Published: 26th February, 2018
Indonesia’s province of West Java covers roughly one third of the entire island—you guessed it, the western bit—and this tremendously diverse environment encompasses high-density urban zones, dramatic volcanic peaks, rich colonial heritage, impressive national parks, bounteous agricultural regions, beautiful beaches, and is home to the proud Sundanese people who are endowed with unique cultural and artistic traditions.
Despite this wealth of treasures, most travellers arrive in the seething capital of Jakarta and hightail it to the more popular and well-known region of Yogyakarta in Central Java. However, if you have a little time up your sleeve, West Java is well worth a detour from the well-trodden path to explore this little visited part of Indonesia.
A word of warning—time and patience are both required when travelling in West Java. Despite it being one of the most densely populated areas anywhere, the infrastructure can be somewhat lacking and travel is often painfully slow and at times not A to B, and instead A to B to C to D to Etc., nevertheless, your perseverance will be rewarded. If you’re travelling with a surfboard, don’t be surprised when you’re charged extra to bring the board with you.
West Java’s wet season runs roughly late October to late February. During this time, road travel is fine on the major roads, but landslides do happen and there can by trip disruptions. If you’ve got a date with a long haul international flight, be sure to allow enough wiggle room to make sure you don’t miss it. Once the wet season finishes, West Java blossoms, with lush rolling hills and clear skies delivering spectacular volcanic views. Costal areas can feel very hot during the day, but evening temperatures, particularly in the higher inland, can drop at night. If you are planning on climbing volcanoes, bring protective cold weather gear—even in dry season.
Day 1 and 2: Bogor
Jakarta is not everyone’s cup of Bintang, and while we are fans of “the big durian”, we can appreciate that it’s far from a tourist paradise. Luckily, those who don’t share our penchant of the city can sideline it completely and jump on a bus directly from the airport and in less than two hours (fingers crossed!) be in the West Javanese city of Bogor to begin a jaunt around the region—less time than it sometimes takes in the traffic to central Jakarta itself. Assuming a morning arrival in Jakarta you should be checked in, settled and washed up in Bogor just in time to head out for lunch.
Once fed, it is time to head to a world renowned 200-year-old botanical gardens, the prime reason to visit the city. Most of Bogor’s accommodation surrounds the gardens or is a short walk or minibus ride away. The chaotic surrounding streets and traffic may seem daunting, but once inside the green zone it’s a veritable haven. You can spend a half day or more wandering the expansive park that incorporates a dusty zoology museum, presidential palace, greenhouses and a colonial Dutch cemetery along with the formal gardens. Take a breather at the Grand Garden Cafe within, and if you have time, you could check out a traditional puppet workshop nearby.
The evening offers the opportunity to discover some of Bogor’s great street food—try toge goreng, or if it’s raining head into one of the many local restaurants, then enjoy a quiet beer overlooking the lights of the valley from Salak Sunset Cafe.
The next day, get out of town to Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park. The park covers a large swath of West Java, but is easily accessed from Bogor and although you could spend days trekking and climbing the two peaks for which the park is named, a couple of hours will allow time for a wander in the rainforest and a dip in one of the pristine mountain pools— you may be lucky to spot some wildlife too. Close at hand, stop by the picturesque Hindu temple, Pura Parahyangan Agung, and on your way back to town make a short detour to visit a traditional foundry and watch gongs beaten into shape.
Day 3 and 4: Cimaja
Wake early and jump on a bus to the southern coastal local resort town of Pelabuanratu to connect to Cimaja, a four to eight hour journey in total (depending on traffic) which passes by picturesque rural scenery.
Cimaja’s pumping barrels and laid back vibe make this town a favourite surfer hang, and you may be surprised to see more tourists in this tiny village than you have seen in the whole of Bogor. If you surf you may want to chill here for a while, and if not you still may want to chill here for a while as that’s the general milieu. Stay at least another day to recover from the long journey even though there’s not a lot to do besides surf, but it’s a very pretty relaxing spot to kick back for a day or two, watch the rice grow and the surf roll in.
Just up the road, its worth a trip to Cisolok Hot Springs where you can hang with the locals and see hot geysers gushing from the volcanically charged earth to mix with the cool river water creating the perfect temperature for a soak.
The entire southern coast is filled with local mystery and myth, and is believed to be the playground of the mystical Goddess of the South Sea, Nyai Roro Kidul and near Cimaja are a couple of sights that may appeal to folks curious about such otherworldly tales. Room 308 of the 60s built Samudra Hotel is reserved for this legendary figure and can be visited for a small fee. For a small town in the middle of nowhere Cimaja offers some surprisingly good dining options. As well as the many local warungs, surfer style restaurants dish up decent Western food too. If you’re around on a Saturday, catch a live band at Nurda’s.
Days 5 and 6: Ujung Genteng
If the swell is a bit flat, head east to try the waves at Ujung Genteng, however this remote spot is not just for surfers, and presents an opportunity to nature lovers to see giant green sea turtles lay their eggs along the beaches here or simply wander the miles of beautiful coastline.
Be prepared for a bit of an adventure getting to Ujung Genteng as you’ll likely have to make a few connections. Although there are several basic guesthouses and hotels to stay all along the coast we’d recommend one of the surfer pads at Turtle Beach. If you surf, this is a popular wave, and if not you’re close to the turtle project. If the swell is favourable, you could get in a few waves in the afternoon, then wander down to see the cute baby turtles released to the sea.
