Of all the 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia, Java is king. It may not have the beaches of Bali, the jungles of Kalimantan, or the remoteness of Papua, but it’s the heart of the country, a heart with more drive and energy than any other island in this vast archipelago. With 120 million people crammed into an area half the size of Great Britain, Java is one populated place. And with such unfathomable human resources, it’s no wonder that the nation’s political and economic past, present and future are decided within its shores. For many, Indonesia quite simply begins and ends with Java.
Jakarta, the capital, is a colossal metropolis with all the problems of a city vastly overstretched; it won’t grab your attention for long unless you’re a mad shopper or über-urbanite. But the rest of the island has offerings that shouldn’t be ignored. A string of volcanoes lace the island like fiery rubies. Some are docile giants, while others blow their top at the drop of a Javanese fez; Gunung Bromo is a must for any visitor. Pounding the southern coast is the Indian Ocean; a magical sight, but it can be dangerous for swimming. There are, however, some fine beach enclaves, such as Pangandaran, Java’s premier beach resort, and world-class surf breaks at Ujung Kulon and Alas Purwo National Parks. Java’s calmer northern side hides less-developed tropical islands. Inspired by such natural beauty, and influenced by Hindu-Buddhist, Muslim and Western invaders, the Javanese have over the centuries created temples and kraton (palaces) of unique splendour. The Buddhist temple Borobudur is an architectural wonder and some of the oldest Hindu temples in Java can be found in the lofty Dieng Plateau. Cultural Yogyakarta and Solo are perfect places to sample Javanese art.
Best places to stay in Java
Indonesia's sprawling capital of steamy streets and thumping nightlife.
Indonesia - Java (Chapter)
Boasting a dazzling array of bewitching landscapes – iridescent rice paddies, smoking volcanoes, rainforest and savannah – as well as megacities and profound traditions in art, spiritualism and learning, Java is the most complex and culturally...
Borobudur is built from two million stone blocks in the form of a massive symmetrical stupa, literally wrapped around a small hill. Standing on a 118m by 118m base, its six square terraces are topped by three circular ones, with four stairways leading up through carved gateways to the top.
If Jakarta is Java’s financial and industrial powerhouse, Yogyakarta is its soul. Central to the island’s artistic and intellectual heritage, Yogyakarta (pronounced ‘Jogjakarta’ and called Yogya for short), is where the Javanese language is at its purest, Java’s arts at their brightest and its traditions at their most visible.
Yogyakarta: the beating heart of Javanese culture
From the all-night shadow-puppet performances to the bold and socially aware graffiti covering many a wall, Yogyakarta, the cultural and spiritual capital of Java, Indonesia, is above all a city of art and culture...
G-Land Joyo’s Surf Camp
Joyo's has steadily upped its game over the years. It has good-quality thatched wooden bungalows with a fan or air-conditioning, a large-screen TV for sports, pool tables, internet access and table tennis. There's free yoga and the crew who run the place are a blast. Packages start at US$350 for three nights, plus $100 for a return boat transfer.
Jakarta to Ubud
Don’t be fooled into thinking Indonesia is ‘just another island getaway’, because the scale of experiences you’ll have in this magical country are truly epic. Miles of empty beaches, steamy verdant rainforests, volcano studded valleys, culture rich cities, ancient temples - and that’s just the places they tell you about.
Travels to Hell: inside Indonesia's Ijen volcano
Nobody in Europe had heard of the Ijen volcanic crater during the European Middle Ages, when painters were busy decorating churches and chapels with paintings depicting the gates of Hell. If they had, those artists would have needed no further inspiration: here is a real life Hell and it smells of sulphur...
The dazzling offshore archipelago of Karimunjawa, a marine national park, consists of 27 coral-fringed islands that lie about 90km north of Jepara. The white-sand beaches are sublime, swimming is wonderful and the pace of life as relaxed as a destination defined by coconut palms and turquoise seas should be.
Ujung Kulon National Park
Java Jazz Festival
Held in early March at the Jakarta Convention Center in Senayan. Attracts acclaimed international artists, including Stevie Wonder in 2012.