Bell-shaped Structures in the Candi Borobudur complex in Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia

Java Island, Indonesia – The Travelers’ Guide

This post was last updated on July 10th, 2020 at 09:19 am


Together with Bali, Java is one of the most touristic islands in Indonesia. However, don’t be put off by this fact, because in Java you can enjoy the traditional Indonesian culture. In addition, there are both large cities and beautiful nature. The beautiful island of Java has something for everyone.

 

If you travel to Indonesia, there’s a big chance that you will also visit Java. Read this page carefully to learn everything you need to know about this island.

 

Java is the most densely populated island in Indonesia with 143 million inhabitants on 132,000 square kilometers. A large proportion of these people live in the capital, Jakarta. The government of the country also has its seat in this city. Various population groups live on the island of Java.

 

TIP – You can easily buy train, bus, and airline tickets online at 12GoAsia.

 

The majority of the inhabitants are Muslim. Bahasa Indonesia is predominantly spoken in Java. This is a language heavily influenced by the former rulers of the country, namely: Portugal, the Netherlands, and Great Britain. Because the population is so diverse, Balinese, Javanese, and other dialects are also spoken here.

 

19 Best Things to Do in Java

Many travelers choose to visit Java and Bali in one trip. They are two very different islands where you can see many different things. Especially if you have at least 3 weeks, it is very interesting to combine Java and Bali, because you really get to see two sides of Indonesia. Java is full of beautiful sights which we describe below.

 

1. Jakarta

Jakarta Skyline with cars on a bridge in Java, Indonesia
The Jakarta Skyline

Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia, so it is very important for the country. In 1613 the city fell into Dutch hands and was renamed Batavia. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) expanded the city with fortresses and other buildings. Only after Indonesia’s independence from its former rulers was the city renamed to Jakarta.

 

Jakarta has an international airport and many travelers start their holidays here. Jakarta is a bustling city with a lot of air pollution and its perhaps not the most charming introduction to Indonesia. However, there are some interesting palaces, monuments, and museums to visit. Especially the Medan Merdeka square is worth a visit when you are in Jakarta. This square symbolizes the independence of the country. Many government buildings are located on this square, and the National Monument, Presidential Palace, and National Museum are also located here.

 

On the east side of Medan Merdeka Square stands one of the largest mosques in the world; The Istiqlal Mosque. This mosque was completed in 1978 after more than 17 years of construction. Today, 120,000 people can gather at the same time in the building, making it the 3rd largest mosque in the world. The Istiqlal Mosque is definitely worth a visit when you visit Jakarta.

 

A visit to the old town of Kota (formerly Old Batavia) is also interesting. You don’t have to spend more than a day in Jakarta. It is a nice place to start, but there are much nicer places in Java where you can spend time.

 

TIP – For more information, take a look at our Jakarta page.

 

2. Pangandaran

Pangandaran is a fishing village located on the southern coast of Java. It is an attraction for all kinds of tourists. The beautiful sandy beaches and great waves for surfers are the best reasons for a holiday in Pangandaran. Another must-see is the Green Canyon. Sail into the jungle with a local guide and discover how this Canyon got its name, it doesn’t get much greener than this! You can also swim in the water. The steep cliffs surround the river and give it an extraordinary character. Trees form the roof, and the sun’s rays shine through. It is an absolute must for anyone who comes here during a trip to Java.

 

It is also possible to visit the Pangandaran National Park in Pangandaran. In the recreational part of the park (the jungle is off-limits), you can walk very well. In the park, it is possible to take several types of walking tours with a guide. These tours take you through the jungle and the Goa Cirengganis cave. The park is home to various species of monkeys and birds.

 

Our Tip

Instead of the bus or train, we rented a car with a driver from Pangandaran that took us from Pangandaran to Yogyakarta in 4 days. We shared the costs (around US$40 p.p.) with 4 people and it was one of the best trips ever!

 

3. Yogyakarta

Yogya, as the city is often called, is very popular among tourists because from this city you can visit the most important archaeological site in the country: the Borobudur. You should not miss this Buddhist temple when you visit Java. This impressive structure is one of the largest monuments in the world. From Yogyakarta, you can also continue to Prambanan. This is a gigantic complex with many Hindu temples.

 

Yogyakarta is best known as the cultural heart of Indonesia. Yogjakarta is a student city with many bars and restaurants, markets, interesting highlights, atmospheric streets, and kind people. It’s a very nice place to stay for a few days. There are still many old traditions and customs that have been preserved. Yogyakarta has so much beauty to offer that it has become a popular tourist destination in recent years. This is one of those cities where you plan to stay for one or two days and eventually stay longer.