Many places here include meals in the rate—good to get to know other travellers. The following day take a trip to the spectacular triple waterfall at Cikaso close to the nearby town of Surade. If you are pushed for time, you could visit here as a detour en route to Bandung, but we’d take another day to relax, wallow in the cool water for half a day then return to Ujung Genteng to enjoy the beach.
Days 7, 8 and 9: Bandung
Head north again following a rather zig-zagging route (who put that volcano in the way?) and return to civilisation for the next stop, Bandung, the gritty capital of West Java, with Dutch colonial architecture and a burgeoning contemporary art scene, but more locally famous for factory outlet shopping as this is one of Indonesia’s largest manufacturing centres with everything from clothing to pharmaceuticals and aircraft engines produced here.
Travel from Ujung Genteng to Bandung can be long and arduous and will take the best part of a day, but once you’ve made it on the connecting chicken buses to Sukabumi, large comfortable coaches to Bandung are a welcome change. This modern city is also the heartland of Sundanese culture—make sure you catch a (somewhat cheesy) show at Saung Angklung Udjo, a centre for traditional Sundanese bamboo music, the angklung.
In its heyday Bandung was known as the “Paris of Java”, although there is little to justify the moniker these days, some interesting Art Deco buildings remain. If a stay at the Savoy Homann Hotel isn’t within your budget, pop in for a look and a coffee in the cafe to see where the likes of Charlie Chaplin put up in his day.
Bandung is a top spot for a gastronomic adventure with some excellent Sudanese cuisine to sample and has a booming coffee culture too. Bandung’s best sights require a daytrip outside the traffic clogged centre where you can discover the spectacular volcanoes of Tangkuban Parahu in the north and Kawah Putih in the south.
Day 10: Cipanas
From Bandung, follow the road south again for a shortish trip to Garut and its hot spring resort area of Cipanas where the hotels entice with hot-spring-fed baths. This entire area is encircled by active volcanoes, so spend a day checking out the violate action at Kawah Kamojang and ethereal Gunung Papandayan. If you have time, there’s a small ancient Hindu temple, Candi Cangkuang in the vicinity too.
Days 11, 12 and 13: Pangandaran and Batu Karas
As you leave Cipanas, stop en route to Tasikmalaya and visit the beautiful traditional village Kampung Naga. Once you have reached Tasikmalaya, transfer for the four to five-hour bus journey to Pangandaran, West Java’s most popular seaside resort.
If it’s not too late in the afternoon (and not raining) when you arrive, stretch your legs with a trek and try your luck at wildlife spotting at the Pangandaran Nature Reserve that covers most of the peninsular, then enjoy a sundowner at one of the many beach bars before heading to the Pasar Ikan, fish market, for some fresh barbecued seafood.
Around Pangandaran are many small villages where all sorts of traditional goods are produced as well as some terrific local waterways to enjoy. Take a home industry tour and visit a traditional puppet master at work, combined with a trip to Citumang (Green Valley) for some adventurous body rafting or the Santirah River for tubing and on the way back, view the setting sun from Wonder Hill Jojogan.
The following day enjoy a boat trip at majestic Green Canyon, a narrow river gorge with a sensational swimming spot at the end before heading towards Batu Karas another surfing locale with a chilled village vibe.
Batu Karas is a great alternative spot to stay in this area as most of the sights here are between Batu Karas and Pangandaran, or you could spend a night or two at both. On the way check out the sensational view up and down the coast from the headland at Batu Hiu and if you’re brave, take a shortcut over the rickety bamboo bridge.
Once at Batu Karas Beach, time to catch some waves, and if you’ve never surfed, this is the perfect place to learn. You can spend your time just lazing about here, and surf-eat-sleep-repeat but why not take a bike ride to wander the boardwalks at the Centre of Mangrove Restoration and Education, or hit up a yoga class and support the local community led organisation CLEAR, at Bale Tau.
Day 14: Departure
From Batu Karas you’ll need to double back to Pangandaran for your onward journey. Most travellers continue by bus or train to Yogyakarta in Central Java, but you can just as easily return to Bandung or Jakarta for other connections.
Where to go, how long to stay there, where to go next, east or west, north or south? How long have you got? How long do you need? Itinerary planning can be almost as maddening as it is fun and here are some outlines to help you get started. Remember, don't over plan!
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Roughly apple-shaped, you'd think Cambodia would be ideal for circular routes, but the road network isn't really laid out that way. This means you'll most likely find yourself through some towns more than once, so work them into your plans.
How long have you got? That's not long enough. Really. You'd need a few lifetimes to do this sprawling archipelago justice. Be wary of trying to cover too much ground - the going in Indonesia can be slow.
North or south or both? Laos is relatively small and transport is getting better and better. Those visiting multiple countries can pass through here a few times making for some interesting trips.
The peninsula is easy, with affordable buses, trains and planes and relatively short distances. Sabah and Sarawak are also relatively easy to get around.The vast majority of visitors stick to the peninsula but Borneo is well worth the time and money to reach.
So much to see, so much to do. Thailand boasts some of the better public transport in the region so getting around can be fast and affordable. If time is limited, stick to one part of the country.
Long and thin, Vietnam looks straightforward, but the going is slow and the distances getting from A to B can really bite into a tight trip plan. If you're not on an open-ended trip, plan carefully.
This is where itinerary planning really becomes fun. Be sure to check up on our visa, border crossing and visa sections to make sure you're not trying to do the impossible. Also, remember you're planning a holiday -- not a military expedition.