Indonesia Travel Information - Java

Java: Temples, Volcanoes & Bustling Cities

The island of Java is home to Indonesia's capital and to some 60% of its population. This huge population of 130 million or so is mostly made up of only 3 native ethnic groups, the Javanese, the Sundanese and the Madurese, making Java the least diverse region of the country culturally.
All this puts off some adventure-thirsty visitors, who think such a sea of teaming humanity is best skipped in favour of more exotic parts. Don't despair: Java does have a lot to offer to anyone. For a start, its people have developed some of the most sophisticated culture, arts and architecture in Indonesia, with ancient temples like Borobudur and Prambanan, and court cities like Yogyakarta and Solo being the main tourist draws here. Coming right behind is Java's unparalleled collection of volcanoes, some 40 of them being active to this day, ensuring the fertility of the soil here that supports beautiful rice paddies and plantations of tea and spices wherever you look - outside the cities. As for those cities themselves, they are easily the most modern and numerous in Indonesia, offering great opportunities for shopping, nightlife and other worldly concerns.
Wondering if there is still any nature left? Well, Java's undeservedly overlooked national parks are the best managed in the country, offering better facilities and easier wildlife-spotting than the more exotic-sounding regions of Sumatra and Borneo. Oh, and there are of course beaches and off-shore islands, too... though to be fully honest, if these are your priorities, you will find better ones further east.

Attractions Off the Track Tourist Traps Getting There
Main Attractions

The capital of Indonesia is the most common international gateway to the country after Bali. It is sprawling, chaotic and polluted, but has some fine museums, colonial sights and lively nightlife to offer for those who take time to explore it.

Just an hour south of Jakarta in West Java province, the city of Bogor is most famous for its huge botanical gardens. It is also a cooler and more relaxed alternative to staying in the capital, and the first stop across Java for many visitors.

The city of Yogyakarta is Java's number one tourist spot, thanks to its beautiful kraton (palace) and its proximity to the ancient temples of Borobudur and Prambanan.
Unfortunately it has also become one of the country's worst tourist traps though!

This enormous Buddhist stupa in Central Java province is Indonesia's most famous ancient historical monument.
Its size and age are already impressive enough, but the finely detailed carvings on its walls are even more breathtaking.
Most visitors see Borobudur on a day-trip from Yogyakarta, however I strongly recommend spending a night in the nearby village and getting in early morning before the crowds of (mostly Indonesian) visitors arrive!

The huge Hindu temples of Prambanan, on the border of Yogyakarta and Central Java, rival Borobudur in beauty and size.
Make sure you visit many of the smaller, but no less interesting and much more atmospheric temples located around Prambanan in addition to the huge Siva temple (on photo) where most visitors flock!
Solo (Surakarta)

The main court centre in Central Java province, Solo is often overlooked due to its proximity to more famous Yogyakarta.
But it's the favourite of those who know better.
It has two old kratons (palaces), one of which is older than Yogya's, its traditional culture is far better preserved, and it is completely free of the hassles and rip-offs that plague its overrated neighbour. In fact, it is almost completely free of tourists too, which makes it one of the greatest, most rewarding off the beaten track destinations in the whole country!
Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park

Java's second most popular attraction is watching the sun rise over the enormous Tengger Caldera in this park in East Java province.
Few visitors get beyond smoking but flattish Mount Bromo in the bottom of the crater, but climbing Mount Semeru, Java's highest mountain rising behind can be the real highlight here.
Off the Beaten Track
Ujung Kulon National Park

Located on the south-western tip of Java in Banten province, this park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its rare Javan Rhinos. Despite this, and the fact that much of its rare wildlife (but not the rhino) is relatively easily seen, it is rarely visited owing to its relative remoteness from the main tourist routes.
Banten Lama

Old Banten is the historic centre of Banten province. It is full of historical relics and a major Muslim pilgrimage site, but very few tourists visit.
Pulau Dua Nature Reserve

This small "island" on the north coast of Banten is home to healthy communities of nesting waterfowl.
Gede-Pangrango National Park

The most popular national park with Indonesians due to its relative proximity to Jakarta, Gede-Pangrango in West Java province nevertheless sees few foreign visitors besides birdwatchers.
It offers great climbing up its two volcanoes, and good chances to see Java's endemic primate and bird species.
Gunung Halimun National Park

West Java's other major mountain park is little visited due to its remoteness. However its flora and fauna is abundant, and the scenery, complete with tea plantations and traditional Sundanese villages along the pristine forest, is absolutely beautiful.