 

TIP – For more information, please visit our Yogyakarta page.

 

4. Solo City

Solo (also known as Surakarta) is located about 60 kilometers from Yogyakarta and is overlooked by many tourists. However, it is a fun and relaxed provincial town. The city has an airport that various low-cost airlines use.

 

You can visit two old palaces in the city itself. But it is also an option to organize a day trip to the area. The area around Solo is very mountainous and here you can find the traditional pictures with handicrafts in the fields. About 35 kilometers from Solo stands the Candi Sukuh temple. This temple is relatively unknown to most tourists, but famous among experts and lovers of alien theories. The temple is more like a structure from Latin America than a structure from Southeast Asia. Hence the nickname “Inca” temple.

 

5. Mount Merapi

Gunung Merapi Volcano National Park, Java - Indonesia
Mount Merapi in the distance

Mount Merapi volcano is the most active volcano in Indonesia. Its last eruption was in 2018. It is possible to climb the volcano. If you want to go for a climb, it is easiest to book a tour from Yogyakarta.

 

These tours usually depart around 10:00 p.m. so that you arrive at the mountain before 12:00 p.m. This means you will climb the volcano in the dark. You can book the tour at different agencies, so its best to visit a couple of different agencies to compare prices. That way you can be sure that you don’t pay too much. Negotiating is possible if you are with several people – so ask around in your guesthouse/hotel.

 

If you have a good flashlight – preferably a headlamp so you can use both hands – we recommend taking it with you. You can also rent a flashlight on many tours, but the quality of those lamps isn’t great.

 

The climb consists of 2 parts. Part 1 is a climb to the first plateau, almost everyone makes it here. Depending on your group, this first part takes about 2.5 to 3.5 hours. The second part feels a lot more difficult; it consists of a steep slope of volcanic sand – with every step you take, you slide a bit back – after which you will reach all kinds of boulders where you have to be careful. But when you get all the way to the top, with 25% of the people you started with, the sunrise is even more beautiful.

 

Our Tips: Don’t let the tour agents fool you, you need decent shoes. We were told that it was possible to make the climb on sandals and the last part, in particular, was no fun. Make sure to bring a sweater and long trousers for the top/first platform. You have to stay there for a while and it can be pretty cold outside. Make sure you have a camera with you to capture the beautiful sunrise.

 

Do not underestimate the descent, it is – in our opinion – even heavier than the climb since you are no longer so focused on reaching the top. Don’t take too much water with you, the temperature is pleasant at night, and you don’t want to carry too much weight (1 liter of water should be enough). Take a few bananas and possibly, bring a bar of chocolate, which is great for energy and for your mood.

 

6. Mount Bromo

Mount Bromo Sunrise between the clouds
Sunrise at Mount Bromo in Java Island

The Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park is one of the highlights of a visit to Java. Here, you have a view of 5 volcanic peaks, a few of which are still active, including the associated plumes of smoke. Very unique is the “sea of sand” where Mount Bromo is located.

 

Most budget travelers arrive in the evening from Yogyakarta or Bali by bus. Some travelers indicated that they were dropped off at a tour agency, where they were persuaded to book a tour with them. Save yourself this situation and emphasize that you want to be dropped off at the bus station. Do not get out earlier.

 

Climbing Mount Bromo starts early because at 4.00 a.m. most jeeps leave the village. You can climb the mountain and watch a spectacular sunrise around 6:00 a.m. Many tourists travel to Bali or Yogjakarta after visiting Mount Bromo. You can also stay longer in the village. The sunset is breathtaking, and in the evening it is a lot less crowded here. When visiting the sand sea and volcano, bring something with a dust cap or something that you can keep in front of your face. In the village of Cemoro Lawang, you can find accommodation within walking distance of the large crater rim.

 

Malang

Malang is a city at the foot of Mount Bromo volcano. It’s a great base to start your climb. Activities in the area include a waterfall and soothing hot springs.

 

7. Kampung Warna Warni

Kampung Warna Warni Jodipan, the Village of Color in Malang, Java
Kampung Warna Warni Jodipan, the Village of Color in Malang, Java

Once a poor and dirty village, nowadays Kampung Warna Warni is a colorful attraction that will put a smile on your face. A few years ago, a number of students were asked to come up with a way to give new life to the disadvantaged neighborhoods in the city of Malang for a school assignment. And they succeeded: they painted, the streets were – literally – cleaned up and the village looks fantastic. Since then it has attracted tourists and the prosperity of the entire village has grown. A successful project and a great attraction!

