Feature photo by Michael Day
When you think about traveling in Indonesia, where’s the first place that comes to mind? I’d venture to say that most people think of Bali. Beautiful beaches, surfing, the monkey forest, temples, a yoga retreat in Ubud… what’s not to love?
While I’d never want to put Bali down and I still think it’s an amazing destination, adventurous travelers might find Bali a bit lacking. If you really want to get active, push your limits and veer a little more off the beaten path, look East… East Java to be precise!
Introducing East Java
Famous for its mountains, craters, and national parks, East Java is the least-populated area on the large Java Island. Just a short trip away from the capital Surabaya is the famous Mt. Bromo where you can enjoy a fantastic sunrise. If that’s not enough, try summiting Mount Semeru, the highest mountain in all of Java.
Did I forget to mention East Java has 121 volcanoes?
For most visitors, East Java is all about the raw, rugged appeal of its volcano-studded scenery and awe-inspiring landscapes. However, East Java is also home to incredible wildlife reserves like Meru Betiri, which protects a virgin beach where turtles nest, and Baluran National Park.
Where to Head in East Java
While it was hard for me to choose just a few, here are my top spots for a trip to East Java! From mountains and nature reserves to culture and relaxation, these are my picks for an East Java adventure.
Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park
The Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park is the main attraction in East Java. This national park is named after its two mountains: Mount Semeru (the highest in Java at 3,676 m) and Mount Bromo, the most popular.
Known for its magnificent sunrise, visitors come from all over the world for Mt. Bromo’s view. From the top of the mountain, you’ll see Mt. Semeru smoking in the distance as the sun rises quickly in the sky. Visit in the month of Kasada (usually in September or November) and witness the annual Kasada festival where the local Tenggerese come to Bromo to throw offerings of vegetables, chickens, and money into the crater of the volcano!
While Mt. Bromo is the most famous mountain to summit, Mount Semeru is one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes and is often closed because it regularly explodes. The gasses and lava make Semeru dangerous, so stay well away from the vent! This mountain, also known as the Great Mountain, is regarded by Hindus as the most sacred mountain in all of Java. Getting to the peak is a tough three-day trek, but well worth it!
In addition to Mt. Bromo and Semeru, there are many other things you can see in the national park. Experience the remarkable Tengger Caldera, with its 10 km sea of sand, or head to the south of the park, where there’s a rolling upland plateau dotted with several small scenic lakes.
Overall, this national park is a must-see and should be #1 on any East Java itinerary.
Less well known than the stunning volcanic national park, Ijen Plateau, and the Ijen Crater are equally impressive. Ijen Plateau is highly recommended to mountain buffs and hikers, and after 90 minutes of hiking the steep plateau, you’ll find the Ijen Crater.
Ijen Crater’s stunning aqua blue water steams and bubbles, surrounded by yellow sulfur crystal deposits. Considered one of the great natural wonders of Indonesia, Ijen Crater is a must-see for any adventurous traveler. Head up before sunrise to see the Blue Fire, where the sulfur self-ignites to produce an eerie blue flame!
Visiting the crater is also a great opportunity to learn more about the difficult conditions of sulfur work in East Java. Sulfur collectors hike up in the morning and return around 1 pm when the clouds roll in. They carry shoulder baskets of pure sulfur from a quarry on the lakes edge under the shadow of the sheer walls of the crater. The minerals found at Kawah Ijen are purer, encouraging this commercial exploitation despite the dangerous and back-breaking labor involved.
Baluran National Park
Looking for wildlife instead of volcanos? East Java has you covered. Take a trip to the Baluran National Park, a forest preservation area home to wild pigs, deer, peacocks, wild chickens, monkeys and more! This national park is great for safaris, diving and snorkeling, hiking, kayaking, and lazing around on the beach.
Only 15 kilometers from the main entrance you’ll find the beautiful white sand beach, Bama Beach. Here you’ll find mangroves, tropical fish, and a vibrant coral reef. The beach at sunrise is incredible. Wild boars often come in the morning just after sunrise!
Malang and Batu
Even the most adventurous travelers need a place to relax and a town to explore. My picks are Malang and Batu. Malang was the seat of power in Java’s Hindu past and the Dutch took a great liking to its relatively cool, fresh climate in the colonial period.
Take a stroll around the leafy streets of Malang, which is famous for its colonial architecture, or explore the ancient Singosari temples. These temples were built between 1222 and 1292AD and are mainly dedicated to the kings of the Singosari dynasty. In the city center, a great first stop is Ijen Boulevard. This is a quite beautiful street lined with tropical trees against a backdrop of old colonial structures.
Just a 30-minute drive from Malang is Batu. This cool, fresh hill town was a retreat for the Dutch in colonial days but now serves as a weekend house haven for wealthy local business people from Surabaya and Malang. The area is also a major agricultural center with apple orchards and a large number of orchid nurseries.
Adventures in East Java
From volcanic sunrise to aqua blue sulfur craters, to wild pigs playing at the beach, there are so many incredible things to see in East Java. If you’re looking for a bit of outdoor adventure, and enjoy hiking, culture, diving, wildlife and waking up for the sunrise, I suggest you forget Bali and get yourself on a plane to Java!
…. Or you could always see both.
Have any of you visited East Java? What would you recommend?