Photo: Taking a moment on Sunset Beach.

Introduction

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Think of your ideal tropical paradise. Once you have that in mind, if it includes white-sand beaches fringed by palm trees, turquoise water so bright it stings your eyes, warm weather all year round, few tourists (for now) and just enough decent accommodation to ensure you don’t have to pitch a tent (although that’s an option too), then the islands of Karimunjawa could be your paradise.


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Located about 80 kilometres off Jepara on the north coast of Central Java, the idyllic cluster of 27 tropical islands that form the Karimunjawa archipelago is an increasingly popular destination for domestic tourists, especially on weekends, with a growing number of independent foreign travellers discovering its charms as well.

Pretty even in iffy weather. Photo taken in or around Karimunjawa Islands, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Pretty even in iffy weather. Photo: Sally Arnold

What appears to be one main rabbit-shaped island is in fact two, separated by a narrow channel at the bunny’s head: Pulau Kemujan to the north and Pulau Karimunjawa to the south. Together they cover an area of about 3,500 hectares, large for a remote outpost in the middle of the ocean.

A spine of forested hills covers Pulau Karimunjawa and sandwiched between the jungle and the southern tip is the island’s main town also called Karimunjawa, where you’ll find much of the accommodation and the port.

Popular with swingers. Photo taken in or around Karimunjawa Islands, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Popular with swingers. Photo: Sally Arnold

Flatter Pulau Kemujan harbours a small airport. Other islands are considerable smaller, some offer accommodation including one private island with a luxury resort, but many are uninhabited. It’s possible to organise camping trips to the outer islands with boat transport, tents, sleeping mats and snorkelling gear included from 650,000 rupiah per person for two (less per person for larger groups), an idyllic back-to-basics escape.

Snorkelling, diving, kayaking and cruising around on a motorbike to explore the many deserted white-sand beaches are the main activities, but lazing about in a hammock on the beach is equally popular. A terrific day island hopping can be arranged through your accommodation or one of the tour operators in town, but weather conditions can be choppy and changeable, and boats don’t always run.

Dip your toes in. Photo taken in or around Karimunjawa Islands, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Dip your toes in. Photo: Sally Arnold

Some of the island hopping tours visit a shark enclosure on Pulau Menjangan Besar (there’s also one on Pualau Karimunjawa) where you can swim with netted reef sharks, although we visited neither and can’t report how healthy the sharks appear, we don’t think it’s an activity that should be encouraged or supported. A local marine biologist we spoke to agreed that tourists should avoid this activity and that the sharks should be free in their natural habitat where you may be lucky to see them when you are snorkelling the reef.

For days when you’re stuck on land, there’s an easy stroll along boardwalks though a mangrove forest, or to get the heart pumping, hire a guide for some jungle trekking up the hill and be rewarded with sweeping views of the archipelago, or just jump on a bike and explore. The going rate for motorbike hire is 75,000 rupiah per day, you’ll have to ask for a helmet as they are not automatically offered, and make sure you’re covered by your travel insurance. Alternatively ojeks (again ask for a helmet!) and cars with drivers are available too. For the selfie-loving set, Bukit Joko Tuo and Bukit Love offer terrific views and fun props to add colour to your Instagram feed.

Explore some mangroves. Photo taken in or around Karimunjawa Islands, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Explore some mangroves. Photo: Sally Arnold

Seafood lovers will be in their element—every evening the town square (alun-alun) fires up the barbie for the night fish markets, not to be missed. This is a low key village, don’t expect bars, clubs or nightlife although you can enjoy a beer at most restaurants (and unofficially at the night market).

Although tourism is increasing, Karimunjawa is a conservative Muslim fishing community, and respect for the local culture is appreciated. Keep swimwear and skimpy clothing for the beach, and if you’re staying in a local homestay, avoid bringing alcohol.

Visit a lagoon. Photo taken in or around Karimunjawa Islands, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Visit a lagoon. Photo: Sally Arnold

The islands can experience sudden changes in weather which can cancel ferry services for days on end, it’s not the worst place in the world to be stranded, but you may want to consider timing if you’re on a tight schedule. You may be able to jump on one of the scheduled flights as an alternative, but bad weather can cause disruption to air services as well. Conditions are worse between December and March and some accommodation closes over this period.

Electricity on the island is only recently available 24 hours per day, however blackouts are frequent, although most guesthouses and hotels have generators to keep the air-con and WiFi running. Pack a torch to be prepared anyway.

Climb a hill and enjoy the view. Photo taken in or around Karimunjawa Islands, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Climb a hill and enjoy the view. Photo: Sally Arnold

Orientation
The town of Karimunjawa is easily walked around. The ferry port is to the east of town and the main town square (alun-alun) sits on a promontory in the centre of the village. Streets radiate in a grid forming an arrowhead at the square. Most are unnamed and unmarked, however it’s fairly easy to orient yourself and difficult to get lost. A single road leading northwest takes you all over the island and to the airport on Pulau Kemujan, and the road to the northeast leads to bays and beaches on the southeast side of the island.

A few small shops sell basic sundries, but bring sunblock.

The BRI bank is equipped with the only ATMs on the island, you can withdraw up to 2,500,000 rupiah in one transaction, but they only accept MasterCard, so if you only have Visa, cash up before you arrive.

Make some new friends. Photo taken in or around Karimunjawa Islands, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Make some new friends. Photo: Sally Arnold

A chemist is located next door to Eat & Meet Cafe, opposite The Coconut House. There’s a small community health centre (puskesmas) with a spanking new one opening soon opposite the traditional market. For any major medical emergencies try to get back to Jepara, or better still Semarang.

A post office and police station are both located in the main town.

What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Karimunjawa Islands.
 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda or Booking
 Read up on where to eat on Karimunjawa Islands.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Karimunjawa Islands.
 Read up on how to get to Karimunjawa Islands.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Karimunjawa Islands? Please read this.





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