A Journey Through Java

By Ariana Crisafulli 2019-04-26 16:33:06

See waterfalls, go river canyoning, and hike volcanoes in Java, Indonesia

In Shanghai life, nothing is certain but traffic and exorbitant Chinese New Year flight prices. So when my partner, Adam, and I were browsing around for February holiday destinations, we had three requirements in mind: it had to be somewhere we hadn’t been before, it had to be warm, and it had to be reasonably priced. 

As we sat huddled in our poorly heated apartment dreaming of warmer climates, we scoured dozens of travel sites to find that perfect getaway at the intersection of pleasant weather and pleasant price. Just as we were about to give up in despair, I typed “Jakarta” into the search engine. And what did I find but a 2,700 RMB round trip flight to a tropical destination that we had yet to visit. Bingo!

But what the heck is in the capital of Indonesia, and more importantly, what is there to do on the island of Java where it’s located? A quick search of “best things to do on Java” turned up volcano hikes, temples in the jungle, river canyoning, beaches, and waterfalls. We couldn’t have been more excited. 

Mount Bromo

Although we flew into Jakarta in the west of the 1,064km long island of Java, we thought it wise to start our adventure in the east. This meant purchasing an additional one-way flight for 200 RMB from Jakarta to Surabaya, and then making our way slowly back toward Jakarta by land. Seeing as we both had jobs to return to, it was less anxiety-inducing to be moving toward the departure airport rather than away from it.

We spent one night in Surabaya before heading out to Probolinggo the next morning. From Probolinggo it’s only a 1.5-hour drive to Mount Bromo. This hike is a fairly easy one-day affair that, depending on how you go about it, requires very little hiking at all. 

Adam and I hired a private car from our accommodation to take us to Semeru National Park where Mount Bromo resides. We left at 2am to arrive before sunrise. Although you can go any time you please, seeing the sun come up over the mountainous landscape is pretty darn magnificent and worth the early wake up time. As the sun rises over the darkened landscape, you begin to make out the shapes of the active volcano, known as Mount Bromo, and its neighboring dormant volcano brothers and sisters. The sight was positively Jurassic. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a long-necked Diplodocus dinosaur rummaging in the greenery, or a Triceratops roaming the vast, flat valley floor, known as the sea of sand.

After you watch the sun come up, you make your way back to the hired car, which will then transfer you to the “magic jeep”. This jeep takes you into the national park where you’ll cross the sea of sand on foot and hike up to the top of Mount Bromo – a journey that takes no more than 30 minutes. As you near the top, it becomes increasingly obvious that Mount Bromo is an active volcano. The turmoil within sounds like a jet plane taking off! The crater itself is a vast, deep, dark, cavernous hole that appears to have no bottom. If you look closely, you can even see lava bubbling up! Honestly, it was a bit frightening to be so close to such an active disastrous force. But that’s part of the adventure, no?


• The whole trip will take about five to six hours, including the drive there and back, the hike to the sunrise viewpoint, and the hike to the top of Mount Bromo.

• Hiring a private car from Probolinggo should cost you no more than 240 RMB per person, including the cost of the “magic jeep” and the ticket entrance fee.

• Definitely family-friendly – just be sure to keep the little ones away from the crater edge!

Mount Ijen

Mount Ijen is unique in not one but three ways. Firstly, in its crater is the largest highly acidic lake in the world. Secondly, it is the site of an active sulfur mine. And thirdly (and most importantly) the sulfur gas released at the mine ignites when it hits the earth’s atmosphere, creating brilliant electric blue flames!

Just like Mount Bromo, you can hike Mount Ijen at any time of the day, but it’s best to start no later than 3am. This is because the blue flames can only be seen at night. The downside to doing an Ijen hike in the wee hours is that you’ll have to make your way down into the crater along a narrow, rocky pathway in the dead of night. To make matters worse, you’ll be hiking through sulfuric gas that will obscure your vision and irritate your lungs and throat, so make sure you rent a gas mask.

Once you’ve had your fill of the blue flames (and have tried your best to capture them on camera), it’s time to head back to the top of the crater to watch the sun rise. Because Mount Ijen is an active sulfur mine, you’ll share the path up and down the crater with the local miners who sometimes carry as much as 70 kilos on their backs.


