With Sumatra to the east and Bali to the west, Java is a geographically impressive island, consisting almost entirely of volcanic rock. It’s also nearly 20 times the size of Bali, and home to more than half of the Indonesian population. In fact, with over 140 million inhabitants, it’s the most populous island in the world. Yet, surprisingly, it doesn’t enjoy quite the same tourist reputation as its sister island.
Still, Java has grown steadily in popularity in recent years thanks to its fantastic metropolitan cities, lush jungles, incredible volcanoes, tea plantations, and stunning temples. Other attractions include hiking routes through the jungle, exploring the islands off the coast, and the various national parks.
Plainly put, Java is the cultural and economic heartland of Indonesia, and it has more than enough thrills to satisfy every taste. If you aren’t convinced, our seven reasons to visit are guaranteed to turn the tables in Java’s favor. Let’s get into it.
Let’s start with the first thing you’ll notice about Java, namely, the majestic scenery. On the eastern side, you’ll find the stunning Mount Bromo and Mount Penanjakan volcanoes. They are both very popular sunrise destinations, and you can travel to the summit of Mount Penanjakan by car for an incredible view of a pink sea of mist enveloping the ground as the sun slowly rises.
If you travel even further east, you’ll see the Ijen volcano, known for its half a mile wide turquoise-colored crater lake that’s home to a sulfur mining operation. There’s a very popular two-hour midnight hike that leads visitors to where they can see the natural phenomenon of the blue flame caused by the combustion of sulfuric gases in contact with air at temperatures above 360 degrees Celcius.
You could also visit the otherworldly waterfalls of Baturaden in Purwokerto. The hike to reach them might be a bit strenuous, but the lush scenery, charming vistas, and selection of beautiful cataracts you’ll find along the hike make it well worth it. Of course, the waterfall itself is exquisite and looks like something that wouldn’t be out of place in the Amazon rainforest.
The Heritage Sites
Adding to the attractions, Java is home to four incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites that offer a glimpse into the island’s history. First, we have Borobudur. It’s arguably Indonesia’s most frequented tourist attraction and another popular sunrise spot. It can get quite crowded though, so we recommend getting there early. Another popular one is the magnificent Prambanan Temple. It’s the country’s largest Hindu compound, and it originally consisted of 240 temples. You could even just explore the temples and ruins on the outskirts if you don’t want to pay the entrance fee, and you’ll still experience the magnitude of it.
To the west, you’ll find Ujung Kulon National Park, a breathtaking lowland rainforest that’s known to house the endangered Javan rhinoceros as well as other threatened plants and species. The park is also home to the Krakatoa reserve, where the historically significant volcanic eruption that killed 36,000 people in 1883 took place.
Finally, there’s Sangiran, an archaeological site in central Java that boasts a modern museum and is recognized by scientists as one of the most important sites in the world for studying human evolution.
As we’ve mentioned, Java is a culturally rich destination, and one of its undeniable highlights is the city of Yogyakarta, or “Yogya” as it’s affectionately known. It’s the perfect place to explore rambling alleyways, bustling markets, or ancient palaces, and you’ll even find some restaurants serving Western comforts like beer, which can be scarce since Java is a largely Muslim island.
Yogya has a rich tradition of arts and culture, and it’s home to several colleges and universities. It’s guaranteed to be an enriching visit, and you’ll find plenty of traditional cooking and even Javanese dance classes. This city is also known for its beautiful batik textiles which are made by dripping wax onto a piece of fabric and applying a variety of dyes to make elaborate patterns. This material is available to purchase throughout the city, you could even take a class on how to make it yourself, and fashion a keepsake of your trip to Yogyakarta. You could also visit a factory tour to learn about the history of this Indonesian textile technique.
Then there’s the little village of Kampung Pelangi, which means Rainbow Village in Indonesian. It came about when the locals had the idea of painting the village in a host of lively colors, and we can safely say that it looks like something straight out of a fairytale. Every part of it is now covered in paint, and tourists have flocked to take pictures of this vibrant village ever since.
It might surprise you to know that Java has an excellent culinary scene. Bandung in particular is a great food destination, but you’ll find there’s no shortage of delicious food all over Java, so make sure to take full advantage if you decide to visit.
