Java is the world’s most populated island, having more than double the population of the UK in around 60% of the space. But as well as a lot of people, Java is packed with attractions – such as active volcanoes, historic temples, monuments, lakes and tea plantations.
Earlier this year I spent some time backpacking in Indonesia by myself to see what Java has to offer. Not only did I find some spectacular scenery but I met a lot of amazing people as well. Probably one of the most budget friendly places in South East Asia, it was easy on the wallet, with prices generally being much lower than Bali or Thailand.
Here’s a rundown of some of the main places to visit in Java:
Indonesia’s capital city is a crazy place, and one that a lot of people avoid other than to fly to or from the airport. Jakarta is big. Like, really big; it is not only South East Asia’s largest city but also has the world’s second largest metropolitan area.
Towering shopping malls, street food, pet markets, monuments and so much else make Jakarta a bit of an assault on the senses. Visit the golden flame of the National Monument, the National Cathedral and Mosque that are side by side or walk around the market stalls in the old square. Jakarta is an interesting place to pass a couple of days.
However, if you decide you need a break from the traffic jams, flooded roads and pollution, a trip to the botanic gardens in the nearby town of Bogor is only an hour away on the train.
Popular with both Indonesian and international tourists, Mount Bromo is one of Indonesia’s most scenic places to visit. A trip to Bromo generally involves getting up really early (think 1 or 2am) to see the sunrise at the Penanjakan viewpoint and then climbing up to the edge of the crater of Bromo itself.
There are a lot of steps to walk up to the crater, but once you get up there you can see the steam rising up from the volcano on one side, and then look down to the sand sea – a desert like landscape of sand dunes – below.
The sunrise view is incredible and if you have more time there are other hikes that can be done around the Bromo, Tengger, Semeru National Park (although some routes are closed during the rainy season).
Mount Ijen is an otherworldly place that leaves a lasting impression. It is possible to visit without booking on an organised tour, however travel times by bus can be very long so a tour is better if you are short on time.
As well as being home to the world’s largest highly acidic crater lake, the crater of Mount Ijen is also known for the mysterious blue flames that it produces. At night, the sulphuric gas produced can ignite so that it appears to burn blue in the moonlight.
The walk into the crater is tough; the path is not lit at all so I was really glad that I brought a torch with me (especially given that some sections have sheer drops on either side). After approximately 3km of steep uphill walk the path ends at the rim of the crater. There is then a long descent over uneven rocks towards the crater lake. When I was there I saw several people turn back due to coughing fits from the sulphuric gas that fills the air as you start to get down in the crater so I would definitely recommend taking a face mask.
The views after the sun comes up are pretty impressive, and you can also see local miners carrying heavy baskets filled with chunks of sulphur out of the crater.
Surabaya is Indonesia’s second city, and so it is a handy place to go to catch buses or flights.
The main attraction of the city is its history: the battle of Surabaya was a turning point in the Indonesian struggle for independence from the Dutch. I found walking around the museum really interesting and I learnt a lot about how independence was won, then went to see the monument to Soekarno, the first Indonesian president.
There is also a factory in Surabaya that offers a popular tour to see cigarettes being rolled by hand or the Arab quarter which is filled with markets selling clothing, dates and coffee.
The big draw of Yogyakarta is its proximity to two ancient temples – Borobudur and Prambanan.
Borobudur is a stunning Buddhist temple with lush jungle covered hills in the background. Set in a beautifully kept tropical garden it is a great place to relax, or climb the temple to see the serene buddha statues and giant stone bells.
Prambanan is a Hindu temple that features loads of ancient statues. Unfortunately, the temple has been severely damaged in earthquakes over the years and so there are large piles of rocks all around the site that could not be rebuilt. Local university students often offer free tours of the temple complex to practice their English.
Also close to Yogyakarta is Mount Merapi which has the rather impressive title of being Indonesia’s most active volcano (there is a lot of competition!). Climbing Merapi is possible but difficult, generally taking around 4 hours to climb and expeditions set off around 10pm to reach the top for sunrise. The climb is very steep and sandy, so taking a head torch is recommended to leave hands free for climbing.
Tubing at the Goa Pindul caves is another fun day out and offers the chance to float through caves full of bats and jump off a waterfall.
Multiple buses make getting to the Dieng plateau a bit of a headache, but once there it is well worth the journey. This high altitude plateau is a hotbed of volcanic activity and feels completely different to the rest of Indonesia.
The main attractions are the coloured lakes, ancient hindu temples and Sikandang, a crater filled with boiling mud and volcanic gas that comes up from beneath the earth’s crust.
Unlike most places in Indonesia, it is actually cold at night so be sure to bring a jacket.
People and Culture
Java is predominantly Muslim and so it is important to dress respectfully when visiting. Wearing swimwear on the beach is often inappropriate and so people usually swim in their clothes.
The people are very, very friendly and I found I was generally stopped several times a day by people wanting to take photos with me or practice speaking English. I had more people offer to buy me food than I did coming to me to try to sell me anything, and often got asked to join local people sitting in cafes.
I was surprised at how few backpackers I met there, however having so few international visitors meant that local people were really interested in meeting me. As a solo female traveller I generally felt very safe when I travelled around Java as everywhere I went I would meet local people who would be looking out for me.
Outside of major cities, it is generally very difficult to find international food but the Indonesian food is delicious and street food is generally excellent.
Rosie Young loves travelling to unusual destinations and is usually seen behind the lens of a camera, writing on her laptop, or reading a book. She keeps a travel blog, Heading for the Horizon, and you can find her on Instagram here. In between travels she spends her time baking and planning her next trip!