 

8. Kawa Ijen Volcano

Kawa Ijen Volcano with azure colored lake in Java, Indonesia
We love the beautiful contrast at Kawa Ijen

 

The Kawah Ijen volcano is less known than Mount Bromo but you should definitely visit if you have the time. In the volcano, there is a one-kilometer wide turquoise-colored lake, which creates a beautiful picture. You can also climb the Kawah Ijen volcano with a tour.

 

9. Bogor

From Jakarta, it takes about an hour to get to Bogor. It is a good alternative to the busy capital. Most tourists come here for the Bogor Botanical Gardens. You can also visit the Gunung Halimun National Park from Bogor. This is a beautiful national park where tea plantations, small villages, rice fields, and plenty of jungle can be seen. 

 

The beautiful Bogor Botanical Gardens measure 87 hectares and is home to 15,000 tree species, including 400 different types of palm trees. Not to mention the countless different plants that can be seen. Adjacent you will find the presidential palace that functioned as an official residence for the governor-general during colonial times. The Kebun Raya Bogor is one of the four Kebun Raya Indonesia that is part of the Indonesian Institute of Science, committed to the conservation of rare flora.

 

Another destination that can be reached from Bogor is Sumedang. This is a beautiful place where you can still experience authentic Indonesia.

 

10. Borobudur

Borobudur is Indonesia’s Angkor Wat. The Borobudur temple is located 40 kilometers northwest of the city of Yogyakarta in central Java. The Borobudur is a gigantic Buddhist temple that emerges in the distance from green rice fields and surrounding forests. The temple was built sometime around 800 A.D. and consists of huge stupas. Nine floors, endless vistas, and dozens of Buddha statues characterize the structure. You can get a magical sunset or sunrise view atop Borobudur.

 

11. Prambanan

Ancient Temple Complex in Prambanan
Ancient Temple Complex in Prambanan

The Prambanan is a short two-hour drive from Borobudur. While Borobudur is a Buddhist temple, the Prambanan is Hindu. This complex consists of more than two hundred shrines, but unfortunately, almost all temples have fallen into disrepair. In the past, these were around fifteen meters high, a spectacular complex. Fortunately, you can still find a number of temples that have survived, with detailed reliefs, statues, and more. The highest sanctuary is less than fifty meters high and from here you have a great view over the surrounding structures.

 

12. Kalibaru

Kalibaru is low on tourists but it is a good stop when you are on your way from Java to Bali. You can do a plantation tour here. You can see how coffee, cinnamon, cloves, and rubber, grow. You’ll see that sorting cocoa beans is simply done by hand, rubber drying is done by firing wood, and the power is supplied by a water wheel built by the Dutch.

 

13. Karimunjawa

The Karimunjawa Islands are located in the Java Sea. Only 5 of the 27 islands are inhabited. The special thing about it is that it is close to Java, but very few tourists visit these islands. Karimunjawa is a place where a stray buffalo grazes on a football field, where locals sleep during the day and where you can relax on the beach all day. More info can be found here.

 

TIP – There is no electricity on the island during the day. There’s only working electricity between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.

 

14. Dieng Plateau

Coloured Lake and fields at the Dieng Plateau in Java
Gorgeous colored lake and fields at the Dieng Plateau

One of the most beautiful places in Java is undoubtedly the Dieng Plateau, a must-see for every nature lover. The Dieng Plateau is a gigantic plain and contains more than four hundred Hindu temples. Where active volcanoes used to form the area, nowadays you will only find mountains and lakes here. Rice fields, plantations, and a crater with bubbling mud: nature here is spectacular.

 

15. Bandung

While Bandung used to be called the “Paris of Java”, it is now a modern city with many high-rise buildings and shopping malls. However, in the area of ​​Bandung, you can make beautiful trips. Think of climbing volcanoes, but you can also visit tea plantations. Bright green tea fields adorn a hilly landscape and it is gorgeous to witness. Learn more about tea processes here and of course, taste the tea yourself!

 

16. Ujung Kulon National Park

Ujung Kulon National Park is located on the most southwestern tip of Java. This park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also includes some islands. A number of endangered plant and animal species live in the park, including the Javan Rhino. The park can also be explored together with a guide, who will take you through these beautiful surroundings!

 

If you want to cool down, there are plenty of pristine beaches on the islands. The sea at Peucang Island is crystal clear, so you can discover the intact coral while snorkeling! And on Panaitan Island you will encounter many wild animals, including snakes, crocodiles, and monkeys.