Cirebon is Java's oldest court centre on the north coast of West Java.
Despite the fact that it has no fewer than three kratons (palaces) and several other historical attractions, very few visitors get there, as most take the inland route through the province via much less interesting Bandung.

The capital of Central Java, Semarang is home to some of the most intact surviving Dutch colonial architecture in all Indonesia.
Gedung Songo

These ancient Hindu temples high up in the mountains behind Semarang are much smaller than the better known temples of Central Java. Nevertheless they are beautiful and their gorgeous setting is second to none!
Dieng Plateau

These cold and misty heights in the mountains of Central Java are home to the island's earliest Hindu temples, as well as to interesting volcanic lakes and craters.
Gunung Lawu

The slopes of this volcano east of Solo on the border of Central and East Java are home to Java's last great Hindu temples, beautiful tea plantations, and the popular hill resort of Tawangmangwu.

A quiant little town on the north coast of Central Java where tourists are all but unknown, Lasem has great colonial architecture and very fine traditional batik making.

The capital of East Java is Indonesia's 2nd largest city.
Although it occupies a special place in Indonesian history, and has some fine surviving Dutch colonial architecture and a bustling Chinese district, few tourists stop to explore it. Its image as a large, crowded industrial centre is probably the main reason, though in reality it feels far more old-fashioned and historic than Jakarta, and the historic centre itself is small to explore on foot.
It is also a good place to check out if you enjoy shopping, nightlife and eating out.
Malang & Around

Like Bandung, Malang in East Java was once a pretty colonial town that has now grown into a sprawling urban mess. Nevertheless it is still enjoyable, and a good alternative to staying in Surabaya.
Its real attractions are in the surrounding countryside: several volcanoes and ancient Hindu temples.

The main attraction of Blitar is the Hindu temple complex of Panataran, East Java's most impressive ancient site.
It is also known among Indonesians as the burial place of Sukarno, their first president.

Very few tourist visit the East Javan town of Pare, even though its Hindu temple ruins are located in beautiful rural setting.

Trowulan was the seat of the Majapahit Empire, the largest ancient Indonesia has ever known. Today its ruins are scattered among rice-fields, and as the buildings here were built of bricks rather than stone, they are less visually impressive and less-visited than other historical sites in East Java.
An absolute must for history buffs though!

Separated from the East Javan capital of Surabaya by a narrow strait, the large island of Madura is best known for its bull-races.
However it is also interesting for its very traditional Muslim culture, and there are also a number of historical sites especially around its former court centre of Sumenep.
Yang Plateau

Just east of the famous Bromo area, this largely unknown region, centred on Mount Arcopodo, is the most pristine highland plateau on Java with abundant wildlife on its alpine meadows.

This quiet town on the far east coast of Java is mostly bypassed by tourists who cross to Bali from the nearby ferry terminal.
However Banyuwangi has an old-fashioned, unhurried feel with a traditional culture untouched by tourism, and is also the best base from which to visit Ijen Plateau or East Java's three great lowland national parks.
Ijen Plateau

The easternmost mountain massive on Java, this partly cultivated plateau is noted for the crater of Kawah Ijen, with its sulphurous crater lake. The surrounding beautiful mountain forests are also worth exploring.
Baluran National Park

This savanna park in Java's north-eastern corner is noted for its large herds of deer.
Banteng and Green Peafowl are now rare here, but I found it an excellent place to see the rare Asiatic Wild Dog.
The forests along the river in the northeast and along the coast also have the rare golden form of the Ebony Leaf Monkey.
Alas Purwo National Park

This park on the the peninsula that is Java's south-eastern corner is best known among surfers who pay a small fortune to ride the waves of "G-land".
However it is also a great spot for wildlife: the rare Banteng and Green Peafowl are very easy to see here along with Javan Deer, Barking Deer and Wild Boar.
Four species of sea turtles also nest on its beaches.
Meru Betiri National Park

This remote park on the south coast of East Java is most famous as the last spot where the now extinct Javan Tiger occurred.
Even without tigers it is still worth visiting to see other wildlife in what is Java's best lowland rainforest, or the sea-turtles nesting on its beaches.
Tourist Traps

Beach Resorts

In a country blessed with plenty of stunning beaches, resorts on the island of Java have been developed on some of the least appealing.
Carita, Pelabuhanratu and Pangandaran are all ugly towns on dirty stretches of coast that are hugely popular with Indonesians on weekend breaks from city-life, but will usually only disappoint tourists who expect something better.

Avoid weekends when the resorts are most crowded.
If you visit other islands after Java, wait with the beaches till you get to those!