Some of our favorite dishes include keradok which consists of a mix of bean sprouts, beans, cabbage, and cucumber which is then covered in a spicy peanut sauce and topped off with basil. Other unmissable culinary delights are gepuk, which is a spicy fried beef curry, and Nasi Liwet, which is a rice dish cooked in coconut milk, chicken broth, and spices.
You definitely won’t have a hard time finding exciting activities in Java. Why not rent a boat and island-hop the Karimunjawa Archipelago? Since it houses 27 different tropical islands off the coast of Semarang, many of which are uninhabited, you’re certain to find beautiful beaches as far as the eye can see here. It’s also an excellent place to try snorkeling or diving due to its high water visibility.
Another great option is paying a visit to the Goa Jomblang cave in the Gunung Kidul area. It’s located about an hour outside the city and you will travel some 60 meters down the side of the cliff into the cavern, which then leads to a cave system encircled by majestic forests. It’s a great place for spelunking too.
There are also several well-maintained flower gardens in Java and they typically come with extra activities like zip-lining, among other things. Highlights include Bogor Botanical Gardens and Begonia Garden.
Jakarta is a melting pot of diverse cultures, and it’s arguably the liveliest city in Indonesia. It’s a bit of a shopper’s paradise too, and you can find hundreds of modern malls you won’t find anywhere else in Indonesia, offering international, as well as authentic goods and souvenirs.
Then there’s the gorgeous city skyline and infamous nightlife. Jakarta has several bars, clubs, and rooftop lounges where you can get to know the energetic locals and a handful of tourists, as well as the city’s executive crowds. It’s also rich in museums and art spaces, where tourists can marvel at incredible contemporary works by young artists, both local and international.
Last but not least, tourists can treat themselves to Jakarta’s unique take on classics like satay, soto, and nasi goreng. There are plenty of restaurants and street vendors serving authentic local cuisines and this is where you’ll find the best value food in the city.
Finishing off our list, we have one of the more obvious reasons to visit Java, namely, the spectacular beaches. The coast is the perfect place to lounge on the sand or take a break from the city, and we can safely say that you won’t struggle to find amazing shores.
Pelabuhan Ratu in West Java is a good place to start, and its rolling waves make it a great surf destination. Other popular surf spots along the coastline include Sunset Beach, Karang Sari Beach, and Cimaja Beach. Those who are looking for something even more laid back could explore the well-loved Timang Beach in the Gunung Kidul area. Here you will find several charming stalls that serve local snacks like fresh coconuts and noodles, in addition to seafood restaurants nearby serving fresh crab, shrimp, and even lobster.
The Pangandaran beach, situated between Jakarta and Yogykarta is another great place to visit. From its sensational sunsets to its unbelievable surf breaks, fresh seafood, and crystal clear waters, it comes as no surprise that it was voted by tourists as the best beach in Java. There are even affordable tours to historical cave sites as well as a national park, and the accommodation is generally very affordable.
You could also visit Tambakrejo Beach just outside Blitar. It’s a much quieter area than other popular tourist spots in Java, so you’re sure to find calmer beaches and maybe even a volcano or two. There are also the magnificent rubber forests that surround the beaches here and walking trails leading onto the headlands for sweeping sea views. Best of all, it’s safe to swim in most of these coves.
When is the best time to visit Java?
Java experiences two distinct weather seasons, the dry and the wet. From May to October, the weather is hot, dry, and sunny across the island, perfect for exploring, hiking, or enjoying the beaches. Year-round average temperatures are pretty consistent in Java, like most of Indonesia, and you can expect highs of around 85 degrees Fahrenheit, no matter the season. This means that the wet season can also be a pleasant time to visit if you don’t mind a bit of rain. It can be more humid with daily rainfall from November to April, but cheaper prices and fewer crowds make the island equally appealing.
Is Java better than Bali?
Java is a vast island that is far bigger than Bali. The Island of the Gods might be diverse, but it has nothing on the variety in Java and there is something for every crowd. Bali is arguably more touristy and commercial than its neighbor, but Java has thriving metropolises as well as dense jungle, great surf, exotic wildlife, and volcanic peaks. Java has much more developed transport too, so it’s easy to get around the island by train, while Bali doesn’t even have an extensive bus system. You’ll have to travel greater distances to see more in Java but it will be worth it.