The heart of the nation, Java is an island of megacities, mesmerising natural beauty, magical archaeological sites and profound traditions in art, music and dance. Boasting a dazzling array of bewitching landscapes – iridescent rice paddies, smoking volcanoes, rainforest and savannah, not to mention virgin beaches – most journeys here are defined by scenic excesses.
Skewered by the equator and roasting under a tropical sun, the steamy forests of Kalimantan serve up endless opportunities for epic rainforest exploration. The island has no volcanoes and is protected from tsunamis, which has allowed its ancient forests to grow towering trees that house some of the world's most memorable species.
Long overshadowed by its superstar neighbour across the Lombok Strait there's a steady hum about Lombok that catches the ear of travellers looking for something different from Bali. Blessed with exquisite white-sand beaches, epic surf, a lush forested interior, and hiking trails through tobacco and rice fields, Lombok is fully loaded with equitorial allure.
Jakarta may be the nation’s capital, but the Javan identity is at its strongest here, in the island’s historic heartland. This is where Java’s first major Indianised civilisation was born, and it was the stronghold of the great Islamic sultanates centred on the kraton (walled city palaces) of Yogyakarta and Solo as well.
South Bali & the Islands
You won't have seen Bali if you haven't fully explored south Bali. The island's capital, Denpasar, sprawls in all directions from the centre and is a vibrant place, offering traditional markets, glitzy malls, great eating and plenty of Balinese history and culture, even as it threatens to absorb the tourist hubs of Seminyak, Kuta and Sanur.
A dancer moves her hand just so and 200 pairs of entranced eyes follow the exact movement. A gamelan player hits a melodic riff and 200 pairs of feet tap along with it. The Legong goes into its second hour as the bumblebee dance unfolds with its sprightly flair and 200 butts forget they're still stuck in rickety plastic chairs.
If you’re seeking white sand, azure bays, frothing hot springs and hidden traditional villages, Nusa Tenggara is your wonderland. Here’s an arc of islands that is lush and jungle-green in the north, and more arid savannah in the south. In-between are some of the world’s best diving spots, limitless surf breaks and Technicolor volcanic lakes.
Ubud is culture, yes. It's also home to good restaurants, cafes and streets of shops, many selling goods from the region's artisans. There's somewhere to stay for every budget, and no matter what the price you can enjoy lodgings that reflect the local Zeitgeist: artful, creative and serene.
Many tourists only experience the lush, volcanic panoramas of West Java (Jawa Barat) through the murky window of a lumbering bus or train, but this dramatic, diverse region has plenty to detain the inquisitive traveller. Historically it's known as Sunda and its people and language are Sundanese.
The least densely populated of Java’s provinces, East Java (Jawa Timur) is a wild, rolling region with dizzying peaks, smoking volcanoes and unspoilt panoramas. While the regional capital, Surabaya, has all the accoutrements of a booming Indonesian city, including freeways, multiplexes and a trademark traffic problem, there are far more attractive bases.