 

17. Kawah Putih

The “White Crater” is a crater lake in the west of Java, near Ciwidey about 50 km from Bandung. The color of the water often changes: from milk blue to turquoise and chocolate, but usually, the water is white and shrouded in mist. Here and there, black branches protrude above the water and contrast sharply with this color spectacle. Many local couples choose this place as the location for their wedding photos.

 

18. Madakaripura Waterfall

Madakaripura Waterfall in Java, Indonesia
Madakaripura Waterfall in East Java

Not far from the Bromo volcano you can also admire the Madakaripura waterfalls. These are located in the village of Sapih, hidden in a deep valley in the Tennger Mountains. Several waterfalls are located next to each other and fall down at heights of 200 meters. The green surroundings and nearby caves complete the picture.

 

19. Kraton

The Kraton is a palace complex and covers 14,000 square meters and has a deep philosophical meaning for the Javanese. In 1756 the first sultan went to live there and most of the facilities you can find in a city can be found here within the complex. It is a city for the sultan who still lives there in the city of Yogyakarta. Today it houses many regal heirlooms, beautiful carriages, antique coat of arms, and countless gifts from royal guests. And on certain occasions, you will find the court in a ceremonial costume.

 

Best Time to Visit Java

The best time to visit Java is in the dry season from May to September. The rainy season runs from October to April. In the rainy season, the temperature is somewhat lower, but it is also often cloudy. It often only rains in the morning and evening, for at most an hour. The busiest months are July and August. In these months, the prices also go up.

 

Because Java’s location is almost right on the equator, there is a predominantly tropical climate. This means that the temperature is fairly constant all year round. The average temperature is 30°C (86°F).

 

Java Weather Averages by Month

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
29°C29°C30°C31°C31°C31°C31°C31°C31°C31°C31°C30°C
415
mm
320
mm
215
mm
115
mm
90
mm
60
mm
40
mm
50
mm
35
mm
70
mm
95
mm
165
mm

 

Java Food & Drinks

In Java, you can eat delicious food on every street corner. You not only have a choice of dishes from Indonesian cuisine, but you can also choose Japanese, Indian, or other Asian meals. However, if you do not like Asian you can also go to restaurants that serve Western snacks or dishes. A number of well-known fast-food restaurants can be found in the major cities.

 

Jakarta

For an authentic meal, Betawi cuisine is recommended. The Betawis are the native inhabitants of the region. Their dishes are known for their rich taste. Although Gado Gado can also be found in the rest of Indonesia, the original dish comes from the Betawis. The tastiest Gado Gado is, without a doubt, in Jakarta.

 

Ketoprak, consisting of noodles, beans, tofu, soy sauce, and satay sauce. The dish gets its name from a music style. The music sounds like the ingredients being cut. The regional soup Soto Betawi is a creamy beef soup, made with a little coconut milk. Do you want a meal with all the trimmings? Then go for nasi uduk, rice cooked in coconut milk served with meat, tofu, and vegetables.

 

In South Jakarta, you can eat at Teck-Teck-Wangi with the locals. The food here is not expensive and unlike other restaurants not very greasy. After visiting museums and other cultural activities at Taman Fatahillah, Café Batavia is the place to relax. Although the food is not cheap, the restaurant has hardly changed since colonial times. The building has been stylishly renovated and makes it more than worthwhile.

 

Mie Godog Jawa, Javanese Noodle Dish with Cucumber, Pickles and Green Chili Peppers
Mie Godog Jawa, a Javanese Noodle Dish with Cucumber, Pickles and Green Chili Peppers

 

West Java

A West Java specialty is Karedok, a fresh salad of green cabbage, cucumber, green beans, and a spicy sauce. Favorite soups include mie kocok (beef and egg noodle soup) and Soto Bandung (beef and vegetable soup).

 

For tofu dishes you have to be in Sumedang where they make the most delicious ketuptat tahu, made from rice with bean sprouts, tofu, soy sauce, and satay sauce. Sweet Sundanese specialties include colenka (roasted cassava with coconut sauce), ulen (roasted rice with a satay sauce), and the toffee-like dodol.

 

On West Java, you will find the best fish restaurants, such as Valentine Restaurant, in Carita. Here you choose your fish or shellfish from the aquarium itself. Marina Anyer Kafe, located in Anyer on the water, is a hip place to have a snack and a drink while live music is played.

