The Pangandaran National Park, which takes up the entire southern end of Pangandaran, is a wild expanse of dense forest. Within its boundaries live porcupines, kijang (barking deer), hornbills, monitor lizards and monkeys (including Javan gibbons). Small bays within the park enclose pretty tree-fringed beaches. The park is divided into two sections: the recreation park and the jungle.

Due to environmental degradation, the jungle is usually off limits. Well-maintained paths allow the recreation park to be explored, passing small caves (including Gua Jepang, which was used by the Japanese in WWII), the remains of a Hindu temple, Batu Kalde, and a nice beach on the eastern side. English-speaking guides hang around both entrances and charge around 100,000Rp (per group of four) for a two-hour walk or up to 200,000Rp for a five-hour trip.

Pangandaran’s best swimming beach, white-sand Pasir Putih, lies on the western side of the national park. It's a thin stretch of soft sand fronted by a reef that's pretty well thrashed though plenty of fish still live, eat and love there. You can swim over here from the southern end of the main resort beach if the surf is not too rough, but take care of rip currents and the steady stream of boats that shuttle people back and forth (50,000Rp return). They will not be looking for you. The beach stretches to a point that gets a break when the swell is big. On calm days, the swim out to the point is peaceful and devoid of boat traffic. If you hop a boat from the main Pangandaran beach you won't have to pay the steep national park entry fee.

At sunset, huge fruit bats emerge from the forest. They fly down the length of Pangandaran’s beach but have to evade local boys who patrol with barbed-wire kites. Few are trapped this way, but every now and then a bat’s wing will get caught on a kite string and the creature will be brought crashing to the ground in a fit of squeals, before being dispatched to the cooking pot.