With thousands of islands, hundreds of languages and a mind-boggling mix of cities, beaches, volcanoes and rainforests, planning a trip to Indonesia can be mystifying.
If you’re a first time visitor, or just have a couple of weeks to spare, Java is the perfect solution. The biggest island in the country, Java is home to Indonesia’s busiest cities, its most famous sights, and over half of its friendly population.
Here’s just 10 highlights from this gem of South East Asia:
The sprawling capital of Indonesia, Jakarta is the centre of the action and where you’ll discover just how diverse this country really is. Inhale the smells from Malay and Chinese cafes as you wander past 19th-century style Dutch buildings and listen to the call to prayer from a nearby mosque… all while suited executives make business deals in skyscraping offices around you.
If Jakarta is the brain of Java, then Yogyakarta is its heart and soul. The cultural centre of the island (and maybe even the whole of Indonesia), you’ll find batik workshops, life-changing street food, the famous Ramayana Ballet and so much more here. Take a quick bike ride through the city and suddenly you’re surrounded by rice paddies with brooding volcanoes in the distance.
3 & 4. Borobodur & Prambanan
Easily day-tripped from Yogya, Borobodur is the world’s largest Buddhist temple and not to be missed. If you’re not interested in the history – the complex dates from the 9th century – you’ll certainly be impressed by the views from the top. Equally impressive is nearby Prambanan, a Hindu temple complex that will take your breath away at sunset (or any other time of day).
Skipped over by most major guide books, Pangandaran is a lush slice of jungle in West Java with two main draws; the paradise-like Green Canyon, and no tourists. Take a boat upriver to swim in dreamy green water as towering, green-covered cliffs keep the rest of the world far, far away.
6. Seloliman Nature Reserve
The Seloliman Nature Reserve is Java’s ultimate jungle retreat. Nestled into the slopes of the sacred Penanggungan volcano, here is where you can learn about local farming and wildlife by day and stargaze by night. Organic, home-grown food and open air baths surrounded by nature will put some pep back in your step.
7. Mount Bromo
There’s magic in the air at Mount Bromo, arguably the most iconic of Java’s many active volcanoes. Hiking through the Tengger Valley to catch a view of Bromo and the sea of peaks that surround it is, hands-down, the most breathtaking Indonesian experience of all. The (very) early morning start is well worth it for the sweeping sunrise views.
‘Wake up and smell the coffee’ is a way of life in Kalibaru; the foothills encircling this little town are top-to-toe coffee plantations. There’s not much to do here but see how cocoa and coffee beans are harvested, cool off in the milder climate, and look out over the hills as you sip a cup of joe straight from the source. If you’re in need of some rest and relaxation, you’ll get plenty of both here.
9. Kampung Warna Warni Jodipan
Historical city Malang in the heart of eastern Java is known for its temples, 19th-century Dutch-style architecture, and the technicolour houses of Kampung Warna Warni Jodipan. Your Instagram feed will be full of this village’s cheerful rainbow-painted roofs, and when you’re done snapping, there’s plenty of enticing food and captivating museums to tackle.
10. Sempu Island
If a tropical beach with no electricity, no phone signal, and no people is your idea of paradise, you’ll want to take a short boat trip from the coast of Java to Sempu Island. Trek to the lagoon in its centre for a sneak peek of what heaven looks like, or camp out on the white sand for the night before catching a boat back in the morning.
What’s the best way to get around Java? By train, of course. Unlike other parts of Asia (and Indonesia), the train network in Java is extensive, trains are comfortable and (usually) punctual, and tickets are affordable. Grab a snack from the hawkers who hop on and off at every stop, settle in, and watch the scenery whizz by your windows.
Feature image by Merabet Hichem.