yogyakarta
Every country is best know for its local specialties, because in the places where they’re sold, most locals go for the best food. In Yogyakarta you can take a culinary tour, where you sit in the back seat of a scooter and ride through the streets – this is typically the easiest and fastest method of travel.
You’ll be picked up at 14.30 and the tour will go straight to the first stop. You arrive at a bakery where you walk into a wonderful aroma of freshly-baked biscuits. These biscuits with green bean paste are known for Yogyakarta and Indonesia. You absolutely have to try the freshly-baked cookies – they’re so delicious! The bakery visit is followed by a look behind the scenes, so you get to see how more than 100 employees make the treats. At the end you even get to take a packet of biscuits home!
Next stop is an alley where Javanese women sell many “snacks”. The choice is really hard here: from fish, meat, salad and sweet pastries there’s so much to pick from! Just choose what looks the most exciting and what you want to definitely try. Then you’re off to a restaurant in order to make a Lotek salad with peanut sauce – really delicious!
You should also try Gudag in Yogyakarta at least once. Gudag consists of various components such as duck egg, chicken and especially jackfruit, all of which are cooked for hours in brown sugar. Because of the brown sugar, the Gudag takes on somewhat funny brown color. As part of the tour you also get to enjoy this specialty.
Finally there is a stop at the Sultan Square where you can taste the famous ginger soup for dessert and wafer-thin crepes. At the end you’re really full, but also really happy and have learned a whole ton about the city and the island!
Vita, my guide, was hilarious and told me a lot about Yogyakarta and Java, so I could get a clear picture of the island. I highly recommend this 5 hour tour! You can book one here. The tour operator also offers adventurous activities like caving just outside of Yogyakarta.
In Bu Ageng you can taste authentic Indonesian cuisine. The restaurant is run by an artist from Yogyakarta, and is well-known beyond the city limits. In addition to classic Nasi Campur with chicken, for example, you can also have tasty Pecel (boiled vegetables with peanut sauce) and dishes with local smoked catfish. Have a refreshing drink of water with cucumber and you can enjoy a tasty, inexpensive meal.
In Milas your palate is pampered with vegetarian dishes such as salads, sandwiches and pasta. If you’ve had enough of chicken and rice, then you’ll find a really good selection of Western dishes. The place sits tucked away in a quiet garden so you can escape all the noise and exhaust of the road for a few minutes. Whether you visit for lunch or dinner, you will love Milas!
Sleeping in Yogyakarta
The Dusun Jogja Village Inn is a gorgeous, soothing oasis in the bustling Yogyakarta! Green plants stretch far as the eye can see, and a refreshing saltwater pool and large, cozy rooms immediately give a pleasant feeling to the atmosphere. The friendly mood is also set by the helpful staff who are incredible and always give you a huge smile.
The best view you can have is from the balcony of your room on the first floor. In the morning it’s especially nice to wake up with the birds, the lapping of the water, and the view of the countryside. The breakfast is delicious, and offers, among other things, a large selection of fruit, good coffee, fluffy pancakes and homemade peanut butter.
If you want to organize your journey or trips and need help, Javaxplore is located in the lobby of the hotel. I organized both flights, as well as my tour to the two temples, with them. They can also help you find with train and bus schedules – a great service!
Another highlight: If you book more than two nights, you get a 10-minute foot massage for free!
5. Karimunjawa island paradise
Karimunjawa is the entrance to paradise: filled with white sand beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters, a colorful underwater world, and lots of sun! You can really switch off here and find yourself enjoying the island life!
Karimunjawa is a national park in the north of Central Java. It consists of a total of 27 islands, all of which are privately owned. Up until a few years ago you could still buy an island for 20.00 dollars. But the times are sadly over, now they are partly bought by foreign investors up into the millions of dollars. Fortunately the tourism still survives in Karimunjawa; this little paradise is currently visited by only a few foreign travelers – mainly Indonesians.
Go there now and you get to experience Karimunjawa in its almost original state!
