Photo: End of the earth.


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Clinging to Java’s eastern shores, Banyuwangi is the gateway to the island from Bali or vice versa and the busy port of Ketapang sees daily convoys of trucks ferried across the Bali Strait to and from Bali’s Gilimanuk.

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Many travellers do nothing more than pass by, but Banyuwangi is worth a stop, if for nothing else but to explore the incredible Kawah Ijen and perhaps have a poke around the southern coast. The town itself lays south of the port with no real discernible centre, larger than it first appears sprawling south and west for several kilometres, and further up into the foothills of Gunung Merapi, the highest peak of the enormous Ijen Plateau which encompasses not just the famous Kawah Ijen (Ijen crater) but also a significant portion of the entirety of far eastern Java.

Breathtaking scenery at Kawah Ijen. Photo taken in or around Banyuwangi, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Breathtaking scenery at Kawah Ijen. Photo: Sally Arnold

Predominantly an agricultural area surrounded by plantations, a focus on the developing tourism sector is beginning to make some of the out-of-the-way areas in this area of Java more accessible. Banyuwangi is a city with notable civic pride, one of the cleanest we’ve set foot in in the whole of Indonesia—it has won the title of Cleanest Tourist City at least five times. Not only is it markedly rubbish free, each kampung is brightly painted and decorated with colourful murals and embellishments—it certainly would win our vote in any tidy town award.

Legend has it that the name Banyuwangi meaning “fragrant water” comes from a tale of lust, devotion and fidelity when King Sulahkromo (Prabu Sulakrama) had his eye on his assistant’s beautiful wife, Sri Tanjung. After she refused the king’s advances, he sent his assistant away on a mission and began rumours as to her disloyalty to her husband. As is usual in these tales, the husband believed the gossip and not his faithful wife, and returned to find her in the King’s arms as he was trying to rape her. In a jealous rage, her stabbed her with his kris and thew her body into the muddy river which instantly turned as clear as crystal and as fragrant as flowers, proving her purity.

The town itself is pretty. Photo taken in or around Banyuwangi, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

The town itself is pretty. Photo: Sally Arnold

Historically Banyuwangi was the seat of the Blambangan Empire, the last Hindu Kingdom on Java which flourished between the 14th and 16th centuries, later dominated by Islamic Mataram and Hindu Bali through the 17th and 18th centuries, and finally ending with the occupation of the Dutch VOC in the mid 18th century. Records of this period are minimal and the history of Blambangan is more popularly cited as myth and legend.

Today, descendants of this kingdom are the Osing, a sub-ethnic group of the Javanese people make their home around Banyuwangi. You can visit the village of Kemiren to the west of town with several “rumah Osing”, traditional wooden houses. The Osing traditional dance, Gandrung has become somewhat of a cultural symbol of Banyuwangi, and worth catching if you get the opportunity (you’ll see several statues of women in the traditional dance costume thorough the town). An annual festival sees hundreds of dancers performing on the beach.

Those with time, should grab a scooter and explore the surrounds. Photo taken in or around Banyuwangi, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Those with time, should grab a scooter and explore the surrounds. Photo: Sally Arnold

The city itself has no real tourist attractions of note, there’s a large mosque, a Chinese temple and a couple of so-so city beaches including Palau Santen, a women-only beach set up with beanbags and umbrellas, good for selfies and probably a decent spot to enjoy late light (outside of wet season!), but don’t expect to be offered a cocktail or refreshing beer as it’s a sharia beach.

Banyuwangi is no slouch when it comes to shopping and the sprawling labyrinth-like Banyuwangi traditional market is well worth a visit even for those who have seen more than their fare share of markets. There is a large fresh produce section but also skateboard and roller blade stores, plenty of gold shops, stationary stores and if you’ve a broken watch on you, this is most certainly where you want to head. Best in the very late or very early hours, we rolled though about 9am and it was still plenty interesting. You’ll find the market on Jalan Susuit Tubun to the west of Taman Blambangan.