The capital of West Java province was once known as the "Paris of the East".
Its old reputation as a beautiful and cool mountain town still attracts many visitors, who will find that it has now grown into an ugly, dirty and smog-ridden city of 2 million.

Get out of town - the surrounding countryside is better.
Better still, bypass Bandung by taking a direct bus from say, Bogor to Garut.
Or go via much more interesting Cirebon on the northern coast of West Java.

Also listed as a main attraction of Java, Yogyakarta has serious low points in addition to its attractions. It is home to Indonesia's most aggressive thieves and touts preying on the plentiful tourists, and overcharging is as common as nowhere else.
"Handicrafts" here are mostly machine-made junk sold at maybe 10 times the real price from miles-long lines of souvenir stalls on Jalan Maliaboro.
Traditional culture has largely been abandoned in favour of modernism, and Yogya's famous performing arts are now mostly only to be seen at special pay-by-the-hour tourist performances in the kraton.

Watch your valuables at all times!
If possible avoid taking buses both within and to/from this city.
Avoid shady "Hello my friend!" style touts who lead you to batik shops.
It is best to buy batik elsewhere, but if you do buy it here, assume it's all machine-made and don't pay more than 50.000 Rp per piece unless you REALLY know your stuff!
Note that neighbouring Solo (Surakarta) is just 1 hour away by train and is a much nicer place to stay. You could use Solo as a base and visit Yogya's attractions on a day-trip.
Solo is an equally good base for Prambanan.
As for Borobudur, that is best visited with an overnight stay there to beat the crowds!
Getting There and Around

By Air

Since both Indonesia's capital Jakarta and its second biggest city Surabaya are located here, not to mention 60% of the country's population, Java is by far and away the best connected island in the country internationally.
Most major international airlines go to Jakarta, with a few also serving Surabaya.
Even some smaller cities like Bandung, Yogyakarta and Solo receive flights from Singapore and Malaysia on Air Asia and Silk Air.


By Air

For the same reasons outlined above, you can fly from Java to major cities in every region in Indonesia.

By Sea

Java is also the end of the line, or at least a port of call of most Pelni shipping routes.
You can take a Pelni ship, especially from Jakarta or Surabaya, to pretty much anywhere between Sumatra and Papua.
Pelni services are also supplemented by a number of private companies which run services from various port cities along Java's north coast mainly to Kalimantan and to Makassar in Sulawesi.

By Bus

Java might be an island, but direct buses connect it with Sumatra, Bali and even Nusa Tenggara.
The ferry crossings are included in the fare.


By Air

The network of flights is also very extensive within Java itself, so if you are in a real hurry, you could easily skip some overland travel by flying from Jakarta to Yogyakarta or Surabaya, for example. Fares also tend to be very competitive, as passengers here could always opt to go by land if the tickets were too pricey.

By Sea

Unless you are a committed fan of travelling on the seas, there is pretty much no reason to take a ship from one city on mainland Java to another - going by bus or train is both faster and more interesting.
You may need to tackle the relatively short distances between mainland Java and its off-shore islands by boat or ferry though. The hop from Surabaya to Madura was just a short ferry ride that has recently been obsoleted by a new bridge, while the beaches of Pulau Seribu and Karimunjawa marine parks are also fairly short boat-rides away from Jakarta or Jepara, respectively.
The only islands requiring overnight boat-rides and still belonging to Java are the remote East Javan ones of Kangean, Bawean and Masalembo.

By Rail

Java has the only useful rail network in all Indonesia.
The trains are a good alternative to the buses, as they tend to pass through more scenic countryside away from the highways and, at least if you book into the higher classes, are more comfortable.
The one drawback is that catching one requires a little more advance planning - checking schedules and booking tickets at least a day in advance is never a bad idea.
With a couple of changes, you could go all the way between the ferry crossings for Sumatra and Bali by rail.

By Bus

Within Java, including from the mainland to Madura, most locals travel by buses of some sort.
Between the major cities you can choose between various classes, but to get out to the smaller places you may well need to take cramped, run-down minibuses.
Where even these dry up, ojeks take over.


Java is a popular place to rent a car with a driver.
Many drivers in Jakarta or Bogor offer to take you right across the island, while those landing at Surabaya's airport will get lots of offers to be driven to Bromo.
If this is really what you want, fine, but remember that Java's system of public transport is both the most extensive and the cheapest in Indonesia.
Renting a motorbike could be a good idea for exploring rural areas, but much less enjoyable on the busy highways.