How to get there
You can reach Karimunjawa by boat from either Semarang or Jepara, or you can fly from Semarang or Surabaya. Unfortunately there seems to be a new regulation from August 25th 2016, which now only allows Indonesians to go on the plane. Hopefully they will start accepting foreigners again soon.
A ticket for a speedboat will cost 220,000 rupiah (15 euros). You can get more information about the tickets and reserve place here.
In Karimunjawa you can experience a relatively original Indonesian island life. Chickens and goats run around everywhere, there are only a few villages with very few houses, and the streets are partially unpaved and full of potholes. The local children also love foreigners!
Do not miss you out on Karimunjawa’s snorkeling or diving tours including island hopping. You could drive around here all day by boat and enjoy the view of the turquoise sea and the desert islands, but the underwater world has a lot to offer!
There’s rarely large marine life like turtles and sharks, but rays, lots of colorful fish, blue starfish, sea urchins and especially corals in all colors populate the waters! I really have never seen so much beautiful coral! For lunch you get put on a desert island and rejoice in freshly grilled fish – really idyllic and incredibly tasty! Then you have another opportunity to snorkel until you come back during the sunset after a long, wonderful day on and in the sea.
I took my trip with the Ayu Hotel. Marco and his wife Eryl are incredibly helpful and super nice!
Take a trip on another day with a scooter to explore the island. There are several beautiful beaches, but focus mostly on the west coast, as they are much cleaner. Due to the current and the wind here less waste and algae washes ashore from the sea. One of the best beaches is the Sunset Beach, no. 4 on the map. It’s the perfect postcard picture: white sand beach, turquoise sea, a swing and palm trees for the perfect paradise feeling! You have to pay a few cents admission, but it’s also very well-kept during the day you can have the beach almost completely to yourself. If you go a little further down the beach, you get to an even more solitary bay you can call your kingdom for a few hours.
Another cool activity is the hike to the summit of Karimunjawa. The view from the top is fantastic, but the climb is quite strenuous in the heat. Overall, you need about three hours for ascent and descent. A less sweaty climb is the climb to Love Hill on Annora Beach from which you get almost equally beautiful views.
Sleeping in Karimunjawa
This fantastic hotel is the only one on the main island of Karimunjawa that overlooks the sea and has a private beach. Almost all bungalows and rooms have sea views. They are super nice furnishings, comfortable and at 55 square meters can feel really huge. It also officially opened just last year, so everything is brand new.
The days in Breve Azurine start wonderfully: overlooking the sea you have breakfast on the terrace, or my favorite place, the pavilion on the sea. After that you can borrow a kayak for free and explore the area around the hotel with snorkel gear. Additionally, you can get a lovely massage in the spa.
In the evening you can head to Cumi restaurant on the terrace with sea views to feast on tasty Indonesian and international dishes like curries, salads, and fresh fish.
Tip: Once you’ve made it to Jepara on the way back to Java and need to continue traveling to Semarang, take the bus. First grab a rickshaw (20.000 Rupiah, 1,40 Euro) to the bus station and from there take the Bus to Semarang (50.000 Rupiah / 3,50 Euro price for travelers, 20.000 Rupiah / 1,40 Euro price for locals). For one or two nights I can recommend you the Grand Edge Hotel. On the rooftop terracce there is a beautiful infinity pool and right next to the hotel a cool food mall. Check out Massimo for amazing pizza or Mo Mo Ya for incredibly tasteful sushi and funny icecream!
If you want to experience the true Indonesia, go to Java!
A trip to Java is definitely an adventure! On one hand you have active volcanoes that test your limits with their difficult ascents, and on the other hand the island has not been developed very much, which frequently leads to communication difficulties and surprises. On the islands of Karimunjawa you enter heavenly islands with crystal clear water and in Yogyakarta experience art and culture both in the city and in the temples of the region. Hurry up and experience the original Java, as it is right now!
Have you ever been to Java? How did you like it, and what memories did you make?