• To do the Mount Ijen hike, it’s best to stay in the city of Banyuwangi. From there it’s about a 1.5-hour drive to the crater.

• The whole trip, including car ride and hikes, should take about seven hours. The hike itself is about two to three hours.

• A private tour should cost you around 95 RMB per person which includes the ride there and back, a gas mask, and a guide who will navigate your way down into the crater at night and will help you get the best blue flame photos! Entrance tickets cost an additional 50 RMB.

• This tour is not particularly family friendly, as the sulfur gas and the treacherous night hike into the crater are not suitable for children. However, it is perfectly safe to bring children for a sunrise hike to the top of the crater where they will be clear of the sulfur gas.


When we first arrived in Yogyakarta, our immediate plan was to find some quick food near our hotel before collapsing into our bed and resting our weary hiking and train-traveling bones. But when we stepped out into the street, a friendly tuk tuk driver offered to take us to experience the two things that this central Java city is most famous for: batik art and gudeg. We couldn’t resist.

We soon discovered that gudeg is a traditional cuisine from central Java consisting of jackfruit stewed in coconut milk and cane sugar. The dish is typically served with chicken and egg as well. The meal taught me the most important lesson of the whole trip; just like the principle of cooking with butter and garlic, anything cooked with coconut milk and cane sugar is bound to be a delectable delight! And in Java there was plenty of it.

Once our bellies were full, we hopped back on the tuk tuk and were escorted to a batik shop. The owner of the shop explained to us that batik is a traditional Javanese art utilizing color dyes, wax, and cloth. The artist draws a scene on the cloth with wax and then dips the cloth in different colored dyes. The dye does not permeate where the wax is laid, so when it’s removed, what remains is a typical Javanese scene outlined against the brilliant colors of the dye. Because we were so impressed with the art, we bought three batik paintings for our Shanghai apartment!

The next day we set off for Borobudur. Borobudur was built in the 9th century and is the largest Buddhist temple in the world! On the walls of nine stacked platforms are 2,672 relief panels depicting scenes from the era the temple was built, and a total of 504 Buddha statues. Pretty neat!


• Borobudur is about an hour and 15 minutes outside of Borobudur by scooter. The cost to rent a scooter for the day is about 28 RMB.

• Entrance tickets for Borobudur cost 155 RMB.


While Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen were mind-blowing, Pangandaran was magical… and magical is my most favorite kind of scenery. Its charms include beaches, a national park, rivers, waterfalls, and canyoning activities.

Adam and I decided to stay a bit west of the city, right on the coast. We had plenty of outdoor activities planned, but also favored a serene spot where we could relax and watch the sunset. After a day of much needed down time, we set off for our first Pangandaran adventure: Jojogan waterfall.

We were told that Jojogan was a waterfall, but what we found was more of a natural outdoor playground! We were greeted by a large cascading waterfall that fed into a natural pool formed by scattered boulders. To the left, rapids came flowing swiftly into the deep blue water, and then slowly exited out the other side. There were submerged boulders to lie on in the sun, waterfalls to splash around in, and even a tightrope to test your balance! We had intended to do another activity that same day, but we were so enamored with Jojogan that we stayed the whole day! The best part was that we had the whole place to ourselves.

The next day we decided to go canyoning at Green Canyon. Canyoning is basically rafting down a river sans raft. At this point I thought Pangandaran couldn’t possibly get any more magical, but Green Canyon proved me wrong. Adam and I were in a state of constant awe as we intermittently swam through warm blue water, floated down gentle rapids, and climbed over boulders along the river.


• Jojogan is about a 25-minute drive from Pangandaran city, and Green Canyon is about a 45-minute drive.

• You must hire a guide to go canyoning. Your guide will help you navigate the rapids and will also be your personal photographer along the way! A three-hour canyoning tour will cost you about 145 RMB per person including transportation, guide, helmet, water shoes, and life vest.

• Green Canyon is very easy to find. Simply look it up on a map app and follow the directions. You will encounter many tour agencies near Green Canyon, but we highly recommend Green Canyon Pangandaran.

• While Jojogan and Pangandaran are both family-friendly activities, it is important to note that canyoning is only suitable for families with teenage children. However, if you have small children, you can still enjoy Green Canyon from the safety of a boat. A boat tour is a shorter journey that will take you to a calmer section of the river where you can go swimming.