For travelers to Indonesia interested in adventure and culture, a trip overland (and sea) from Jakarta to Bali is hard to beat. Explore the most populous island on Earth, starting in the Indonesian capital and working your way east until you reach the end of Java and take a ferry over to the Island of the Gods. Along the way, you’ll climb up active volcanoes, stand atop the biggest Buddhist temple in the world, see blue fire burn inside a crater, and experience the sights, sounds, and tastes of Java. Check out some highlights in this short video before reading on for more details about how to pull off this epic trip:
Although many travelers choose to skip the Indonesian capital entirely, we highly recommend starting your trip here and giving it at least one full day. Check out the National Monument, explore the Old City, and hit the malls and night clubs to experience the different sides of Jakarta. Explore the “Streets, Beats & Eats” of the city known as the Big Durian with us in this video:
A short train ride away, Bogor is worth visiting simply for the lovely botanical gardens. It’s possible to do this on a day trip from Jakarta, or you can do as we did and stay overnight to relax a bit. You could also just continue on to the next destination if you’d rather not go back to Jakarta.
While Bandung itself is a hectic, crowded, Javanese city, there are quite a few scenic areas worth visiting in the area. With one full day, we managed to hike up a volcano (Tangkuban Perahu) and take in an amazing angklung performance. From here, you can take an incredibly scenic train ride to…
Considered the cultural capital of Java, the city of Yogyakarta (or Jogjakarta, or simply Jogja) is a great place to set up shop for a week to take it all in. Visit the Kraton – which has daily cultural performances, check out the Water Castle, shop for batik shirts, watch a wayang kulit (shadow puppet) show, and wine and dine alongside live music. Basing yourself here makes it very easy to visit Java’s two most iconic temples. We loved Jogja so much we even thought about moving there, but ended up going with Bali instead. Check out our “Streets, Beats & Eats” video from this great city for a good idea of why we dig it so much:
Prambanan and Borobudur Temples
Indonesia may be a predominantly Muslim country these days, but that wasn’t always the case. From Jogja, you can easily visit the 9th-century Hindu temple of Prambanan, where if you’re lucky you’ll be able to catch a performance of the Ramayana ballet.
A bit further afield is Borobudur – the largest Buddhist temple in the world. While it’s possible as a day trip from Jogja, an overnight stay at the Manohara Hotel comes highly recommended. As guests, we were able to pay an extra $20 each to go up on the temple at sunset, where we had the entire place to ourselves.
If the chaotic, traffic-chocked, steaming hot cities of Java get to be too much, rent a motorbike and cruise up to the Dieng Plateau. At 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) above sea level, it’s nice and cool up here. Get a room in a local homestay and spend a day or two exploring the temple complex and the stunning Colorful Lake.
The scenery of Mt. Bromo is perhaps the most iconic image of Indonesia, found on many postcards and guide book covers. A sunrise hike here is atop many travelers’ lists, and just about every travel agent in Java organizes trips here. We went at it alone, though – using various forms of public transport, staying overnight in a village, and flying across the Sea of Sand on a terrifying motorbike ride. We’re here to help you plan your DIY Mt. Bromo adventure. Check out this video for some inspiration:
While the Bromo adventure was fun, we’d recommend Kawah Ijen if you can only do one. First of all, the price for Bromo was tripled for no apparent reason in 2014 – a blatant money-grab by the government. Second, a hike down into the crater to watch the blue fire burn and the sulphur miners hard at work is a much more remarkable experience. It was quite possibly the highlight of our entire 45-day Indonesia trip.
Banyuwangi (ferry to Bali)
After the insanity of Bromo and Ijen, a much-needed day of chilling can be done in Banyuwangi. We got a room in a nice hotel with a pool and sea views and slept all day to recover. From here, it’s a short ferry ride over to the northwest corner of Bali, where a whole new adventure awaits. Not sure where to go in Bali? Start out with our Beginner’s Guide to South Bali!
Tips and Advice
- We spent a total of three weeks in Java doing this trip, but it can definitely be done in less. Keep in mind that we stayed in Jogja for a full week so Sasha could take a 20-hour Indonesian class. Without that, this trip is doable in 10-14 days.
- Java has trains across the whole province, and there are also buses connecting just about every place, making it very easy to do this all overland by public transport.
- For exploring Jogja and heading to the Dieng Plateau, it’s recommended to rent a motorbike or hire a car with a driver if you’re not comfortable on two wheels.
- As we mentioned, the price for Mt. Bromo was tripled in 2014. Based on that, we’d honestly recommend skipping it. Unless of course you want to take the insane way there that we did, in which case it’s worth it for the adventure.
- Take some time to connect with locals on websites like Couchsurfing. Even if you don’t find someone to host you, lots of Indonesians are super friendly and eager to show foreigners around and practice their English.