 

Central Java

The best and perhaps the only way to describe the traditional food of Central Java is: sweet. This is reflected in the famous dish gudeg, a curry made of jackfruit.

 

Yogyakarta specialties include Ayam Goreng (chicken), and Kelepon (green rice balls). In Solo people eat nasi liwet (rice with coconut milk, papaya, garlic, shallots, and chicken or egg) and special pancakes: made from coconut milk and topped with chocolate, banana or jackfruit.

 

In Yogyakarta, you don’t have to look far if you want to eat something tasty. Everywhere you will find restaurants, food stalls, and trolleys that pass through the city. Yogyakarta is also known for its sweet dishes. After visiting Borobudur, Pondok Tinggal Restaurant serves Western and Indonesian dishes.

 

East Java

The East Javanese kitchen is very similar to the Central Javanese kitchen. For example, the tastiest pecel (originally a specialty from Central Java) comes from the village of Madiun. Pecel is made in different variants, such as the fish variant consisting of fried catfish and rice and the vegetable variant: a spicy sauce made from chili, peanuts, and tomato.

 

Nasi Pecel, a Traditional Javanese Meal of Steamed Rice with Vegetable Salad
Nasi Pecel, a Traditional Javanese meal of steamed rice with a vegetable salad

 

Malang specialties include Malang (soup with meatballs, noodles, and wonton) and arem-arem consisting of rice, sprouts, soy sauce, coconut, peanuts, and tempeh). Two popular Madurese dishes are Soto Madura and saté Madura. Do not be surprised by this last dish, because it does not contain satay sauce but sweet soy sauce!

 

You can find a cheap but very good eatery in Surabaya, Pasar Genteng at Jl Genteng Besar. At Tunjungan Plaza you will find several restaurants and a number of fast-food restaurants. In Madura, a visit to Rumah Makan 17 Agustus is worthwhile. Cheap Chinese and Indonesian dishes supplemented with tourist information and the best tips from Mr. Eddy!

 

Jajanan (snacks) are sold in all streets and shopping centers all over Java. There are thousands of varieties of sweet, tasty snacks made from various ingredients such as peanuts, coconut, banana, and sweet potato.

 

Coffee

In 1690, Dutch explorers brought the first Arabica plants to Java, where large plantations were built. Java became the main producer of the coffee market until the plantations were plagued by rust, which destroyed the industry. The Robusta plant was planted in 1699, this time with a disease resistant. Robusta coffee is very bitter compared to Arabica coffee and it is, therefore, a lot cheaper. Arabica coffee is mild and has a more aromatic taste.

 

Today, with the support of the Indonesian government, the Arabica is still cultivated, on the original Dutch plantations. The famous Java coffee is processed wet, although this is often done dry in the rest of Indonesia. Today, the plantations are not nearly as big as they used to be.

 

Old Java is a famous coffee variety. This variant was discovered a long time ago by coffee farmers, who stored their coffee in warehouses and later sold it for a higher price. Due to the warm, humid Indonesian climate, the coffee in the warehouse loses its sour taste. Aging produces a sweet, firm taste. This way of aging can be matched by technology or machines. Some Javanese coffee is stored for two or three years.

 

Indonesian coffee has excellent quality. Indonesian coffee, kopi tubruk, is a mix of double ground coffee, sugar, and water. Coffee with milk is called kopi susu.

 

Tea

Indonesia’s most popular drink is black tea, consumed with a huge amount of sugar. If you prefer to drink the tea without sugar, ask for a teh pahit, a bitter tea without sugar. The Indonesians do not put milk in their tea. In many eateries, weak tea, without sugar, is served for free.

 

Cold Drinks

Es, are cold, fresh drinks with a stimulating effect. These drinks are made from syrup and fruit and come in many varieties. Try es buhah, a mix of milk, grated coconut, jelly, fruit, and syrup. Air Jeruk is lemon juice with water and sugar. Susu is milk, which Indonesians drink in a  different way. Milk is always condensed and sweetened.

 

Es Dawet Ireng, Javanese Dessert of Black Cendol Jelly, in a wooden bowl
Es Dawet Ireng, a cold Javanese Dessert with Black Cendol Jelly

 

Alcoholic Drinks

Beer is not always available, but brands you will find there are the local Bir Bintang and Anker. Beers with a light, sweet taste. Other alcoholic drinks include tuak (palm wine), arak (rice distillate), and brem (rice wine).

 

Stronger drinks can only be found in hotels or luxury entertainment venues. Outside the tourist centers, drinks are usually served lukewarm, the Indonesians’ favorite way to drink their soft drinks.

 

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