Wandering Kimiran traditional village. Photo taken in or around Banyuwangi, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Wandering Kimiran traditional village. Photo: Sally Arnold

If you are interested in colonial architecture, the streets are worth a wander to check out some of the crumbling Dutch cottages dotted around town. The main tourist draws are out of the city, but Banyuwangi makes a decent base to explore. The breathtaking (literally) Kawah Ijen, an active volcano where you can see the “blue fire” of the caldera and witness sulphur miners go about their arduous work can be easily visited in an overnight trip, and every homestay, hotel and travel agent offers packages for this.

Further afield are national parks and pretty beaches including Pulau Merah or Red Beach and Sukamade Beach known for its turtle breeding grounds. However wet season is not the best time to explore, and we were unable to visit these during our research in early 2018.

You won’t go hungry. Photo taken in or around Banyuwangi, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

You won’t go hungry. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Although the city centre may be lacking in sights, your tummy is in for some gastronomic highlights. Be sure to sample some of the delicious local specialities which includes fresh seafood. It may be a little challenging to find a cold beer, but several guesthouses and Chinese stores sell it discreetly, just ask around.

Due to the sprawling nature of the city, there is no one area with a focus on tourist accommodation. Resorts are peppered along the costal beaches, but many are run down and blocked from the sea, although if you’d like a seaview a few decent options exist. Hundreds of one or two room homestays dot the town, but most only open with advance bookings and you’ll likely find no one home if you casually walk in, nevertheless there’s an adequate selection of accommodation across all budgets, just check the location as you could be in for a fair hike. For folks whose sole reason to visit the area is to see Kawah Ijen, you may prefer to stay closer to the volcano where there is also wide choice.

Expect many selfies. Photo taken in or around Banyuwangi, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

Expect many selfies. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Banyuwangi is well serviced by public transport, with the ferry port to Bali, two train stations, three bus terminals and a small airport. Angkots—local minibuses—ply the streets, but for convenience, download the Go-Jek app for online motorbike taxis. For out-of-town excursions you’re best to hire a car and driver.

Make a difference
One way to support the miners working at Kawah ijen is by making a donation to Ijen Assistance. The organisation raises money to build trolleys for the miners and also to sponsor miner’s children through the local schools. See their website for more information and for a couple of very interesting videos outlining what they are doing. If you have purchased a mask for yourself, consider gifting it to a miner after your visit—many work with no protective gear other than a wet towel wrapped over their mouth and nose.

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One main highway runs south from Ketapang Harbour to the turn off to Blimbingsari Airport, around 20 kilometre away, with a section in the city centre which becomes one way in a southerly direction so if heading north, you’ll have to zig zag around the city blocks. Jalan Jaksa Agung Suprapto branches off to the east near this one way section and eventually joins with Jalan Raya Ijen, which will lead to the volcano. A somewhat confusing labyrinth of minor streets and laneways weave off in either direction from these major roads.

Banyuwangi Government Culture and Tourism Service in the middle of town and offers some information on sights and cultural events, you may even be invited to have coffee with a tourism minister as we were.

ATMs are dotted around town. The main post office is on Jalan Diponegoro across from Taman Blambangan. RSUD Blambangan is the main public hospital to the west of town, there are also several private hospitals including Rumah Sakit Islam Banyuwangi and RSI Fatimah.

RSI Fatimah: 25 Jalan Jember, Banyuwangi; T: (0333) 421 451;
RSUD Blambangan: 49 Jalan Letkol Istiqlah, Banyuwangi; (0333) 421 118
Rumah Sakit Islam Banyuwangi: 129 Jalan Basuki Rahmat, Banyuwangi; T: (0333) 424 118
Tourist Information Centre: 78 Jalan Jenderal Ahmad Yani, Banyuwangi; T: (0333) 424 172;; Mo–Fr: 08:00–16:00


What next?

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