Wild seas, jagged cliffs, sand-boardable black dunes, huge skies with stunning sunsets, Parangtritis Beach, 30 kilometres south of Yogyakarta, is certainly atmospheric. And if the tempestuous landscape isn’t enough, the local myths and legends will send chills running down your spine.
The Sultanate of Yogyakarta and its precursor Mataram have long been shrouded in mysticism and folklore. Key is the legend of Kanjeng Ratu Loro Kidul, the Queen of the Southern Seas (also known by a number of other names).
As the story goes, Sutawijaya, Sultan of Mataram (1584–1601), spent three days and three nights in her watery palace, where he was offered everlasting power and her love. We’re not sure what the payoff was, but she became his wife and pledged herself to all his descendants. Many Javanese believe she is the reason Yogyakarta remains politically powerful to this day. However the love of the Sultan is not enough for this insatiable sea nymph, and she likes to entice swimmers into a watery grave, apparently preferring handsome young men, but anyone wearing the colour green will suffice. Locals are very superstitions about this, so bear that in mind when you’re dressing for a day at the beach.
To avoid any mishap, we’d actually avoid swimming (really). The sea is dangerous, with rips and undertows, and drownings are not uncommon. In case you’re wondering, her presence can be felt by a sudden short gust of wind leaving a strong and lingering fragrance. Further to this legend, some 450 kilometres west of Yogyakarta as the crow flies (longer by road), in the beachside town of Pelabuhan Ratu, West Java, the Samudra Beach Hotel keeps room 308 furnished in green, and reserved for this aquatic queen. The myth extends to involve President Sukarno and his rise to power.
The place Sutawijaya surfaced from the sea is marked with a white wall at Parangkusmo Beach, about one kilometre west of Parangtritis. Many locals come here to lay offerings, meditate and pray for guidance and good fortune, as well as a couple of other nearby mystical caves and springs. Once a year (according to the Javanese calendar), on the anniversary of the Sultan’s coronation, a special royal ceremony is held here, and among other offerings, the royal nail clippings are presented. If you’re in town, this event is worth catching — check with the Government Tourist Information Centre on Jalan Malioboro (open Monday to Friday 08:00-19:00, Saturday 08:00-14:00).
A beach you can’t swim at may not sound like an enticing tourist destination, however it’s worth the trip, not just for the great local atmosphere, but you can have some fun sand-boarding at the (relatively small) sand dunes at Gumuk Pasir, two kilometres west of Parangtritis. A couple of spots offer sand-boards for hire for 100,000 rupiah per hour. Locals tend to hire one or two between a group, so you may want to chip-in and join them. Here is also a very popular spot for that other great Indonesian sport, the selfie. There are all sorts of props set up in the dunes to help you get the most Instagrammable pose. There’s even an Instagram Gumuk Pasir photo contest.
Nearby Cemara Beach is favoured, not just for watching the wild waves, but for local pre-wedding shots too. If you’re into adventure sports, paragliding is possible off the cliffs at Parangtritis, but only offered from December until March (400,000 rupiah). A few local surfers brave the rough waves, but our local surfing friends said to try it “only if you want to die”.
Parangtritis Beach itself has ATVs (50,000-100,00 rupiah for 20 minutes) or horse riding and horsecart rides (30,000-100,000 rupiah), or if that all sounds too energetic you can hire a beach umbrella for 25,000 rupiah and stretch out on the black volcanic sand. Due to the conservative culture, locals tend to be fully clothed while enjoying the beach—wearing a bikini or budgies is not appropriate beach attire here. As the sun reddens, stalls set up selling barbecued corn on the cob and other tasty snacks. Get your camera ready for a spectacular sunset, but don’t worry if you’ve forgotten it—mobile photographers roam the beach and you can have prints made while you wait.
Be warned that Parangtritis Beach gets busy late afternoon and packed weekends and holidays.
How to get there
Buses to Parangtritis leave from Giwangan bus terminal in south Yogya regularly between 06:00 and 16:00 (15,000 rupiah). The last bus back leaves around 17:00 (check when you arrive). Arranging private transport is a better bet, however, as that way you can explore the coastline and stay for sunset. Some local travel agents offer day trips.
By Sally Arnold.
Last updated on 6th December, 2016.