Many people arrive in Indonesia with limited time to travel through the sprawling archipelago and typically they pick just a couple of islands to focus on—so if they pick Java, what are some of Java’s highlights?
We’re often asked about which places in Java should not be missed, and this is really something that can only be answered once the issue of time is thrown into the equation. The main island is surprisingly vast, measuring roughly 1,000 kilometres from east to west (by comparison, a similar distance elsewhere in the region would be Singapore to Phuket). This distance is increased in a way by slow ground transport and poor infrastructure in places, which can see something as little as 100 km take an entire day to cover. So getting around, even with judicious use of domestic flights, can be time consuming—Less is More!
We have a number of suggested itineraries dedicated to Java on Travelfish, so if you already know how long you can afford to give to Java, head to either our one-week or two-week itineraries for all of Java, or, if you’re just interested in the west, give our two-weeks in West Java itinerary a read.
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, 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.
Travel in Java during Ramadan is still possible, though expect many restaurants to be closed (or minimally staffed) during the day and transport can be very busy around Eid.
Located just outside the vibrant university city of Yogyakarta, Borobudur is the name of the legendary 1,200 year old Buddhist temple which is famed for being the largest of its kind in the world. Locals and foreigners alike flock here throughout the year to witness the sun rising above the bell-shaped stupas of the temple—a truly breathtaking experience. While Borobudur is the highlight, Yogyakarta is no slouch and be sure to allow enough time to explore its wealth of sights and eating.
Located a mere 120 kilometres from Yogyakarta, the mist-shrouded Dieng Plateau sits at an altitude of over 2,000 metres, and forms a fertile vegetable-growing region which can be chilly during the day and downright freezing at night. But the frigid temperatures quickly drift to the back of your mind as you witness the stunning geothermal features across the countryside such as bubbling Kawah Sikidang and turquoise coloured Telaga Warna. Dieng is also home to an abundance of eighth to ninth century Buddhist temples. Many choose to visit Dieng on a very long day trip from Yogyakarta, but we’d say it is definitely worth an overnight stay.
The Tengger Caldera perched high in the hills between Malang and Probolinggo in East Java is home to one of Java’s most impressive attractions. Thousands of people visit every year to experience the sun rising across the vast collapsed crater (Tengger Caldera) and to later hike up the side of Gunung Bromo and stare down into its vast void. The experience is truly one of the best in Java. Again, as with the Dieng Plateau, many visit on a tour for the briefest of visits, but we say it is worth the overnight stay if time allows.
Kawah Ijen is a volcanic crater located at the very eastern end of Java which receives a steady stream of visitors, but nowhere near as many as Gunung Bromo. The main attraction here is to hike to the crater edge and peer down towards the lake below where miners hack sulphur from man-made funnels. These men then carry their heavy loads up the side of the crater wall and down the other side receiving a meagre salary for their trouble. Witnessing this extraordinary feat is one part of the Ijen experience—the other part is taking in the stunning views. Kawah Ijen is best approached from the seaside town of Banyuwangi—itself a worthwhile destination.
Hidden away in West Java, Ujung Genteng is well and truly off the tourist trail, making getting here an adventure in itself. Famed for its reliable surf break and turtle conservation programme, Ujung Genteng sees few foreigners, but there is no shortage of reasonable accommodation to choose from. Activities in the area include seeing stunning waterfalls, snorkelling the reefs in front of most of the guesthouses and participating in the release of turtle hatchings.
A different kind of paradise to that of Ujung Genteng plays out on the small cluster of islands about 120 kilometres north of Semarang in Central Java. These islands are your typical laid-back, run of the mill tropical paradise. The pace of island life in Karimunjawa is very slow due to the oppressive heat and many visitors choose to while away the hottest hours of the day under a palm tree or snorkelling one of the reefs that surround the main island. To explore, hire a scooter and make the 20 kilometre journey to the other side of the island, where life is even more sleepy and the locals even more friendly. Again, Karimunjawa is one of those places that receives hardly any foreign tourists and you’re left wondering why.
For a less off-the-beaten track beach experience, Pangandaran and nearby Batu Karas are wonderful getaways. Used primarily by holidaying locals, these beach locations are virtually deserted during the week and you will have the glorious beach and many of the hotels to yourself. Visit on the weekend and mix with cheerful locals letting off steam on the beach playing football or flying a frisbee.
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!
Burma lends itself to a short fast trip with frequent flights thrown in or a longer, slower trip where you don't leave the ground. There isn't much of a middle ground. Ground transport remains relatively slow, so be wary about trying to fit too much in.
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.