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When it comes to islands, Java is a behemoth. It’s high up on the list of the world’s biggest islands in terms of size. Java is home to over half of Indonesia’s population (around 145 million people) as well as the capital city. In fact, it’s the most populous island on Earth. Java very much dominates the scene in Indonesia – it’s the political, cultural, and economic center of the archipelago nation. While most visitors to Indonesia skip over Java entirely and spend their trip on Bali with a visit to the Gili Islands or Komodo National Park, this is an island you don’t want to miss. Read on for some highlights of traveling in Java.
A great excuse to escape Jakarta is a day trip out to Bogor. Here you’ll find the beautiful and serene Kebun Raya Bogor (Bogor Botanical Gardens). Spend the day exploring the huge grounds, stopping many times to smell the flowers. Stick around for a quiet evening and then either head back to the capital or continue on your way across the island.
While traveling in Java, you definitely have to experience the island’s famous performing arts. One of the most important is wayang kulit (shadow puppets). It’s a big deal in Yogyakarta, where you can visit workshops to see how the puppets are made and take in performances in the evening. If you’re looking for a unique Indonesian souvenir to bring home, look no further!
Lean about wayang kulit in this short video.
If you’re moving east in your journey across Java, chances are you’ll end up in Bandung for at least a night. At first glance, it appears to be just another overcrowded, smog-choked, giant traffic jam posing as a city. Sure, it is definitely all of those things, but there’s enough to see here to warrant sticking around. Head out to a smoking crater at Tangkuban Perahu in the morning then catch an amazing angklung performance in the afternoon.
The scenery around Mt. Bromo is incredibly famous. It’s on postcards and on the cover of countless guidebooks about Indonesia. You would think it’d be higher on the list based on that. However, in my humble opinion the price gouging that goes on there makes it a destination you could honestly skip. We had an unreal DIY adventure to Mt. Bromo, which made the overall experience a memorable one, but had we known about the recent tripling of the price we probably would have passed.
At least we had a fun adventure out there.
Java is home to some pretty epic temples, including Prambanan. This 9th-century Hindu temple is the largest in Indonesia and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s easily visited on a day trip from Yogyakarta. Spend a few hours wandering around the awe-inspiring temple, and be sure to time your visit to coincide with the evening performance of the Ramayana ballet. With the main temple as the backdrop for the show, it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
Jakarta is one of those SE Asian cities that just gets a bad rap. Often called the “Big Durian,” it’s not surprising that a city named after a weird, stinky fruit turns a lot of people off. The traffic is horrendous and there are way too many people there, but there are plenty of reasons why you should visit Jakarta. Check out the monuments and museums, explore the Old City, eat delicious street food, and go out and party with awesome locals.
Check out the “Streets, Beats & Eats” of Jakarta.
Traveling in Java is usually a sweaty, dusty affair. That’s why a trip out to the Dieng Plateau comes in so high on the list. At 2,000 meters above sea level, it’s great to spend a few days cooling off here and exploring the beautiful surroundings. Stay with a local family to practice your Indonesian, see ancient Hindu temples, and check out a steaming crater on your way to a colorful lake. Sound like a dream? It feels like one, too.
Yogyakarta – or Yogya, or Jogja – whatever you want to call it, is a bustling city full of artistic and spiritual energy. It’s a center of culture – batik shirts, wayang kulit performances, and education – there are so many schools here it’s nicknamed Kota Pelajar (Student’s City). On a short trip here, you can check out the Kraton (Sultan’s Palace) and Taman Sari (Water Castle), visit a few museums and art galleries, eat delicious food, and rock out with live music and drinks at night.
Yogyakarta is an incredible city.
Located in Central Java, Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. It was abandoned in the 14th century when Java converted to Islam, and totally forgotten until it was re-discovered in the 1800s. A major UNESCO campaign saw the temple restored, and it’s now one of the most popular sights on the entire island. Consider staying overnight at the nearby hotel, as it gives you the chance to visit the temple at sunrise or sunset. During Vesak, the temple is full of worshippers making their pilgrimage.
In East Java, miners trek down to the bottom of a volcanic crater to mine sulfur. In the middle of the night, the combustion of sulfuric gases in the crater creates a blue fire. Welcome to Kawah Ijen. There’s nothing like it in the world, earning it our top spot on the list of highlights in Java. It’s no easy hike down into the crater, but just take one look at the miners and the backbreaking work they endure, and you’ll feel that you’ve got it easy. Once you get back up out of the crater, wait for the sunrise to get a panoramic view of the crater lake.
With bustling cities, ancient temples, incredible scenery, and a vibrant culture, Java is a fascinating island to explore. Rather than fly straight to Bali, why not spend a week or two traveling across Java first? The beach and that fruity cocktail can be your reward for what’s sure to be an intense adventure.