Java, the heart of Indonesia, stands out as the most populous island and an intriguing blend of tradition and modernity. It’s a place where ancient temples and natural wonders coexist with bustling cities, creating an enticing tapestry of experiences that beckon travelers from around the world. In this comprehensive guide, we will journey through the diverse and captivating facets of Java.
Geography and Location of Java
Java, strategically positioned between Sumatra to the west and Bali to the east, holds a pivotal role in Indonesia’s geography. Java is an island of great geographical significance. This elongated island serves as a cultural and economic bridge, connecting these major islands. It plays a crucial part in the archipelago’s trade, culture, and infrastructure. Java’s location along the equator blesses it with a tropical climate and fertile landscapes, making it an agricultural powerhouse. The island is volcanic in nature, with a staggering 45 volcanoes, some of which are still active. These volcanoes have significantly contributed to Java’s fertile soil and lush landscapes.
Java’s history is steeped in tradition and marked by various empires and influences. Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms, such as the Mataram Kingdom, thrived on the island, leaving behind magnificent temple complexes like Borobudur and Prambanan. Later, Java experienced the arrival of Islam, which became the dominant religion. The Dutch colonial era left a lasting legacy, with many historic buildings and landmarks from that time still standing today.
Java is home to diverse cultural communities, including the Javanese, Sundanese, Betawi, Chinese, and Arab populations. Each group has contributed to the island’s rich cultural tapestry, resulting in a unique blend of languages, traditions, and cuisines. The Javanese culture, with its traditions of dance, music, and shadow puppetry (wayang kulit), remains central to the island’s identity.
Best places to visit in Java
Jakarta: The Capital City
Start your Java journey in Jakarta, the bustling capital of Indonesia. While Jakarta is a bustling metropolis with its fair share of traffic and modern skyscrapers, it offers a wealth of attractions. Notable landmarks include the National Monument (Monas), the Old Town (Kota Tua) with its Dutch colonial buildings, and the Istiqlal Mosque, one of the largest mosques in Southeast Asia. Explore the vibrant markets, savor delicious Indonesian street food, and immerse yourself in the lively urban culture.
Bandung: The Paris of Java
Just a few hours from Jakarta, Bandung is known for its cool climate, lush landscapes, and thriving arts scene. Explore the picturesque tea plantations of Ciwidey, visit the surrealistic artistic House of Angklung, and don’t miss the bustling Jalan Braga, a hub of boutiques and cafes. You can also pay a visit to the Gedung Sate. Bandung is also famous for its culinary delights, so indulge in local dishes and shop for traditional Indonesian textiles at Pasar Baru.
Yogyakarta: The Soul of Javanese Culture
Yogyakarta, often referred to as Jogja, is the heart of Javanese culture and the hub of arts, history, and tradition. Home to the iconic Prambanan and Borobudur temples, this city offers a unique blend of the old and the new. Explore the Sultan’s Palace (Kraton), attend a traditional wayang kulit (shadow puppet) performance, and stroll through the artistic neighborhood of Prawirotaman. You can also witness the daily life of local artisans in the Kota Gede silver district.
Borobudur: A Spiritual Marvel
Borobudur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a colossal Buddhist temple complex and one of the most magnificent religious monuments in the world. The intricate carvings and nine stacked platforms house a remarkable collection of statues and stupas. Arrive early to witness the sunrise over this ancient masterpiece and feel the spiritual ambiance that envelopes the site.
Prambanan: A Hindu Marvel
Just a short drive from Borobudur, Prambanan is another UNESCO-listed temple complex. It’s an exquisite example of Hindu architecture in Indonesia, known for its towering spires and intricate stone carvings. Explore the temples dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma, and attend a traditional Ramayana ballet performance under the stars at Prambanan’s open-air theater.
Mount Bromo: A Volcanic Wonderland
Java is a land of volcanoes, and Mount Bromo is one of the most famous. Located in Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, the sunrise view from the viewpoint is surreal, with the volcano surrounded by a vast expanse of sand called the Sea of Sand. Adventurous travelers can trek to the rim of the volcano or even mount a horse for a unique perspective.
Ijen Crater: Blue Flames and Sulfur Miners
Ijen Crater is another remarkable volcanic destination. Hike to the rim of the crater to witness the stunning blue flames at night and the turquoise acidic lake during the day. You can also observe the fearless sulfur miners at work, a testament to the harsh conditions they endure. The surreal landscape and unique experiences make Ijen Crater a must-visit destination.
Get around in Java
During my first crossing of Java, I utilized a variety of transportation modes. I arrived in Yogyakarta from Makasar and took a private car with a driver for visits to Borobudur and Prambanan. After that, I opted for a first-class train to Probolingo, which proved to be a smooth and comfortable journey. The hotel arranged a seamless pickup at the Probolingo train station and later organized my Bromo trip. However, the mini-van experience from Probolingo to Bali was an awful experience. Delays, overcrowding, and frequent stops disrupted my journey and I don’t think I will ever do it again. Conversely, some friends traveled in an almost empty 50-seat regular bus, affording them the luxury of stretching out for a peaceful rest.
On my second journey, I landed in Badung and chose to return to Bali using a private car with a driver. Although a pricier option, it offered a significantly more comfortable and enjoyable experience.